Article MT246

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No. 38: Sung versions of John Reilly1

After the modest showing of printed balladry discussed in the previous article in this series we find an extensive and long-lasting contribution in oral sources.  The song can be found with more than one title - John Reilly (Riley) and Riley the Fisherman being most prominent.

In England in 1904 Frank Kidson noted a full version from a Mrs Thomson, published in JFSS as Young Riley the Fisherman2, and added that:

This is fair comment in the case of Such - and might well also be applied to the closeness in text in comparison with broadside copy from, say, Hodges and Ryle … except, of course, that, on the broadside printing, text is in four-line stanzas whilst Kidson set the Thompson version out in two-line form: It looks as if Kidson used the couplet form because the tune dictated it.  Only A and B strains are offered - and they also look as if the musical sequence has been reversed.  In this case if the B strain were to be placed first and last with the A strain repeated in the middle we would arrive at a form that is found many times elsewhere although there are still variants within each strain in different musical versions, as will be seen.  At the same time there are various echoes of the Thompson tune in others - the two-strain form itself and, in particular, the musical phrasing of the third full bar as given here that can be found in no less than six other versions as discussed below.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Of course, one has to lay aside any idea of what might be perceived as being a slightly more logical layout in musical terms and accept what is there to be enjoyed.  The piece is resolved musically in the conventional way on its root note.  This may be borne in mind when other similar tunes are discussed below.  But the imagined form here also has faint resemblances to the actual form and music found in some other versions and might just be adduced in support of any thesis concerning a favoured tune amongst singers, just as a number of versions of Erin's lovely Home make up a collective feature.

The narrative as found on broadsides also appears more or less whole in this sung version as it moves through the contrast between the father and his riches and the poverty of Riley and the father's objection to any connection between his daughter and Riley; the mother's warning and offer of 'a thousand pound' for Riley to go to America and purchase land; the subsequent meeting between Riley and his sweetheart and the breaking of the ring as token; Riley's departure and the girl's search for him 'twelve months after' that turns to tragedy:

Then comes the finding of a letter and the warning to 'all maids fair and gay': The words 'wreck'd' and 'griev'd', apostrophised as they are, offer an example of convention in orthography that must have been the work of the collector.  The word 'rov'd' in the same version is yet another example of the same practice.  It will be found that, time and again in this set of songs, editorial intervention is clear.

Oddly - there are no explanatory notes - Kidson gives an alternative reading to one line: 'he lives down by the quay' by including, in brackets, the line 'lives near the town of Bray' which, of course, reminds us of the reference to 'Rea' occurring in Lindsay's broadside as noted in the previous piece in this series; and this may even suggest that Kidson had come across the naming process somewhere - certainly not in London printings though Kidson had mentioned Such, whilst Forth, the 'other' printer that Kidson referred to in connection with Mrs Thompson's version, has 'Hull' as location. 

There is, too, a puzzle surrounding Kidson's reference to 'Forth'.  In his later notes to the published version, after mentioning Such, he refers to one from 'W.  Forth of Hull' and he also gives the information that the text was entitled 'John O'Reilly' and dated 1859.  In neither detail was this correct, Forth (as noted in the previous article in this series) commencing printing around 1870 and his piece being entitled Young Riley the Fisherman, just as Kidson had it as title for his sung version from Mrs Thompson.3

Finally, as a point of a different order, in the two places where it is mentioned in this version there is no sign that 'America' is pronounced as 'Amerikay' even if common-sense in the textual context of rhyme might dictate that it was so used just as it must surely be the case in other versions. 

The rather strange progress of Mrs Thompson's version continued in Frank Kidson's A Garland … , issued two decades later, where the form of the same tune that Mrs Thompson apparently used (AB) is retained but appears as a repeated measure - AB, AB - and where the key is changed from A minor to D minor.4

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

The repeat of the two-strain tune is occasioned by Kidson employing four-line stanzas.  There must have been another editorial decision on the music however the second text came to Kidson; and it is not at all clear otherwise why he changed the two-line couplets to four lines or, indeed, used a four-strain musical form unless, perhaps, by then, he had come across other versions with four-line stanzas.  'America', incidentally, remains as 'America' - unless, once again, one assumes a common-sense position for pronunciation.

But, in any case, the whole text has been changed since the first published version of the song appeared in JFSS.  In A Garland … (published as far on as 1926) the opening is:

The second and third lines here, in particular, look a trifle suspect, the third not unlike some of the interjections made by Sabine Baring-Gould during his collecting and editing days.  This may be uncharitable to the editors but, in the absence of a reference to previous text in JFDSS, must stand.  In any case, these lines are not very much like those evidently first got from Mrs Thompson.

There is, incidentally, no alternative line in this version that mentions Bray.

Two stanzas (full stanzas, that is, familiar in broadside printings as including all the known elements of the narrative) are condensed:

Furthermore, the final stanza that has featured most often in text discussed so far that normally includes the finding of a letter and the warning to all young maids, is absent, the piece ending instead with: We note the reversal of a phrase, now given as 'back again came Riley', not, as it was in the first Thompson version, 'came back again'.  But this final stanza does at least confirm the ending of the first Thompson version with that phrase 'dead upon the shore' (found also in Such) as opposed to 'drowned on the shore' (found in Hodges and Ryle … Lindsay) - or 'drownded' (as in Forth and in other sung versions as described below). 

Kidson, in a note to his version in A Garland … , added that 'The beautiful old tune must be an excuse for the doggerel of the verses'.5  If this is meant to be critical of broadsides it can hardly have validity in the face of Kidson's approval of sung text from Mrs Thompson which has a clear closeness of expression to that of broadsides.  And, in any case, the piece has now been manipulated - perhaps even for a more dramatic ending as indicated in the abrupt last line given above - so, in a way, Kidson has only himself to blame for the 'doggerel'.

Ralph Vaughan Williams collected a version of John Reilly (note the spelling), words as well as tune, from a Mr and Mrs Truell in 1904.6  The narrative sequence is as might now be expected.  Otherwise, in terms of phraseology, there are small individual touches.  The mother, when speaking, 'these very words did say … '.  And Vaughan Williams did include an alternative possibility in the middle of the line reading 'If you are fond of Reilly you (he?) must leave this counterie … '.  The last word here, 'counterie', also shows Vaughan Williams paying attention to pronunciation.  This modification of the word can be found in other versions.  Further, during the exchange between mother and daughter, the daughter, in this versions says 'O mother dear Don't be severe, O where I've let my love (?) … ' (this is to follow the way that the line appears on manuscript): and Vaughan Williams did not seem to be sure quite what was meant.  Further still, when the mother advises the daughter to send Reilly away, it is to 'Ameriky'; and when the daughter encounters Reilly and gives him her mother's money the reference is again to 'Ameriky'.  At the end of the narrative the name appears in the warning not to let a 'lady's love' go to 'Amerikay'.  We can accept all these details as part and parcel of the process of notation and the last example may begin to confirm a regular pronunciation (that common-sense, in any case, might dictate).

But the odd thing about the version is that Vaughan Williams had taken down a perfectly acceptable set of words although without quite the full complement of elements since there are lines missing that in most versions concern the breaking of the ring in two and, likewise, more lines missing that might have described the shipwreck and where Reilly was found.  However, when he came to publish the piece in the Journal in 1906, rather than add lines from elsewhere to fill the gaps, he only included his first stanza in the musical example and 'For the rest of the words and a version of the second half of the tune … ' referred to an earlier Journal set that turns out to be Frank Kidson's version from Mrs Thompson as described above.  'Elsewhere' in this context could even have meant Vaughan Williams taking some lines from the Kidson version to add to his own - this would appear to have been the only version that he had become acquainted with so far.

Vaughan Williams' next recorded field acquaintance with the song, when James Anderson sang it to him in King's Lynn (see more below), did not come until 1905; after his encounter with Mr and Mrs Truell and after Frank Kidson's Thompson version appeared in the Journal, both in 1904.  How long it might normally have taken for a particular version to have been sent to the Journal and monitored before publication is not clear.  But there was a gap of two years between Vaughan Williams' acquisition of the song from the Truells and its appearance in the Journal (in 1906).  In this context, he may not have been confident of his own findings in respect of a full set of words and, therefore, relied on Frank Kidson's findings.

The Truell tune is strong and attractive, in ABBA form.  Only in its penultimate bar is there a clear change in note value, there being four quavers to coincide with wording.  One should note bar seven where the same sort of musical phrase that occurred in the Thompson version can be found.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Other than this full version, and bearing in mind his then current focus whilst collecting, Vaughan Williams also noted four more tunes.  These came from Mr Anderson in King's Lynn in 1905; from a Mr Pamplin in Fen Ditton, Cambridgeshire, in 1906; and from Mr Christopher Jay and from an un-named singer at the Bridge Inn, Acle in 1908.7

Mr Anderson's tune appears more than once in the manuscripts and on one copy, at least, (none of the manuscript tunes are 'catalogued' - by number, for instance - in any way) the tune is clearly set out, basically in ABBA form though the final A part differs in one or two notes as compared to those in its first appearance: perfectly understandable as being part of the process of adjustment during notation - when, say, a singer sang a song more than once and changed detail.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

All four tunes are scribbled in Vaughan Williams' usual fashion and the Pamplin tune, in particular, looks as if it was one the musical phrases of which Vaughan Williams tried to hold in his head since there is no clear, consecutive rendering in manuscript form (and it then disappears from view without benefit of adjustment as described above).  The manuscript outline leaves us guessing as to whether or not the form is ABBA and it would not be appropriate to try to re-construct Vaughan Williams' notation with its several possibilities except to set out the first measure which is clear enough on manuscript and allows some sort of comparison with other tunes:

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Mr Jay's tune begins rather in the way that the Kidson version from Mrs Thompson did - that is, as if the B part had supplanted an A part.  These are also the only two musical phrases given.  In bar three the echo of the Thompson and the Truell tunes is marked.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

The unattributed tune, likewise, has but two elements although the sequence, in contrast to that in the Thompson and Jay tunes, is (so to speak) logical enough musically …

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

No precise date is given for this latter version on manuscript but, according to Michael Kennedy's biography of Vaughan Williams, in a list of all items that Vaughan Williams noted, this one was sung and noted on the same occasion as was the tune from Mr Jay in 1908.8

Clearly, whilst each Vaughan Williams tune, including that from Mr and Mrs Truell, has a character of some dignity, none of them really accord even where the one bar is echoed.  The two Acle ones are quite different in phrasing.  We may certainly value them for their individuality but, at the same time, when taking them together with examples from elsewhere we are made aware that, overall, singers had not attached one tune - or variants of it - to the text but were looking at convenient alternatives.  Kidson's version from Mrs Thompson thus takes on the mantle of individuality and the speculation made above becomes somewhat redundant in the face of evidence if not of possibilities.

In addition to the Truell tune and text and the four tunes without text, Vaughan Williams, together with George Butterworth, noted a tune in Norfolk in 1911.9  By this time it must have been that Vaughan Williams knew very well what song he had come across.  In fact, though, the notations from the two collectors do not quite match.  For a start, Vaughan Williams chose to set the piece out in two-four time (though he did not actually give a time-signature - his bar-lines and use of quavers, on the other hand, make clear the time).  Butterworth, on the other hand, chose to use four-four time although, unusually for Butterworth, there is no indication at all and it is the notes themselves as written that confirm the time measure.  Such anomalies may reflect each collector's apprehension of the speed at which the piece was sung to them or even how they noted a different rendering.  We know that singers repeated their songs to collectors - and adjustments in notation were, therefore, needed.  Then again, though, Vaughan Williams used the key signature of D minor.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

There is one slight addition to the music given above where, at the beginning of the second full bar there is an alternative of two quavers on F.  Vaughan Williams does also give a third alternative to the same bar, this time at the end of the notation - a crochet followed by two quavers on F.  He designates this as 'C'!

In Butterworth's case, remembering that he does not provide us with a key signature nor a time signature we can see how the tune keeps resolving itself on a G but there is not an F sharp to confirm a straight G tune (nor are there two flats that might indicate a G minor tune).

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Butterworth indicates that the B strain here is repeated, giving us an ABBA form.  That much was already clear in the Vaughan Williams notation - though in the third bar from the end, where the repeat of the A strain occurs, Vaughan Williams uses dotted notes; and Butterworth keeps to quavers.

This all suggests a measure of disagreement.  Further, note values are different even if we accept that Butterworth's notation could indicate a slowing - a doubling - of notes within an over-riding structure or that that from Vaughan Williams represents a faster idea of how a tune might run.  We are left with an apparent dichotomy in terms of what each collector claims to have heard.

We need not load this down with great significance but should bear in mind that, as pointed out at the beginning of this article, editors, as well as singers, swayed this way and that in their rendering of particular songs.

We turn next to George Gardiner and in his case it is noteworthy that all his manuscript versions - and these include the contributions in musical form from Guyer and Gamblin - are mirrored in fresh copy made for the Folk Song Society and, as far as can be seen, offer exactly what can be found in Gardiner's field notebooks (unfortunately, one vital notebook, number ten, is missing, as will be seen below in discussion, and that notebook contained versions of the John Reilly story … but a reasonable assumption can be made that Gardiner followed the practice he had established in all his other manuscript notebooks).  Gardiner, it seems, did not make the kinds of editorial adjustments discussed elsewhere in this article.

He noted several versions of the John Reilly song including one from Job Read (1906) that begins with 'Young Reilly is my true love's name' (not 'As I walked out one morning … ' found in several broadside versions) and has then the familiar storyline set out in short four-line stanzas with small changes in detail10.  And, within this framework of short lines, we find the mother indicating to her daughter that:

and thereby exposing pronunciation - as Vaughan Williams had done.

Later she offers 'one thousand pounds' for Reilly to go to 'America' (sic) in order to purchase ground.  Reilly, before he puts his foot on board, breaks a ring in two: 'You have my heart and half this ring … '.  In twelve months 'She was walking by the sea' expecting Reilly to come back and take her away and encounters the ship - note that it is the girl who does this - wrecked, all hands lost: we can put it down to oral change.  Her father 'grieved full sore' on finding his daughter in Reilly's arms 'Lying drownded (sic) on the shore'.  The piece ends as follows:

The narrative, then, is a full one; but the tune consists of but A and B strains that, together, are repeated: now seen to be a not uncommon practice, beginning with the version from Mrs Thompson.  The tune here, like the Vaughan Williams tunes, could be seen as a useful vehicle rather than as an inherited tune welded to the particular text.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Gardiner's second version, from George Lovett (it was noted by Charles Gamblin in August 1906), has no text but the tune, basically in E minor, was published, subsequently, in Sharp's English County Folk Songs as a full version with text.11  Exactly how this came about we do not know although there are clues to be found on Gardiner's other versions (below) but the key of the tune had been changed to D minor and, obviously, editorial interference is made manifest as it was in the case of Kidson's exposure of the Thompson version.  This would appear to have been the result of Sharp's involvement … At least Gardiner's title in both manuscript and published version is given as Young Reilly.  The added text has the familiar storyline, beginning with 'Young Reilly is my true love's name, he lives down by the quay' … but there are details not found elsewhere.  For example, Reilly is 'the fairest sailor lad that ever my eyes did see' and, after the familiar exchange between mother and daughter (my italics), Reilly takes 'this gold in hand'.  Then, 'ere he set his foot on board' he produces the token and says, ' … come, break it fair in two' before, when 'homeward bound to take his Love away', he is found 'drowned' upon the shore (this is clear enough and contrasts vividly with Job Read's 'drownded').  There is no finding of a letter or warning in this version.  Truly, the editors were taking liberties. 

This particular history of publication is somewhat convoluted but there is no denying the grandeur of George Lovett's tune (he was possessed of several such … ) nor of the fullness of the added text bar the lack of the usual final stanza.  One notes the echo of the Thompson, Truell and Jay tunes in bar three.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Gardiner's other versions are four in number.  The first comes from Henry Day and consists of a tune and a first stanza beginning 'As I roved out one morning' - but no date is given … though, judging on other items from Henry Day, this piece is likely to have been noted in the autumn of 1906 when Gardiner was visiting David Marlow and Alfred Porter in and around Basingstoke where Henry Day also lived.12  The final line includes the phrase 'Bound for America'.  Gardiner is elsewhere very careful to note pronunciation of the name of the country so it is difficult to know quite what to make of this case except that we are now used to application of common-sense.  In this case, 'America' looks as if it was, indeed, meant to be rhymed with ' … These words to me did say'. 

The tune is very distinctive … nothing like it in any of the other tunes surveyed … more or less set out as ABBC although there are shared phrases in the first and fourth strains.  'Spot the tune' is a good game - and here there are faint echoes of certain other tunes associated with songs such as Down by the tanyard side … but nothing to make pinpointing easy.  The generic use of four-square tunes can, nevertheless, be marked out as characteristic of the particular song.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

The second Gardiner version comes from Benjamin Arnold (1906), with a fragment on manuscript beginning 'As I walked out one morning' but without a tune.13

The third is from a Mr Giles, aged 74, noted in Portsmouth Workhouse in 1907, with a tune and a first stanza beginning 'As I walked out one evening clear'.  The tune was noted by Guyer.14  Interestingly, the final line of the textual fragment is 'My love is on the raging seas bound for Americay' - more proof, if it were needed, of a common-sense appreciation of pronunciation, albeit here not left to the imagination.

Gardiner, in notes on his manuscript, mentioned other versions that he had collected, as was often his practice (he sometimes included a note on differences), and this included reference to a tune in Petrie (see further below).  He also added that a text could be found in Ashton's Modern Street Ballads.  This interest in and setting-out of details of other versions reveals not just an apparent wish for completeness but the excitement attendant on discovery - sadly for later commentators, neither the Hammonds, say, nor Vaughan Williams (except in notes in the Journal) display quite the same emotion and persistence. 

The tune itself is singular and attractive:

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Bar four bears scrutiny since the same phrase occurs here as it did in the Thompson, Truell, Jay and George Lovett tunes.

There are other points to note, principally to do with Gardiner's estimation of the quality of the tune in a note that he sent to Lucy Broadwood, then editor of JFDSS:

The other tune was almost certainly that from George Lovett and this, as already noted above, was precisely the one taken up by Sharp for publication.

Then, however, there is a slightly uneasy appeal:

More than anything this reveals how collectors were still having to come to terms with their material and that, where any potentially Irish aspect was concerned, they may not have been at all sure of themselves - though Sharp seemed to be convinced that songs such as those mentioned by Gardiner were not, in fact, Irish.  This gives a curious twist to the kind of song under discussion here.  There are certainly suggestions of Irish connection through naming but no clear foundation in every case for any assumption of 'Irish-ness' through the demonstrable historical events around which some elopement songs were accumulated.

Fourth in the assembly of incomplete songs in Gardiner's manuscripts, there is a tune and first stanza from Thomas Jones, aged 73, in the Portsmouth Workhouse (noted by Guyer on July 31st 1907), 15 where Frank Purslow, in editing the Gardiner manuscripts, points out that there was no text available, the Portsmouth notebooks having gone missing.  We note, almost by the by but, nonetheless, underlining a feature of the song as found, that 'My love is on the raging seas bound for Amerikay' (sic).  Guyer, who made the notation, entitled his copy Young Reilly but Frank Purslow during later editing altered this to John Reilly.  What convenience this led to is not clear.  The tune, not really related in musical phrasing to others surveyed so far, indicates a choice by the singer of a suitable vehicle for text or a relatively close-at-hand example rather than a historical inheritance.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

In each of the cases cited above Gardiner, as indicated, made a note of previously collected tunes (and texts) in 1906; yet, apart from the full-ish version from Job Read, these Gardiner contributions can probably best be seen as confirming the popularity of the song as found during the periods of collecting in Hampshire during 1906 and 1907.  The preservation of George Lovett's tune in the form that we now have it, on the other hand - through Sharp, it seems - suggests that, in publication, Gardiner was persuaded by Sharp of a more outstanding worth in this particular finding.  The Sharp publication dates from 1909.

In his own right, Cecil Sharp collected three versions of John Reilly - from Captain Vickery and Benjamin Warren in 1907 and from Mrs P.  Wiggett in 1909.16  Captain Vickery's version consists of four stanzas that contain a fair proportion of the known text as seen on broadside but looks as if it has been collated with or confused with lines from Charming Mary Neill.  There are no introductory lines such as 'As I roved out one morning … ' or 'John Reilly is my true love's name'.  Instead we move straight to:

Then the girl is introduced, saying: 'Then at 12 o'clock that very same day', the mother enters the fray, suggesting, in a slightly garbled way that Reilly leave the country.  That is, hints at the father's anger come after the advice to quite the country: There follows an exchange between mother and daughter during which the mother offers 'one thousand pound' in order to purchase ground in 'Amerikay' (sic) - it is not at all clear who is to do this deed: the girl or Reilly or, indeed, both.

Reilly does go away, with the money, but only 'in about some 3 years after' …

The introduction of Limerick is unique in all versions and it is not, just to remind ourselves, his named home location as was Bray and its variants (and as will be seen further).  The three year gap is also unique to this version.

A final stanza records the finding of the note in the girl's bosom, 'wrote in blood'; and offers the familiar warning:

The text in this version turns out to be something of a shadow - as substantial shadow, mind - of the full versions that we are accustomed to in broadside printings and with apparent interpolations from other sources.

The tune, which, because of its association with text from Charming Mary Neill, may be thought to be irrelevant, is nevertheless again useful in underlining how the John Reilly song seemed to attract numbers of four-square tunes from the repertoires of singers.  In this case, it is not maybe the most exciting …

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Benjamin Warren's version plunges right into the debate between daughter and mother:

and the mother warns of the father's intentions.  The daughter's response does not appear and, instead, we move to the mother's justification: and so on.

Reilly, when he 'got his foot on board', breaks a ring in two; and returns 'in 12 months after' but, unfortunately, subject to shipwreck.  Thus it was that:

The letter is found and the usual admonition given.

As regards the tune, we find yet another strong-striding one and the liberty is taken here to introduce the third measure in order to indicate the variation that confirms the tune's character (and also demonstrates Sharp's attention to such detail).

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

However, neither Sharp version discussed here provides a full narrative.  Nor does Mrs Wigget's version help, consisting only of a tune with a fragment of text.  There is one outstanding feature … The available stanza from her singing begins 'John Reilly is my true love's name and he comes from the town called Lee', thus echoing Frank Kidson's version from Mrs Thompson ('Rea') and the Lindsay and Birmingham broadsides ('Bray') - less so, in rhyming terms, with Forth's 'Hull' but clearly reflecting an important element.  'Bray' as a name for the town, we note, is also found in the O'Lochlainn version discussed below and 'Lee' as a town name crops up in versions from Gavin Greig as late as 1914 (and on); a wonderfully mysterious set of coincidences that, in the end, defies putting together in a single explanation although its existence certainly confirms a development in text since the broadside influx.  Otherwise we are left with the unpredictability - one might almost say charm - of the processes of dissemination and perhaps even a hidden history of how the song changed.

Mrs Wiggett's tune is given here with its third strain - again, to demonstrate the slight swaying in musical measure that characterises so many tunes and thus raising it from the mundane - though, like the Vickery tune above, it is, perhaps, not greatly stimulating.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

After Sharp's 1909 encounter with the song, it was in 1911 that a very full version of the song was got by Clive Carey from Frank Albery.17  The text begins in much the same fashion as did English broadside versions:

In broadsides from London and from Bebbington, it is true, 'lament' is rendered as 'complain' (and some northern broadside printers - Ross, for instance, and Lindsay - change the whole line).  At the end of the manuscript version (my italics), 'her father grief full sore' when Reilly is found 'drownded' and the warning is given, 'Don't never send your true love unto America', sure signs of oral contribution.  If, too, there is consistency in the supposed pronunciation of 'America' as 'Amerikay' then this version must incorporate the routine or suffer strange rhyming patterns (but see the Journal version below).

There is no naming of location in this version except that John Reilly is said to live 'down by the quay'.

The tune is quite a grand, dramatic one … There are one or two variant bars given on manuscript but the progress is stately and inevitable.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Carey published the song in the Journal in 1915 first as John Riley (or Reilly); or As I Roved out One Morning, and where in stanzas four, five and eight the name 'America' is, in fact, written as 'Americay'.  Similarly, 'country' as found in the manuscript, becomes 'countery'.18  However, in a clever editorial manipulation (it seems), we find:

Clearly, orthography here (my italics) in the shape of a crucial comma is meant to establish authority; but, mercifully, 'drownded' is retained (what to make of the admixture is a different story!).

The essential narrative remains, all known elements included.

When the song (as above) was published in the Journal several exploratory notes were added - by Clive Carey himself, by Lucy Broadwood, by Cecil Sharp and by Frank Kidson.  This, in a way, represents the then current state of collecting in respect of the particular song.  Carey, for instance, seems intent on 'proving' a particular mode - Aeolian rather than Dorian - but gives no background information on singer or song.  His is the emphasis on tune material that we have come to associate with 'Revival' collectors although even here one should hesitate to imply that this is a blanket process.  At any rate, Lucy Broadwood's note reveals the presence of other versions - for instance, in Greig (discussed below) and in the Journal (from Vaughan Williams) - and does cite broadsides.  Sharp merely refers to his notations.  Frank Kidson wrote

I have two broadsides which, though essentially the same in story, differ verbally.  One is entitled "Riley the Fisherman," the other "Young Riley the Fisherman." For the latter, noted by me in Yorkshire twenty years ago, see Journal, Vol.  I, p.  256.  My tune is a variant of the one given above.

After twenty years one might have hoped for a slightly more expansive comment.  We might also remind ourselves that Riley the Fisherman is the name under which broadsides from Hodges and Ryle were printed.  Such had Riley Fisherman.  Bebbington had the piece as Riley's Farewell.  Ross had John Reilly … as did Lindsay.  Irish copy went under the name of The True Lover's Lamentation.  The title of Young Riley the Fisherman as appended to Kidson's collected version from Mrs Thompson appears only in Forth copy.  The very different ballad entitled Young Riley - who wandered through the County Cavan - printed by Catnach, Pitts and Pratt, for example, has already been mentioned; and there is yet another different ballad with the title of George Riley.19

In another published version of the same song from Frank Albery, as John Riley in Carey's Ten English Folk Songs20, yet one more change is incorporated in addition to those mentioned immediately above: 'wash'd upon the shore' where Mr Albery had 'washed up on the shore'.  This represents a change in pronunciation in the word 'upon'; and where the 'ed' and the apostrophised version have no difference to pronunciation.  There is no sign that the 'ed' in the word 'washed' is being emphasised so we must take this as another example of editorial practice as discussed above in connection with Frank Kidson's version of the song got from Mrs Thompson.

The ending includes the finding of a letter and a warning as did broadside versions. 

In addition to Mr Albery's version, Carey also noted two more, one from a Mr E Lawrence (1912) which appears, in manuscript, in fragmented form, useful, mostly, for confirmation of the extent of the song's popularity but also with a distinct tune; and a final Carey version, from Robert Beadle, with the same usefulness, consisting of only a tune21.

Click either graphic above to play the tunes.

There is one somewhat puzzling point to make.  Considering the fourteen sung versions available in collected form by the date of publication given above in connection with Frank Albery's version of the song (1912), nowhere in commentary is the widespread popularity of the song emphasised.  This again throws Frank Kidson's remarks above concerning titles into relief.  The state of comprehension of pedigree and dissemination still seems limited.

Gavin Greig includes quite a mixed bag in his collection.22  His first version, from a Mr Lyall, entitled John Rally and thus implying a degree of mishearing or misreading, localises the piece to an extent:

The naming of the town adds a gloss to our previous encounters.

Then, the familiar tale unfolds but there are details that change.  So, for example, we find:

'If you be fond' has not been found previously (but see below).  The spelling of 'companie' and 'countrie' are obviously editorial in nature.

The mother offers only 'one hundred pounds' - though in gold - but with no injunction to purchase land (in America).  'Rally' departs after breaking a ring in two and returns 'about twelve months after' to shipwreck and the father's discovery of the pair - 'Rally in her arms drownèd upon the shore'.  Greig is the only collector to insist on this pronunciation through such a printing device.  Finally, the letter is found and a warning given.

Mr Lyall's tune is in six-eight time and contrasts in this with all tunes so far surveyed.  It is practically in ABBA form although the final strain has one or two notes arranged differently that add piquancy.  One should draw attention to bar three where the musical emphasis is changed by the quaver before a crochet ending of the bar.  This form is repeated right at the end and helps to suggest a slightly jaunty rhythm to the tune.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Greig's second version, entitled John Riley, is but a fragment of text from a Mrs Mathieson, but with a tune … Her final few lines are

The tune itself is yet another example of a two-strain version with echoes on English tunes already discussed, especially in bars five and six where the musical phrase parallels that found in the Thompson, Truell, Jay, Lovett and Giles tunes discussed already.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

In contrast, a third version (without a tune), from Mary Bella Jenkins, entitled John Riley, is full and familiar.  We should note that 'John Riley they do call him he belongs to the town of Ree'; that stanza three - 'My mother took me by the hand … ' has only three lines suggesting that Riley leave the country and that the father is out 'to have his life'; and that, similarly, stanza six indicates that Riley got the money and that before he 'got one foot on board' he spoke to the girl … but that there is no mention of breaking the ring before they take one half of the ring each - all this again in three lines only.  The mother, be it said, offers 'one thousand pound' for the purchase of ground.  It was 'six months' before 'Riley' came back again and the father finds the couple 'drowned' (sic) on the shore.  In the end, the warning is:

Because of the two truncated stanzas this version lacks the full stretch of familiar narrative but is certainly more than adequate.

Miss Annie Shirer's version (again, without a tune), entitled John Rylie is a fairly full one where known elements apply, beginning:

The town reference is merely implied in broadside fashion: 'he lives near the town o' … ' - leaving whoever to fill in the gap.  Rylie is 'as nice a young man as ere my eyes did see' and because she loves him, 'they canna me endure'.  There follows a compression of the exchange between mother and daughter beginning 'My mother took me by the hand … ' but the second two lines being made up by the girl's answer 'O mother dear, be not severe … '.

Similarly, the next stanza is compressed.  The mother declares that she is not severe and 'here is five thousand pound' and Rhylie (the spelling in this version varies throughout) must 'sail far away'; and, in the same stanza, 'As soon as she got the money to Rhylie she did run … '.  Strangely, the final line of this stanza (girl to boy) is 'To take your life this very night my father's charged a vow'.

The girl, at any rate, offers the money to the boy, telling him 'Sail ye off to America, and I'll soon follow thee'.  This is done in a two-line stanza.  It is six months before Rylie comes back again and tragedy ensues but it is worth marking the point that 'her parents grieved full sore', not just the father.  A final stanza reads:

A fifth version from Greig, got from Mrs Bell Robertson, and entitled Willie or Billy Riley, is much more compact in its early part and begins as follows: There is then a brief, one-stanza, exchange between mother and daughter, Riley to be sent to America with a thousand pounds to purchase ground.  The rest of the song is more extensive, consisting of stanzas telling how the girl took the money to Riley with explanations and how he sailed away after breaking the ring in two; then returning 'but six months after', the father grieving at finding 'Riley in her arms drowned (sic) on the shore'; and, finally: Clearly, there was some ravaging of the text here although the narrative may be discerned.

There is no tune.

The final version (another without a tune), entitled Reilly (an editorial decision?) but with the protagonist always referred to as 'Rawly', from a George Shearer, consists of but four stanzas in which the outline of the story is visible but where most of the individual lines - indeed, words - do not correspond with those in any other version.  It opens

The girl 'I pray' is 'his company to shun' because the father 'has load his gun'.  A hundred pounds is offered for Rawly to purchase land in America.  Then 'It chanced some years after' when Rawly came home.  It is the father who grieves over the tragedy.  Finally: Even at the end a question is begged as to pronunciation so as to facilitate rhyme with 'a''.

Greig's collection as a whole takes us amongst relatively full versions as found on broadside through various stages of change and even fragmentation.  The two Irish versions discussed below have the same sort of effect …

O'Lochlainn's version23, entitled Reilly the Fisherman, follows the familiar narrative line; has John Reilly aged eighteen and Bray as his town of birth.  It does, however, begin rather unusually - in comparison with what we have already seen ' with 'As I roved out one evening late'; and O'Lochlainn's second stanza, after introducing Reilly, moves straight on to the mother taking her daughter by the hand and warning her of her father's intentions.  The girls replies and is offered 'one thousand pound' to 'send Reilly to America to buy a piece of ground'.

There is then a unique development in naming - 'When Ellen got the money to Reilly she did run'.  That, though, is that!  'Ellen' re-appears nowhere else in sung repertoire.

The rest of the version parallels known narrative, though we should mention 'twelve months to a day' as the time when Reilly returned 'to take his love away' - the melodramatic element is marked.  The two principals were found 'drowned (sic) upon the shore'.  Further, ' … on her breast a letter was got' and 'all fair maids so gay' are enjoined 'To never let the lads they love go to America'.

The slight adjustments, especially the naming of the girl, are always worth noting as the narrative swims this way and that down through time.

The first and third strains of the tune are given here … The form is AABC, unique in all versions considered, though there is an echo of the A strain in the last one.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

Sam Henry noted a version of the song which has the usual storyline and which has echoes of tunes discussed above.24.  It should be noted that here, as the girl is introduced, it is also 'unto me'- as witness - that she spoke of John Reilly, the Sailor Lad' (as Sam Henry's title has it); and, further:

thus, in the citing of age, the years albeit peculiar to this version, echoing Irish broadside printings and O'Lochlainn.  Otherwise, in a third stanza in which 'Up stepped my mother and caught me by the hand' to warn of her father's intentions, the mother finishes up by saying 'You cannot be his wedded wife so shun his company', a unique reference to marriage.

The mother offers a thousand pounds in order for Reilly to purchase some ground in America and when the girl runs to Reilly, she indicates that it is gold.  'So be off now to America and I will follow you".  The ring is broken between them and then 'It was scarcely three years after' that Reilly returned to take his love away and the ship was wrecked and the father grieved 'To see John Reilly in her arms all drown-ed on the shore' (note the emphasis on pronunciation).  Then the letter is found and a warning given to:

So within the usual narrative structure the usual modifications to wording occur, the very last, one would think, in that 'For to' being of a nature as to indicate local construction of language; and other changes reflecting a normal course as the song travelled in time.

The tune is in ABBA form and it can be seen that some of its musical phrasing is similar to those in other versions, beginning with that particular bar (sequence) from Mrs Thompson, moving on through the version from Mr and Mrs Truell and inclusive of the versions from George Lovett, Christoper Jay, Robert Giles and Mrs Mathieson.  One wonders again if the particular phrase may even indicate something of a one-time connection amongst tunes that the present discussion has literally unravelled.  In view of a similar binding in a number of tunes associated with Erin's Lovely Home, this would not be entirely surprising.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

As for possible links to tunes used in Ireland, there is one in the Petrie collection, entitled John O'Reilly, which could certainly be adapted in order to set the text as known.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

There is another entitled Rise up young William Reilly - though whilst the tune could be used for the text of John Reilly, the given title seems much more likely to have been associated with the song Trial of Willie Reilly.25

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

There are several sung versions sprinkling the twentieth century.  Two, as being the most easily accessible, are described here; and others as far as their appearance goes trace the progress of the song right up to the end of the twentieth century, a remarkable history.26

Harry Cox sings a powerful yet plangent version, entitled John Reilly, on the cassette Jack on the rocks put out by Peter Kennedy from recordings made in 1953.27  Harry Cox begins with the encounter between the un-named narrator and a maid who is crying because her love is on the raging seas, bound for 'Ay-merikee' (my italics … and see below).  The song continues: 'John Reilly is my true love's name … ' but no location is given for birth or domicile bar the 'quay'.  The version, generally, parallels all others with the full range of narrative elements.  There are, of course, small changes - it is the parents, not just the father, who have 'riches great'; and the mother offers but five hundred pounds to her daughter to send Reilly to America 'to purchase there some ground', for instance; but perhaps the more striking aspect is that it is the girl who breaks the ring in two and when the warning is issued it is to 'fair maids like me'.  It is worth remarking, too, that pronunciation, as referred to now and again in the discussion above, is very much that of the singer.  The 'e' is some words is long as it might be in 'we' … So, for instance, John Reilly lived down by 'thee' quay; and 'the 'a' in words is consistently long as in 'say' or 'may' - to whit 'Ay-gain' and 'Ay-merikee' - with a double exposure of pronunciation offered in the second word.  'Quay', in contrast, is pronounced as 'key'.  The emphasis elsewhere is on 'boo-som'.  And then there are the usual slight puzzles - the word describing the parents' attitude to the girl sounds like 'ay-dure', not 'endure' (my rendering for all the words in italics here) and, of a different order, the letter was written in 'parents' blood'.

The song had continued to exercise its pull and in the form first encountered here in broadsides.  The tune that Harry Cox uses, four-square and in ABBA form, is very much like that used for The Amphitrite28 - another example of spotting the tune that can be found right through the assemblage given here.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

George Dunn's text is a truncated one compared with versions previously encountered.29  It begins with what is familiar as a second stanza:

The song then reverts to 'type' with a neutral observer taking over the narrative: The four lines given here represent the text as found at source although, when set with the music, each two lines were amalgamated into one.

The narrative proceeds with the daughter pleading with her mother who declares that she is not 'severe' and gives 'a thousand pound in gold' for Riley to purchase ground in America.  The girl takes the money to Riley with that injunction:

The final two stanzas include reference to the voyage but we should note that (my italics) 'Next day they sailed away' There follows the shipwreck, the finding of the letter and the warning to all 'fair maidens gay' The final word and its spelling contrasts with its previous appearance in text as 'America'.

The tune is described by the collector, Roy Palmer, as belonging to The Manchester Angel family.  The change in time signature at bar four brings us into this nexus.  The structure is that of ABBA given slightly different emphases in each pair of musical strains.  And the rising figure of the second strain can be found in one form or another scattered throughout the tunes considered here - another suggestion of unconscious connection, perhaps.  It is also worth noting the first semi-quaver and quaver phrase in bar three, reminiscent of the Lyall tune given above.  But none of this allows us to match the tune exactly with others.  The rising figure can be countered, as it were, by another form distributed throughout the assemblage, a descending figure that begins the tune found, for example, in the tunes from Robert Giles, Mr and Mrs Truell, Frank Albery and Sam Henry.  So individuality in the case of George Dunn is still kept up.

Click the graphic above to play the tune.

This is enough to show how the form of the narrative progressed during the twentieth century and how popular the song has continued to be.  However, nowhere in the notes from collectors and editors as referred to above in regard to this song is there an attempt at correlation or synthesis.  George Gardiner's addition of references to other versions of the John Reilly story on manuscript is the nearest thing.  There is a need to repeat that we are faced with the true pioneer status of collecting at the prominent time of the setting-up of the Folk Song Society, when the majority of the versions discussed here were located. 

What we can also add is that, without an obvious historical foundation, the song offers glimpses of the protagonist as something of an archetype, of a not unfamiliar theme and of a surge of melodrama near the end that would seem to be wholly that of the imagination, testimony to the power of the song.  In this last regard it is worth remembering that the warning to all fair maids is to do with the absence of a love in America but that it somehow contrives to leave out the notion of the initial relationship that offends social and economic standing: not quite, then, a matter of cause and effect.30  One might argue, too, that the search for a suitable musical vehicle adds to the status of the song since singers were clearly reluctant to let the text disappear.  Those texts served by only two musical strains could be said to underline the unsettled nature of each version even as they - all five of them - begin to assume a collective shape in themselves.  Where we find echoes of the same phrase occurring, it may well be that singers used it - ascending and descending phrases - as a sort of building-block in a rather similar way that broadside printings used textual phrases: 'As I walked out … ' and so forth (of course, the suggestion apropos music is vague enough to need painstaking scrutiny before any firm comment can be made!).

The geographical distribution of the song at the time of the English 'Revival' is the next thing to notice.  Sharp's three versions take us the furthest west in England.  There is nothing from the Hammonds (in Dorset) nor yet had there been - nearly two decades earlier - from Baring-Gould in Devon.  In fact, Gardiner's and Vaughan Williams' findings are the most prominent evidence of the song's existence in England.  Further, Greig's five versions are not from widespread sources in Scotland.  And there is a peculiar absence of the song in Ireland despite certain 'Irish' connections.  This is not to deny its possible distribution in Ireland - but to indicate a paucity of collecting and, therefore, an unknown quantity - or an absence.

It is plainly difficult to draw conclusions about the song's distribution except that its rather scattered nature seems to reflect an accident of collecting.

Nor does broadside printing really help in the matter.  We can discount Irish printings as coming at the heel of the hunt and confined to one name only.  But neither is there a widespread taking up of the text amongst the bulk of printers in England.  We are focused on London and, more thinly, in the north of England and in Scotland and are really left with unpredictability … perhaps also a degree of initiative and innovation as in the case of Harkness.

And so we may not be not much further forward in the business of correlation and synthesis - admittedly an after-the-event process fit for the study.  A few points, though, might be useful for those whose curiosity is piqued, more to do with the whole set of elopement songs considered.  Firstly, the very few such songs that exist in repertoire may attest to something of a passing phase in importance in historical terms when social habits changed.  We might look for comparison at the progress of wife-selling songs.  One or two survived well into the twentieth century (in the repertoire of Eddie Butcher, for instance31) just as the few elopement songs did.  Compare, further, the fate of poaching songs throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century and then their swift decline in the twentieth. 

Secondly, it is noticeable that none of the elopement songs considered in this series deal with the violence that certainly did attend events - where abduction was a major factor as opposed to elopement against parental wishes.  In many ways the songs harbour a remembrance rather than a contemporary comment.

Thirdly, it is interesting, especially in respect of the void in Ireland, that the flavour of the songs is 'Irish'.  Sally Munro32, Charming Mary Neill and Erin's Lovely Home all make reference to Irish names and locations.  There are no such songs that have a definite 'English' background yet we know that elopement as it is noticed in the songs did take place in England.  In the case of John Reilly, we take on board Forth's reference to 'Hull' (and a similar reference to the Clyde in one of Grieg's versions). 

The Willie Reilly story, as a recounted previously on this site, is an exception in being - as far as can be gauged - more clearly Irish in origin.  What is more, it appears to be the first such song that has been found and one wonders if it set some sort of precedent

This makes the survival of such songs an even more intriguing feature and we can surely say that it was the imaginative appeal of the stories that gained attention long after any historical connection and the presence of such songs as we have found it in English sung traditions seems to eliminate any possible, lingering, romantic idea of the exotic as it may have sprung from Ireland.  One bears in mind the way that printers sometimes used Irish locations for such an exotic effect, if not for plain rhyme - 'Gortein' (Gurteen) and 'Ardee', for example - and The Irish Girl as a printing is testimony to the same practice, failing at all times to exploit the connection. 

Fourthly, that element of opposition in the John Reilly songs between rags and riches is a feature of many traditional songs (see Mike Yates' recent article on MT that considers The Farmer's Boy) and the desperate measure of emigration an imaginative response.  The denouement in each song, with its melodramatic flavour, piles up the appeal that takes a singer - or 'reader' - out of the mundane.  The very fact that melodrama as a textual feature in songs continued to attract reinforces this - in, for example, the retention in the imagination of songs that observed the processes of murder and hanging well into the twentieth century.  We cannot deny the prime element of story-telling. 

How much, then, a song like John Reilly is little more than a variation of the theme of love set against parental objection is an aspect capable of much teasing out if only in order to resist glib assumptions.  The example of Johnny Doyle, already noted, provides at least a link with a general theme.  And such a proposition would suggest an economy of means, one aspect of life's encounters superimposed on another that is often and not surprisingly pre-existent in nineteenth and twentieth century song form, taking on new clothes within the processes of composition. 

Roly Brown - 26.5.10
Oradour sur Vayres, France


Article MT246

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