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Bessie of Ballintown Brae
(Laws P28; Roud 566)
Nora Cleary
The Hand, near Miltown Malbay
Recorded in singer’s home

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Nora Cleary

Young lads and fair maidens I pray you draw near,
To the sad-feeling verses which you’re now going to hear.
It’s about charming Bessie of Ballintown Brae,
And the lad of the moorland that led her astray.

One night as this young man lay down for to sleep,
Young Bessie came to him and o’er him did weep.
Saying, ‘You are the young man who caused me to stray,
So far from my home in sweet Ballintown Brae.’

He ordered his servants to saddle his steed.
Over high hills and valleys he rode in great speed.
Till he came to a cottage by the fast break of day,
It was Bessie’s own cottage, in Ballintown Brae.

Bessie’s own father stood at his own gate,
Like a man quite forlorn bewailing his fate.
Til this young man approached him and asked him his grief,
It was then he made answer and gave his reprieve.

‘I had only one daughter,’ the old man did say.
‘Today she is cold in sweet Ballintown Brae.
All by a young man who led her astray,
So far from her home in sweet Ballintown Brae.’

He stooped to his saddle, a bright sword he drew,
And with this sharp weapon he pierced his heart through.
And when we heard him die we could hear him to sigh,
‘Lay me down by young Bessie in sweet Ballintown Brae.’


“We could find only three published Irish versions of this: from Inishowen, Co. Donegal, County Derry and a third in W.P. Joyce’s ‘Old Irish Music and Song’ which describes it as ‘an Ulster song’. Kerry Traveller Mikeen McCarthy learned it from his father and it was ‘one of the songs he sold on ballad sheets in Kerry in the 1940s’; he described it as ‘a best seller’. It was popular in Canada and the United States. W. Roy Mackenzie in his note to a fragment in his Nova Scotia collection wrote:

‘An English broadside on file at the Harvard College Library contains a song entitled ‘Sweet Ballenden Braes’ - a lament by a deserted maiden who is going back to Ballenden Braes to die. It is in the same measure and stanza form as the song under discussion, and is I think, quite certainly to be connected to it.’ The note in the ‘New Green Mountain Songster’ states, ‘This ballad is one of the many Irish songs that have been favourites of the [Vermont] woodsmen.’ There is a similar text to Mikeen McCarthy’s entitled ‘Answer to Ballindown Brae’ to be found in a collection of Irish ballad sheets in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library in London.”

Flower of Dunaff Hill, Jimmy McBride, 1988.
Old Irish Folk Music and Songs, W.P. Joyce.
Sam Henry’s Songs of the People, Gale Huntington (ed.), Univ. of Georgia Press, 1990.
Ballads and Sea Songs from Nova Scotia, W. Roy Mackenzie, Harvard Univ. Press, 1928.
The Irish Broadside Collection, Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.
New Green Mountain Songster, Flanders, Ballard, Brown, Barry (eds.), Yale Univ. Press, 1937.
Jim Carroll

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