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Young and Single Sailor
(Roud 264 ; Laws N42)
Ollie Conway
Recorded in Conway’s Bar, Mullagh, September 1973

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Ollie Conway and JJ Lenihan

There was a girl in her father’s garden,
A gentleman he was passing by;
He stood a while as he gazed all on her,
And said, ‘Fair lady do you fancy I?’

‘I am no lady but a poor girl,
A poor man’s daughter of low degree;
So therefore young man, choose some other sweetheart,
Thy servant maid I’m not fit to be.

There is seven years since I had a sweetheart,
And seven more since I did him see;
And seven more I shall wait all on him,
If he’s alive he’ll come back to me.’

‘If there’s seven years since you had a sweetheart,
And seven more since you did him see;
And seven more you shall wait all on him,
Perhaps that young man you ne’er shall see.’

‘If he's sick I wish him better,
And if he’s dead I wish him rest.
But if he’s alive I shall wait all on him,
He’s the only young man that I love best.’

He put his hand down in his pocket,
His worn fingers they were thin and small;
And up between them he took a gold ring,
And when she saw it she down did fall.

He picked her up all in his arms,
And gave her kisses most tenderly;
Saying, ‘I am your love, and your single sailor,
Who has come from seas to wed with thee.’

‘If you’re my love and my single sailor,
Your face and features are strange to me;
But those seven years on the raging ocean,
Has brought great alteration with you and me.’


“This is probably one of the most popular of all the 'broken token’ songs, in which parting lovers are said to break a ring in two, each half being kept by the man and woman. At their reunion, the man produces his half as a proof of his identity. Robert Chambers, in his 'Book of Days' (1862-1864) describes a betrothal custom using a 'gimmal' or linked ring:

'Made with a double and sometimes with a triple link, which turned upon a pivot, it could shut up into one solid ring... It was customary to break these rings asunder at the betrothal which was ratified in a solemn manner over the Holy Bible, and sometimes in the presence of a witness, when the man and woman broke away the upper and lower rings from the central one, which the witness retained. When the marriage contract was fulfilled at the altar, the three portions of the ring were again united, and the ring used in the ceremony'.

The custom of exchanging rings as a promise of fidelity lasted well into the nineteenth century in Britain and was part of the plot of Thomas Hardy’s 'Far From the Madding Crowd'. These 'Broken Token' songs often end with the woman flinging herself into the returned lover's arms and welcoming him back. Tipperary Travelling woman, Mary Delaney, who also sang it for us, knew it differently and had the suitor even more firmly rejected:

For it's seven years brings an alteration,
And seven more brings a big change to me,
Oh, go home young man, choose another sweetheart,
Your serving maid I'm not here to be!”

The Book of Days, Robert Chambers, W & R Chambers, 1863-64.

Jim Carroll

See also

Lady in her Father's Garden sung by Peggy McMahon
Lady in her Father's Garden sung by Tom Lenihan

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