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Molly Bawn
(Laws O36; Roud 166)
Josie Baker
Cahermurphy, Kilmihil
Recorded in Conway’s Bar, Mullagh, September 1973

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Come all you good fowlers who handle a gun,
Beware of late shooting at the setting of sun;
Beware of an accident that happened of late;
How poor Molly Bawn, how she met her fate.

She was going to her uncle when the shower came on;
She went under a green bush, the shower to shun.
With her apron around her, he took her for a swan,
But alas, to his grief, ‘twas was his own Molly Bawn.

When he came to the bower, and found she was dead,
And on her white bosom, many soft tears he shed.
He ran home to his father, with his gun in his hand,
Saying, 'Father, oh father, I’ve shot Molly Bawn.

I have shot my own true love, I have taken the life
Of the one I intended to be my own wife.’
'Oh, Johnny, dear Johnny, don’t run away,
Do not leave your own country until your trial day.

Do not leave your own country till your trial comes on,
You'll ne’er be convicted for shooting the swan.'

“Academics, particularly in the United States, linked this tale of a young huntsman (fowler) mistaking his lover for a swan and shooting her, to the ancient Greek ‘Leda and the Swan’ myth. As with many of these ‘supernatural’ songs, the plot works equally well as a simple domestic tragedy, the spectre acting as a means of confirming facts in the plot, in this case, the huntsman’s innocence. This song has been popular throughout the English-speaking world at least since 1799, one of the most popular in England being East Anglian singer Harry Cox’s version with its beautiful valedictory final verse:

There are girls in this country who no-wise are sad,
To see pretty Polly all laid in her grave;
You may take them by the hundred; put them all in a row,
My dear Polly outshone them like a fountain of snow

Josie’s remembering this was purely a piece of luck; when we were recording him in Ollie Conway’s bar we asked him did he know any songs about hunting and this is what he came up with. It isn’t quite complete, but it’s enough to make it a pleasing version of a centuries-old song.”
Jim Carroll


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