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Mr Woodburren’s Courtship
(Child 46; Roud 36)
Pat MacNamara
Kilshanny, near Ennistymon
Recorded in Kilshanny, summer 1975

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Pat McNamara

Now an old man’s fair daughter walked down a narrow lane;
She met with Mr Woodburren, the keeper of the game;
He said, “My pretty maiden, and weren’t for the law
I’d have you now right in my bed, while you lie next the wall.”

“Now then, go away young man”, she said, “now, and do not trouble me;
Before I lie one night with you, you must get me dishes three;
Three dishes you must get for me; supposing I eat them all;
Before I lie one night with you, sure, at either stock or wall.”

“For my breakfast you must get for me a bird without a bone;
For my dinner you must get for me a cherry without a stone;
For my supper you must get for me, sure, a bird without a gall;
Before I lie one night with you, at either stock or wall.”

“Oh then, when the bird is in its egg it really has no bone;
When a cherry is in its blossom, sure, it really has no stone;
The dove, she is a gentle bird and she flies without a gall;
Come you and I in one bed lie, while you lie next the wall.”

“Ah the, go away young man”, she said, “now, and do not trouble me;
Before I lie one night with you, you must answer me questions six;
Six questions you must answer me when I’ll set forth them all;
Before I lie one night with you, at either stock or wall.”

“What is rounder than a ring, what is higher than the tree?
What is worse than womankind, what is deeper than the sea?
What bird sings best, the heath bird’s first, and where the dew first fall?
Before I lie one night with you at either stock or wall?”

“Now the globe is rounder than the ring, heaven is higher than the tree;
The divil is worse than womankind, hell is deeper than the sea;
The thrush sings best, the heath bird first, and there’s where the dew first fall;
So come you and I, sure, in one bed lie, and you lie next the wall.”

“Oh then, go away young man” she said, “and do not trouble me;
Before I lie one night with you, you must answer me questions three;
Three questions you must answer me when I set forth them all;
Before I lie one night with you, now at either stock or wall.”

“You must get for me some winter fruit that in December grew;
You must get for me a mantle that ne’er a weave went through;
A sparrow’s horn, a priest unborn, to join us one and all;
Before I lie one night with you, sure at either stock or wall.”

“Now then, my father had some winter fruit, sure, that in December grew,
My mother has a mantle that ne’er a weave went through;
A sparrow’s horn is easy got, there’s one in every claw;
And Benedict was a priest unborn; so you lie next the wall.”

So now, to conclude and to finish my song;
This couple they got married and happy they do long;
Because she being so clever, sure, she did his heart enthral;
He caught her in his arms and he rolled her from the wall.

"While the riddling form of song is extremely ancient, it has been suggested by B. H. Bronson among others, that the courtship narrative in this ballad is a comparative latecomer. He described it as having been 'thoroughly overhauled in quite modern times'. As well as in this present form, it has been found in numerous guises: as a nursery rhyme (Perrie, Merrie, Dixie, Dominie); a straightforward love song (‘I Gave My Love a Cherry’); and in the South West United States as a ‘cante-fable’. A version from the lower Labrador coast entitled ‘The Devil and the Blessed Virgin Mary’ introduced a religious aspect into the plot, but all other versions seem to have been secular.
Ref: ‘The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads’, Vol. 1, B. H. Bronson, Princeton Univ. Press 1959.
Other versions: Willie Clancy, ‘Come Let Us Buy the Licence’, (Voice of the People) Topic TSCD951; Duncan Williamson, ‘Put Another Log on the Fire’, Veteran Tapes VT128."

The above commentary, lyrics and recording are taken from ‘Around the Hills of Clare: Songs and Recitations from the Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie Collection’ (2004) Musical Traditions Records MTCD331-2/Góilín Records 005-6.

See also
Mr Woodburren's Courtship sung by Tom Lenihan


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