A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea, Favourite Rhymes from an Irish Childhood

Less of a book and more of a time-machine, Sarah Webb’s latest collection will transport you back to primary school while Steve McCarthy’s singular illustrations keep you firmly located in the 21st Century. Webb has collected and arranged an anthology of rhymes, sayings, songs, and poetry that spans from the ‘Lake Isle of Inishfree’ to ‘Óró Sé a Bheatha ‘bhaile’ (the lone entry as-Ghaelige) by way of ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ and some well-judged tongue twisters. There is much to rediscover here, as well as a few more recent additions. Anthologising of oral traditions can seem a bit stale and academic, but it has been carefully judged here.

McCarthy’s illustrations are note-perfect. From singing toads, to a stressed-out ‘Wednesday’s Child’, to mirth-filled scientists, there is a great range of emotions present. Immense warmth and humour is palpable in each colour drenched spread. The importance of Irish children seeing our rich and diverse society reflected in their culture cannot be overstated, and McCarthy has done a fantastic job of capturing a snapshot of our times.

In her introduction, Webb gives an idea of the depth of history present here, from a 6-year-old James Joyce singing ‘Miss Hooligan’s Christmas Cake’ in Bray, to the Irish connection in ‘She’ll Be Coming’. The impressive balance throughout this book of history and whimsy skillfully preserves a vital piece of our intangible heritage while keeping the tradition alive and located in the present. A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea is the perfect vehicle to bring Irish children’s culture to the next generation at home and abroad. This book is ideal for 5-7 year olds, as well as their parents, aunt, uncles and grandparents.