The song was written by Newfoundland song writer Johnny Burke (1851-1930). One version in oral tradition was collected in Newfoundland in 1951, but Bob Townsend’s version is the only one to have turned up in the British Isles. Here are the original words:
My grandfather Bryan he died,
It was on St. Patrick’s Day,
He started out for the next world
Without ever asking the way.
Leaving me all of his riches,
And a good deal of wealth do you see,
And a pair of his cloth-leather britches,
That buttoned up down to the knee.
He left me the whole two sides of a bacon,
Only one half was just cut away,
A broomstick with the head of a rake on,
And a field full of straw to make hay.
A blanket made out of cloth patches,
A breadbasket made out of tin ware,
A window without any sashes,
And a horse-collar made for a mare.
He left me a mighty great clock, too,
With brass wheels which were made out of wood,
A key without ever a lock to,
And a stool to set down where I stood.
His beaver to sport all the summer,
His whiskers to wear in the fall,
A bagful of guinea-pig’s eyebrows,
And a boxful of nothing at all.
He left me some whiskey for drinking
And a beautiful stick, look at that!
And a fat Jersey heifer for milking,
With a tail of B. John Thomas’ cat.
A pair of bone studs made of leather,
A satchel of old wedding rings;
Two earrings to wear in wet weather,
With a bucket of horse-stinger’s wings.
He left me, poor man, a great fortune,
And a puncheon of juniper tay,
Two shares in the Rock of Gibraltar,
And a mortgage on Robin Hood’s Bay.
He left me his trousers and waistcoat,
The tails of two shabby old coats;
A fortune to do me forever,
With a boxful of Union banknotes.
He left me some pastry for eating,
Oh, the creature before he did die,
Two bluchers to put me poor feet in,
And a slice of bumble-bee pie.
A pair of wet cuffs for the winter,
A red nose to hang out for a sign,
So I’m fixed in grand style for the winter,
God bless you, old grandfather Bryan!
Then hurrah for old grandfather Bryan,
I wish he were living I’m sure;
And every day he’d be dying,
He’d leave me ten times as much more.