Oh the Diamond of Derry looks dismal today,
Since my true love Jimmy has gone far away,
He has gone to old England, strange ladies to see,
May the heavens protect him, bring him safe home to me.
Oh Jimmie, lovely Jimmie, do you remember the days,
When you rapped on my window, and we rode far away,
Over hills and green mountains, together we rode,
Now you’ve gone and left me, with my heart filled with woe.
The first time we met was in yonder green wood,
Where pinks and primroses grew around where we stood,
With your arms locked around me to protect me from the wind,
It was there you first deluded this young heart of mine.
The next time that we courted, you very well know,
Twas down in your father’s garden in the county Tyrone,
You told me you loved me above all womankind,
Pray tell me the reason that you’ve changed your mind,
If I told you I loved you, it was mean and in jest,
For I never intended to make you my best,
I never intended to make you my wife,
No neither will I, all the days of my life.
So be gone false-hearted young man, I have no more to say
But perhaps you and I may be judged the same day,
And the time it will come love, when rewarded you’ll be,
For false vows and broken promises that you made unto me
This month’s song comes from Belle Luther Richards of Colebrook, New Hampshire and was recorded by Marguerite Olney for the Flanders Ballad Collection (Middlebury, VT) in April 1942. You can listen to Richards’ singing of the song (she sings “Diamonds of Derry”) via the rich digitized Flanders Ballad Collection on archive.org. The collection includes other versions of the song, aslso known as “The False Promise,” from Cadyville, NY and Montpelier, VT. It appears also in the repertoires of “Yankee” John Galusha (Minerva, NY) and Carrie Grover (Gorham, ME). I borrowed a few lines from these other versions but the above is primarily the Richards version.
It is a variant of a song popularized in Ireland by the great Paddy Tunney and hence performed by Dolores Keane and others. Tunney called it “Johnny, Lovely Johnny” and most Irish versions begin “The high walls of Derry” which is also often given as the song’s title.
The New England versions generally begin “The diamonds of (the) Derry.” County Derry song collector Sam Henry, in his notes to another song, “Belfast Mountains,” writes that “The Belfast Mountains (Cave Hill) were supposed to contain diamonds which shone at night. They were often referred to in the ballads of the period [the 1800s].” Some have assumed that this is what is meant by “diamonds of Derry” in this song. However, Derry Town has, in addition to its 17th century high walls and gates (from which the céilí dance takes its name), a prominent central Diamond (town square) of the same vintage. One commenter on the Mudcat song forum thought this a logical origin for the song’s first line and that makes good sense to me. For that reason, I dropped the plural in the above.
Either way, it’s a fascinating variation on a well-loved song. Richards’ melody is quite different from the commonly used Tunney air and suits the song’s sad story well.