27 May

Molly Bawn (The Irish Girl)

Molly Bawn

Oh, Molly Bawn is my love’s name, the same I’ll ne’er deny,
She has two red and rosy cheeks, two dark and rolling eyes;
She is the primrose of this country, she is Venus, I declare,
And the brightest star that is in the land is Molly Bawn so fair.

For where my love goes she trips the rose and makes the valleys ring,
And all the little small birds in my love’s praises sing;
The cuckoo and the turtle dove, the nightingale also,
They seem to say, “Let us haste away to wait on Molly-O.”

I wish I was in Ireland sitting on the green grass,
And in my hand a bottle and on my knee a lass;
We’d drink good liquor merrily and pay before we’d go.
I would roll you in my arms, Molly, let the winds blow high or low.

An organization in Ireland called the Bird Song Project is celebrating traditional songs about birds with a series of concerts and song sessions this month. I had a look through my to-do list of songs for something fitting and found this one from Minnesota singer Michael C. Dean’s songster The Flying Cloud. It is not a song about birds but, in the process of praising the beauty of “Molly Bawn” it does invoke three species that will be familiar to anyone who loves old songs: the cuckoo, turtle dove and nightingale.

The above song is not related to the other “Molly Bawn” song in which Molly is mistaken for a swan and shot by her deer hunter lover. It shares most of its poetry with versions of the broadside “The Irish Girl,” a ballad with many “floating” lines and images that turn up in other traditional songs (including “I wish my love was a red, red rose” which is missing here).

We don’t know what melody Dean used for this song as The Flying Cloud is text only. I chose to borrow an air from the song “Wee Paddy Molloy” as sung by Brigid Tunney which I think fits quite well.

More info on variants of this song from the Traditional Ballad Index