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Bird in a Gilded Cage
(Roud 4863)
Katie Droney
Bellharbour
Recorded in Clancy’s Bar, Miltown Malbay, during the Willie Clancy Summer School July 1978

Carroll Mackenzie Collection


Katie Droney

[The ballroom was filled] with fashion's throng,
It shone with a thousand lights;
And there was a woman who passed along,
The fairest of all the sights.
A girl to her lover then softly said,
‘She has riches at her command.’
‘She married for wealth, not for love,’ he cried,
‘Though she lives in a mansion grand.’

‘She's only a bird in a gilded cage,
A beautiful sight to see.
You might think she's happy and free from care,
She's not, though she seems to be.
Tis sad when you think on her wasted life,
For youth cannot mate with age;
Her beauty was sold for an old man's gold,
She's a bird in a gilded cage.’

This beautiful woman surveyed the scene,
Her flatterers by the score.
Her gems were the purest, her gown divine,
And what could a woman want more?
But memory brings like the face of the lad
Whose love she had turned aside.
But happiness cannot be bought with gold,
Although she’s a rich man’s bride.

‘She's only a bird in a gilded cage,
A beautiful sight to see.
You might think she's happy and free from care,
She's not, though she seems to be.
Tis sad when you think on her wasted life,
For youth cannot mate with age;
Her beauty was sold for an old man's gold,
She's a bird in a gilded cage.’


“This was composed by Arthur J. Lamb (lyrics) and Harry Von Tilzer (music). It was a sentimental ballad (or tear-jerker) that became one of the most popular songs of 1900, reportedly selling more than two million copies in sheet music. According to Von Tilzer, he was approached in 1899 by Lamb with the lyrics for a song. Although Von Tilzer liked it, he asked Lamb to change some of the words to make it clear that the woman in the song was married and not a mistress. Later that evening, as he worked out a melody at a piano in a public house with some friends, he noticed that many of the girls nearby were crying, which convinced him the song could be a hit. Later, Von Tilzer would claim that this song was ‘the key that opened the door of wealth and fame’ for him. Its success signalled the dominance of parlour ballads in American popular music through to 1914.”
Jim Carroll

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