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Here’s a Health to All True Lovers
(Roud 1235)
Tom Kelly
Tullabrack, North of Kilrush
Recorded September 1999

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Here’s a health to all true lovers,
And to my own where e’er she be.
For this very night I will be with her,
Although she’s many a mile from me.

Up I came to her bedroom window,
And gently knelt down on a stone.
And softly whispered through the window,
“Darling love, are you lying alone?”

Up she rose from her soft down pillow,
Open wide was her snow white breast.
Saying, “Who is there, at my bedroom window
Depriving me of my long night’s rest?”

“It’s your true love, make no alarm.
But open the door and let me in.
For I am after a long night’s journey
And worst than that I’m wet to skin.”

Up she rose from her soft down pillow,
Opened the door and let me in.
We kissed, shook hands, and embraced each other,
Until that long night came to an end.

We spent the night in deep discoursing,
Until the cocks they began to crow.
With a heavy sigh and dismal moan,
I took a leave and away did go.

“Good bye love for I now must leave you,
For this burning tempest I now must cross.
And it’s o’er the mountains I’ll roam with pleasure,
This very night and it is my last.”

Conversation after song between Tom, Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie:
Jim Carroll: Do you have a name for it at all?
Tom Kelly: That’s the only name I had for it - Here’s a Health to all True Lovers - and I heard it from a fellow by the name of Denis Meskill, from Clahanebeg, Cree, who is a beautiful traditional singer and he had an uncle just north of Cooraclare one time by the name of Denny Meskill, a great fiddle player who is dead and gone with 60 years, maybe more.
Jim: What age would the man be?
Tom: He’d be 80 years anyway today and is still living. I heard the song when I was probably 10 or 12 years of age and I picked it up from him, I’ve sang it - very few times actually - but people began to like it and I was asked for it more and more.

"This is usually associated with the song ‘The Grey Cock’, largely through its ‘night visit’ theme and the fact that the lovers' nocturnal activities nearly always end with a cock crowing. Here, the supernatural element is non-existent, though a similar version we recorded from the Wexford Traveller, Andy Cash, contains a reference to the difficulty of the journey to and from the otherworld:

For I have to cross those burning mountains,
I've got to go without dread or fear,
Sure, I'll be guided without a pilot
Into the arms love, of you, my dear.

The song is possibly related to the custom of 'bundling' whereby a betrothed couple were permitted to spend a night together prior to marriage, in the same bed, usually supervised and often hampered by various devices, bound together so they were unable to move, or having an obstacle placed between them, a plank for instance. A Scots text of these temporal night visit songs from James Grant of Aberdour, Banffshire, is ‘I’m a Rover and Seldom Sober’. Here the action is firmly located in the living world of the fairmtoon and the bothy:

The cocks were crawin’ the birds were whistlin’,
The burns they ran free abune (above) the brae;
Remember, lass, I’m a plooman laddie
And the fairmer I must obey.

I have always thought these songs all to be versions of ‘The Grey Cock’ (Child 248). However, ballad scholar Dr Hugh Shields, has cast serious doubt on this assumption. In two detailed articles on the subject he argues convincingly that some are nineteenth century versions of an Irish broadside entitled ‘Willie O’ which is mainly a derivative of ‘Sweet William’s Ghost’ (Child 77). The best-known revenant (ghost lover) version entitled ‘The Grey Cock’ was recorded in the early 1950s from Mrs Cecilia Costello, a Birmingham woman of Galway parentage. Steve Roud in his index has given all the versions the same Roud and Child number so I have left things as they are for readers to make up their own minds. Whatever the truth of the matter, all three have in common the lover returning and the couple’s time together being brought to a close with the crowing of the cock. Both the Birmingham version and another we recorded from Wexford Traveller Bill Cassidy, have powerful images symbolising the difficulty of the dead returning; in Mrs Costello’s, the lover has to cross ‘the burning Thames’, while in Bill’s it is ‘burning mountains’."

Reference
Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, Maria Leach (ed.).
Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland, Ewan MacColl (ed.).
Jim Carroll


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