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O’Reilly to America
(Laws M8; Roud 270)
Pat MacNamara
Kilshanny, near Ennistymon
Recorded in Kilshanny, August 1975

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Pat McNamara

As I roved out one evening down by a riverside,
Sure, I heard a maid complaining as the tears rolled from her eyes,
Saying, "This is a cold and stormy night", oh, those words to me did say:
"My love lies on the raging sea bound for Americay."

"My love he is a tall young man, now his age is scarce eighteen,
He being as nice a young man as e’er you might have seen.
My father he has riches great, and O’Reilly, he is poor,
For because I love my sailor boy, no he would not him endure."

"And William O’Reilly is my true love’s name from near the town of Bray,
My mother took me by the hand and those words to me did say;"
"If you be fond of Reilly then quit this country,
For your father says he’ll have his life or shun his company."

"Now then, mother dear, don’t be severe, where shall I send my love?
For my heart lies in his bosom as constant as a dove."
"Now then daughter dear, sure I’m not severe, here is one thousand pounds,
Send O’Reilly to America to purchase there some ground."

Now when she got this money, sure, to O’Reilly she did run,
Saying, "This very night, to take your life my father charged his gun.
Here is one thousand pounds in gold as my mamma sent to you;
Come sail unto America and I shall follow you."

Now when he got this money, sure, next day he sailed away;
And when he put his foot on board those words to her did say;
"Here is a true lover's token; I’ll break it into two,
Come, half my heart and half this ring, now, till I find out you."

Now it being a few months after, she being walking by the shore,
When O’Reilly he came back again to take his love away,
The ship being wrecked, all hands being lost, and her father grieved full sore,
Found O’Reilly in her arms and they both drowned on the shore.

And he found a letter in her breast, now and it was wrote with blood,
Saying, "Cruel it being my father who thought to shoot my love;
But let this be a warning to all maidens so fair;
But never let the lad you love sail far across the sea."


"While widely acknowledged to be of Irish origin, this has been also found all over Britain and the United States, and was, according to Frank Purslow, printed by all the important broadside presses. Frank Purslow suggested in his note to the Hampshire version that the final verse had ‘been added by a printer’s hack who could not bear to see a song without a colourful and slightly moralising ending’.

The Constant Lovers, Frank Purslow, EFDSS Publications, 1972
Other recordings: George Dunn, ‘Chainmaker’, Musical Traditions MTCD317-8
Jim Carroll

See also
O'Reilly to America sung by Austin Flanagan

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