07 Apr

Caroline of Edinburg Town (Laws P27)

Caroline of Edinburg Town


Come, all young men and maidens, come listen to my rhyme,
It is all about a nice young girl that was scarcely in her prime,
She beat the blushing roses, admired all around,
Was lovely little Caroline of Edinburg town.

Young Henry was a Highland man, a-courting her he came,
And when her parents came to know they did not like the same;
Young Henry was offended and this to her did say,
“Rise up, my lovely Caroline, and with me run away.”

Persuaded by young Henry, she put on her finest gown,
And soon was traveling on the road from Edinburg town;
She says to him, “Oh, Henry, dear, pray never on me frown,
Or you’ll break the heart of Caroline of Edinburg town.”

They had not been in London scarcely half a year
When hard-hearted Henry he proved to be severe;
Says Henry, “I’ll go to sea, your parents did on me frown,
So without delay go beg your way to Edinburg town.

The fleet is fitting out and to Spithead is dropping down,
And I will join in that fleet to fight for King and Crown;
“The gallant tar might feel the scar or in the waters drown,
But,” says she, “I never will return to Edinburg town,”

Filled with grief without relief, this maiden she did go,
Right into the wood to eat such food as on the bushes grew;
Some strangers they did pity her and more did on her frown,
And some did say what made you stray from Edinburg town?

It was on a lofty jutting cliff this maid sat down to cry,
A-watching of King Henry’s ship as they were sailing by;
She says, “Farewell, oh, Henry dear,” and plunged her body down,
And that’s what became of Caroline of Edinburg town.

A note was in her bonnet that was found along the shore,
And in the note a lock of hair and those words, “I am no more;
I am fast asleep down in the deep, the fishes are watching ’round,
What once was lovely Caroline of Edinburg town.”

This version of the well-travelled traditional song “Caroline of Edinburgh Town” was sung by Minnesota singer Michael C. Dean and printed in Dean’s 1922 songster The Flying Cloud. Franz Rickaby transcribed the above melody from Dean’s singing in 1923 at Dean’s home in Virginia, Minnesota. Dean told Rickaby that his Irish immigrant mother Mary McMahon Dean used to sing the grim (but beautiful) song to him as a lullaby. This song was one of fifteen transcriptions Rickaby made from Dean’s singing that didn’t get published in Rickaby’s Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy. I was able to access it via copies of Rickaby’s song notebooks held by the Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Unfortunately, unlike other songs of Dean’s, “Caroline” was not recorded when Robert Winslow Gordon made a series of wax cylinders of Dean’s singing in 1924 so we don’t know if his misspelling of “Edinburgh” was any indication of his pronunciation of the name of Scotland’s capital city.

I learned Dean’s melody and text in 2008 and sang it for the Minnesota Heritage Songbook project – a collection of old songs once sung in Minnesota. That recording (along with the full songbook) is available online at http://mnheritagesongbook.net.

My wife Norah Rendell sings this version as well and she even arranged it and recorded it with her band The Outside Track for their album “Curious Things Given Wings.” Much to my delight, Norah has also taught this Minnesota-sourced song to students at the Center for Irish Music.

07 Apr

St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's Day

Come all of ye true sons of Erin,
Come listen awhile unto me,
You’ll find I’m a poor worn out creature,
Condoling here under a tree.
While the heart from my bosom was torn,
The truth unto you I’ll declare,
Young James was the flower of this island,
And he’s left me in grief and despair.

When first I beheld that young hero,
The hills and the valleys were green,
And the leaves they were all in full blossom,
Most beautiful there to be seen.
As she sat in her lone shady bower,
Those charming sweet notes she did play,
And the blackbird and thrush joined in chorus,
With her on St. Patrick’s Day.

Now my friends and my parents consulted,
And they found l was so well inclined,
False stories they told to my true love,
To banish me out of his mind.
But all that they said was a folly,
Every morning and evening I’ll pray,
I’m in hopes for to meet him with pleasure,
Once more on St. Patrick’s Day.

Now young James is the flower of this island,
The same I will never deny,
And the beautiful words that he told me,
I’ll never forget ‘til I’ll die.
But now he is crossing the ocean,
Every morning and evening I’ll pray,
I’m in hopes for to meet him with pleasure,
Once more on St. Patrick’s Day.


The Avalon Penninsula, on the rocky southeast coast of the remote Canadian island of Newfoundland, attracted a high concentration of Irish families as far back as the 1700s. Many Irish Newfoundlanders have roots specifically in the southeast of Ireland and, to this day, local accents are reminiscent of the Waterford Irish accent. (I highly recommend RTÉ’s incredible documentary The Forgotten Irish which includes footage from Avalon communities including several singers and is available free online.)

MacEdward Leach was the first song collector to bring recording equipment to Newfoundland. The recordings he made in small fishing communities are a treasure trove of beautiful songs. The above song was sung for Leach in 1951 by Cyril O’Brien of Trepassey, a small village on the Avalon. You can here the first verse of the Cyril O’Brien recording here (scroll down if you don’t see it right away).

Norah Rendell, Randy Gosa and I arranged an accompanied version of this song for Norah’s new album Spinning Yarns (officially launched this month). We based it on a snippet of Leach’s recording of this song and his transcribed text which, along with hundreds of other gems, is available online through the Memorial University of Newfoundland. The text above is Norah’s adaptation of O’Brien’s version and I made the transcription based on the Leach/O’Brien recording.

FUN ST. PATRICK’S DAY FACT: Due to its highly Irish population, Newfoundland is one of the only places outside of Ireland where St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday!