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The Holland Handkerchief
(Roud 246; Child 272)
Austin Flanagan
Luogh, Doolin
Recorded in singer's home, August 1974

Carroll Mackenzie Collection


There was a lord lived in this town,
He was a lord of a high renown,
He had one daughter a beauty bright,
And the name he called her was his heart’s delight.

There did many a lord to court her came,
But none of them could her favour gain,
Till at length came a lord of a high degree,
And above them all, she fancied he.

One night as she was for bed bound,
Just stripped and ready to lay down,
She heard a dead and a dismal sound,
Saying: ‘Untie those bonds love, they are fast bound.’

Her father’s steed was the first she knew,
Her mother’s mantle and safeguard too.
Saying: ‘Here’s a token to your beauty bright,
Your father loves you to come to-night.’

She dressed herself in rich attire,
She rode away with her heart’s delight,
And when he got her up behind him,
He rode far swifter than any wind.

An olive handkerchief she did pull out,
And around his head she did fast bound.
She kissed his cold lips, those words did say:
Mo mhíle stór, you’re as cold as clay.’

So when she came to her father’s hall,
Her father was the first one she did call,
Saying: ‘Father, father, did you send for me,
By such a messenger?’ naming he.

The father knowing that this young man was dead,
And many a green leaf growing o’er his head,
He clasped his hands and he cried full sore,
Whilst the young man’s darling cried more and more.

It was early then, by the dawn of day,
Her uncle went to the burying place,
Although this young man was nine years dead,
The olive handkerchief still round his head.

Come all you parents I’ve thus to say,
Never hinder young people of their own free will.
For once their hand and their heart they give,
They never can recall it while they live.


“This revenant ballad, one in which the dead return to consort with the living, is extremely rare in the oral tradition in these islands, although it flourished on the other side of the Atlantic. Under its generic title ‘The Suffolk Miracle’, it was collected once, in Herefordshire at the beginning of the 20th century, once in South Wales and several times in the North East of Scotland. Its popularity in Ireland seems to be concentrated here in Clare, though there are a few Donegal versions and Elizabeth Cronin, the Co. Cork singer, had a part version. Ballad scholar Francis James Child was fairly scathing about the ballad and expressed a reluctance to include it in his ‘English and Scottish Popular Ballads’, though it is an interesting example of how ballad poetry treats the returning dead – with love and an expression of loss when they have to return to the grave – a thousand miles from the Hammer Horror film treatment of the subject.”
Jim Carroll

See also
The Holland Handkerchief sung by Tom Lenihan

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