Article MT226

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No. 34: Sung versions of Erin's Lovely Home 1

There are at least thirty-seven known manuscript notations of either text or tune or both of Erin's Lovely Home in England although fewer than a dozen found their way into published form and only a handful could be said to be full versions – that is, containing all or most known elements of the story.  This handful, however, has a reasonably consistent format though changing in some ways as historical time progressed.

In England, too, there exists a nexus of versions from Sabine Baring-Gould that contains within it an interesting alteration of perspective – to be considered below.

In Scotland there are a number of versions that have a similar pattern to those in England – but also new elements.  In Ireland there are surprisingly few versions to consider.

The pattern of the text in England may be set by reference to a typed version of the song that came from a Mrs Catherine Curling to George Gardiner in Southampton in 1906 (the tune was transcribed by J F Guyer, one of Gardiner's aides).2  It begins as follows:

When I was young and in my prime, my age was twenty-one,
Then I became a servant unto a gentleman,
I served him true and honestly and very well it is known,
But cruelly he banished me from Erin's lovely home.
This opening stanza turns out to be consistent amongst the full versions of the song in England.  One notes the status of the protagonist, as found in broadsides of the same story discussed in a previous article on this site but not as found in either sung or broadside versions of the related 'Sligo' story of Willie Reilly – where, to remind ourselves, he is seen as an independent land owner. 

We then find out, from the protagonist, 'the reason that he banished me' – namely that:

I own I loved his daughter, and she loved me as dear,
She had a handsome fortune, but riches I had none,
And that's the reason I must go from Erin's lovely home.
So the couple meet:
'Twas in her father's garden all in the month of June,
A-viewing of those flowers all in their lovely bloom.
She said, “My dearest William, along with you I'll roam,
We will bid adieu to all our friends in Erin's lovely home.”
That very night I gave consent along with her to go,
From her father's dwelling house, which proved her overthrow.
The night being bright, by the moonlight we both set off alone,
Thinking we would get safe away from Erin's lovely home.
There follows a stanza bringing the couple to Belfast where the girl lays down 'five hundred pounds' to pay for the boy's passage away from 'Erin's lovely home'.  However, it is but 'a few hours after' before the father appears and takes the boy off 'to Armagh gaol, in the County of Tyrone' (a clear geographical mistake) from whence he is to be transported, grieving for his lost love:
I've seven links all in my chain and every link a year
Before I can return again the arms of my dear.
Nonetheless, in lines that characterise English sung versions:
Before the rout came to the gaol to take us all away
My true love she came to me, and this to me did say;
“Oh, John, my dear, cheer up your heart, for you I'll never disown
Until you do return again to Erin's lovely home.”
This appearance of the girl as comforter does not usually feature in sung versions outside England. 

It should be remarked that 'true' in the second line of the stanza given immediately above has been entered by the editor (Frank Purslow) and 'dear' crossed out and that, similarly, 'John, my dear' replaces 'William'.  Guyer's original notation of tune and opening stanza do not contain these changes nor is any comment from Gardiner available. 

The change of name might be seen as the more important element.  We will find that 'John' is a constant in full versions of the song in England but should also remind ourselves that 'William', sometimes 'Willie' (a generic name or not), is a constant in broadside versions of the text and in 'Sligo' sung versions of the story of Willie Reilly of which Erin's Lovely Home may well have been a version.3  Again, we have to ask in this particular piece why this 'John' was inserted given that there is no manuscript justification.

The major key tune provides an outline structure paralleled in several other tunes – ABBA - as discussed below and taking into account the flicks and hitches that are apparent in the particular singer's treatment of the tune.  Note values, as a rule, also coincide with those in other versions.  Yet the tune is not quite typical – many more tunes associated with the song are, in conventional musical terms, minor in character. 

The Curling text can be compared to another (typed) from a Frank Shilley, also noted by George Gardiner, this time in 1907, and found to be close, stanza for stanza.4  There are a few changes in wording though they are not particularly significant except in terms of each individual's perception of the story and their nature can be gauged in Frank Shilley's use of 'handsome fortune' in his second stanza as opposed to Mrs Curling's 'heavy fortune' and by Frank Shilley's line in his third stanza: 'She said, “My dearest William, if 'long with me you'll roam” … ' whereas Mrs Curling sang, 'She said, “My dearest William, along with you I'll roam” … ' indicating an apparent change in the balance of persuasion from one character to another – though this may be too 'literary' an explanation, of course.  As noted above, though, the name 'John' is substituted (for William) at the end of Mrs Curling's text despite the same resolution in narrative outcome when William – or John - gives consent to go along with his sweetheart.

Still, one must wonder at these divergences, how conscious any singer was of them.  For, in this respect, in Frank Shilley's version, when the couple arrive in Belfast, the girl 'got ready our passage for to pay' and in Mrs Curling's version, she got ready to pay 'her' passage.  It must be pointed out that 'her' in the typed version of the text is set above 'our' (which is crossed out).  In terms of narrative and outcome this may well be seen as a straightforward mistake on Mrs Curling's part, it being the two protagonists who are leaving; or was the substitution of 'her' for 'our' due to a mishearing or was it, again, an editorial insertion influenced by contact with other text? Further, the change of name in the line beginning with 'Oh, John, my dear, cheer up your heart … ' when Mrs Curling had already, of course, referred to 'William' might suggest a touch of uncertainty or, at least, a momentary lapse on the part of the singer.  Frank Shilley avoided such a pitfall, unaware of any problem, one would think, by singing 'Cheer up, young heart … '.  Was it, then, that Mrs Curling did, indeed, make these 'mistakes' or did Frank Purslow, in editing, make the changes himself?

In fact, Frank Shilley's final 'cheer up' stanza is worth quoting in full in order to point up differences between it and the version from Mrs Curling – there is no 'rout' here, for instance …

As I laid under sentences before I sailed away,
My Love she came into the jail and unto me did say:
“Cheer up, young heart, don't be dismayed for you I'll never disown,
Until you does return again to Erin's lovely home. “
Where there are changes between the two versions (and the significance of editorial interference must be borne in mind throughout this discussion), these are re-examined below in a general survey of such features; but none of them alter the course of the narrative.  At the same time they do indicate the various routes whereby newer versions of songs make their appearance.

Unfortunately, there is no tune for the Frank Shilley version.

A fullish version from Cecil Sharp, noted from a John Edbrook in 1904, the earliest example of the song from the main period of the 'Folk Song Revival', yet lacks a stanza giving the reason why the father banished the hero.5  Otherwise, as far as the particular song is concerned, by bringing it into a collective relationship with the two previous versions discussed above certain elements of a 'standard' nature in its narrative and in its tune appear.  The protagonist's name is given as 'Johnny', almost matching the name in Mrs Curling's version.  Textual variants compared to the Shilley and Curling versions are minor.  The piece ends with the girl appearing at the jail, from where the boy is to be taken by the 'route' and this appearance thus helps to confirm a feature typical of the narrative in English versions.  'Route', though, is, surely, a mistake on Sharp's part; if not, a strange pronunciation by Mr Edbrook.  It can be placed in contrast to Sharp's practice in other instances – for instance, even in this song where he faithfully followed the singer's manner of presentation and wrote 'cru-el-ly' at the appropriate place in his manuscript version.  There is a qualification to this: 'cru-el-ly' was then made into one word without hyphens in a typed version in Folk Words (and used in the same way in the Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society (for this Irish connection see more below); but then it appeared in Maud Karpeles' collected Sharp edition with the word set out as it was on the manuscript version in order to correspond with musical notes (three quavers).6  Once again, editorial practice stands out.

Mr Edbrook's tune, structurally similar to that from Mrs Curling (ABBA), is, nevertheless, more characteristic of a bigger body of tunes used for this song; in conventional musical terms, a minor version.  Its rising second and third phrases help to cement a characteristic kind, as will be seen.  Taking into account the date of its collection, this tune may almost be said to have set a pattern that the Curling tune varied (but see also Baring-Gould below).

There is a codicil to the Edbrook manifestation of the song.  Sharp, in a note, added that the singer 'Learned it from his mother who had once been in service with Irish gentlefolk' though one should not get too excited over the faint possibility of Irish genesis for the song at this stage.  Indeed, whilst this Edbrook version assumes a curious status since it was published in Ireland, there is no notion that it was sung there at any time - the point being that Irish sung versions, as we shall see, are not at all common.7

Cecil Sharp also noted a version from a Harry Richards at Curry Rivel, Somerset8 and there is no reason-for-banishment stanza in this case either.  Instead Mr Richards goes straight on to the father's garden and there, the girl says:

… My dearest Johnnie, if with me you will roam,
We'll bid farewell to all our friends, and Erin's lovely home.
The inclusion of the name 'Johnnie' now begins to look like a common enough occurrence in English sung version and, to reiterate, contrasts with the ever-present 'William' or 'Willie' in broadside printings; but it is not a constant in sung versions outside England (below).

The third stanza here seems to be a hesitant compilation:

That very night I gave consent along with her to go,
Forth from her father's dwelling-place.  It proved my overthrow.
The night shone fair with pale moonlight.  We both set off alone,
A-thinking we'd got safe away from Erin's lovely home.
Given Cecil Sharp's record of reproducing his singers' texts accurately (apparent blemishes included) as hinted at above, it does not seem likely that these words were concocted by the collector or even pieced together.  'A-thinking' would appear to give a lie to that.  But the usual reasonably smooth metrical sailing is dismasted.

It is unusual, too, that in the Belfast stanza, nothing is said about payment for any passage; merely that 'And we were both aboard the ship and nearly now away' before the father 'dragged me back to gaol' – in Tyrone.  The word 'back' appears only once more in any version of the song discussed: that found in Colm O'Lochlainn's Irish Street Ballads (discussed below). 

The final two stanzas are familiar ones recording grief over sentencing; the seven links; and then the coming of the 'rout' (sic) and the 'true Love' promising undying love.

These are the salient aspects.  Otherwise, there are one or two expected changes in wording but they do nothing to upset the narrative.

The tune begins to suggest one pattern among English sung versions:

A fourth version, from H E D Hammond as noted from Robert Barratt (this, with an 'a', is Hammond's own spelling of the name on the music manuscript but it is also spelled with an 'e' on the manuscript of text), has the opening stanza as it is described above in connection with Frank Shilley and Mrs Curling.9  It actually has the 'Belfast' stanza last but with a degree of collation here. The opening line of the stanza is the one associated with the arrival of the 'rout' in the Curling, Sharp and Shilley versions:

Just before the rout it come to jail for to take us all away
My true love she got ready our passage for to pay
Five thousand pound she counted down saying this shall be your own
Until you do return again to Erin's lovely home.
The odd change in wording in the whole text apart from those described above is hardly noticeable.  But did Mr Barrett, at one time, know of the song in its fuller guise? The element of collation – as it seems – suggests that lines from stanzas had been met with.

Mr Barrett's tune emerges in a by now familiar melodic structure.

There are, on the Barrett manuscript, one or two alternative words inserted above the written lines just as they were in the Curling version; and there is one interpolation that is more dubious in a sense.  In the first instance, the line 'The night was bright the moon shone light together we set alone' has 'INVITE' above the words 'was bright' and 'BRIGHT' above 'light'.  Neither insertion could be said to suggest any improvement (in fact, 'we set alone' as a phrase may have provided a better proposition for change – if change was intended).  In a final stanza, it grieves my heart full sore' has 'ME' above 'my' and 'RIGHT' above 'heart'.  Again, it is hard to see any possible improvement.  These additions are entered onto the edited version (Frank Purslow) with no sign of them on Henry Hammond's manuscript.

In the second instance, in Mr Barrett's penultimate stanza when the father appears, 'He marched us back home in the county where I roam'.  This phrasing (my italics) is written in Frank Purslow's hand but is, in essence, a rather weak contribution.  There is no record that Mr Barrett ever sang the words to Hammond.  It is an altogether odd feature, surprising in view of the fact that Frank Purslow knew of other versions in which the line involving Armagh jail is clear enough and it might have been thought that he would substitute such a line if, initially, there had been a gap in the singer's text.

This interference continued in published form in The Foggy Dew where Frank Purslow, as editor, apparently collated versions from Mrs Curling and from a James Channon (mentioned again below).10  In this case, whilst it is clearly Mr Channon's tune that is used, there is a change in bar six where Mr Channon's tune on manuscript moves up from a crochet on the A to a minim on the D, followed by a crochet on the C whilst, seemingly in an editorial liberty, this may be contrasted with the lines of music as offered in The Foggy Dew and given in tandem here:

A fragmentary fifth manuscript version of the fuller texts, from Robert Parish11, another one noted by Cecil Sharp (in 1907), heralds a distinctive change of narrative episode quite unlike other versions as already discussed – with an opening stanza not found in any other English sung versions or broadsides.  Since the particular stanza does appear in broadsides from Lindsay in Glasgow, Sanderson in Edinburgh, Nicholson in Belfast and Birmingham in Dublin the change is so singular that we must wonder from where Robert Parish got his version.  The piece, begins with a '1st verse', thus:

All you that at your liberty
I hope you will draw near
To hear a dismal story
I mean to let you hear
Now in a foreign country
I sigh languish & moan
When I think on the days I spent
In Erin's lovely home.
Then Sharp jumps straight to the last 'verse' (also indicated on the manuscript):
And when the warder came to the gaol
To take us all away
My true love she stepped up to me …
and begged the boy to cheer up because she would not disown him – the usual ending in English versions.  This seems to be the only occasion when a 'warder' appears.  In contrast, 'rout' ('route') is constant in English versions from Mrs Curling, John Edbrook, Harry Richards and Robert Barrett.

Since Sharp seems to have deliberately included only these two Robert Parish stanzas and because he noted other versions before coming across that of Mr Parish (from Harry Richards and from John Edbrook, for example, both in 1904), it looks as if the rest of the song would have followed the usual course of narrative and it is surprising that Sharp gives us no clue – unless by implication.  As the piece stands it is both frustrating and intriguing especially because the first stanza of Mr Parish's version is different to that in all other English sung versions and we may be seeing an attachment to versions from elsewhere.  For instance, some Scottish versions as noted by Greig, discussed further below, have the same opening lines as has Mr Parish.

We can go no further in this element of comparison for the moment – it can be revisited in the examples from Greig given below - and we must be content to ponder again over where Mr Parish got his version.

The piece has a tune worth recording as 'standard' – minor key, distinctive melodic phrasing – to compare with versions already given and to illustrate also how the 'standard' second and third phrases usually take their places and can be contrasted to different ones as described below).

It should be noted that in bar six Sharp gives two minims that obviously do not conform to the common time bar structure … One would think that the second minim should have been a crochet followed by two quavers.  As it is the bar does, in its own way, complement the line of text – 'To hear a dismal sto-ry … ' but, musically, the bar is then distended.  There is no explanation for this unless Sharp had intended to follow a possible pause in the singer's offering at this point and simply did not change the time.  There is one other possible answer to the puzzle – that, on his manuscript, Sharp simply forgot to ink in the two minims; for, when the musical phrase resurfaces in the tune, in the third measure, the notes follow exactly this course!

We find the clearest upsetting of hierarchy in a version from Henry 'Wassail' Harvey, noted by Alfred Williams late on in the then current progress of collecting, in fact (it seems) in 1916.12  For a start, 'Wassail' Harvey's title is given as Aaron's Lovely Home.  This might well have been the result of adopting the singer's pronunciation.  We know that at this time Alfred Williams had the possible benefit of existing versions in other collections should he have chosen to notice them and they, sung or printed, had the most used title of Erin's Lovely Home Williams had, indeed, added a header note to the effect that the song was:

A general favourite, sung by both sexes, which is the highest proof of a song's popularity.  The tune was pleasant, and perhaps this had something to do with its success among the villagers …
'Wassail' Harvey was a prominent enough singer in Alfred Williams' collecting – not such a constant source as either Elijah Iles and David Sawyer to whom Williams turned for verification of the course and appearance of this or that song but still offering a score of songs; and the replication of pronunciation indicates how Williams seems to have accorded respect.  But it seems so unlikely that Williams would not have absorbed other versions such as are referred to in his header note reproduced above and so the retention of the particular title is both laudable and, in terms of the presence of the song in tradition, quite distinctive.

In the Williams version, too, there is no Belfast stanza – an absence that matches the same absence in the Richards version discussed above (one recalls also the collated stanzas including lines referring to Belfast in the Barrett version). 

Consequently, here, in terms of the run of the narrative, stanza four corresponds to stanza six in the Shilley and Curling versions and stanza five in the Edbrook version discussed above (remembering that the latter lacks the reason-for-banishment stanza).  It begins with 'But to my great misfortune' ('It's of our sad misfortune', as it is found in the Curling and Shilley versions above).  Then the father appears and the boy is taken off to 'Warwick' (sic) gaol, 'in the county of Tyrone'.  The following stanza indicates that 'A prison van came to the gate' to take the prisoners away – the prison van a unique reference, possibly reflecting current apprehension of prison procedure.  Next, the girl then appears to cheer up her lover's heart as is usual in English versions of the song.  There follows the equally usual grieving stanza including references to the 'seven strong links all in this chain'.

But, changing the conclusion of the narrative entirely, there then follows a unique final stanza:

Adieu unto old England,
For the space of seven long years,
And those I leave behind me
Are wailing in their tears;
And if ever once I do return,
I never more will roam,
But bid adieu to all my friends
At Aaron's lovely home.
One might add, of Warwick, that it is faintly possible that a vestige of memory of Warwick as prominent assizes for the transportation of prisoners was being held in mind but the puzzling conjunction with Tyrone remains. 

In total, this version may be exhibiting latter-day evidence of changing – if not deteriorating - lines of dissemination.  Yet the protagonist in this version is named as 'William', something, then, of a throw-back, perhaps, and unusual in respect of English versions of the song.

These, then, are the fuller versions of the song available to us and of them, 'Wassail' Harvey's stands out as one with substantial differences where the inclusion of the designation 'Aaron's … ' in the title underlines oral sources. 


We know from the above discussion that the narrative in all full or fullish versions is the same, yet variations in detail certainly occur and whilst recounting is somewhat tedious it does illustrate how singers' minds seemed to have worked within an assumed framework; how the substitution of this or that different word for others can be seen as part of the process of creation and re-creation in the course of dissemination and probably an unconscious act at times.  One of the more striking examples here might be that inclusion of more than one name for the protagonist – not a feature of the connective song Trial of Willy Reilly as it was disseminated although in the end this is hardly an expectation in a song with the particular title, Erin's Lovely Home.  Further, though, it has already been noted that the introduction of the name 'Johnny' or 'John' in English versions of Erin's Lovely Home contrasts vividly with the regular references to 'William' or 'Willie' in all broadside versions of the song that themselves are representative of an earlier era.  This seems to illustrate how it is the narrative interest that dictated the song's dissemination in England during the latter part of the nineteenth century and on into the twentieth and that, as noted above, the change of name looks to be specifically oral in conception and not dictated by reference to print.  The timing of this entry of 'John' is also worth bearing in mind as a 'late' addition.

The state of mind, so to speak, of different singers, is also evident in the apparent confusion, at times, in the geographical pinpointing of the jail to which the protagonist of the story is taken.  We may take it that English singers had heard of Belfast alright but it is just possible that Armagh may have defeated their apprehension of location.  This begins to sever any association with an actual Irish-based story and once more to focus on the appeal of the song's narrative and to its power of imagination.  Just to remind ourselves: in the fullest versions discussed above the principal is marched to Armagh jail in the Curling and Edbrook versions, 'unto the jail' in the Shilley version, to Warwick in the Williams version; and 'back to home' in the Robert Barrett version.  All bar this last one of the full versions place the jail (erroneously, of course, where Armagh and Warwick are concerned) in Tyrone whereas in the Barrett version, there is that strange editorial interpolation from Frank Purslow: 'in the country where I roam'.  The immediate question might be: did it matter to the singers? Was the inclusion of 'Tyrone' more important, either as obvious rhyme – and the counter-suggestion is that where there are conflicts of rhyme in some cases this may not have been so – or where, like the 'seven links' in the chain of the protagonist when he is to be transported, the name 'Tyrone' acts as a 'journalistic' verification of the story? So did singers have in mind any specific Irish connotation at all where Tyrone (or Armagh) was concerned? It seems more likely that, as is so often the way in song, in some cases, a familiar destination was the obvious inclusion. 

Then, peculiar to each successive singer and more to do with hyperbole than anything else, in both the Gardiner Curling and Sharp Edbrook versions, when the daughter persuades her sweetheart to elope, she pays down five hundred pounds, 'saying, “This shall be your own … ”'.  The sum is given as five thousand in the Barrett version noted by Sharp; and as ten thousand in the Shilley version.  Was this increase in value a way of dramatising the story? No sum at all is given at all in the 'Wassail' Harvey version:

The prison van came to the gate
To take us all away,
My true love she came up to me,
And unto me did say –
“Cheer up your heart, be not dismayed,
For you I'll ne'er disown;
So do not grieve for those you leave
At Aaron's lovely home”
Again, when the principal is apprehended, Mrs Curling has, ''Twas in a few hours'; Sharp, 'In a few hours'; Sharp's Robert Barrett, 'In the course of three hours'; and 'Wassail' Harvey, 'In two or three days after' – the latter giving a new slant to the possible deliberations of the father (in one's imagination – and see Baring-Gould below). 

Yet again, there are phrases such as 'I served him true and honestly and very well it is known' (Curling) as opposed to, 'I served him true and honest as it is very well known' (Barrett), 'And that it is well-known' (Harvey), 'And that is very well known' (Edbrook) and ' … very well it's known' (Shilley).  The precise wording could have been used in relation to the melodic run of tunes but, at the same time, there are some subtleties of emphasis contained within some of the phrases that may have been prominent in a singer's mind – on the word 'that' in the Edbrook version, for instance.

In similar fashion, Robert Barrett has the daughter ' … a picking of sweet flowers all in their youthful bloom'; Frank Shilley has 'We were viewing of those flowers … '; Mrs Curling has 'A-viewing of those flowers that's in their lovely bloom'; John Edbrook, 'A viewing of those pretty flowers All in their youthful bloom'; and 'Wassail' Harvey, 'His daughter she came to me, In youth and beauty's bloom', a striking phrase.  In these variants, 'A-viewing' has a strong element of the vernacular in it.

Of a slightly different order, in the Sharp version from Mr Edbrook, it is in the uncle's garden, not the father's, that the meeting between the boy and his sweetheart, the daughter of his employer, takes place.  This, like the 'Wassail' Harvey 'two or three days after' could be said to alter the narrative slightly though the uncle plays no further part in the story.  Perhaps another song entirely was being remembered.  At any rate, this is a rather more significant change than any reference to flowers and indicates a definite process in dissemination.

Yet another change in wording occurs amongst singers in the final features of the story – where 'rout', 'prison van', 'warder' and so on appear.  In this case, as previously hinted, it might ne possible to attach a particular word to a particular time, 'rout' – one would have thought – reaching back in time; 'prison van' and 'warder' elevating the singer's immediate historical context.

Further, the Harvey version has:

'Twas on that night I gave consent,
Which proved my overthrow,
To leave her father's garden
And with the maid to go;
The moon was shining bright and fair,
From the garden we did roam,
And we thought we had got safe away
From Aaron's lovely home.
Frank Shilley, we may remind ourselves, had:
That very night I gave consent along with her to roam,
And from her father's dwelling-place it proved my overthrow.
Followed by:
The night being bright with moonlight we both set off alone,
Thinking to get safe away from Erin's lovely home.
Robert Barrett has 'along with her I'd go' and 'The night was bright, the moon shone light together we set alone' and 'a thinking we got safe away'.  Mrs Curling has 'The night being bright, by the moonlight … ' and so has John Edbrook.  Somehow, in a variety of wording, each singer has contrived to encapsulate a common meaning or implication.

Finally, there are also slight differences in phrasing at the beginning of the 'sentence' stanza and Mrs Curling actually has 'The parting of my native land, it grieved my heart full sore … '.

We would expect such changes in the nature of singing practice whether or not this also leads to an apparent change of emphases in the narrative line.  At the same time, we should not let pass the constant feature of seven links in the accused's chain though Sharp has 'lengths' and 'Wassail' Harvey goes on to include a different close to the stanza.  It is intriguing to see how this particular detail is always held in mind.  The image is vivid enough.  One wonders if such details provided a kind of mnemonic, a building-block.

In sum, we perhaps do little more than underline the memory lapses, mishearings and, maybe, misreadings that distinguish one singer's contribution from that of another; though there may also have been calculations.  Anyone who has ever sung seriously or who has listened with attention will know that these tricks of apprehension and retention occur unbidden in one's own singing or seemingly unbidden in the singing of somebody else.  But a kind of shaping there certainly is born, perhaps, of adherence and absorption.  And a different dynamic may well surface when the song is sung next.  This much underpins the whole mode of traditional singing.

As ever in singing, though – specifically in the songs being discussed here - the more remarkable feature is the way in which faithfulness in respect of a narrative line continues through the years.  This is hardly startling news and has already been emphasised in this discussion but the recounting above, as it were, gives chapter and verse to one aspect of the principle of variation within a framework and such a process is not often remarked upon.13 


Following on in respect of difference, the complex that emerges from Sabine Baring-Gould's manuscripts deserves separate attention even if the end result, as will be seen, leaves us somewhat flat.  It appears to reveal wholesale intervention, somewhat beyond the alterations that a singer might make in the course of singing over the years and throwing into relief those editorial practices already discussed.

Reference to manuscripts here below should be seen in the context of the separate kinds retained by the collector – Rough Copy, Fair Copy and Personal Copy and then sets of songs that seem likely to have been put together for publication (none appeared as such) - two Plymouth Notebooks, one Harvard Notebook and one Killerton notebook.

There are three copies of Erin's Lovely Home available in the song manuscripts.14  A Rough Copy gives the information that the song was taken down in Broadwood Widger, close to Baring-Gould's home in Lew Trenchard, from a John Woolrich (not John Woodrich, one of Baring-Gould's principal informants).15.  No date is given but the original edition of Songs and Ballads of the South-West, one of two published collections from Baring-Gould, was published between 1888 – its first part – and 1892 – its fourth, this part being the first to include notes and in which John Woolrich's name first figured in a list of singers.  The same singer also gave Harold Fleetwood-Sheppard, one of Baring-Gould's colleagues, a version of The Constant Farmer's Son – entitled The Country Farmer's Son - that was published in what was effectively a second edition of SBW (song LXIX) between 1891 and 1895; and nothing from John Woolrich appears in Baring-Gould's manuscripts after those dates.  This second edition, like the first, though with a touch more organisation, included most of Baring-Gould's first collected songs, got between 1888 and 1890.  So there is a window of acquisition around Mr Woolrich's contribution to the present canon.16

Baring-Gould wrote, of John Woolrich, on both the Rough Copy and then on a Personal Copy – the most regularly updated set of all - 'He called it Aaron's Lovely Home' but himself gave the title as Erin's Lovely Home on both.  The title does not appear in any guise at all in the Fair Copy manuscripts that purport to tidy up the Rough Copy versions nor yet in the Plymouth Notebooks and the Harvard Notebook.  In the Killerton notebook, though, Baring-Gould gave the title as 'Aaron's Home'.  Such juggling is not unknown in the various sets of songs that Baring-Gould prepared.  Clearly, too, he had come across the song elsewhere – he does, in fact, on both Rough Copy and Personal Copy, note that a Such broadside existed; but, equally, it is quite possible that Baring-Gould did not quite understood a local accent.  Whatever the case, the word 'Aaron's', coming here at the very beginning of the so-called 'English Folk Song Revival' and then again right at its end in the version from 'Wassail' Harvey offers a strange coincidence.  There is also a version of the song in the Greig-Duncan collection that uses this designation (see below).  It, too, comes at the end of the 'Revival' period.  There is no broadside printing that carries such a title: its appearance must be accounted wholly oral in origin or simply an insertion by editors.  Since these editors knew of the song from other sources it is almost certain that they took a title offered to them by singers.  One cannot normally imagine the degree of perversity that would place any editor's choice above that of the singers'.  Hence the interest in John Woolrich's version and Baring-Gould's handling of it.

Importantly, Baring-Gould's Rough Copy manuscript, which we might assume to have been the first, agrees in every detail with the Personal Copy manuscript – strictly speaking, vice versa - and this latter collection would appear to have been constantly present in Baring-Gould's deliberations before publication (and, indeed, as a repository to which he added notes and subtracted detail) even if he did not simply transfer all songs in all their eventual glory from that source.  So, whilst, in the song's history within the Baring-Gould canon, it did not appear in either of Baring-Gould's major publications, Songs and Ballads of the West and A Garland of Country Song (dates of SBW have already been noted; and A Garland … appeared in 1894-5), we might think that Personal Copy would have offered the ultimate version that might have been included.

It is hard to understand why the song was discarded.  It does not appear elsewhere in the Baring-Gould canons.  It does, though, parallel – indeed, predates - most of what we have found in other English versions.  The narrative line includes all the known incidents found elsewhere: the regular opening stanza, banishment, the meeting in the father's garden, elopement and travel to Belfast, a payment, the father's subsequent arrival and the boy's transportation, his grief and the girl's cheering-up stanza.  This latter stanza, it must be said, is incomplete in the Rough Copy version and the consequent infil on Personal Copy, 'completing' the narrative, settles once and for all the fact that Baring-Gould knew the song that he was dealing with and could supply words that parallel words in other versions, presumably broadside ones or (we do not know) from other versions of the song encountered by the collector.  Overall, the version seems entirely fit for publication and omission of it mystifying.

There are one or two points still to be made.  The girl, for instance, had a 'goodly' fortune; the boy's name, as opposed to the usual John or Johnny in other English versions, is given as 'William'; they will 'bid adieu to all our friends' (no ''do not fret' in this version); there is a unique line – 'When we at Belfast did arrive … '; the girl pays down 'five thousand pounds' – 'and never mourn for those you've left'; and it is 'a few years after' – a rather startling period of time as compared to that in all other known versions as described above – before the father arrives to apprehend the lovers.  The boy is then taken to 'Omer Gaol' – one wonders how Baring-Gould arrived at this spelling unless, once again, John Woolrich's accent (interpretation) was paramount or Baring-Gould simply did not make a connection geographically.  It is a 'rout' that comes to the gaol as, for instance, in the Curling version above and the girl's final contribution is to urge the boy to:

Bear up your heart, be not dismayed
I will not you disown …
All in all, then, this version offers a pretty standard text.  But its importance lies not only in its fullness but in the fact that it would appear to have been the first example collected in terms of those surveyed here.  Is it just possible that that 'William' was superseded at exactly this point in time by 'John' or 'Johnny', that an element of another remembered song may have entered the consciousness of the singers who sang in historical time a few years after John Woolrich or that there was some attachment to versions of Trial … that singers may have come across?

In respect of the Killerton copy – for a project, to remind ourselves, put in abeyance – there is a different kettle of fish to consider: where the matter of the whole misfortune varies.  In the Rough Copy (and in Personal Copy), the girl counts out 'Five thousand pounds', 'Saying This shall be your own', before the boy is taken.  In the Killerton copy the girl, in passing over 'five hundred pounds' (actually corresponding with the sum in the Curling and Edbrook versions discussed above) declares: 'it is for you'.  She then adds that 'I took it from my father's desk'; and later, when the father catches up with the lovers, he:

… took me to the nearest jail,
The jail was in Tyrone
She swore I'd robbed his precious store
In Aaron's lovely home.

By sentence I transported was
For robbing of his store
It grieves me when I think ?
My true love ten times more (?)

This is the only version with this disagreement between the lovers and the notion of theft in it and these elements may well have been Baring-Gould's own.  And, whilst the particular version is something of a red herring, it does serve to remind us – as in the case with Frank Purslow's editing – that, deliberately or not, collectors sometimes intruded.  In this case, it seems that Baring-Gould's imagination was at work in a substantial manner or that he had in mind versions of The Trial of Willie Reilly where, it will be recalled, the girl saves her lover from punishment by declaring that she gave him jewels that he was accused of stealing.  We do know, too, that Baring-Gould was aware of the Willie Reilly … song if only through two stanzas from one of his principal sources, Sam Fone (this is discussed in a previous article).

We should add, in this respect, that the boy's name in the Killerton version is given as 'Willie' as opposed to 'William' in the Rough Copy and Personal Copy versions.  This change, surely, have been Baring-Gould's own idea.  We have, though, seen precedents in broadside versions.  Further, the 'few years' that we find in the Rough Copy and the Personal copy becomes 'a few short hours' in the Killerton version.  Was Baring-Gould seeking here to make a more plausible case?

The 'jail' in the Killerton version ('gaol' in Personal Copy) is given, simply, as being in Tyrone.  Also, Baring-Gould's Rough Copy manuscript has 'I served him true and honestly' but this becomes 'I served true and honest' in the Killerton manuscript.  The Rough Copy has the familiar 'When viewing of those flowers All in my youthful bloom'; but, very much out of character as compared with the other versions and, therefore, almost certainly revealing his own hand, Baring-Gould has the following opening to his stanza two in the Killerton copy:

'Twas down in a fair orchard
All in the month of June,
The viewing of the flowers
A maiden fair in bloom …
To emphasise the point – this form of words, in view of a reasonable unanimity amongst most texts, broadside and sung, must, perforce, suggest more mediation on the part of Baring-Gould, especially in the use of 'orchard' and 'maiden': one might almost say typical of the way in which Baring-Gould's mind seems to have worked.

Finally, Baring-Gould, yet again, offers a slightly different scenario in his Killerton copy to that in his Rough Copy:

That self same night agreed
We both did give consent
And through the moonlit ?
Away from home we went
Twas from her fathers ?
We started off ? alone
Just thinking well we'd get away
From Aarons lovely home …
(it has to be admitted that not all of Baring-Gould's words have necessarily been accurately transcribed in these few lines because his handwriting is often difficult to read). One wonders if Baring-Gould was using his knowledge of versions other than his own in order to make, for him, a satisfactorily full text or, indeed, making his own text rather than absolutely faithfully recording what his singer sang.

As far as John Woolrich's tune is concerned: it is in a minor key but it is unbalanced in that the first three of the four musical phrases are all the same (AAAB). This might suggest a memory-lapse, an imperfectly recalled tune.  At the same time, the form does accord with that of other tunes – one associated with a Mrs Munday as noted by Gardiner, another from a George Dowden as noted by Henry Hammond and a third noted by Clive Carey from a Mr Spooner (all referred to again below).  This form stands out from all others even if, in each of the versions that employ it, we can detect some of the more regular musical phrases.  Indeed, these phrases invert those already encountered.

Baring Gould's contribution, in the end, is a curious one but it gives us something of an insight into how his mind worked when dealing songs he collected – there are other examples – when, seemingly quite unabashed, he was ready to alter text in favour of his own made-up interpolations.  Further, this practice reinforces a methodology that contrived to leave the contributing singer in a sort of backwater.  And then, despite our possible disapproval of method, it illustrates how a song can take on different dimensions to those previously attached to it, not necessarily in terms of obvious deterioration of sense or narrative purpose.  There is, surely, a parallel in the additions and other changes in 'Wassail' Harvey's version of the song even if Baring-Gould's interference turns out to be more forceful.

Indeed, although we have encountered several instances of editorial manipulation of text (above) to remind us of the need, sometimes, for revision of collections, we have also seen the many small changes that, in any case, giving the benefit of the doubt to collectors' accuracy of notation in the majority of instances, exist in singers' particular versions and that actually illustrate the character of song dissemination, of the workings of oral tradition.  Nor are these changes too far distant from changes in text made during broadside production (our ultimate focus in this series).

Baring-Gould, then, offers here a nexus of material that may well be seen as slightly eccentric in character but is also useful for perspective on the progress of subsequent collecting.  This historical timing may, at the same time, determine a period of acquisition of songs dating back to the middle of the nineteenth century.  In this respect, the more the merrier for building a picture of a singing culture – though Baring-Gould, on this form, has introduced something of a true rogue element.


More soberly, perhaps, we find that in addition to the full versions and the Baring-Gould nexus there are several other fragments of Erin's Lovely Home that are nearly all consistent amongst themselves and with the appropriate parts of the fuller versions.  Vaughan Williams, for instance, in a welter of tune-gathering, nevertheless stopped long enough to note a first stanza and a tune from a Mr Smith.17  The textual fragment accords with the familiar first stanza of other English versions though Vaughan Williams wrote 'cruellie' in the fourth line on the manuscript, perhaps (perhaps not) indicating a particular form of pronunciation.  The tune's first and fourth strains remind one a little of High Germany.

The fourth measure is, of course, resolved on the note E at its end …

In another of Vaughan Williams' notations, this time from Mr Anderson in King's Lynn (1905), no words were given on the manuscript but when it subsequently appeared in the Journal of the Folk Song Society it had acquired the usual first stanza.18  This is probably not unreasonable if the seven tunes that Vaughan Williams got hold of are taken into account, representing, as they do, a fair corroboration of the song's existence for Vaughan Williams to be able to presume just a little and add the words (but, all the same, from a modern standpoint, one might have hoped for an explanation of why and how the song appeared in published form in the way that it did).

Of Mr Anderson's tune it maybe said that melodic phrasing is not particularly close to that already encountered but that the construction of the tune with its rising second and third strains and then reversion to the first is certainly typical of the form ABBA already encountered in several cases.

Cecil Sharp noted two tunes with accompanying stanzas in addition to the fuller versions discussed above. 

The first was from Mrs Glover collected in 190519 and is worth more than a single glance because it does not have the usual first stanza but some of the words found in a second stanza in the versions from John Edbrook and 'Wassail' Harvey and the third stanza in those versions from Mrs Curling, Frank Shilley, Robert Barrett and W. P. Merrick (below) as follows:

I walked out in the garden
'Twas in the month of June
Picking those fine flowers
As they looked in full bloom
The moon shine bright and the stars give light
And that you can plainly see
And there I got transported
From Erin's lovely home
Garbled as it is, this one stanza intrigues (the setting-out above has been abstracted from the music manuscript).  The date of notation, 1905, is after that of the versions that Sharp had got from Harry Richards and John Edbrook – both in 1904 - so he knew what he was getting.  What was the rest of the Glover version like (if it exists)? Did Sharp just abandon it as it came from Mrs Glover? Did he revisit and try again for the song? It was certainly not taken up and offered in any published form.

Mrs Glover's tune, despite the unusual rhythmic alteration in the first full bar and, similarly, in the thirteenth, does adhere to a tangible 'standard' form ABBA and includes strong resemblances in musical phrasing to those already discussed.

The second Sharp fragment was from William Mantel noted in 1906 where a first stanza very like that from other English versions can be found within the music notation.20

In addition here, Sharp gave musical variants for bars two, seven (no less than three alternatives) and eleven thus indicating a faithful reproduction of Mr Mantel's singing (see example below).  We may observe Sharp's method of notation here in contrast to that, say, of Baring-Gould – or, rather, that of Fleetwood-Sheppard, who, Baring-Gould himself stated, worked hard within the variations that his singers sang in order to obtain a single skeletal version of the particular tune.21  Contemporarily with Sharp's work, Grainger's experiments with mechanical recording began to expose the difficulties attendant on notation when one could hear all the variations and after which conventional musical notation found itself a little lacking in subtlety.  If one were to be faithful to variation then musical notation would sprawl.  This might well have been a factor in the rejection of mechanical recording by the Folk Song Society, it being felt best to adopt something of the Fleetwood-Sheppard skeletal approach.  Perhaps, too, publishers might insist on a straightforward 'interpretation' of any song-line in order to fit a pre-ordained page layout.  None of these is a new argument but each is useful enough to prevent facile assumption.

Here, like the tune from Mrs Glover, the one from Mr Mantel conforms in structure and, indeed, in overall musical phraseology to the familiar type already found.  Melodic invention or adaptation, all the same, is clear enough as the example of bar seven and its variations given here below demonstrates.

Elsewhere, George Gardiner gives a first stanza collected in 1907 from James Channon (already referred to above) commensurate with the usual opening – 'When I was young and in my prime, my age about twenty-one … ' – and a tune22 that begins by following the established pattern as already discussed but in its last measure introduces a C strain (thus the form is, in shorthand, ABAC):

The Robert Parish version from Sharp (1907), mentioned again so as to delineate a sequence of collecting from the time of Baring-Gould on, is notable for the outstanding first stanza that appears with the music notation (discussed above).  In this and the Glover version there is frustration in the absence of connective material or, alternatively, of material that might help follow the sundering of conformity.

There is a good example of this sundering in an edited version of a tune noted by George Gardiner that accompanies a reference to a Mrs Munday and above which is written, under the title Erin's Lovely Home, a single line - 'There were two brothers' – that we initially take to have come from Mrs Munday (Frank Purslow did the editing and numbered the entry H1064).  There is nothing more to help us – no date of collection, for instance, no note referring us to other versions as Gardiner often did in his manuscripts.  The package (as it were) seems to have been put together ready either for bibliographic convenience or for possible publication – or, again, submission to the Folk Song Society - but without any corollary in manuscript form.  Frank Purslow indicates that Gardiner had crossed out the 'fragment' of text but this cannot be confirmed in the available manuscripts. 

Furthermore, it seems that the tune was not from Mrs Munday at all but from a John Greening, who was visited in September 1907 at the same time that Mrs Munday was visited and there is a manuscript version (Gardiner gave the number 413a) with John Greening's name on it.  The edited version of the tune as discussed here – Frank Purslow's – omits Mr Greening's name; and the fragment and the tune together have gone under the aegis of Mrs Munday ever since. 

There is yet another aspect to this … What is not available for general consumption so far is a fragment of text available from Mr Greening, in fact a set of four familiar lines beginning 'When I was young … '.23 

The confusion, it should be said, does not invalidate the fragments of text and tune that are available for scrutiny even if the exclusion of John Greening from the pantheon is a matter for regret.  Mr Greening's tune, then (not Mrs Munday's), has the following two elements – three lines of one and one of the other – and this form, AAAB, is where conformity has been most sundered.  Yet each measure as given below corresponds with measures found in 'standard' applications, though inverted, suggesting that somewhere along the line there was an acquaintance with that 'standard' tune, if not on Mr Greening's part directly, then in his source material:

The AAAB form, though, has already been noted in the case of John Woolrich.  It is also found in a version from a Mr Dowden, noted by Henry Hammond and in another version from Clive Carey from 'Ed. Spooner' (below); and very much the same melodic phrasing; at least enough evidence to suggest that what might have appeared to have been a one-off occurrence in the case of John Woolrich in the earliest example in England of the song in manuscript can be seen to be part of a reasonably strong showing of a variation in the structure of a basic tune further on in historical time.  It would not do simply to ignore this element.  Dissemination, it can be seen, sometimes curls back on itself.

W. P. Merrick offers three stanzas from his informant, Henry Hills, got from a 'carter chap' at Frensham' in 1900 in which the familiar course of the narrative is followed from the start, although the boy's age is given as 'twenty-four', the girl has a 'heavy' fortune and the boy is referred to as 'William'.  Perhaps this naming does support the possibility, raised above in connection with John Woolrich's version, that it was during the period of the 'Folk Song Revival' that the name changed. 

The tune is in ABAB form and, despite echoes, begins to wander from that 'standard' tune associated so far with versions of Erin's Lovely Home.  In fact, there are distinct echoes of Lazarus in it.24

Frank Kidson added a surprising comment along with this published version given his usual accuracy – perhaps the early ('Revival') dates of collection (1900) and then of publication (1901) had not allowed a sufficient number of versions of the song to emerge for comparison – not even taking into account the version in Baring-Gould's collections.  At any rate he wrote:

The words are on ballad-sheets published by Such and others.  One version, printed by Sanderson, Edinburgh, has additional verses which make it plain that the song is the lament of a convict transported for seven years.
It is, of course, but it is not.  Ballad-sheets make it more clear that a more particular story is being told, even if generic in character; and the link with the Willie Reilly story has not been picked up here.  Frank Kidson, to be fair, does not appear to have become acquainted with this Willie Reilly story until around 1906-1907 when he commented in JFSS on two versions collected by Henry Hammond in Dorset.25

In sum, all these fragments contribute to a general pattern, if only as they brush against the full narrative as outlined above and as, in varying degrees, they more or less elevate what becomes a familiar tune.  What seems abundantly clear is that collectors came across the song in quantity and that they believed the texts to be consistent throughout.  This is underlined by the truncated manuscript form of Sharp's Parish version of the song; and then by various notes attached to other versions got by collectors.  In this latter respect there is, for example, a note with a manuscript version of a tune in the Hammond manuscripts from a Mr R. White, actually written out by Frank Purslow in the course of editing, indicating that Hammond did not take down words but referred to those of Robert Barrett (already discussed above).26  Another Hammond tune notation, from a Mr Gregory, also referred to words from Mr Barrett's version and, what is more, the information this time is in Hammond's own hand.27  The same applies to a tune that Hammond got from George Dowden - 'Words from Barrett … '.28  And there is a similar reference in connection with a tune noted from Charles Wiltshire in the Gardiner manuscripts where the editor, Frank Purslow, indicates that Gardiner did not take down a text but referred instead to Mrs Curling's version29 (for brief comments on the tunes themselves, see below). 

The conclusion is that collectors in England may have found the song to be so common that they thought not every version needed rescuing.


The sustained presence of the song in tradition is underlined by a batch of tunes without text.  These can be divided into two main groups, the first supporting the idea that one tune has been prominent even if, in a sort of subdivision, it is varied slightly in structure and phrasing.  The second group offers different tunes altogether.  The division is in favour of the former group.

Thus, there are four tunes that parallel each other very closely and, further, they parallel other tunes already discussed above in terms of their use for full, fullish and fragmentary texts.  The four are from a Mr Chesson at the Union in King's Lynn, noted by Vaughan Williams in 1905; and from a Dick Antony, a Mr Spooner and a Mr Fletcher, all noted at various times by George Butterworth.30

It is clear that the same structure, ABBA, is followed in all cases in this batch and that melodic phrasing as it progresses is very similar.  This ought to indicate a widespread dissemination and history of usage.

A further group of tunes – the sub-division - has slightly more varied phrasing although, in one or two cases, where the units, A and B, are reversed, the familiar tune is still an underlying one. 

The first is from a Mr 'Thos Colcomb' in a notation in the Broadwood manuscripts.  There are no details of notation on manuscript nor of who made it but it can be seen to accord, overall, with the 'standard' tune described previously.31

Then there are three tunes in Sharp's collections, from a Samuel Burman, noted in 1908, from a Mr H. Watts, also noted in 1908 and from Shepherd Haden (Sharp's spelling), noted in 1909.32  Of these, the first is the most clearly associated with the prevalent musical phrasing discussed above and, whilst each B strain has differences, the overall rising character corresponds in each …

A tune from Mr Donger, collected in the Union at King's Lynn in 1906 by Vaughan Williams, though it is in six-eight rhythm, nevertheless parallels the musical progress of the tune as canvassed generally.  Vaughan Williams' notation here gives us an alternative reading of the full bar two, presumably to match variations in Mr Donger's approach.33

Hammond's tune from Mr Robert White can be seen to contain elements of the standard tune as proposed but it has the form AABA, the final strain slightly varied from the two previous A strains … One or two other variants in particular bars are also given on manuscript.

Finally, there are two other tunes with recognisable strands from the 'standard' kind.  The first is from George Dowden, already referred to, as having been collected by Henry Hammond, in which the AAAB pattern matches that first exposed in connection with John Woolrich and John Greening (Mrs Munday) above and where the final strain is very much in the mould of the 'standard' opening strain already discussed.  It should be noted that on manuscript, Hammond wrote that the first three strains were the same but noted only the first (and the fourth).  A second tune, again in AAAB form but this time noted by Clive Carey, is from a Mr 'Ed Spooner' and on the manuscript Frank Purslow, who edited the piece, indicated that there was no manuscript available but that the tune had been taken from Carey's notebook V (p. 19).34  One notes the attempts to show variants and the group of three notes at the end of the second full bar of the fourth strain – a figure '3' can be found on manuscript although the notes, contrary to other such groups as found in the examples in this article, are not tied.  Taking the tunes in conjunction we might underline the thought already expressed that the 'standard' tune as a whole lay somewhere in their pedigree, especially in the fourth strain of Mr Spooner's version.

So far, this gives us a total of some twenty-five tunes, inclusive of those associated with full or fullish versions of the song, in which elements of a 'standard' musical phraseology can be detected without strain. This suggests that, despite changed order of measures in some instances, the memory of the current singer or that of the immediate singing source for that singer may have lapsed from acquaintance with the prominent tune as encountered in the first group described here.  We have to balance the notion of some kind of Ur-tune with creation and re-creation taking place as we might expect it to do during the processes of dissemination.  Yet the solid association of a particular text with a particular tune, even if it is not wholesale, is strong enough to proclaim a solid and sustained presence. 

Indeed, Gardiner, whilst being careful to note the 'distinct' character of particular tunes, also pointed out where they were 'similar' and even 'identical'.  On examination, as here, they are, indeed, often close in that character.35  Sharp even wrote that:

A large number of English Folk-tunes are modelled on the same pattern, and conform in general melodic outline to “Erin's Lovely Home … ”36
It is no surprise, therefore, given this wide frame of reference, that tunes for Erin's Lovely Home as so far discussed show similarities.  Perhaps it would not even be too bold to suggest that the 'Wassail' Harvey tune – as is usual with Williams, an unknown quantity - could have been one within the general pattern. 


Nonetheless, there are a number of tunes that do not accord with any 'standard' musical phraseology as described above.  The first of these is – perhaps oddly because it is so different to the Colcomb tune already described – from a 'Mr Thos. Colcomb', this time clearly the product of collecting by Ella Leather although on the manuscript the notation is actually ascribed to 'F. Gwillim' (sic: the name should be 'Gwilliam').37  This manuscript version is written in Lucy Broadwood's hand.  The date given is March 1906.  There is no reason at all why a singer should not learn two different tunes to a song but the history of song-collecting does not seem to reveal quite such a divergence within the repertoire of a single singer as is the case here if the first Colcomb example (discussed above) is given credibility, especially within a matter of months. 

The form is ABBA but the run of the tune is very much at odds with the familiar kinds already discussed save that the two B strains do rise upwards in a manner found already.

Sharp provides two distinct tunes – from a Mr Hitchman and from R J Garnish – himself not a traditional singer but a well-known informant for Sharp.38

Vaughan Williams has three tunes, one without a singer's name, another from a Mr Woolford and the third from a 'Gipsy' – this latter with the observation that it is 'doubtful' … This, in Vaughan Williams' collecting, looks to refer to his own uneasiness over notation rather than to any fault on the singer's part.39  Mr Woolford's tune certainly wanders somewhat from any 'standard' kind though it is in clear ABBA form (as is the case elsewhere with Vaughan Williams notations, the tails to notes have here been regularised in a conventional upward or downward direction; and it looks as if the third full bar in the example is incorrectly set out on manuscript).

The unattributed tune offers no easy relationship between it and other tunes for the song … It begins like those three-two tunes found in English song tradition of which Banks of Sweet Primroses may be offered as an example and then dissolves into two-four timing.  The point is that it differs substantially from the 'standard' offering.  It might, indeed, have been a prime candidate for some sort of comment such as 'doubtful'.

The tunes already noted in discussion above, from a Mr Gregory via Hammond and from a Charles Wiltshire via Balfour Gardiner (and then George Gardiner) are also different to what may be termed the 'standard' tune.  The notations in both cases are difficult to reproduce exactly.  In the first instance, the third full bar on manuscript consists of two lines of notes, not quite coinciding with each other but clearly offering variants (it looks as if the top line in this bar lacks a quaver or an indication of a dotted crochet).  In addition, variants are given for bars five and six … This makes no real difference to the overall premise: in fact, underlines it.  In the case of Mr Wiltshire, two versions are available, the one taken down by Balfour Gardiner and given here where there is again a two-line bar (two) together with an alternative run in bar five; and a further copy made up for presentation or publication that, nonetheless, is not actually different to the first version.  The evidence here in both Mr Gregory's and Mr Wiltshire's tunes presents obvious differences in the melodic run as opposed to that in the 'standard' tune. 

The six-eight timing here is, of course, found in the tunes from Mr Woolford and Mr Donger.  Yet such an occurrence is not wholesale in England (as has been seen).  In contrast, all tunes found in Scotland (below) have a six-eight rhythm (it is as well to remember that a six-eight rhythm can be converted into common time and vice-versa).

Collectively, the eight tunes mentioned directly above offer a strong contrasting panorama to that of the prevalent tune even if outnumbered.40


In Scotland, there is a mixed bag of songs.  Gavin Greig's version, one of several in the Greig-Duncan collection, from a Mrs Clark41, follows the narrative outline as we found it in England.  However, the first stanza introduces interesting elements, the first of which is the reference to liberty, not a feature of English versions except in the one version from Robert Parish:

All you that are at liberty I pray you lend an ear.
This sad & dismal story I mean to let you hear.
Lying in this foreign country alone we sigh & moan.
Far from my parents and my friends And Erin's lovely home …
(the word 'lying' might need a touch of dexterity in its unification with the run of the tune as given).  Importantly, the third and the fourth lines offer an almost standard set of images that are paralleled in other Scottish versions (see further below).

There is an odd feature, an obvious puzzle, in a stanza five that describes the boy's consent (he is named 'Willie') in running away with the girl, with a third line as follows: 'the night being bright with moonlight as we rode out … still' … This obviously upsets the rhyming scheme that, in the final line of the stanza, adheres to a familiar pattern:

Hoping to get safe away from Erin's lovely home.
The lapse, whatever the cause of its appearance, is probably demonstration of oral contribution; and it is followed by another such strange phrase, the couple arriving in 'Belfast Louse' (sic).  There the girl pays down 'ten hundred guineas', a sum as described unique in all versions.  The next stanza has the boy's capture when the father ' … marched me off to Limerick jail, the county of Tyrone … ', a clear geographical 'mistake'; and the next stanza begins with 'The … stood by the jail gates to take us all away'.  The gap is notable. 

Much of this comment is to state the obvious but the process of dissemination and even of deterioration in sense is thereby underlined.  Further, there are two final stanzas, albeit incomplete, that seem to muddle familiar lines with others:

Farewell my dearest Nancy I've got no more to say
It was your own cruel father that banished me away
There's seven links upon my chain, and every link a year
Before I can come home again to the arms of my dear.

But now Willie's time is ended, and he returned home
This couple they've got married, in splendour they do roam
And may never think upon the flight from Erin's lovely home.

Clearly, we would think, there are memories of other songs involved here or, at least, a reaching for floating verses.  The introduction of 'Nancy' underlines this.

All told, Mrs Clark's version has a distinctive turn that rattles the familiar course of the tale.  Her tune is straightforward enough, in six-eight time, and half-familiar in a 'family' way.  Indeed, its relationship to the other three tunes given immediately below is plain to see.

A second version in Greig, from a John Mowat, has text that parallels that of Mrs Clark initially but Belfast loses its 'Louse' and then:

They said Prepare your jewels your passage for to pay
A hundred pounds she did pay down …
'Prepare your jewels' is the only such phrase in any sung version (but see further below); and the hundred pounds but a trifle as compared to payment in other versions.

The next stanza, where the father catches up with the couple, is the final one and the boy is marched off to 'Omagh jail in the country of Tyrone'.

A third version, from William Wallace, is fragmentary, paralleling the other two at its outset but getting no further than the father's garden 'and the roses in full bloom' ('roses' feature in all three versions as opposed to 'flowers' in English versions) where the boy agrees to 'roam' with 'My dearest Nancy' (an interloper previously observed in Mrs Clark's version).  After this, the version peters out in two incomplete stanzas – though there is a reference to 'seven links upon my chain'.  The full story, as we have found it elsewhere, is, obviously, not completed.

There are two stanzas from a Mrs Margaret Gillespie.  They are recognisable as being part of the familiar song but do nothing to confirm or advance the nature of the narrative.  Here, they are mentioned as evidence of the song's popularity. 

There are four more full or fullish texts in Greig's collection.

The first is from Mrs Bell Robertson - in which the narrative line is intact, similar in wording to that in the first Greig version above but without additions or changes such as the introduction of 'Nancy'.  The male protagonist's name is given as 'Billy'; the couple go to 'Belfast town' (no other version anywhere includes the word 'town') and 'She said, Prepare my jewel, our passage for to pay' but herself pays down 'Five hundred pounds'.  In the light of agreement in favour of the first phrase given here - 'Prepare my jewel' - in most other known versions, sung or in broadside, 'Prepare your jewels' (my italics) in the Mowat version suggests that it was Mr Mowat who had misheard, misread or conceived of his phrasing.

Next, in the Bell Robertson version, the father arrives and marches the boy off 'to Omagh jail, in the country of Tyrone'; and there the 'rout', a familiar word in English versions, as we have seen, comes to take the prisoners away;

The girl is not mentioned at all this point as cheering up the boy, found in various English versions.  Instead, the final stanza, emphasising a Scottish addition in its last two lines, is as follows:

There is seven links upon my chain, and every link a year,
Before I can return again to the arms of my dear;
So in this foreign country I languish, sigh and moan,
Far from my parents and my friends in Erin's lovely home.
This Bell Robertson version also exists in a handwritten copy42 – presumably the handwriting is Greig's – and the two versions, the handwritten one and the published one, coincide except in details of orthography.  One would think, of the handwritten version, that it is too neat and complete to have been a field notation … more, then, put in order for further use. 

The same version was published in Folk Songs of the North East43 and has two small changes where the word is 'jailgate' in the handwritten and Greig-Duncan collection split into two in the FSNE published copy – 'jail gate'; and the line in the handwritten version and Greig-Duncan collection is 'cheer your heart, dear Billy' (note the name 'Billy'), changed to 'cheer up your heart … ' in the FSNE published copy. 

One returns then to the several changes in orthography amongst the three versions that, ordinarily, would not have been detectable when the song was sung (unless the singer was most extraordinarily aware of possible Art-music nuance!); and to the setting-out in the Greig-Duncan version from Bell Robertson in four-line stanzas as opposed to eight-line stanzas in FSNE, again from Bell Robertson; and that handwritten version.  These are, in effect, minor changes but yet again reveal an editor's or publisher's hand at work and they do not seem to follow in terms of when each version came to light (even 'improved'), the Greig-Duncan version coming last after that in FSNE

There is also a note at the end of the handwritten version:

The most popular of songs when BR was a girl.  Everyone who could sing sang it.
In the FSNE version this note was more expansive:
A correspondent informs me that fifty or sixty years ago “Erin's lovely home” was the most popular of songs, and that everyone who could sing at all, sang it.  It is still a great favourite.  The tune is Irish as well as the words.  It is a particularly engaging melody in 6-8 rhythm, and does duty for a number of other lyrics.
It is not possible to determine why the changes were made.  Suffice to say that, whilst such confidence was not necessarily misplaced, it might require some qualification.  It is true that O'Lochlainn's tune from Ireland is in six-eight rhythm but the general proposition given in the note above cannot be sustained since Sam Henry's version (see more for both versions below), is in four-four time and the O'Lochlainn melody is quite different to anything in Greig.  Further, whilst the textual narrative looks, historically, to have originated in Ireland, the emergence and progress of the song itself are not so easily pinned down.  There are simply not enough Irish versions for any comparison to be easily made and validated.

The second version of these four in Greig-Duncan is from a Mrs Thom that tells the story of 'William' – he meets his true love in the month of May (in terms of rhyme - despite a following line that has the roses in bloom), the couple travel to Belfast where it is the boy who says 'Prepare my jewel our passage for to pay', the girl lays down five hundred pounds, the father takes the boy away to Omagh jail, there are seven links 'all on my chain' and it is a 'coach' that arrives to take prisoners away.  At its conclusion this version includes the following stanza:

Farewell, my dearest Nancy I've got no more to say
It was your cruel father that banished me away
And in a foreign country I'll languish, sigh and moan,
Far from my parents and my friends in Erin's lovely home.
As previously indicated, then, a Scottish contribution thus surfaces in the two final lines.  There is also that seeming intrusion of references to another song altogether as found in the Clark version discussed above (the reference to 'Nancy' is an example).

The third of this set of Greig versions, from a Mrs Kelman, is slightly different again.  The outline narrative can be followed - as far as Belfast - but then there is a collation of stanzas:

We arrived in Belfast, before the break of day,
My true love she came up to me, and unto me did say:
“Prepare all jewels Willie our passage for to pay.”
Five thousand pounds she did lay down saying This is all I own,
Never fear for those we left behind in Erin's lovely home …
(my italics … in all the other Greig versions bar one that does not even get to the particular point in the story the word is 'fret' not 'fear').

When the father apprehends the couple, the boy is marched off to 'Omega' jail (still in Tyrone) and then a completely new element appears:

The lord stood at the langate to take me far away
though there is then a reversion when:
My true love she came up to me and unto me did say
“Cheer up, cheer up; dear Willie, now that we're alone
For I'll be true till you return to Erin's lovely home.”
- 'cheer up' lines that we have found in English versions.  There are also two lines in which the seven links are mentioned.  Conversely, what appeared to be distinctively Scottish lines including 'languish, sigh, and moan', do not appear.

Assuming Greig's textual notations to be accurate there are signs here of a breakdown in the details of the known story and palpable references to other songs, perhaps – in the last instance where the word 'langate' appears – likely to have been a throwback to some older ballad. 

One more Greig version in the group is linked to English versions not only in its narrative content as we would expect but in that outstanding title, 'Aaron's Lovely Home'.  The text, from 'Shop girls in Aberdeen' (an interesting reference to location), is fragmentary and events are sometimes out of familiar sequence but the story is recognisable.

The piece begins and ends, though, as do English versions.  The opening lines include 'When I was young and in my prime … ', not 'All ye that are at liberty … ' and so on; and a final 'Cheer up cheer up … ' set of lines – not the 'languish, sigh, and moan' references discovered elsewhere in Scotland.  Furthermore, Greig must, surely, have known what he was about in retaining the title since all his other versions carry the usual title, 'Erin's Lovely Home'.  It does not appear as though he simply misheard local pronunciation.  Finally, there is no name for the boy in the fragments that we have from the Aberdeen shop girls.

Antecedents for this version would seem to be anybody's guess but English versions of the song seem to lurk.

The four separate tunes that Greig includes in his collection are all, like those in the four versions, also from Greig, given above, in six-eight rhythm and, in fact, are variants of the same tune, differing only slightly in certain phrases.  One of the tunes falls into a sort of minor key – it also lacks one or two phrases in its third measure – there is a gap in notation - that could reasonably be assumed to be much the same as they are in the second measure given here. 

Copy of text from Ord (there is no music)44 accords in narrative impulse with familiar versions although there are certain words and phrases that differ - the protagonist is named as 'Billy' who features in Scotland in only one Greig version, that from Bell Robertson; the girl persuades him thus:

… “My dearest Billy,
If you with me will roam,
You'll never fret for those you left
In Erin's lovely home” …
and there are signs of infil, a characteristic of song tradition (my italics):
That very night I gave consent,
I mean to let you know
But to my sad misfortune,
I mean to let you hear45
The boy is taken to 'Omagh Jail' in 'the county of Tyrone'.  Then, 'When word came to the jail-gate' to take the prisoners away – no 'rout' or any other mode of transference - the girl arrives to tell Billy to 'Cheer up your heart'.  The version ends as follows:
So in this foreign country,
I languish, sigh, and moan,
Far from my parents and my friends
In Erin's lovely home.
This last clearly parallels the versions, via Greig, of Bell Robertson and Mrs Thom.  To re-emphasise the point: these provide an ending not found elsewhere in sung versions.  Five of the six full English versions end with the girl trying to give comfort, urging the boy to cheer up because she will never disown him (only 'Wassail' Harvey sings differently in all respects). 

Obviously, then, the oral history of the song in Scotland had its own momentum.

One other point may be made.  The big divide between London broadside printings and those in the north of England as discussed in a previous article involves an 'Old Ireland' stanza in one or two cases from the latter region46 and, whilst this stanza can also be found on a Sanderson broadside (but not in Lindsay, the only other Scottish contender), it does not appear in any sung versions from Scotland.  Since, too, the liberty stanza appears, in broadside terms, in copy from Birmingham in Dublin and from Lindsay and Sanderson in Scotland and not in English broadside printings, possible connections between sung and broadside versions and between different geographical areas are thereby scattered and, even, confused.  Where conjunctions exist they are the more intriguing in that they may imply a hidden congress that has no detectable logic, mixing broadside and sung versions from all over.  An easily traceable pedigree is non-existent.  More positively, of course, there is clear demonstration in Scotland of oral generation and re-generation amongst singers.

These, it may be argued, are nothing more than latter-day observations but, at the least, in the mix in Scotland the existence of the Aberdeen text in Greig-Duncan stands out as being particularly alien to the general run, as notable as 'Wassail' Harvey's version in England: a strange convolution at opposite ends of the kingdom.


In Ireland, as has been rehearsed several times above, it is difficult to locate versions, which might be thought strange given the song's supposed attachment to probable events in the country.  There appears to be nothing in Joyce, for example, who would have given us a connection to the mid-nineteenth-century at the least.  Sam Henry, at a much later time, did print a version (he says that it was a 'well-known song that was sent to me') which is also like the familiar English one with the standard tune to match47 but with a first stanza virtually the same as that of a Birmingham broadside from Dublin – 'All you young men I pray draw near that have your liberty … ' thus emphasizing a non-English character.  The protagonist is named as 'Willie' (the old-fashioned way), the girl has a 'princely' fortune (as it does in a version from Colm O'Lochlainn – see below), the payment for passage is 'Five hundred pounds' (Curling, Scottish versions), the boy is marched off to 'Omagh Jail' and a 'coach'48 comes to the 'jail yard' in a final stanza that is the same as those in English versions, with the girl offering comfort.

Harding's Dublin Songster included a text which matches the 'standard' one as first found in English sung versions but, as is usual with this compilation, there is no connective link with previous versions in note form, nor any tune; merely the bald text.49

John Edbrook's version, as discussed above, was published in JIFDSS.50  There are no notes additional to those found in its English guise in Sharp's manuscripts and, therefore, this particular trail peters out – more, it would seem, of a fillip to the fledging Irish Folk Song Society than anything else.  But its existence in Ireland ekes out the list of available versions of the song.

Colm O'Lochlainn printed a version51 that has but a handful of textual differences to the version in Henry: 'Young men that have your liberty, I pray you now draw near … ' in the first stanza; 'Till with cruelty he banished me ' as opposed to Henry's 'Till cruel fate has banished me' in the second stanza; everything in the garden was 'pleasant' not 'silent' as in Henry; and 'jail-yard' printed with a hyphen.  Both have 'I served him true, in honesty', not found elsewhere and both use 'princely' to describe the girl's fortune – as is the case in Sam Henry's version; both put the onus on the girl – 'if along with me you'll roam'; both have 'five hundred pounds' as payment - like our Curling and Watts English versions.  Both Henry and O'Lochlainn have the phrase 'From that I was transported' (my italics), not found elsewhere.

The last two lines of the first stanza in both versions inevitably remind us of those Scottish sung versions described above and this first stanza is also the stanza found in a first-and-last-stanza notation, from Robert Parish via Sharp, the only English sung version to have it.  As O'Lochlainn has the words:

While in a foreign coun-ter-ie I now must sigh and moan
When I think upon the days I spent in Erin's lovely home.
We recall that the Nicholson broadside and that from Birmingham, both discussed in the previous piece in this series, have this opening stanza (but not the spelling of 'coun-ter-ie'.  A definite feature is postulated and it is not one normally associated with English sung versions and broadside texts.  There are yet more coincidences with Scottish wording though the positioning of the lines in the full narrative is not the same.  In all, a certain circular proposition for pedigree is beginning to emerge – Irish versions with echoes of Scottish versions, Scottish versions with different echoes of English versions … all this already predicated in the discussion above on Scottish versions.  No one form held absolute sway: hardly surprising news.

O'Lochlainn, in his brief notes on the song, wrote that he heard the piece in Belfast in 1916 from a man who had got the Gaelic words 'Raca breá mo chinn in Ballingeary' and afterwards 'heard it sung to English words by a Waterford ballad-singer'.  This remark could upset the whole apple-cart in terms of the dominance of any one tune if not also the pedigree of the text.  The tune itself is quite different to any other except in its use of six-eight rhythm and O'Lochlainn gives the information that it could be associated with other songs such as 'Kickham's ballad Patrick Sheahan'.  We might for the moment be content enough with the notion that the singer reached for a suitable vehicle like those English singers in the second large group described above rather than inheriting a tune previously associated with the text. 

Finally, in Ireland, there is an extension to all this … Sarah Makem, for example, sang the song.  Michael Flanagan could, comparatively recently and after Mrs Makem's death, be heard singing a version of the song whose textual closeness to the bulk of versions cited in this article is clear enough.  Similarly, there is a version of the song in circulation in the north of Ireland, principally, it seems, amongst the circle associated with Inishowen, County Donegal52 - Dan McGonigle's version has the English pattern of text beginning 'When I was young and in my prime … ' though there is no garden stanza.  His tune is in six-eight rhythm and without any echoes of the first 'standard' tune canvassed above – indeed, a tune that could be associated with numbers of songs – such as The Rocks of Bawn:

There is also another development in Ireland: that of a song going by the same title but, in actuality, with a narrative line quite different to those examined above, this 'other' version being more a song about emigration per se and the dangers of fever on the voyage.53

The point is that whilst in Ireland the song just about maintains a presence any legacy in England is difficult to judge.  We do have versions from Nelson Ridley and Mary Anne Haynes but the song does not appear to have gone into the more conventional environment of club, festival and recording or into the repertoires of those singers who might be thought to have had or to have a traditional background or to have been heavily influenced by traditional singing. 

Nelson Ridley's version is very much truncated consisting of an opening stanza ('When I was young and in my prime … '), a stanza incorporating the lovers' meeting:

For the moon shone bright, the stars gave light, we was sitting all alone,
Then I said unto my true love, here's a carriage for to (pay) …
- and a third stanza beginning:
Now cheer up, cheer up, my own true love, it will grieve my heart to go,
(Whyever boat your dad will float) to a foreign land I'll go …
One assumes the brackets to be editorial in nature.  In any case the song could hardly be said to have perpetuated the known story and, consequently, remains more of a curiosity than in any way a mainstream contribution according to the history rehearsed in the course of this article.54

Mary Anne Haynes' version is much more full and very much in line with antecedents, a positive contribution, as it were, capable of learning from and perpetuating.  Oddly, perhaps, we have here that change of name within the song from William to John and back again first noticed in Mrs Curling's version.  Other features include the girl's 'heavy' fortune (as in the Hills version given above), the arrival at Belfast but, in a final stanza, only touches of the fuller narrative and with obvious 'corruptions':

Oh just a few hours after, her father did appear,
And he marched me back to Comangel in the
county of Traleer,
She said, 'My dearest William, for you I'll never
Until I see your face again in my Erin's lovely home.
Incidentally, 'lovely' is pronounced as 'love-lie'.55

This seems to have been the last glimpse in England.

The two associated tunes do have resemblances to the familiar one.  The form in Nelson Ridley's versions is ABBA with the second two strains rising as was found in the first few versions studied here.  Mary Anne Haynes' tune, another in ABBA form, with the usual curlicues and slight changes of note throughout, takes us back much more strongly to the 'standard' tune.


It has to be concluded on all this evidence that, firstly, whatever the sources, they provided a strong well-spring, seemingly dominated by oral dissemination even if the historical descent is unbalanced in terms of numbers of versions in any one country.  Secondly, the evidence for Irish provenance, whilst not conclusive, may, perhaps, be judged by reference to the settings which are the same localised Irish ones in all cases (Belfast, Omagh … ).  But there is no evidence such as was found in the printed text of the Willie Reilly story dating from the time of the supposed events themselves to help pinpoint genesis.  The claim that Erin's Lovely Home encapsulates the 'true' story puts a generic song in place of one with specifics in it.  In this guise, the song circulated most strongly in England and the numbers of versions far exceed any found in Ireland.  Thus, thirdly, a popularity in England is underlined during the latter years of the nineteenth and the first quarter of the twentieth centuries and the discrepancies that may be said to contribute to the ways in which any Irish background was broken down do not depend on Irish provenance for an original in order to make an impact.  In the end, the song, particularly as found in the full versions discussed above, stands independent of specific setting, a tribute to its imaginative appeal.

Roly Brown - 12.11.09
Oradour sur Vayres, France
October 2009


Article MT226

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