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Willie Reilly and His Colleen Bawn
(Laws M9; Roud 537)
Tom Lenihan
Knockbrack, Miltown Malbay
Recorded in singer's home, July 1976

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Tom Lenihan

‘Oh rise up, Willie Reilly, and come along with me,
I mean to go along with you and leave this country.
To leave my father’s dwelling house, his houses and free land.’
And away goes Willie Reilly and his dear Colleen Bawn.

They go by hills and mountains and by yon lonesome plains,
Through shady groves and valleys, all dangers to refrain.
But her father followed after with a well-armed band,
And taken was poor Reilly and his dear Colleen Bawn.

It was home then she was taken and in her closet bound,
Poor Reilly lay in Sligo Jail upon a stony ground.
Till at the bar of justice before the judge he’d stand,
For nothing but the stealing of his dear Colleen Bawn.

The jailer’s son to Reilly goes and thus to him did say,
‘Oh rise up, Willie Reilly, you must appear today.
For great squire Follard’s anger you never shall withstand,
I’m afraid you’ll suffer sorely for your dear Colleen Bawn.’

Now Willie dressed from top to toe all in a suit of green,
His hair hangs o’er his shoulders, most glorious to be seen.
He’s tall and straight and comely as any can be found,
He’s fit for Follard’s daughter, was she heiress to a crown?

‘Oh gentlemen,’ squire Follard said, ‘with pity look on me.
This villain came amongst us to disgrace my family;
And by his base contrivances this villainy was planned.
‘If I don’t get satisfaction I will quit this Irish land.’

The lady, with a tear, began, and thus replied she:
‘The fault is none of Reilly’s – the blame lies all on me.
I forced him for to leave his home, and come along with me.
I loved him out of measure, oh, which wrought our destiny.’

‘Oh, my lord, he stole from her, her diamonds and her rings,
Gold watch and silver buckles and many precious things.
Which cost me in bright guineas more than five hundred pounds.
I’ll have the life of Reilly, should I lose ten thousand pounds.’

‘Oh, my lord, I gave them as tokens of true love.
And when we are a-parting I will them all remove.
If you have got them Reilly, will you send them home to me?’
‘I will, my loving lady, with many thanks to thee.’

‘There is a ring amongst them I’ll allow yourself to wear,
With thirteen locket-diamonds well-set in silver fair,
And as a true-love’s token wear it on your right hand,
That you’ll think of my old broken heart when you’re in a foreign land.’

Then out spoke the noble Fox: ‘You must let this prisoner go.
The lady’s oath has cleared him, as the jury all may know.
She has released her own true love, she has renewed his name.
May her honour bright gain high estate and her offspring rise to fame.’


“Tom could never remember where he learned this, but as he owned a copy of 'Six Hundred and Seventeen Irish Songs and Ballads' (Wehman Bros, New York, 1898), it was quite possible that this was his source. William Carlton’s novel, 'Willy Reilly and his Colleen Bawn' was published in 1855; ten years after the ballad had appeared in American songsters. Dion Boucicault dramatised the story as 'The Colleen Bawn: or, the Brides of Garryowen' in 1860 and this dramatisation became a firm favourite with the fit-ups (travelling theatres) that toured rural Ireland up to the middle of the twentieth century. In 1919, a film, directed by John McDonagh, brother of the executed 1916 leader Sean, was made of the story. P.W. Joyce wrote:

‘The event commemorated in this ballad occurred towards the end of the eighteenth century, and the scene is near Bundoran, beside the boundaries of the three counties, Donegal, Fermanagh, and Sligo, where the ruined house of the great Squire Folliard is still to be seen. The proper family-name is Ffolliott, but the people always pronounce it Folliard. The whole story is still vividly remembered in the district; and Carleton has founded on it his novel of 'Willie Reilly'. The penal laws were then in force, and it was very dangerous for a young Catholic Irishman to run away with the daughter of a powerful Protestant local Squire. The song, with its pretty air, was known and sung all over Ireland, so that it has clung to my memory from my earliest days. I well remember on one occasion singing it with unbounded applause for a number of workmen at their dinner in our kitchen when I was about ten years of age. The words have been often printed, both in books and on ballad-sheets of which I have several copies. They will be found in Duffy's 'Ballad Poetry of Ireland', as he got them from Carleton. The copy I give here differs from this in some words and phrases. I give the air chiefly from memory: but Forde has several settings in his great MS. collection.’”

Old Irish Folk Music and Songs, P.W. Joyce, Dublin 1909.

Jim Carroll

See also
Willie Reilly and his Colleen Bawn sung by Peggy McMahon

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