Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

Tales of Scottish traditional and newer songs sung by Sangschule of Linlithgow

The Irish Boy

There sits a bird in yonder tree
Some say he's blind as blind can be
But how I wish that bird was me
Since my fause love has forsaken me

And it's oh what a foolish young girl was I
Who fell in love with an Irish boy
An Irish boy he may well be
But he spoke braid Scots when he coorted me

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
I wish I were a maid again
But a maid again I ne'er shall be
Till apples grow on an orange tree

I wish my baby it was born
And smilin on his daddy's knee
And me, poor girl, to be dead and gone
Wi the long green grass growin over me

Sangschule’s version is similar to that sung by Phyllis Martin of Dumfries, included in Come Gie’s a Sang edited by Sheila Douglas. Phyllis took our second verse as a chorus, and added a further verse:

I leaned my back against an aik / Thinkin it was a trusty tree
But first it bent and then it broke/ Just as my true love did unto me.

Sheila Douglas’s note says:
“This version of the widespread song of the forsaken girl with its lines: I wish, I wish, but I wish in vain, / I wish I were a maid again
was learned by Phyllis from her mother in Wigtonshire. The reference to Irish is often taken to mean Gaelic, but the proximity of the area to Ireland, the existence of a section of the population called Galloway Irish and the similarity of the Antrim dialect to Scots, make another interpretation possible. Three of the four verses of this song are “floating” verses that appear in many other songs of the same kind, but that in no way detracts from its lyrical beauty.”

In 1788, “Waly, Waly” appeared in The Scots Musical Museum. Of this song’s 40 lines many are familiar from other versions eg its second verse is Phyllis’s last: I leant my back unto an aik  - and our last verse appears as:

Oh, oh! If my young babe were born / And set upon the nurse’s knee
 And I myself were dead and gane / For maid again I’ll never be.

Another example is:
O waly, waly, love is bonny, A little time when it is new, / But when ‘tis auld, it waxes cauld / And wears away like morning dew  - appearing with little change in Love is teasing and love is pleasing/ and love’s a treasure when first it’s new.

Another version similar to ours in The Scottish Folksinger, “I Wish, I Wish” has the floating verse:

Now there’s a tavern into the town/ Where my love goes and plants himself down
He calls another girl to his knee / And tells her the tale that he once told me

“Will Ye Gang Love” in 101 Scottish Songs P61, has the two I wish, I wish verses along with others including the one which identifies the song:

Will ye gang love an leave me noo?/ Will ye gang love an leave me noo?/
Will ye forsake your ain love true, /An gang wi a lass that ye never knew

 “ I Wish I Wish” as sung by traveller Charlotte Higgins in Travellers’ Songs of England and Scotland edited by MacColl and Seeger has the usual I wish, I wish chorus but also:

O I wish my father ne’er had whistled / I wish my mother never had sung
And for myself was dead and gone / And the green grass growing over me

Charlotte had another floating verse:

It’s when my apron it was new, /It wis a bricht and bonny blue 
But noo my apron’s to my knee, / He cares nae mair what becomes o me

In that book Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger sort out seven categories of the “large group of love-lamentations which have enough verses in common to be called a ‘family’. They are all based upon a man’s infidelity to his avowed lover…”  “’Died for love’ texts are always brief – they do not tell a love-story, they only emit a short, sharp cry of pain.”