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Mr Woodburren’s Courtship
(Child 46; Roud 36)
Tom Lenihan
Knockbrack, Miltown Malbay
Recorded 1982

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Tom Lenihan

A gentleman’s fair daughter walked down a narrow lane,
She met with Mr Woodburren, the keeper of the game.
Says he unto his servant: ‘If it’s not against the law,
I’ll have this maid within my bed and she’ll lie next the wall.’

‘Go away young man,’ she said, ‘and do not me perplex.
Before I’ll be one night with you, you must answer me questions six.
Six questions you must answer me, when I’ll put forth them all,
Before I’d be one night with you at either stock or wall.’

‘What is rounder than a ring and taller than a tree?
And what is worse than womankind or deeper than the sea?
What bird sings first, and what bird sings best, and where does the dew first fall?
Before I’d be one night with you at either stock or wall.’

‘The globe is rounder than a ring, Heaven is taller than a tree.
The Devil is worse than womankind, Hell is deeper than the sea.
The thrush sings first, and the lark sings best, and in heather the dew
first fall,
So you and I in one bed lie, and you lie next the wall.’

‘You must get for me some winter fruit that in December grew.
You must get for me a mantle that a weaver never went through.
And it’s for my supper, you must get a bird without a gall,
Before I’d be one night with you at either stock or wall.’

‘My father has some winter fruit that in December grew.
My mother has a mantle that a weaver never went through.
The dove she is a gentle bird and flies without a gall,
So you and I, in one bed lie and you lie next the wall.’

‘Go away, young man,’ she said, ‘and do not trouble me.
Before I’d be one night with you, you must get me dishes three,
Three dishes you must get for me, suppose I eat them all,
Before I’d be one night with you at either stock or wall.’

‘Tis for my breakfast you must get a bird without a bone,
And for my dinner you must get a cherry without a stone.
A sparrow’s horn, a priest unborn to join us both in one,
And it’s then we will be married and we’ll have a little fun.’

‘When the bird is in the egg it really has no bone,
When the cherry is in blossom it really has no stone.
A sparrow’s horn is easily got, there’s one in every claw.’
So he took her in his arms and he rolled her to 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.

Reference:
‘The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads’, Vol. 1, B H Bronson, Princeton Univ. Press 1959.
Jim Carroll

See also
Mr Woodburren's Courtship sung by
Pat MacNamara


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