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The Female Cabinboy
(Laws N12; Roud 231)
Mikey Kelleher
Quilty and Depford, London
Recorded in London, 1977

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Mikey Kelleher

I am a girl that’s deep in love, and no-one feels my pain,
I’m searching for my lover and Johnny is his name,
If I don’t find my Johnny, I’ll look so tenderly,
And if I had my own dear Johnny, I’ll sail across the sea.

I’ll cut off my yellow locks and sailor’s clothes I’ll put on.
I’ll hire with the sea-bold captain, and his decks I’ll march along.
I’ll hire with the sea-bold captain, and his cabinboy I’ll be,
And I’ll be his real comrade, in the land of liberty.

It being on a Sunday evening, that we were going to bed,
The captain laughed and shook his head, saying, ‘I wish you was a maid.
With your rosy cheeks and ruby lips, they are enticing me,
And I wish to God, and from my heart, that you was a maid for me.’

‘Hold your tongue dear captain, your talk is all in vain,
When the sailors come to hear of this, they’ll laugh and make great game.
When your ship shall reach those island, some handsome girl you’ll find,
When your ship shall reach those island, tis in we will prove kind.’

It being in a few days after, his ship had reached the shore.
‘Goodbye, goodbye oh captain, goodbye for ever more.
Goodbye, God bless you captain, goodbye for ever more.
Once I’d been a sailor on board, but now I’m a maid on shore.’

‘So return, oh return, my pretty girl, return once more with me,
I’ve got in the world with three thousand pounds and that I’ll leave to thee,
I’ve got in the world with three thousand pounds and that I’ll give to thee,
If you return, return, my pretty girl, and sail once more with me.’


Conversation after the song between Mikey, Pat Mackenzie and Jim Carroll:
Mikey Kelleher: That’s over a hundred and fifty years old.
Jim Carroll: That’s a lovely song. Where did you get that from Mick?
Mikey: That’s years ago. My old Mam she sung it and I only a baby.

“There are several documented accounts of women disguising themselves as men and serving on board ship - sometimes for a great length of time - and a number of songs on the subject. One account tells of a woman who served most of her life under sail and, never having been found out, retired and became an innkeeper in one of the south of England seaport towns. In the oral tradition, some women weren’t so lucky; in the song ‘The Handsome Cabin Boy’ the heroine ends up pregnant and the captain says to his wife: ‘It’s either you or me betrayed the handsome cabin boy.’

Mikey’s version is similar to the one recorded from Mrs Cecilia Costello of Galway parentage, but living in Birmingham; it is also virtually the same as the one we recorded from travelling woman Katey Dooley (neé McCarthy) from Caherciveen, Co. Kerry.”

Seven Songs recorded by the BBC from Mrs Costello of Birmingham in Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, 1953.
The Songs of Elizabeth Cronin, Dáibhi Ó Cróinín.
Ballads and Sea Songs of Newfoundland, E.B. Greenleaf & G.R. Mansfield.
Jim Carroll

See also
The Female Sailor sung by Pat MacNamara

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