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Willie Reilly and the Colleen Bawn
(Laws M9; Roud 537)
Peggy McMahon
Cloonlaheen, Doolough
Recorded August 2000

Carroll Mackenzie Collection


Arise up Willy Reilly, and come along with me,
I mean for you to go and leave this country,
To leave my father's dwelling, his houses and free land,
And away goes Willy Reilly and his dear Colleen Bawn.

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

‘Tis home then she was taken, and in her cabin bound.
Poor Reilly all in Sligo jail lay on the stony ground.
Till at the bar of justice, before the judge did stand,
For nothing but for the stealing, of his dear Colleen Bawn.

‘Tis in the cold, cold irons, my hands and feet are bound,
I’m handcuffed like a murderer and, tied unto the ground.
But all this toil and slavery, I’m willing for to stand,
Hoping for to be succoured, by my dear Colleen Bawn.

The jailer’s son to him did go, and this to him did say:
‘Arise up Willie Reilly, you must appear this day.
For great squire Foiler’s anger, you never can withstand.
I’m afraid you’ll suffer sorely, for your dear Colleen Bawn.

This is the news young Reilly, last night that I did hear:
The lady’s oath will hang you, or else will set you clear.’
‘If that be so’, said Reilly, ‘with pleasure I will stand,
Hoping for to be succoured by my dear Colleen Bawn.’

Now Reilly’s 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 is fit for Foiler’s daughter, was she heiress to the crown.

The judge, said he ‘This lady, being in her tender youth,
If Reily has deluded her, she will declare the truth.’
Then like a moving beauty bright, before him she did stand
‘You're welcome here, my heart's delight, and my dear Colleen Bawn.’

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 place, and come along with me.
I loved him out of measure, which fraught our destiny.’

Then out bespoke noble Fox, from the table he stood by.
‘Oh, gentlemen consider on the extremity,
To hang this young man for love, is murder you may see,
So spare the life of Reily and let, and leave this country.’

‘Good, 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.’

‘Good my Lord, I give them as a token of true love,
And when we are a-parting, I will them all remove,
If you have got them, Reilly, pray, 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 thirty locket diamonds, well-set in silver fair.
And as a true love token, wear it on your right hand,
How you’ll think of my poor broken heart, when you’re in a foreign land.’

Again, out spoke noble Fox, ‘You may let the 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.’


“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 Tom Lenihan

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