Barney Williams, (Bernard O’Flaherty) was born in Cork county Ireland in 1823. His parents immigrated to America when he was a young boy and settled in New York. By 1836, at age 13, he was connected with the Franklin theatre. He learned clogging while in Ireland and became the first professional clogger in America by 1840. In his early performance-days Barney performed negro minstrels, the circus, and performed a variety of song-n-dance routines.
In 1843 he played the role of Jerry Murphy in Bumpology at the Chatham theatre in New York. In these days Williams played in several roles in the Tyrone Powers repertory, including Paddy O’Rafferty in Born to Good Luck, and Terry O’Rourke in The Irish Tutor. By 1845, at age twenty-two, Williams was manager of Vauxhall Garden, NY.
Apparently Williams career never took off until he married Maria Pray in 1850. It was then that he shed his role as a black-faced minstrel and focused on the celebrated Irish comic boy. In 1854 the Williams husband-wife team played in San Francisco to much success. The next year they traveled abroad to Europe and found success there as well, especially England. It was at The Adelphi Theatre in London that Barney debuted in Rory O’Moore.
In 1856 Barney wrote the song, My Mary Ann for his wife. The couple continued performing in London and became huge hits to the public, though not always viewed similarly by the critics. From 1856-1857 the Williams performed at The Adelphi. According to the London Times they performed the following: Bobbing Around, Polly, Won’t You Try Me, Oh?, and My Own Mary Anne. Some of their more popular performances were Ireland As it Is, Barney the Baron and Our Gal.
In 1859 the Williams returned to America (New York) for engagements at Niblo’s Garden. The first acts they performed there were Innisfallen, and The Men in the Gap.
By the time of the Civil War, in 1863, the Williams’ were also playing in Washington, D.C., performing The Fairy Circle in Grover theatre in February. On February 26th they performed at Grover’s for Abraham Lincoln. Apparently, that evening Barney was able to get a hand-written note to the President asking for his approval of appointing a nephew of Williams to West Point. Lincoln did not approve the appointment but did respond to Barney in writing the next day. In October of 1863 Pvt. Miles O’Reilly of the 47th NY mentions Barney Williams, among others, performing for the 47th while they were heading down the Hudson.
In December 1864 we find Barney and Maria being billed at Niblo’s Garden in New York to appear in Irish and Yankee Life together.
On December 6th the Williams’ debuted the The Connie Soogah (The Traveling Peddler) at Niblo’s. There is evidence that Barney sang The Bowld Soldier Song for the Irish Brigade of the 63rd New York, probably in 1864 as well.
In 1867 Barney began managing Wallack’s theatre in New York He died on April 25th, 1876 in New York City.
“My Mary Ann” (1856)
The Yankee Girls Song
Words by Barney Williams
Music by M. Jyse
New York. NY: Henry McCaffrey
Plate No. 402
2. Don’t you see that turtle dove,
A sitting on yonder pile!
Lamenting the loss of its one true love,
And so am I for mine, Mary Ann,
and so am I for mine, Marry Ann.
3. A lobster in a lobster pot,
A blue fish riggling on a hook,
May suffer some, but oh! no not,
What I do feel for my Mary Ann,
what I do feel for my Mary Ann.
4. The pride of all the produce rare,
That is our kitchen garden grow’d,
Was punkins, but none could compare
In angel form to my Mary Ann,
in angel form to my Mary Ann.