“Mrs. McGrath” (also known as “Mrs. McGraw”, “My Son Ted”, “My Son John”, and “The Sergeant and Mrs. McGrath”) is an Irishfolk song set during the Peninsular War of the early 19th century.
The song tells the story of a woman whose son enters the British Armyand returns seven years later having lost his legs to a cannonball while fighting against Napoleon presumably at the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro (fought between 3 and 5 May 1811). The general theme of the song is one of opposition to war. Along with “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye”, it is one of the most graphic of all Irish folk songs that deal with sickness and injuries caused by warfare. Irish folk songcollector Colm Ó Lochlainn described “Mrs. Grath” as “known to every true born citizen of Dublin”.
It was very popular among the Irish Volunteers in the years leading up to the 1916 Rising and has been recorded by many singers and folk groups.
Bruce Springsteen recorded a version of the song on his 2006 album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Performed frequently on the subsequent Sessions Band Tour, this incarnation was included on the 2007 Bruce Springsteen with The Sessions Band: Live in Dublin audio and video release. Springsteen changed the traditional lyrics slightly. In the original song, Mrs. McGrath would rather have her “son as he used to be than the King of France and his whole navy.” In Springsteen’s version, this is changed to “King of America.”