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Never Wed an Old Man
(Roud 210)
Pat MacNamara
Kilshanny, near Ennistymon
Recorded in Kilshanny, July 1976

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Pat McNamara

Oh then where have you been all the day, all the day,
Where have you been all the day long?
Wisha I’m down in the barn sure far from the corn,
Now maidens beware, never wed an old man.

Oh, the old man he went to bed, can you love, will you love?
The old man he went to bed, love me if you can.
Sure the old man he went to bed, sure he rise like some lump of lead.
Maidens beware, never wed an old man.

Oh, the old man he fell asleep, can you love will you love?
The old man he fell asleep love me if you can.
The old man he fell asleep, out of the bed I did creep,
And flew into the arms of a handsome young man.

Oh, the old man he died and can you love will you love?
The old man he died sure love me if you can.
The old man he died and the tear I did cry,
But I danced on the grave of that ugly old man.


"Usually known as ‘Maids When You’re Young Never Wed an Old Man’, this song seems to have been around for a long time (though not nearly as long as the problem it highlights!). Marital incompatibility due to age difference has been the theme of our literature from the earliest days of printing. Chaucer bases at least two of his ‘Canterbury Tales’ on it; collections of ancient jests and fables are full of stories and jokes... an ageless and world-wide theme of our literature right through the centuries. This particular song seems to have originated in the 18th century; Scots ballad anthologist David Herd had it in his manuscript collection in the 1700s and later published it as ‘Scant of Love, Want of Love’ in his ‘Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs’ in 1869.

Scant of Love, Want of Love

The auld man he courted me,
Scant of love, want of love;
The auld man he courted me,
Thoughtless as I am.
And I, for the want of pelf,
Yielded to give myself
To the cauld arms of
The silly auld man.

The auld man did marry me,
Scant of love, want of love;
The auld man did marry me,
Wanton as I am;
The auld man did marry me,
And home did carry me:
Never, never, while you live,
Wed an auld man.

The auld man and I went to bed,
Scant of love, want of love;
The auld man and I went to bed,
Handsome as I am:
The auld man and I went to bed,
But he neither did nor said
What brides expect, when laid
By a gudeman.

The auld man soon fell asleep,
Scant of love, want of love;
The auld man soon fell asleep,
Left me as I am;
The auld man soon fell asleep,
Think you that I would weep?
Na, but I straight did creep
To a young man.


Where I lay all the night,
No scant, no want of love;
Where I lay all the night,
Who so happy then?
Where I lay all the night,
In raptures and delight;
So should all young wives treat
Fumbling auld men.


Despite the popularity of the theme and the proliferation of the song, it never made it into published collections in an unexpurgated form. Only one version has ever been reported in Ireland; that collected by P.W. Joyce who gave the tune with one verse:

An old man he courted me - fondly and lovingly -
An old man he courted me - believe me if you can,
An old man he courted me - to my sorrow he married me,
So maids, while you live never wed an old man.

The song did exist in the tradition here; there were reports of Irish immigrants singing the song for collectors in America and Canada, but not in Ireland; it took the Dubliners to draw our attention to it in the 1960s. In England, where the song was also to be found in the oral tradition, the attitude of the collectors was summed up perfectly in a The Folk Song Society Journal of 1906:

‘This air, with a verse which is not desirable to reproduce...’ - only the tune was published.
That the song was collected was, beyond doubt, the manuscript collections confirm this; none of them were considered fit to be published until the ‘permissive’ 1960s. This shying away from the subject is demonstrated by a note to a Utah (The Mormon State) version sung by Mrs. Salley A. Hubbard of Salt Lake City, Dec. 6, 1947:

‘When I was a young girl,’ she said, ‘I sang this song at a house party one evening, and I was reprimanded by a woman who was a polygamous wife. I asked her if she thought young girls wanted to marry old men. She said that young girls should not sing such songs anyway.’

It make you wonder how much of our song tradition has been lost; there is evidence of a bawdy and erotic song tradition here, both in English and Irish, but those songs remain, as Scottish 19th century collector Peter Buchan referred to his ‘unpublishable’ collection of bawdy traditional songs (finally published in 2010) ‘Secret Songs of Silence’."

Reference:
Journal of the Folk Song Society No. 2, 1906
Ballads and Songs from Utah, Lester A. Hubbard, Univ. of Utah Press, 1961.
Peter Buchan’s Secret Songs of Silence, Ian Spring (ed.), Hogs Back Press, Edinburgh.
Jim Carroll


See also
Old Man’s Fancy sung by Pat MacNamara


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