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Little Ball of Yarn
(Roud 1404)
Nora Cleary
The Hand, near Miltown Malbay
Recorded in singer's home, July 1976

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Nora Cleary

It being in the month of May when the birds were young and gay,
I took a stroll down by the corn in the morning.
It was there I spied a maid and she sitting in a shade,
And I asked her if I’d wind her ball of yarn.

“Oh no, kind sir,” she said, “You’re a stranger unto me,
And perhaps you might have any other darling.”
“Oh no, my lovely miss, take a warning unto this;
Keep your hand on your little ball of yarn.”

In the middle of the green where I knew I wouldn’t be seen;
I didn’t intend to do her any harm;
I put my hands around her waist then I gently laid her down
And began to wind her little ball of yarn.

Nine months came to pass, sure, I met this lovely lass;
She was carrying little triplets in her arms.
Says I, “My lovely miss, take a warning unto this,
Keep your hand upon your little ball of yarn."


"Gershon Legman claimed this as a distant relative of the song ‘The Yellow, Yellow Yorlin’’ (Yellowhammer) which is to be found in Burns’ ‘Merry Muses of Caledonia’ (1800), while sea-song expert Stan Hugill had it as a pumping shanty and suggested that balls of yarn were more likely to be associated with the sea than the land.
Legman also linked it to a custom in The Ozarks where a young woman who wished to find who she was to marry threw a ball of red yarn into a ‘haunted’ house, keeping hold of one end. She called out “Who’ll wind my ball of yarn”, and a ghostly voice from within is said to have come up with the answer.
Ref: ‘Roll Me in Your Arms’, Vance Randolph, ed. Gershon Legman, Univ. of Arkansas Press, 1992
Other recordings: Walter Pardon; ‘Put a Bit of Powder on it Father’; Musical Traditions MTCD305-6"

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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