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The Maid on the Shore
(Laws K27; Roud 181)
John Lyons
Newmarket-on-Fergus
Recorded in London, April 1974

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

John Lyons

There was a fair maiden who lived all alone,
She lived all alone on the shore o,
And no one could she find that would calm her sweet mind
But to wander alone on the shore, shore, shore,
To wander alone on the shore o.

There was a brave captain who sailed a fine ship,
The weather being steady and fair o.
‘I shall die, I shall die,’ this brave captain did cry,
‘If I can't have this maid on the shore, shore, shore,
If I can't have this maid on the shore o.’

After many persuasions they brought her on board,
And the captain sat down her a chair o.
He invited her down to his cabin below,
Farewell sorrow, farewell now now care o,
Farewell sorrow, farewell now now care o.

‘Well, I'll sing you a song,’ the fair maiden did cry,
And the captain was weeping for joy o.
She sang it so sweetly, so soft, so completely,
She sang captain and sailors to sleep o,
She sang captain and sailors to sleep o.

Now she robbed them of wealth, and she robbed them of gold,
She robbed them of fine costly fare o.
And the captain's broad sword, she used as an oar,
And she rowed herself back to the shore, shore, shore,
She rowed herself back to the shore o.

Now the men, they were mad, yet the men they were sad.
They were deeply sunk down in despair o.
To see her go ‘way with her booty so gay
With her rings and her things and her fine fare o
Her rings and her things and her fare o.

‘Now, do not be sad or sunk down in despair,
You should have known me before o.
I sang you to sleep, and I robbed you of wealth,
And again I'm a maid on the shore, shore, shore,
Again I'm a maid on the shore o.’


“This song, with its supernatural undertones, is often compared to the popular English ballad ‘The Mermaid’. Not unlike the Odysseus tale of the siren, a sea captain and crew of a ship are entranced by the singing of a young woman on the coastline they are passing. The captain orders a boat to be sent to bring her on board the ship; when she arrives he tells her that he intends to spend the night with her, and then pass her over to his men. Apparently agreeing, she then sings the whole crew to sleep, loots the ship and rows back home. The moonlight and the repeated refrain supply a perfect setting to this magical story. Versions of it were found in Counties Antrim and Cork in the 1950s and P.W. Joyce gives an unaccredited tune and a verse in ‘Old Irish Folk Music and Songs’ (1909). It was also popular with American and Canadian rural singers.

Joyce’s verse:
Oh were my men drunk or were my men mad,
Or where my men drownéd in care O
When they let her escape which made us all so sad,
And the sailors all wished she was there O, there
And the sailors all wished she was there.”
Jim Carroll


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