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To Fair London Town
(Laws N10; Roud 552)
Tom Lenihan
Knockbrack, Miltown Malbay
Recorded in singer's home, September 1977

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Tom Lenihan

Once in my rambles to fair London town,
All along in these rambles my true love I found.
She said, ‘Brother sailor, to where are you bound?’
He smiled and made answer, ‘To fair London town.’

To London fair city I would willingly go.
But as to get over, I do not well know.
I'm not bred a sailor but if you want a hand,
I will free your passage over and do all I can.

All things were ready our ship in full sail.
The wind it blew north to our home pleasant gale.
We hoist up our sails to our whole hearts content,
Until our ship, she sprang a leak and to the bottom down went.

There was thirty five of us confined in a boat,
With a small share of provision for each man to support.
Our provisions being scarce and no harbour being nigh,
And in which we had to cast lots for to know who'd first die.

These lots then were made, sure, in a bag they were shook.
Each man on board the long lot he took.
But behold this fair creature, the short lot she drew;
She was to die first for to feed the whole crew.

These lots then were made, sure, as plain as you see,
For to know which of these then, the butcher would be,
‘Come, come,’ says the captain, ‘Let the business be done.’
But before the blow was given we all heard a gun.

‘Stop, stop your hand, butcher,’ said this innocent dame.
‘Or are you for killing a harmless maid?
I’m a rich merchant's daughter to London sailed o’er,
And see what I have gained for the loving of thee.’

In that instant fresh colour flew up in his view.
His heart it was heavy just ready to break.
Saying, ‘My jewel, my darling my old heart will burst,
But in hope of your long life, myself will die first.’

We hoist up our sails for a full flowing tide,
We landed in Ireland, down by the seaside.
This couple got married and married they be,
And they lived as happy as happy could be.


“The story of a young woman who follows her lover to sea dressed as a man and ends up taking part in a drawing of lots to decide who is to be butchered to feed the shipwrecked crew was found widely in the United States and Canada and occasionally in Britain as 'The Silk Merchant’s Daughter', often with a far more convoluted plot than Tom’s, involving her having to kill one of two ‘heathens’ who try to murder her. Tom learned it from his grandfather, who in turn learned it from his grandfather. Of all the songs in Tom’s repertoire, he considered this to be the oldest. Tom Munnelly said he only ever found one other version of the song, in Wexford in 1976; it was identical to Tom’s, with the same plot idiosyncrasies, indicating that it may have been brought into Ireland on a broadside. A broadside version of the song entitled 'The Constant Lovers' or 'The Valiant Young Lady' was reported to have been sold near ‘The Liberty Pole’ in 1794.”

American Balladry from British Broadsides, G. Malcolm Laws Jnr., 1957.
Jim Carroll

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