Article MT216

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No. 31: Willie Reilly and his Colleen Bawn 21

The following remarks attempt to illustrate how sung versions and broadside printings of the Willie Reilly story have degrees of association mostly where narrative impulse is involved; but how, as time went on, sung versions pulled away in certain detail from the original story as oral contributions were made.  It is also suggested that sung versions in England had affiliations with the Riley and Colinband printed version of the story as opposed to that of Trial …; how Scottish and Irish sung versions were closer to each other in form and detail than they were to English versions; and yet how similar elements of musical structure can be detected in most sung versions - whilst a handful of tunes stand out in their individuality.

Sung versions of the story of Willie Reilly in England are not common.  Historically, they consist of a fragment of text and a tune noted by Sabine Baring-Gould; two tunes with single stanzas in the Sharp manuscripts; an incomplete song from Dorset in the Hammond manuscripts; and a rather fuller version in the same source.2

Sabine Baring-Gould's fragment, entitled The Trial of Willy Reilly, is from the redoubtable Sam Fone and in view of some of the full and fascinating versions of some songs that Mr Fone had it is a pity that there are no more than the two opening stanzas of text (as we know it):

O rise up, Willy Reilly, & come away with me,
For I do mean to go with you & leave this countrie (sic)
I'll leave my father's dwelling, his houses & his lands,
And away with Willy Reilly - his own dear Colleen Bawn.

O'er lofty hills & mountains, along the lonesome plain,
Through shady groves & villages, her person (presence?) to obtain,
Her father followed after, and with an armed band
Soon took was Willy Reilly - & his own dear Colleen Bawn.3
We can at least see that so far the text parallels the familiar pattern of broadside text.  Baring-Gould admitted that there had been difficulties with the tune (Fig. 1) and it and the words do not easily fit together.  As a minor tune, set out in conventional three-four time, it is the only such a one in the English sung contribution, and the phrasing of notation is odd …  The failure to capture its flow in conventional musical terms can be perceived in the slight irregularity in bar four, for example.  It was actually Frederick Bussell, one of Baring-Gould's collaborators in collecting, who made the notations and, since he was a skilled musician, any abandonment of the song would have been a frustrating matter, particularly since Bussell did have two attempts at notation, the one being in slower time than the other, yet without a satisfactory resolution of problems. 

Sam Fone, as it happens, proved to be available for yet more return visits but possible fresh attempts at notation were not, evidently, undertaken. 

Cecil Sharp's first manuscript version, from Charles Young at Puriton, noted in 1906, has a first and only stanza as follows:

O rise up William Reilly and come along with me
For I am resolved to leave this country
To quit my father's buildings his houses and his lands
And away went William Reilly with his own dear Columbine.4
The name change is a reasonable one, however it came about, for someone, we surmise, unused to the 'original' as transposed into English, but exceeding even the transmutation into 'Colinband' as it was found in broadside texts.  'Quit', by the way, is a term not encountered in broadsides.

The tune (Fig. 2, first tune), in ABBA form, four-square, with a flattened note in bars three, seven, eleven and fourteen, is similar in shape and structure to Sharp's other manuscript version and to that from Mrs Gould and, to an extent, the tune from Joyce in Ireland, all noted below.  We can only equate the lettered pattern with the given air and first stanza and might think that singers would have varied the phrasing as they progressed through the song … but as a rough guide to musical progression such a shorthand form is useful.

The second version in Sharp's manuscripts is from 'Jas.  Lockyear' in Western Zoyland, noted in 19075, and consists of a tune with some words, the most significant aspect of which in text is in the final line when William Reilly departs 'with his dear lady bound', thus suggesting a complete movement away from most text where it is Reilly alone who is banished, as discussed in the previous piece in this series.  Whether there was any improvement or change in the rest of Mr Lockyear's version (if it exists) in this particular matter is not possible to gauge.

The tune - four-square ABBA, with expected slight variations of note and note-value - is, as was noted above, similar to the other Sharp tune in its movement, with similar melodic arches appearing as shown in the musical example.(Fig. 2, second tune)  Bearing in mind the shorthand nature of the lettered ABBA, in the second and third sets of bars as given and, ostensibly, offering a consistent pattern, there is, nonetheless, a distinct climax at the final note of the third set, a flattened, lingering top C. 

The first tune from the Henry Hammond manuscripts is from Mrs Gould (the incomplete song) in four-square time (Fig. 3):

This is described as Dorian in mode on the printed version in JFSS and has resemblance to other English tunes as described above.  The second tune, from Mrs Bartlett (Fig. 4), is entirely major and consists of eight bars only.6  This means that the second part of each stanza of text has, perforce, to be sung to the same strain (one variant phrase is actually given in manuscript in bar six - not shown in the musical extract here).

The two texts follow a familiar narrative pattern.  Mrs Gould's begins with:

Rise up young William Riley & come along with me
For I am resolved to leave my countery (sic)
To leave my father's buildings, his houses & his land
So went young William Riley & his dear young Colon Ban.
We see at once the name-change which must be accounted oral - but also that names are more like those in Riley and Colinband broadside printings rather than those in Trial … Other oral interpolations are the two words 'resolved' and 'buildings' that do not figure in broadside text although 'resolved' does echo the Sharp notation from Charles Young.  There follow a 'lofty hills & mountains' line, the father pursing the fugitives with 'an armèd band'.  Hammond stresses the 'èd' in 'armèd' but not in 'resolved' in the first stanza quoted here which, therefore, to Hammond's credit, looks to pay attention to the singer's idiosyncracies - unless he was simply exercising editorial prerogative, not the usual case in his manuscripts. 

The lady is 'confin'd' - surely a form of presentation influenced by encounters with printed versions or through ingrained habit whilst printing text - and Riley is 'sent to gaol in some part of the town' there 'to bide till ''sizes'.  On the morning of the assizes 'the just keeper's son' (my italics - to highlight a unique word in text) arrives to tell Riley that he must appear 'Before your noble judge, standing, at his right hand' and, 'I'm 'fraid you'll suffer sorry for your dear young Colom Ban' - ''fraid' obviously a shortened oral contribution and 'sorry' unique in sung versions discussed here …  'Colom Ban' gives us yet another name variant, almost consistent with 'Columbine' as in the Charles Young version discussed above.

We then find a thoroughly mixed passage of text.  The lady was sent for 'to come immediately'.  This line parallels some in a hierarchy of broadside printings of Riley and Colinband and William Riley including those from Bentley, Chilcott, Willey, Wright and Taylor and, since there is no such line in any copies of Trial …, this, like the name-change, would seem to suggest a possible association with Riley and Colinband or with William Riley (in texts mentioned again below).  However, lines in the Gould text that follow indicating that the girl appears 'like some moving beauty' find echoes not only in Riley and Colinband (again, in Bentley, for instance and in Pratt who does not, all the same, have the phrase including the words 'sent for immediately') but also in Trial …('Now like a moving angel bright before them she did stand' in Catnach and Pitts, for example).  At the same time, none of the lines discussed immediately above appear in London texts of Riley and Colinband from Davenport, Pitts and Phair, nor yet in Swindells or Harkness - as if the text had been tightened of excess.  Swindells, for example, merely has 'The lady fhe fpoke out …'.  If there is an association with broadside text, then the range of possibilities is narrowed somewhat as manifested in texts from the printers named above, Bentley et al.  Two broadside copies without imprint - of William Riley and Colinband and of Riley and Colinband do have both phrases, thus complicating possibilities of a particular line of historical descent in time and suggesting that, as in so many - expected - cases, a basic text is regularly changed as dissemination takes its course.  This, conversely, does highlight occasions where text (and tune) echo precedent and, as will be seen, the association of text here with broadside production is not entirely speculative.7

One might draw a working conclusion that, if broadside influence there be in the Gould text, then it is relatively late in historical time and mostly associated with Riley and Colinband rather than Trial …  Further, if this is so and considering that the Gould text is one of only a handful of English sung versions to have survived as far as can be ascertained, it might seem that broadside copy of Trial … - as opposed to Riley and Colinband - served most, perhaps, as additional confirmation of the existence of the story rather than as progenitor.  This is somewhat surprising considering the numbers of Trial … broadsides that bespeckle the nineteenth century. 

As for the remainder of the Gould text, the girl declares, in a sudden switch of viewpoint in the third line here:

Ye gentlemen of the jury, some pity take on him
For the blame is not on Riley, for all the blames to me
For I loved him out of measure which proved her destiny.
Then, continuing, she says that:
These goods, good lord, I gave him as a token of goodwill
And if you've not removed it I'm sure you have it still.
There is one amongst it, I'll 'low for you to wear
And 5 & 20 diamonds to set off your hair.
- the makeup of the ring being unique in all text, on broadside or in sung versions, save in that from Mrs Bartlett (below) - one of those interesting echoes just mentioned.  Broadside copies of Trial …, both English and Irish, inevitably have 'thirty' diamonds and this goes back to the Irish booklet version, discussed in the previous article as, perhaps, the progenitor of all texts of the story, in which we find '30 Locket Diamonds'.  In Riley and Colinband and William Riley and Colinband, the makeup is more varied.  Davenport, in an echo of the Irish text, has 'thirty locks'.  So do Pitts, Hurd and Pratt and so do two copies without imprint.  Swindells and Harkness, on the other hand, have thirty 'locks of silver'.  It is to Bentley, Chilcott, Willey, Wright and Taylor plus copy without imprint in the Lucy Broadwood collection that we turn for a bigger change: seven and twenty diamonds …  Here, in the Gould sung version, after another change of number, the girl tells Riley to wear 'it' on his right hand so that he might think of her broken heart when he is in a foreign land. 

The lines given immediately above encapsulate oral dissemination.  The phrase 'These goods, good lord', for instance, is not found in broadside text; nor is ''low', obviously a shortened word. 

The text is still fairly skeletal in comparison with other known ones and the absence of any contribution from the girl's father or any mention of Fox underlines a kind of change where the song could be said to be turning into another more generic kind of love-song, moving away from the full Willie Reilly story as so far encountered - and, of course, from broadside text. 

When the piece came to be printed in JFSS the text was given as above but notes indicate that Hammond knew of another 'fuller' version.  In notes, too, Anne Gilchrist added that Christie had printed the ballad (see more on Christie below); and Frank Kidson cited American versions, one dating from 1838.  Lucy Broadwood, as editor, also added a full broadside version from 'the Catnach period' (it actually looks very much like Bentley's text)8 claiming that it and Mrs Gould's text were 'more alike than other ballads on the same subject'.  Lucy Broadwood went on to discuss a Such printing; and then quoted indirectly from Carleton.  Such, she wrote, gave the name of the Squire as 'Railland', Carleton as 'Foillard' and Christie as 'Folliard' but she did not comment on the absence of a name in Mrs Gould's version nor, apart from the observation already cited, was she able to pinpoint possible parallels to specific broadside printings like that of Bentley.  This suggests that Lucy Broadwood did not see that Mrs Gould's text could have come to her through a line of descent unattached to Trial … although, as always, common sense allows us to presuppose scope for acquisition from more than one source, printed and oral.  In this respect, Carleton, we are informed, heard the song from his mother when he was a child - his novel dates from 1855 - but Carleton is something of a red herring and whilst by Mrs Gould's time, it might seem, printings had irretrievably mixed up names, we need not dismiss the Riley and Colinband connection (as opposed to any with Trial …) out of hand.

Hammond's 'fuller' version must have been that from Mrs Bartlett - there are no other versions in his manuscripts.  It is, indeed, fairly full when compared to broadside versions, beginning with the familiar injunction to 'young William Riley' to 'rise' and go along with his sweetheart, she resolved to leave her father's 'houses, his dwellings and free lands'.  The heroine's name, though, is given as 'Susan Band' and one wonders if there was due to familiarity with other 'Bands' - in Peggy Band, for instance.  Does this, in turn, bespeak merely an acceptance of the form of the name as a given phenomenon in dissemination or an acknowledgement that all 'Bans' should be changed?  Were printers that sensitive?  Surely singers, relying on aural perception, would not have made the same transition?  The case for broadside precedent is nudged into focus.9

In contrast, a 'lofty mountains' stanza follows with the substitution in its second line of 'crystal fountains' that the company 'did gain' and the father pursuing 'with seven men in hand' that (using a unique word in text - my italics) 'overgot young Riley and his sweet young Susan Band'.  She is confined, 'close in her chamber bound' and Riley sent to jail 'all in the cursed town'.  All told so far the clear oral elements militate against broadside precedence.  We are probably, then, talking about admixture; another element of common sense even as the glimmer of broadsides does not quite go away.

The gaoler's son tells Riley that he must face 'Squire Fowler's anger', the name connected to Riley and Colinband not Trial …; and the next stanza offers a charming conflation of lines as we have previously encountered them:

“If it be so,” said Riley, “with pleasure shall I stand,
For I know I've never injured my dear young Susan Band.”
Just like some moving beauty, before him she did stand,
“You're welcome here, my heart's delight, my own sweet Susan Band.”
She appeals to the jury, taking the blame and declaring that she had given him 'goods' 'as a token of good will'.  Riley agrees to return the goods whereupon she offers him a particular ring with 'five and twenty diamonds' to wear on his right hand whilst thinking on her broken heart in a foreign land - the figure, as noted above, is the same as in the Gould text.  Someone - not named but we take it to be her father - then objects that the 'goods' were 'valuable things' and that the life of Riley must be forfeit.  But:
Up spoke a noble lord, the table standing by,
“We'll pity his hard fortune and his extremity,
To hand a man for love is a murder I do say,
We'll spare the life of Riley, if he'll quit the countery”.  (sic)
Taking all speculative points into account: there are many elements from known, mostly broadside, text combining here and, clearly, omissions, although the overall storyline is intact.  The piece would seem, at first glance, to parallel the Pitts printing of Riley and Colinband especially in the inclusion of the Squire's name as 'Fowler' (not, as in Trial … where we found 'Railland' or its variants).  But we note also the protestation of Riley that he never 'injured' his sweetheart, a word found elsewhere only in broadside copy from Willey (Willey, though, had 'Furlow' as the Squire's name: evidence of mixing somewhere along the line).  Broadside connection would, then, seem to be a tentative proposition of limited and scattered dimension.

In sum: the song did not survive well historically in England10 but the most full text from Mrs Bartlett's, at least, shows a marked consistency of narrative line compared with previous known printed text of both Trial … and Riley and Colinband.  The Gould text, too, is important in the apparently closer links with Riley and Colinband; and - to re-iterate - if broadside parallels assume any importance at all then sung versions in England do seem to adhere to Riley and Colinband rather than to Trial


Historically, Scottish song versions come from Christie and from Gavin Greig.  Christie's, he wrote, was 'arranged' from versions he heard sung in Aberdeen and Banff and the air 'not seen' in the 'many' Irish versions he had encountered.11 Surviving Irish material does not attest to this suggestion of widespread popularity though Joyce, as we will see, claims that the song was 'sung all over Ireland'; so qualification may be necessary, involving only what can be found in extant material.  In fact, the principal source for Christie, with 'traditional' additions, he wrote, was Carleton's novel (1855): a curious reversal of what might be expected priorities.  In the end, the song as Christie gives it is a late version, then, deriving in part from Carleton; and Carleton doctored text and the story itself for obvious purposes to do with the creation of fiction. 

Christie set out the text in eight-line stanzas that give a full narrative line as we have usually found it but there are inevitable small differences.  One or two are simply editorial in nature - the spelling of 'countrie' in line two, for example, and of 'follow'd' in line seven; and the careful insertion of double inverted commas when speech is reproduced.  Others would have come about through oral means - 'stan'' and 'withstan''; and, unless we posit definite editorial liberty, Reilly hoping to be 'succourèd' by his 'dear Cooleen Bawn' and the girl who, when defending Reilly, 'replièd'; the inclusion of an extra syllable in 'And when we are a-parting' …all these details forming the 'traditional' input, perhaps.  It is impossible to say how much Christie interfered.  The use and then the neglect of the extra emphasised 'è' in some 'èd' words adds to the intrigue, it not being obvious that in all cases melody would necessarily demand any extra syllable.  We might, as in other case, assume attention to a singer's legacy but cannot rule our editorial interjection.

The course of the narrative is familiar but this version has 'They go by hills and mountains, and by a lonesome plain'; the father - Christie names him as 'Squire Foillard' - following with a 'well-arm'd chosen band'; Reilly in Sligo jail 'For nothing but the going along with his dear Cooleen Bawn' (my italics for emphasis on an unusual phrase); the jailer's son saying 'Now get up, Willie Reilly' - almost vernacular; and four lines - quite significant ones, as will be seen - describing Reilly:

Now Willie's drest from top to toe all in a suit of green,
His hair hangs o'er his shoulders most lovely to be seen;
He's tall and straight, and comely as any could be found,
He's fit for Folliard's daughter, were she heiress to a crown.
The Judge then says:
…“This lady being in her tender youth,
If Reilly had deluded her, she will declare the truth.”
She, 'then bright in all her beauty, before him she did stan' …' - a considerable change from the prevalent 'moving beauty bright' in broadside copies of Trial … The Squire complains of Reilly's 'base contrivances'.  He asserts that jewellery 'cost me in bright guineas more than five hundred pounds'.  Broadside copies of Trial … all had 'cost me in bright guineas the sum of' (usually) 'five hundred pounds' save for Fordyce who had 'cost me, in bright guineas, not less than twenty score …'.  Davenport's Riley and Colinband, like Christie's sung version, has 'more than 500 pounds' as do Pitts, Phair Swindells and Harkness.  Other Riley and Colinband texts do not have the reference to cost.  The absence of or inclusion of 'more' would appear to determine the possibilities of broadside association and indicates that if association there be, the parallels are limited to but a few texts.  This is countered, as it were - above, at least - by the obvious oral contributions.

The girl asks for the jewels even though 'They're poor compared to that poor heart that I have given thee', a unique line in text as found.  Her chosen ring is 'set in gold so fair'.  Fox's final lines are:

She has releas'd her own true love, she has renewed his name,
May her honour bright gain high estate, and her offspring rise to fame …
where the notion of offspring adds a novel cast to the story.  All through one wonders if or not or whether we see text as singers had it.  Christie's choice of where and when to emphasise syllables is but one point of debate.  And the narrative has taken a few turns when compared with the earliest of broadside texts of Trial …(from Catnach - and, more particularly, Haly with the connections in his text to even earlier 'booklet' copy from Ireland).  One line, in particular, has a distinctive cast - the final one in the stanza where the girl asks for her jewellery back - 'They're poor compared to that poor heart that I have given to thee'.

Another important feature is the descriptive stanza as given above that reminds us of the kind in nothing less than classic Child ballads, well-known and lesser-known.  One thinks, almost at random, of the clear - even stark - images of milk-white steeds, yellow hair and grass-green gowns.12  This descriptive stanza - in Christie's Willie Reilly story - appears nowhere in English broadside versions nor in the three single ballad Irish printings from Brereton, Nugent and Haly; nor, again, in Hayward's printed version or Joyce's sung version discussed below.  Duffy (also discussed below), however, does have the description and his version is markedly centred, it seems, on the Wardtown proposition for the 'true' Reilly story referred to in the previous article in this series.  A historically late oral insertion of the particular stanza is apparent even as someone has reached back in time for a - literally - colourful epithet; and, whatever the immediate origins for Christie, his version has this distinction - another 'traditional' contribution.

The Christie tune (Fig. 5) is in four-square ABBA form, given the inherent possibilities in variation in successive stanzas, and there are phrases echoed - but not strictly paralleled - in Joyce's Irish version (below). 

A version from Gavin Greig that was published in Folk-Song of the North-East has notes that indicate a party element in events.13  Referring to these events as having taken place at the end of the eighteenth century, Greig wrote that:

The penal laws were then in force, and it was very dangerous for a young Catholic to run away with the daughter of a powerful Protestant local Squire.
This would not seem to have been an original observation.  Duffy, at an earlier date, has the same inferences (below) but it does not appear elsewhere.

Greig's text, using the name 'Coleen Bawn' as did Christie, follows well-known lines.  One immediately notices 'counterie' in the second line, either an obvious oral way of pronouncing the word or an editorial liberty.  Reilly's confinement is described - 'handcuffed like a murderer', the usual epithet in copies of Trial … and in Pratt's copy of Reilly and Colinband; whereas Davenport's, Swindells' and Harkness' Riley and Colinband have 'robber' and all other copy omits the lines altogether.  Yet again, as with previous sung versions described here, the possible broadside connection where particular detail is concerned would seem to be limited. 

The jailer's son tells Reilly that he must appear to face 'The great Squire Folliard's anger', the name close to that in Christie and to those in Joyce and in Duffy but not in Hayward - who has 'Railland' - nor to any single-ballad printed text.  It has been observed that 'Folliard' was the local Sligo pronunciation of 'Ffolliott'14, the name sometimes associated with Reilly's sweetheart and one wonders at the pedigree of Greig's version - possibly associated with travel between the two countries for annual harvesting or tattie-howking. 

Next, Reilly professes himself content to be at the mercy of his sweetheart.  Then there is the ('Child') descriptive stanza as Christie had it.  The implied 'despite' - a union against the odds - in the final line of this description, 'She's fit for Folliard's daughter, were she heiress to a crown', is grand poetry!  There are, of course, many ballads and lyrical songs concerned with love between people of differing social classes: wealthy squires and milkmaids - The Golden Glove - or wealthy girls and their poor sweethearts - Caroline and her Young Sailor Bold.  Sometimes, as here, the outright claims for the course of true love are not evident.  Rather, their expression in this case is through implication.  We look to the final stanzas of broadside printing of the Willie Reilly story to give any notion of this sort where they usually praise the girl and her actions.15

It is the 'Judge' who refers to the lady 'in her tender youth' who will 'declare the truth' and who appeared 'like a moving beauty bright'.  The Squire's interjection follows - he is introduced, in fact: 'O gentlemen, Squire Folliard said …' but lines are conflated at this point:

This villain came amongst us to disgrace my family;
And by his base contrivance this villainy was planned,
I'll have the life of Reilly, or I'll leave my native land …
- not quite how in phraseology printings usually have it.  The girl then assumes blame for events and 'the noble Fox' speaks out to persuade the jury to banish Reilly rather than hang him.  Although the lines are not attributed, as was the case described above of Mrs Bartlett's version, we then have the Squire's second interjection, complaining that Reilly had stolen jewels and so on at which point the girl again takes responsibility.  She then gives Reilly a ring for his right hand to remind him of her broken heart when he is in a foreign land; and, finally, 'the noble Judge' asks that the prisoner be let go for the reasons as found in most printings.

This is a full version, then, and notable for the adoption of the name 'Folliard' - which, to emphasise a point already made, looks to have been a specifically Irish contribution to text in its first guise (see more below).  However, Greig's 'whole' text has no attribution.  He does say, in his notes, that 'I have a record of the air from Mr Wm.  Farquhar, Ross …', and we find both this and a stanza of text in the Greig-Duncan collection. 

But Greig's full text as given in addition to the single stanza and air - parallels that of broadside ballad printing, specifically in the Catnach Trial … mould as described in the previous article in this series; and, whilst title name and name in text is written as 'Willie Reilly' as opposed to Catnach's 'Willy Reily' (and there are one or two differences in other words), we find the same 'Coolen Bawn', 'Reily's' confinement stanza, a 'Squire Ralliand', Fox, a 'noble judge' asking the jury to free the prisoner before the father objects and declares 'five hundred pounds' to have been the cost of the girl's jewellery before we are told that there are 'thirty shining diamonds' in the ring that the girl gives to Reilly for him to think on her when he is in a 'foreign land'. 

Further, Mr Farquhar's name is given at the end of text but it is worth noting that the aforementioned inclusion of a stanza along with the air is the only clear reference to Mr Farquhar:

Oh, rise up Willie Reilly, and come along with me
For I do mean to go with you & leave this counterie;
To leave my father's dwelling, his houses & free lands,
And away goes Willie Reilly & his fair Colleen Bawn …
The accompanying text, as already noted, has a closeness, as indicated here, to the printing from Catnach.  It may just be that Greig supplemented Mr Farquhar's text in the manner of Lucy Broadwood with her singer's text.  In both cases, if this is so, then editorial interference has slightly skewed the singer's contribution - or even left the singers' texts out altogether in favour of broadside printings.

Mr Farquhar's tune is four-square and in strict ABBA form.  We note the similarities here to both the Sharp and the both Hammond tunes and to that from Joyce below although the second and third sets of phrases, as seems to be the pattern in most tunes from the period of Joyce's activity through to the second decade of the twentieth century, differ.(Fig. 6)

There are further Greig versions, the first, entitled Jamie Reilly, from a Mrs Annie Ritchie, fragmentary but clearly enough commensurate with known text.  The second, entitled The Colleen Bawn, is from Mrs Bell Robertson and, although several lines that could be found in known text are missing - and so indicated by Greig, this does parallel the pattern of printings of Trial … throughout with the Squire's name given as 'Rayland', thus echoing 'Railland'.  There is also is an appearance by 'the noble Fox'.16

The tune for Jamie Reilly (Fig. 7) is clearly similar to the four-square ABBA type given as Mr Farquhar's air and to Joyce's version (below), thus reinforcing an overall pattern in tune-making.

No tune is given for Colleen Bawn.

There is a temptation to place Irish and Scottish versions together and the possible pedigree of sung versions as collected by Greig is again a factor.  For instance, when we come to consider Joyce's version from Ireland more fully17, apart from musical considerations, the text, a full one, turns out to be very much akin to that given in Greig's FSNE and includes the descriptive stanza of Willie and his hair.  Joyce claims the version as having 'clung to my memory' since the days when it was sung all over Ireland: if so, dating from his 'earliest days' in the 1830s.  The Squire's name is given as 'Folliard', reasonably near to what is claimed to be the local pronunciation of 'ffolliott'; and it is 'the noble Fox' who, finally, asks that the prisoner be let go. 

One other point is worth noting, unique to interpretation.  The Squire, complaining about stolen jewellery, claims the life of Reilly 'or my estate I'll drown'.  Joyce interprets this to mean that 'I'll have the life of Reilly if I were to drown my estate in debts by law proceedings'.

Aside from text (as it were), Joyce's tune, ABCA in form, has echoes of Greig - more properly, vice-versa.  Where did Greig's versions come from?  The parallels between the first set of bars is clear (Fig. 8) and one should also add that the phrasing in the second set of four bars is particularly noticeable as rising in the manner of Joyce, who may, then, represent a historical descent.

One ought properly to have placed Duffy's version in his Ballad Poetry of Ireland along with other printed text but it looks to have oral interpolations - it includes the spelling 'counterie' and the word 'afeer'd' and the spelling of the Squire's name as 'Foillard'.  The heroine's name is given as 'Coolen Bawn' (as it was in Catnach).  The usual variants do crop up - 'yon lonesome plain'; the heroine in 'her closet bound' and Reilly in Sligo jail lying 'on the stony ground'; despite toil and slavery waiting to be 'succoured' by his 'dear Collen Bawn'; the stanza describing how 'Willie's dressed from top to toe (as in the first Greig version discussed above and bespeaking a fairly close relationship, one would think).  Otherwise the version is very much as found previously in all sources, with a familiar narrative line. 

There is another aspect to Duffy's version though.  He wrote that the piece was 'the first ballad I ever heard recited' - which, perhaps, throws a light on the context in which the ballad appeared: a recitation being neither fish nor fowl in the sense that in our own pursuit of song traditions we would usually assume singing performance but, perhaps, neglect text communicated simply as such.18  Duffy also wrote that the ballad was founded on fact and that, moreover, 'The lover was a young Catholic farmer, and the lady's family of high Orange principles …' and that the song, therefore, 'got a party character, which, no doubt, contributed to its great popularity …' an observation that Greig was to echo but is not found elsewhere.  One historical account as noted in the previous piece in this series sets this story with such a party background in Wardtown Castle.

A text from Hayward in the north of Ireland set with Willie Reilly's Courtship (another part of the story)19, follows the usual narrative pattern with the usual small differences such as 'green lawn' in the first stanza; 'and taken was poor Reilly to a cell in Sligo town' in the third; he being then placed in a 'chilly prison' and 'Condemnèd ' - Hayward emphasises the final 'èd'; 'the noble Fox' asking that Reilly's life be saved 'and but banished let him be' (no emphasis on the 'ed' so, once again, illustrating either the fickleness of editorial interference or an extraordinary focus on each singer's variations - we are unable to pursue this here because we are confronted only by text); the girl making Reilly 'leave his native place'; the Squire complaining that the jewels were worth 'five hundred shining pounds' (a unique adjective); and the piece concluding with the ring stanza.  The Squire's name is given as 'Ralliand' - a throwback to Catnach perhaps - and the girl's name as 'Colyeen Bawn', a phonetic rendering of 'Caillin' and an interesting halfway house to full English-language rendition.

And there is a version of the song in Sam Henry's Songs of the People, from a Maud Houston.20  The text is as found on broadsides except for the small variant words and phrases that we are accustomed to.  So, for instance, in the first line of the second stanza we find 'They go by hills and mountains and by yon lonesome plain' (as it is found in Christie); later in the narrative Reilly lies on the 'stony ground' of Sligo jail; the jailer's sons tells Reilly of the news 'last night that I did hear' - the lady's oath will hang him 'or else will get you clear'; it was, according to the Squire, 'by his base contrivance' that Reilly's 'villainy was planned' causing the Squire, if he did not get satisfaction, to 'quit this Irish land'; and it is Fox who pleads with the jury to 'let the prisoner go'.

Sam Henry thought the tune (Fig. 9) 'unusual' and 'very good'.  In fact it is quite close to Joyce and to Greig's first offering - four-square, with similar musical arches, including a rising figure in the second set of four bars, one more detail that might bring Scots and Irish sung versions into closer affinity. 

The Squire's name is given as 'Foillard' and the girl's as 'Cooleen Bawn'.  Much of the text is as it was found in the first Greig version discussed (the Squire's name there, it should be noted, was given as 'Folliard' - but that is a near miss, even, possibly, a written error) and that found in Duffy's Ballad Poetry … which itself seems to have emanated in the north of Ireland.  The narrative impulse in Joyce is the same - that has turned out to be the case in all versions, sung and printed - but certain lines appear such as 'The lady all in tears began' to explain how Reilly had her jewellery in his possession: in Henry, Joyce, the first Greig version though not the second which, we remember, may have been added to his assemblage by Greig and need not necessarily have been the text from Mr Farquhar; nor, finally, in any English sung version.  This relative consistency is worth setting against English versions to show how things differed in different countries and to bring into relief Christie's claim to parenthood of his version in Carleton's novel since the same tears are shed in Christie's text.  Joyce's version, after all, predates Carleton by a score of years if we take Joyce's declaration of first acquaintance in his youth into consideration.  Ultimately there are strong resemblances in phraseology amongst all the Scottish and Irish texts mentioned above, which phraseology is not found in England.

We cannot either ignore the description of Reilly 'drest from top to toe' in this connection.  Is there a case to be made here for an oral version - as Joyce recalled it - being parent to subsequent sung versions and, indeed, the printing in Duffy's book?  Have we an entirely separate line of development in sung versions in Ireland and Scotland to the printed descent of text and sung counterparts in England?  Differences begin to mount up.

We come then to two modern sung versions from Ireland, those from Paddy Tunney and Tom Lenihan (remembering that not all possible newer versions have necessarily been located).

Paddy Tunney21 recounts how his mother had heard William Monaghan of Tullyhasson (it looks as if this is in County Donegal) sing 'the whole of that beautiful and dramatic ballad' at a ceilidh; and he gives it in full, all fourteen stanzas incorporating elements discussed here.  The narrative is familiar enough.  The salient names are given as 'Cooleen Ban' and 'Squire Folliard', the latter setting the song firmly in a Sligo context that was referred to above and in the previous piece in this series.  Willie's name is given both as 'Reilly' and 'O'Reilly'. 

The version also incorporates lines on Reilly's confinement and the descriptive stanza beginning 'Now Reilly's dressed from top to toe, all in a suit of green …'  This suggests that the version has less obvious connections to printed versions than it has to orally disseminated ones and, indeed, we already have years of historical descent through Mr Monaghan, Paddy Tunney's mother and Paddy Tunney himself.  The earliest 'suit of green', otherwise, is found in Christie.  Paddy Tunney's version is in the previous line of Scottish and Irish texts.

Yet, whilst the time-signature given for the tune is six-eight, the notes and the musical phrasing in the first four and the last four bars do not stand out excessively from English sung versions.  The middle two sections, in contrast, do contain an extensive leap upwards.  All told this still equates to an ABBA pattern as far as the first given textual stanza goes and it is akin to all the Scottish and Irish versions so far adduced.(Fig. 10)

Tom Lenihan's version, as collected by the late Tom Munnelly, has a similar storyline to that in Paddy Tunney's version though lacking confinement lines.22  The Squire's name is given as 'Follard' and there is a most striking reversion to the original Irish of 'Cailin Ban', the only one out of all sung versions that has this feature.  The description of Reilly in the suit of green is included (there is also a wonderful recounting of the Reilly story - it looks as if it came to Tom Lenihan through Carleton - with tiny additions that 'explain' the circumstances of the story such as 'And at that time, Tom, for love …you'd be hung for it, with these rich fellahs' that illustrate oral traditions in action).  Tom Munnelly noted that he had never recorded the song before - which remark throws a certain light on Joyce's claim for the widespread existence of the song: why did it not survive in greater portion?  Equally, it certainly underlines the relative rarity value of the piece in sung tradition all over the British Isles and in Ireland as discussed here.

The notation of Tom Lenihan's reproduces varied timing - conventional two-four, three-four and four-four - as the singer varied his phrasing (Fig. 11).  This, of course, for the first verse.  One would have expected Tom Lenihan to have also varied certain phrases that follow as both sense and the dynamics of the particular occasion dictated.  This exposes the limitations of pattern as expressed above in ABBA terms (and others like it) but it does not invalidate a general proposition as far as evidence goes in respect, say, of the relatively close movement of the music in English versions as transcribed by the collectors and the relationship amongst Scottish and Irish tunes - save in this case where there is a unique tune in the whole assembly.

It is, finally, good that, in Tom Lenihan's version, we come full circle, as it were, back to a song that first appeared in Ireland, in a guise that incorporates most of the original local references.


Collectively, in sung versions there is a demonstrable adherence to the narrative line of text as explored in the previous article to this one.  Expected changes occur in detail especially where names are involved and where there are clear oral interpolations.  It does, though, look as if, during the latter end of the nineteenth century and the first couple of decades of the twentieth, text progressed more in the mould of Riley and Colinband then it did in that of Trial … even if, at times, elements of both avenues of broadside dissemination are discernible in individual songs - and, of course, not necessarily putting chicken before egg - broadside before song.

Whether or not we plump for broadside support in sung versions rather than derivation in song from broadside the mixture as recounted above indicates that the survival of text in such form is testimony to the hold that the song had and to the innate conservatism of dissemination.

Where music is concerned, admittedly, description above is unsophisticated, even sketchy, and musical notation is given only as a flavour, the main aim being to follow the song as an entity through historical time.  The picture is still of a solid degree of similarity in the construction of several tunes in England and a resemblance amongst Scottish and Irish tunes not too far removed from their English counterparts.  Whether this picture came about as a result of direct oral transmission or whether text attracted ingrained habits amongst singers of attaching certain musical phrasing is an open question.  The particular text, after all, easily lent and lends itself to presentation - in modern conventional musical terms - in both common or four-four time and in six-eight time.  The outstanding tunes are those from Sam Fone via Sabine Baring-Gould - right at the historical start of this survey - and from Tom Lenihan via Tom Munnelly - right at the historical end: less in evidence but nonetheless visible, from Maud Huston (Henry) and Paddy Tunney (the Colcomb tune, mentioned earlier, does prise open the close patterning of English tunes and must be worth a closer look at a later stage).23  Sam Fone's version disappeared into Baring-Gould's unpublished collection and there is no record of any other singer whom Baring-Gould encountered as offering the song in a like version.  In a similar way, nobody appears to sing Tom Lenihan's version now (perhaps out of deference?).

As a tentative summary, it is possible to discern a growing change in the presentation of the song.  Whether there are connections with preceding broadsides or not details in text regularly changed through oral dissemination.  We would expect this through distance in time from any 'original' concept of the Willie Reilly story (change, at its most exaggerated, a nod towards Chinese whispers) and there is nothing, of course, that would compromise the validity of individual interpretation of material.  In this respect, Tom Lenihan's late addition to the corpus is excellent illustration: narrative intact, tune very individual.  We could leave the matter there - it is too early in time to determine a complete demise except as part of a seeming absence of widespread singing traditions in present-day Britain and Ireland.

Thus, the survival of the Willie Reilly story in song indicates no bad historical legacy but what was a very popular song upheld in the imagination of singers over two hundred years languishes somewhat nowadays.

Roly Brown - 28.5.08
Oradour sur Vayres, France


Article MT216

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