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The Devil and the Farmer’s Wife
(Child 278; Roud 160)
Mikey Kelleher
Quilty and Depford, London

Recorded in London, 1977

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Mikey Kelleher

He said me, 'Old man I’ve come for your wife.'
Right ful right ful titti fol lay.
He said, 'My poor man I have come for your wife,
I’m told she is cursed and she’s plaguing your life.'
With my fol dil lol titti fol lol, fol del lol del lol del lee.

The devil he hoist her up on his back.
Right ful right ful titti fol lay.
The devil he hoist her up on his back,
And down into hell with all in his pack.
With my fol dil lol titti fol lol fol del lol del lol del lay.

There were two young little devils there tied up in chains.
Right ful right ful titti fol lay.
There were two young little devils there tied up in chains,
And she got a big stick and she put out their brains.
With my fol dil lol titti fol lol, fol del lol del lol dol dee.

The devil he caught and shoved her up on his back.
Right ful right ful titti fol lay.
The devil he hung her up on his back,
He was eight days going to hell and two hours coming back.
With my fol dil lol titti fol lol, fol del lol del lol del lay.

He says, 'Here my poor man there’s she is back safe and well.'
Right ful right ful titti fol lay.
He says, 'Here my poor man, there’s your wife safe and well,
The likes of your wife we wouldn’t want down in hell.'
With my fol dil lol titti fol lol, fol del lol del lol del lay.

Old Nick said, 'The women were worse than the men.'
Right ful right ful titti fol lay.
The Devil says, 'The women were worse than the men,
When they go down to hell they’re slung up again.'
With my fol dil lol titti fol lol, fol del lol del lol dol dee.


“While this story is very old and is to be found world-wide the ballad wasn’t found in English in the oral tradition until quite late. Francis J Child’s earliest text was polished in the middle of the 19th century, though scholars have claimed it to be ‘ancient’. It was widely popular in England and Scotland and in the south of England it acquired a whistled chorus said to be connected to the old custom of ‘whistling up the Devil’. Scots poet Robert Burns re-wrote the ballad as a poem; Mikey Kelleher’s reference to ‘Kellyburnbraes’ indicates that his variant is a version of this.

Whistling always carried the belief of bad luck, notably when done on board ship, but most of all when done by women: ‘A whistling woman and a crowing hen bodes no good to God nor men.’ (Rural English saying). It was hugely popular with American country singers; Tristam Coffin writes of the numerous versions collected in New England:

‘Certainly, the scolding wife, one who can rout the devil himself, has left her mark on folklore from India and Russia to the Western countries. This particular anecdote concerning her is a favorite of the American informant. With a similar song, ‘The Devil in Search of a Wife,’ it was also popular among the printers of nineteenth-century London broadsides. Originally, it must have concerned a contract in which a farmer hired the devil to do some plowing in exchange for a member of the family. The farmer, in many texts, worries that he may lose his eldest son and is relieved when his wife is taken.’”

Reference:
Ancient Ballads Traditionally Sung in New England, Helen Hartness Flanders, Univ. of Philadelphia, 1965.
Jim Carroll


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