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Lady in Her Father’s Garden
(Laws N42; Roud 264)
Peggy McMahon
Cloonlaheen, Doolough

Recorded in singer's home, July 1991

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

There was a lady in her father's garden,
A gentleman being passing by.
He stood a while and he gazed upon her
Saying: "Fair lady will you marry me?"

"I am not a lady but a poor girl,
And a poor girl of a low degree.
Therefore, young man, choose some other sweetheart,
For I'm not fitting your serving maid to be."

"But I have a mansion, land and cattle,
And I have money to set thee free.
If you will come and be my darling,
You will have servants to wait on thee."

"There are seven years since I had a sweetheart,
And seven more since I did him see,
Seven more I will wait upon him
If he's alive he'll come back to me."

"If there are seven years since you had a sweetheart,
And seven more since you did him see,
Seven more you will wait upon him,
Perhaps that young man you may never see."

"If he is sick I wish him better,
If he is dead I wish him rest.
But if he's alive I will wait upon him,
For he's the young man that I love best."

He put his hand into his pocket,
His lily-white fingers being thin and small
And up between them he pulled a gold ring
And when she saw it she down did fall.

He took her up into his arms,
And gave her kisses most tenderly.
Saying: "I'm your true love and single sailor,
That came from seas for to wed with thee."

"If you're my true love and single sailor,
Your face and features look strange to me,
But seven years make great alterations,
And the raging seas were between you and me."


“This is probably one of the most popular of all the 'broken token’ songs, in which parting lovers are said to break a ring in two, each half being kept by the man and woman. At their reunion, the man produces his half as a proof of his identity. Robert Chambers, in his Book of Days (1862-1864) describes a betrothal custom using a 'gimmal' or linked ring:

'Made with a double and sometimes with a triple link, which turned upon a pivot, it could shut up into one solid ring... It was customary to break these rings asunder at the betrothal which was ratified in a solemn manner over the Holy Bible, and sometimes in the presence of a witness, when the man and woman broke away the upper and lower rings from the central one, which the witness retained. When the marriage contract was fulfilled at the altar, the three portions of the ring were again united, and the ring used in the ceremony.'

The custom of exchanging rings as a promise of fidelity lasted well into the nineteenth century in Britain and was part of the plot of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. These 'Broken Token' songs often end with the woman flinging herself into the returned lover's arms and welcoming him back. Tipperary Travelling woman, Mary Delaney, who also sang it for us, knew it differently and had the suitor even more firmly rejected:

For it's seven years brings an alteration,
And seven more brings a big change to me,
Oh, go home young man, choose another sweetheart,
Your serving maid I'm not here to be!”

Reference:
The Book of Days, Robert Chambers, W & R Chambers, 1863-64.

Jim Carroll

See also

Lady in her Father's Garden sung by Tom Lenihan
Young and Single Sailor sung by Ollie Conway


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