"Thousands Are Sailing" as written by and Philip Chevron....
The island it is silent now
But the ghosts still haunt the waves
And the torch lights up a famished man
Who fortune could not save

Did you work upon the railroad
Did you rid the streets of crime
Were your dollars from the white house
Were they from the five and dime

Did the old songs taunt or cheer you
And did they still make you cry
Did you count the months and years
Or did your teardrops quickly dry

Ah, no, says he, 'twas not to be
On a coffin ship I came here
And I never even got so far
That they could change my name

Thousands are sailing
Across the western ocean
To a land of opportunity
That some of them will never see
Fortune prevailing
Across the western ocean
Their bellies full
Their spirits free
They'll break the chains of poverty
And they'll dance

In Manhattan's desert twilight
In the death of afternoon
We stepped hand in hand on Broadway
Like the first man on the moon

And "The Blackbird" broke the silence
As you whistled it so sweet
And in Brendan Behan's footsteps
I danced up and down the street

Then we said goodnight to Broadway
Giving it our best regards
Tipped our hats to Mister Cohen
Dear old Times Square's favorite bard

Then we raised a glass to JFK
And a dozen more besides
When I got back to my empty room
I suppose I must have cried

Thousands are sailing
Again across the ocean
Where the hand of opportunity
Draws tickets in a lottery
Postcards we're mailing
Of sky-blue skies and oceans
From rooms the daylight never sees
Where lights don't glow on Christmas trees
But we dance to the music
And we dance

Thousands are sailing
Across the western ocean
Where the hand of opportunity
Draws tickets in a lottery
Where e'er we go, we celebrate
The land that makes us refugees
From fear of Priests with empty plates
From guilt and weeping effigies
And we dance


Lyrics submitted by black_cow_of_death

Thousands Are Sailing song meanings
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  • +3
    General Comment...how it's been overcome??

    I can't *think* of a song whose lyrics drive my imagination, politically, more so than this one. The first thing is that it pushes you to consider the continuities between the experiences of *most* disenfranchised groups coming to the States (or, to be fair, Canada), not just Irish Americans.

    And it's fucking bitter - "we came looking for a better life, we were promised tolerance, an equal shake and potential prosperity, and instead met with the cold reality of immigration loteries, continuing obscurity and poverty. But dammit, we still have our culture!!" I'm sorry, but what's wonderful about this song is that it *isn't* yet another unthinking, let's forget our history, balls-on-the-table "I'm Irish and proud!" statement.

    It's been the same thing in Canada since Trudeau introduced multiculturalism in the 1970s: you can bring your pretty dresses, exotic food, and here whisky, but leave the politics at "home"! Multiculturalism is this - giving lip service to "tolerating" difference, but at the end of the day, leaving power squarely with white middle class Canadians - the only problem being that, at a moment of crisis, that "tolerance" can be withdrawn in favour of bigotry and violence in the blink of an eye.
    muzzlehatchon October 13, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commentthe song is of course about the irish coming to america and the hope they felt during that trip and the utter rejection that happened. Being from an Irish family in Scotland I can relate to this as my own grandfather tried that trip and hoped for the better life and sadly took ill and died but it didnt ruin us, my gran took over and became the head of the family and only recently died at the age of 96. The song for me now shows the strength and determination of the Irish...the problems might be in the past but should never be forgotten..for annie boyle...top lady and amazing gran..xxxx
    jcaimbeulon March 17, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentMister CohAn does not refer to Leonard, it refers to George M. Cohan "The Man Who Owned Broadway".
    The song ties the economic migration of the late 20th Century with it's Green Card Lotteries and the post famine exodus in the mid 19th century. An excellent explanation can be found at edward.oconnor.cx/2008/03/…. It is in my opinion, one of the most beautiful & heartbreaking songs of all time. Worth noting too that after The Great Famine of 1847, the population decline in the west of Ireland only halted in 2006. 2006.
    Leithdudeon August 10, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentOnly one Philip chevron
    Roryfpickardon July 27, 2017   Link
  • 0
    General CommentObviously, it's about the Irish immigration to the US. Great song.
    FeistyIrishGirlon May 20, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentcoming from a family of irish immigrants, this song really means a lot to me. it's about coming to america to find a better life, the oppression they faced because of it and how it's been overcome.
    like disco lemonadeon July 29, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentA "coffin ship" was one that was so bad that the majority of the passengers died before reaching the US; i understand that sharks followed them, just as they had followed slave ships...

    "...I never even got so far that they could change my name..." - many of the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island found their names changed due to their documents having been written by someone who either misheard their name, couldn't spell it, or just thought it wasn't "American" enough. (My own family's original name - two of my great-grandfathers were Bohemian immigrants - was changed, but not at Ellis Island; my great-grandfather just changed it after he'd been here a while...)

    I believe (having just listened twice) that it's "...stepped hand in hand *down* Broadway/*(With* the first man on the moon..." - a parade for the astronauts.

    Also, "Did you work upon the railroads" - the crews building the transcontinental railroad were mostly Chinese (on the tracks from the west coeast eastward) and Irish (on the tracks pushing west).

    "Did you rid the streets of crime" - even now many bg-city police forces are predominantly Irish

    "Were your dollars from the White House" - JFK, obviously

    "Were they from the five-and-dime" - George Wollworth was Irish.
    fairportfanon September 14, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentYeah, umm.
    The narrator is talking about ellis island, the torch from lady liberty, etc. lighting the face of a ghost, who he begins questioning. The ghost explains that he died on a coffin ship, then they together go and explore the great usa blah blah.
    Basically it was shite in Ireland, and if they had made it the whole way, it would be shit here, but we'll dance to the music. Even after we're dead we'll dance. The absolute essence of an Irish writer right there.
    herdon May 24, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentYeah, umm.
    The narrator is talking about ellis island, the torch from lady liberty, etc. lighting the face of a ghost, who he begins questioning. The ghost explains that he died on a coffin ship, then they together go and explore the great usa blah blah.
    Basically it was shite in Ireland, and if they had made it the whole way, it would be shit here, but we'll dance to the music. Even after we're dead we'll dance. The absolute essence of an Irish writer right there.
    herdon May 24, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Commentan amazing song this ! Thanks for the posts to help explain this song, beautiful lyrics ! Hats of for Shane MacGowan , true genius !!
    ajhaanon June 29, 2008   Link

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