John Doyle, formerly of the group Solas, is without doubt the king of Irish acoustic guitar. Originally an instrumentalist only, he’s evolved into a wonderful singer.
Doyle has a great ear for songs. “Across The Western Ocean” is about those who left Ireland for America from 1846 to 1850 as a result of the terrible potato famine. Over 1.5 million of them came over on “packet ships,” the smaller vessels that plied the ocean before the massive clipper ships arrived around 1860 (interesting page on packet ships here). The packets took six weeks to reach America from Europe and almost one in every five immigrants who shipped on died of disease or shipwreck.
This song speaks of the fears of the Irish immigrants of the era. Like many old Irish songs, it shares a melody with another tune, in this case a sea shanty called “Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her.”