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The Holland Handkerchief
(Roud 246; Child 272)
Tom Lenihan
Knockbrack, Miltown Malbay
Recorded 1976

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Tom Lenihan

There did a squire live in this town,
And a squire of a high renown.
He had a daughter, a beauty bright,
And the name he called her was his ‘Heart’s Delight.’

All dukes and princes to court her came,
But none of them could her favour gain.
Till there did a young man of low degree,
And above them all she fancied he.

When her father came of this to know,
That she loved this young man so, and so.
One hundred miles he sent her away,
To detain her of her wedding day.

One night as she was for her bed bound,
And taking off her lovely gowns,
She heard a voice of a deadly sound,
Saying: ‘Loosen those bonds, love, by which we’re bound.’

Her father’s horse she right well did know,
And her mother’s mantle she knew also.
She dressed herself from top to toe,
With her lover waiting on her to go.

She rode behind her own true love;
They rode far faster than any wind,
Till after an hour or a little more,
He cried: ‘My darling, my head is sore.’

A Holland handkerchief she then took out
And with it tied his head about.
She kissed his lips and these words did say:
‘My love, you’re colder than the very clay.’

And when she came to her father’s gate,
‘Alight, alight love,’ this young man said.
‘Alight, alight love, and go to bed,
And your father’s horse I’ll see rubbed and fed.’

But when she came to her father’s hall,
‘Who’s there? Who’s there?’ her father called.
‘Tis I, dear father, you sent for me,
By such a messenger', naming he.

Her father, knowing this man nine months dead,
He tore the grey hair down off his head.
He wrung his hands and his heart was sore,
And this young man’s darling cried more and more.

‘Twas early in the morning, at the dawn of day,
They went to the grave where this young man lay,
And although this young man is nine months dead,
There’s a Holland handkerchief tied round his head.

“This revenant ballad, one in which the dead return to consort with the living, is extremely rare in the oral tradition in these islands, although it flourished on the other side of the Atlantic. Under its generic title ‘The Suffolk Miracle’, it was collected once, in Herefordshire at the beginning of the 20th century, once in South Wales and several times in the North East of Scotland. Its popularity in Ireland seems to be concentrated here in Clare, though there are a few Donegal versions and Elizabeth Cronin, the Co. Cork singer, had a part version. Ballad scholar Francis James Child was fairly scathing about the ballad and expressed a reluctance to include it in his ‘English and Scottish Popular Ballads’, though it is an interesting example of how ballad poetry treats the returning dead – with love and an expression of loss when they have to return to the grave – a thousand miles from the Hammer Horror film treatment of the subject.”
Jim Carroll

See also
The Holland Handkerchief sung by Austin Flanagan


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