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The Old Armchair
(Child 74; Roud 253)
Martin Howley
Fanore, north west Clare
Recorded in singer’s home, July 1974

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Martin Howley

Knight William was sitting on his old armchair,
Lady Margaret was sitting on his knee.
“My father,” she said, “would think it a disgrace
For to have me get married unto thee.”

“If that be the way, Lady Margaret,” he said;
“If that be the way,” said he;
“For in three weeks time till [t’will] all be at an end
And my brave royal wedding you shall see.”

Lady Margaret was sitting on her top room window
And she combing down her yellow long hair.
Who would she spy but Knight William and his newly-wedded wife,
And they going for to take the fresh air.

Then she threw away her ivory combs
And tied up her yellow long hair.
She threw herself down from her top room window
And was never seen there any more.

It was at the dead, dead, dead hour of the night
When all souls, they were asleep.
In comes the ghost of Lady Margaret
And she stood by Knight William’s bedside.

“Knight William, Knight William, Knight William,” she said,
“How fast you were asleep.
It’s now you’re enjoying your newly-wedded wife,
And you left me all in my winding-sheet;
Whilst the lily and the rose, or the covering in my clothes,
My true-love has sent me to sleep.”

Knight William got up and he called his merry men,
He called them by one, by twos and threes.
He dressed them all up in a scarlet of red,
And himself in a suit of green.

They rode, they rode to Lady Margaret’s house
And tipping so gently at the ring.
But none was as ready as Lady Margaret’s brother
For to go up and let Knight William in.

“It’s often and often I kissed those ruby lips,
And it’s fondly thou has kissed mine;
But I vow and declare, Lady Margaret,” he said,
“That I never shall kiss any one but thine.”

Lady Margaret was buried in Lady Mary’s Church,
Knight William was buried in a bower;
And it’s over Lady Margaret they grew a red rose,
And it’s over Knight William grew a briar.

They grew, they grew for seven long years,
Until they could not grow no high.
They grew, they grew to a true lover’s knot,
And the red rose covers the briar.

"The ballad of Fair Margaret and Sweet William was first quoted in part in the Beaumont and Fletcher play ‘The Knight of the Burning Pestle’ in 1611, the first full text being a broadside or stall copy published in Percy's ‘Reliques’ in 1767. While it has been found in the oral tradition in England and Scotland, it seems to have survived best among singers in the United States; all other sound recordings are American. The only other version to have turned up in Ireland was in the Percy manuscripts and had been written down by the mother of the Bishop of Derry in 1776. Martin learned his version "when I was very young" from a travelling woman named Sherlock some ninety years ago.
Ref: ‘The English and Scottish Popular Ballads’ (vol 2), Francis James Child (ed) Dover edition 1965
Other recordings: Evelyn Ramsey, (Little Margaret), ‘Far in the Mountains’, Musical Traditions MTCD321-2; Almeda Riddle (Lady Margaret), ‘Battles and Hymns from the Ozarks’, Rounder 0017"

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.


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