History of Spanish Lady

Here's an excerpt of the my notes on the History of Spanish Lady from the Bluegrass Messengers website:

[The figure of the "Spanish Lady" is found throughout the variants of 8. Madam, I Have Come to Court You. [hereafter "Madam"]. The uses of the Spanish Lady in "Madam" and other related ballads come from two traditional stanzas collected in Donegal in 1911 by Joseph Campbell:

As I walked down thro' Dublin City
At the hour of twelve in the night,
Who should I see but a Spanish lady
Washing her feet by candlelight.

First she washed them and then she dried them,
Over a fire of ambery coal,
In all my life I never did see,
A maid so neat about the sole.

These stanzas, adapted from an 18th century erotic song or an unknown print adaptation of that erotic song, were used by Irish poet Joseph Campbell as the opening for his poem titled "Spanish Lady." Campbell's poem (see: Spanish Lady III) has entered tradition and is frequently combined with two choruses used with versions of "Madam"-- the"Twenty, Eighteen" chorus and also the "Wheel of Fortune" chorus. The same opening is used in the Scottish versions collected by Greig and Duncan in Aberdeenshire in the early 1900s (see Spanish Lady I). Because "Dublin City" is the location in Campbell's stanzas, that city is sometimes used as the title for versions of Spanish Lady.

An antecedent of the two stanzas collected by Campbell is found in the erotic folksong collection of the late 18th century, "The Frisky Songster." The 1776 edition is found online in the Jack Horntip Collection. It was first printed circa 1770 in London, or Dublin. Reprint copies include (1776) Bodleian, Harding Collection; (1802), and the Kinsey-ISR Library. Here are the first stanzas of the erotic song which compare to Campbell's version and to the Scottish versions:

SONG LXXXIII.

AS I went through London city,
Twas at twelve o'clock at night,
There I saw a damsel pretty,
Washing her joke[1] by candle-light.

When she wash'd it then she dr'd it,
The hair was black as coal upon it
In all my lif I never saw,
A girl who had so fine a c--t.

The remainder of the bawdy song is not applicable to the evolution of the stanzas which become "The Spanish Lady." The song was reprinted in "The Merry Muses: A Choice Collection of Favourite Songs Gathered by Robert Burns," 1827: https://books.google.com/books?id=XZVkAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA115&dq=%22AS+I+went+through+London+city%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi3u-K_1MzV The original of Burn's 1827 reprint, dated c.1786, was titled, "The Ride in London."

Sometime after the song was printed in 1776, the pretty maid became the "Spanish Lady" and in the new text she was washing her feet or clothes by candlelight. Whether this was done by a print writer whose work is undiscovered or whether the bawdy lyrics were unsuitable and were changed in tradition is unknown. By the early 1900s these new lyrics were known in Ireland and in Scotland suggesting the change was made by the mid-1800s. Joseph Campbell included the two traditional stanzas of The Spanish Lady that he took down in Donegal in 1911 in his play:

Judgment: A Play in Two Acts
By Joseph Campbell, 1912

The Stranger breaks into a verse of a song.

As I walked down thro' Dublin City
At the hour of twelve in the night,
Who should I see but a Spanish lady
Washing her feet by candlelight.

First she washed them, and then she dried them
Over a fire of amber coal:
Never in all my life did I see
A maid. . .

John (endeavouring to talk the song down). When'll the coffin be here, Owen?
Stranger. Can't you listen? It's a good song.

Never in all my fife did I see
A maid so neat about the sole!

For these two traditional stanzas Campbell wrote his poem which appears:

"Spanish Lady" by Joseph Campbell (1879-1944)

As I went out through Dublin City,
At the hour of twelve o´clock at night,
Who should I see but a Spanish lady,
Washing her feet by candle light.
First she washed them and then she dried them,
Over a fire of ambery coal,
In all my life I never did see,
A maid so neat about the sole.

I stopped to peep but the watchman passed,
And says, "Young fellow, the night is late,
Get home to bed or I'll wrastle you,
At a double trot through the Bridewell gate!
So I waved a kiss to the Spanish lady
Hot as the fire of cramsey coals
I've seen dark maids though never one
So white and neat about the sole.

Oh she´s too rich for a poddle swaddy
With her tortoise comb and her mantle fine
A hellfire buck would fit her better,
Drinking brandy and claret wine.
I'm just a decent college sizar,
Poor as a sod of smouldering coal,
And how would I dress the Spanish lady,
And she so neat about the sole?

O, she'd make a mott for the Provost Marshal,
Or a wife for the Mayor in his coach so high,
Or a queen of Andalusia,
Kicking her heel in the Cardinal's eye.
I'm as blue as cockles, brown as herrings,
Over a grid of glimmery coal,
And all because of the Spanish lady,
So mortial neat about the sole.

I wandered north and I wandered south,
By Golden Lane and Patrick's Close,
The Coombe, Smithfield and Stoneybatter,
Back by Napper Tandy's house.
Old age has laid its hand upon me
Cold as a fire of ashy coal
And where is the lovely Spanish lady
The maid so neat about the sole?

Campbell poem, based on the two traditional stanzas, has entered tradition as a song (see: D. Spanish Lady III) and has been recorded a number of times under the title Spanish Lady, Dublin City, and with textual variations as "Galway City," "Madam I'm a Darling" and "Ettrick Lady." Pete Coe explains some of Campbell's text in the liner notes[] of his recent CD The Man in the Red Van: "A 'Poddle swaddy' is a local working class lad [from Poddle, a small river in Dublin], a 'mott' is a girl friend or mistress and a 'sizar' is a poor scholarship student at Trinity College."

In this Scottish versions (variants of "Madam") of "Spanish Lady" collected by Greig-Duncan in the early 1900s (B. Spanish Lady I), the opening text is the similar to the Irish text with the city becoming "Edinburgh" and the washing of her feet becoming "dressing herself":   

Spanish Lady - sung by Mary Cruickshank of Aberdeenshire; collected Greig, published in 1910.

As I went up thro' Edinburgh city,
Half-past twelve o'clock at night,
There I spied a Spanish lady
Dressing herself with candle light.

She had a basin full of water
And a towel into her hand;
Five gold rings on every finger,
Like an angel she did stand.

Oh she was a charming creature,
What she is I do not know.
But I'll go court her for her beauty,
Whether she be high or low.

"Madam, I am come to court you,
If your favour I could gain.
If you gently entertain me
Maybe I'll come back again."

"Sit ye doon, ye're harty welcome,
Whether ye come back or no.
All I want is a handsome young man
Whether he be high or low."

"Madam, ye talk much of beauty,
That's a flower will soon decay.
The fairest flower in all the summer,
When winter comes it doth fade away."

After two stanzas this Scottish version shift back to the standard stanzas of "Madam." The Scottish versions (Spanish Lady I) predate the 1911 publication of the opening stanzas in Campbell's play[] and can be reasonably dated mid-1800s. Besides the Irish and Scottish versions, there are English versions. Here's is a version of  from Five English Folk Songs taken from Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Dec., 1934), pp. 130-137 which has a similar text to the Scottish text given above:

TWENTY, EIGHTEEN [MADAM, I HAVE COME TO COURT YOU.]
Sung by FRED YELDHAM, July 12th, 1991, and on Oct. 5th, 1911 by Mrs. Hollingsworth, Thaxted. Noted by CLIVE CAREY.

1. As I walked through London city
After twelve o'clock at night,
There I saw a Spanish lady
Washing and ironing by candle light.

CHORUS: Fal the ral the riddle al the ray-do,
Fal the ral the rid-dle all the day,
Fal the ral the rid-dle all the ray-do,
Fal lal la the rid-dle all the day.

Twenty, eighteen, sixteen, fourteen, twelve, ten, eight, six, four, two, none;
Nine-teen, seventeen, fifteen, thirteen, eleven, nine, seven, five, three, and one.

2. Madam I have come to court you
If your favour I should win;
If you make me kindly welcome
Then perhaps I'll come again.
Chorus, etc.

3. Madam I've got rings and jewels,
Madam I've got house and land,
Madam I've the world of treasure,
If you'll be at my command.
Chorus, etc.

4. What care I for your rings and jewels,
What care I for your house and land,
What care I for your world of treasure,
All I want is a handsome man.
Chorus, etc.

5. Madam you trust much in beauty,
Beauty dies and fades away.
The finest flower in the garden growing,
Summer goes it fades away.
Chorus, etc.

The last stanza is found independently in other songs and poems. It, like the "ripest apple" stanza shows the fleeting nature of beauty. The other important arrangement of Spanish Lady (Spanish Lady V) was made by Irish composer Herbert Hughes (May 16, 1882– May 1, 1937). Here is the text:

The Spanish Lady. "Old Song." Adapted and arranged by H. Hughes. Dedicated to Hugh Campbell Stracathro. Publisher: London and New York : Boosey & Co, 1930. The 1930 recording with Hughes playing piano and James McCafferty singing can be heard here: https://www.itma.ie/digital-library/sound/cid-230911

I walked down thro' Dublin city
At the hour of twelve at night,
who should I spy but a Spanish lady
Washing her feet by candlelight.

First she washed them and then she dried them,
Over a fire of ambery coal,
In all my life I ne'er did see,
A maid so neat about the sole.

CHORUS: Whack for the toora, loora lady
Whack for the toora loora lee.
Whack for the toora, loora lady
Whack for the toora loora lee.

As I came back thro' Dublin city
At the hour of half past eight
Who should I spy but a Spanish lady
Brushing her hair in broad daylight.

First she tossed it, then she brushed it,
On her lap was a silver comb
In all my life I ne'er did see
So fair a maid since I did roam.

CHORUS:

As I went down thro' Dublin city,
When the sun began to set,
Who should I see but the Spanish lady
Catching a moth in a golden net.

When she saw me, then she fled me
Lifting her petticoat over the knee
In all my life I ne'er did spy
A maid so blithe as the Spanish lady!

CHORUS:

The last set of stanzas given by Hughes are probably from his pen. Hughes text has also entered tradition. His text is found mixed with Campbell's in the arrangements made by Dubliners and Clancy Brothers from the 1970s. Here are five specific variants of the Spanish Lady, some used in the "Madam" courting songs:

Spanish Lady I: Derived from the first two stanzas of 1776 bawdy song which has been reworked. The first two stanzas are found in tradition with Spanish Lady instead of "pretty maid" and are followed by stanzas of "Madam" sometimes with the "Twenty-Eighteen" chorus and/or other choruses.
Spanish Lady II: The Spanish Lady as found in the 1800s "She answered No," "No Sir" and "Oh No, John" songs. She is the daughter of a Spanish merchant or Spanish sailor or captain. Versions of "No Sir" and Oh No John" are given under 8A. and not found here. A rare variant (see here under Ca and Cb) includes first two stanzas of "Spanish Lady I" with other traditional stanzas associated with Spanish Lady and also has the "she answered No" chorus.
Spanish Lady III: The Spanish Lady found as the poem of the same title by Irish poet Joseph Campbell based off the first two stanzas he collected of Spanish Lady I. Campbell's poem was sung and has entered tradition. It is sometime sung with the "Twenty-Eighteen" chorus and/or other choruses. It is also mixed with Herbert Hughes version.
Spanish Lady IV: The name "Spanish Lady" is found replacing "lovely creature" in a number of "Madam" versions including at least one children's game song, "Here sits a Spanish lady" dated 1909 as collected by Waugh in Ontario. See also Wehman's print version of the late 1800s and Cox's version in "Folk Songs of the South," 1925.
Spanish Lady V: An arrangement with new text of Spanish Lady for piano and voice by Irish composer Herbert Hughes. It was based on the first two stanzas (1911) supplied by Joseph Campbell from tradition. Hughes text was copyrighted in 1930 the same year his recording with singer James McCafferty was released. Hughes last set of stanzas appear to be written by him and also have entered tradition. Hughes and Campbell's versions have been frequently mixed (see for example Spanish Lady by the Dubliners and also the version by Clancy brothers with Tommy Makem.

The fact that Spanish Lady is the central figure in so many related variants is probably not a coincidence. It suggests an early reworking of the bawdy antecedent song of 1776 in which "Spanish lady" replaced "pretty maid." The association with the "Madam" songs must have been early too since the name was brought to America and appears, for example, in an archaic version collected by Cox in West Virginia[] that he titles "Spanish Lady" (Spanish Lady IV). When the adaptations were made from the bawdy song is currently unknown but the Spanish Lady was added sometime between the late 1700s and early to mid-1800s. 

Most of the ballads of C. "Spanish Lady II" are based on the following stanza with a "No Sir" chorus as sung by a wooed Spanish Lady:

2. My father was a Spanish merchant
And before he went to sea,
He told me to be sure and answer No!
To all you said to me.

This is followed by the No Sir of Oh No John chorus:

CHORUS: No sir! No sir! No sir! No-- sir!
No sir! No sir! No sir! No.

This song is represented mostly by arrangement by Englishwoman Mary Wakefield of "No Sir" taken from "an American governess" was published with music was in "The Peterson Magazine," Volumes 79-80, Philadelphia, 1881. In the text a Spanish Merchant's or Spanish Captain's daughter is wooed by man who seeks her favor. Although the daughter is a "Spanish Lady," it's unclear if there is relationship with the texts of A and B. Here's the complete text of "No Sir" from: "Songs and Ballads: 96 Songs - Words and Music W.F. Shaw," 1882. It's also found in Shaw's "Gems of Minstrel Song" also dated 1882 and later in Delaney's Song Book (New York).

No Sir!
Words and Music Arr. by A. M. Wakefield

1. Tell me one thing, tell me truly,
Tell me why you scorn me so?
Tell me why when asked a question,
You will always answer no?

CHORUS: No sir! No sir! No sir! No-- sir!
No sir! No sir! No sir! No.

2. My father was a Spanish merchant
And before he went to sea,
He told me to be sure and answer No!
To all you said to me.
CHORUS

3. If I was walking in the garden,
Plucking flow'rs all wet with dew,
Tell me will you be offended,
If I walk and talk with you?
CHORUS

4. If when walking in the garden,
I should ask you to be mine,
and should tell you that I loved you,
would you then my heart decline?
CHORUS

This print version of "No Sir" was reprinted a number of times and was "very popular." The second stanza is sung by a Spanish lady in response to the man's advances. Although "No Sir" seems like a different song at least two versions with the "she answered No" chorus (Ca and Cb) are clearly related because they have the standard "Spanish Lady I" opening. From the following archaic Scottish version, one evolution of "No Sir" can be quantified. The common stanzas can be traced in this early traditional version which was sung by Bell Robertson of Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire:

1. Walking down through London city,
Between twelve and one at night,
There I saw a Spanish lady
Wash herself by candle light.
CHORUS: She said Aye, no, no, no,
She said Aye, no, no, no,
She said Aye, no, no, no,
Still the lady answered No.

2 Wi' a basin full of water
And a towel in her hand.
And a candle on the table,
Like an angel she did stand.
CHORUS

3 Madam, I am come to court you,
If I could your favour gain.
And gin ye mak me kindly welcome
Maybe I come back again.
CHORUS

4. My father he's a wealthy merchant
He has lately gone from home
He left me strict directions
Never to say Aye to none.
CHORUS

5. Saw ye ever a copper kettle,
Marriet with a brazen pan,
Saw ye ever a Spanish Lady,
Would refuse an Englishman?
CHORUS

This Scottish composite version of "Spanish Lady" and "lady answered No" was sung by Bell Robertson of New Pitsligo (b.1841) which may, through her mother and maternal grandmother of Strichen, date back to the late 1700s or early 1800s. It was collected by Grieg about 1907 and is version I from Greig-Duncan Collection, vol. 4. The Scottish versions of Spanish Lady have the opening stanzas of the bawdy 1776 song rewritten as found Bell's stanza 1 and 2. They are usually followed by stanzas of "Madam" and in Bell's version there is only one. The Spanish merchant stanza is standard in "Oh No John" and "No Sir," while the last stanza is found similarly in "Galway City" and some other versions of Spanish Lady.

This archaic Scottish version by Bell Robertson is the missing link that connects "Spanish Lady I" to "Spanish Lady II" with its "she answered No" chorus. Fortunately her rare version is corroborated by a similar "Spanish Lady" version that was collected by Helen Hartness Flanders as sung by Andrew Hawes of Pittsburg, New Hampshire June 18, 1943. A recording of Hawes version is available at the Internet Archive. Versions of "No Sir" or "Oh No John" that have the "My father was a Spanish merchant" stanza will not be covered here-- only Ca and Cb with the standard Spanish Lady I opening are included (see 8A for those versions). It's also necessary to include the composite versions of B. "Spanish Lady I"  here again (see also 8. Madam I Have Come to Court You) since they are directly related to Spanish Lady by their opening stanzas.

Related also is this version of the "Spanish Lady" is found in "Folk Songs of Middle Tennessee: The George Boswell Collection" edited by Charles K. Wolfe- 1997; also in "Bulletin - Volumes 42" - Page 140, 1974. "Carbon City" is found in the US but it resembles Frank Harte's "Chester City." Here's a rare version from North America:

"The Spanish Lady" sung by Nancy McCuddy Stevenson of Clarksville, TN on Dec. 5, 1953, learned from her father. (Compare the ending with Clancy Brothers version of "Galway City")

1. I went down to Carbon City,
Twelve or one o'clock at night,
There I saw a Spanish lady,
Dressing by the candlelight.

CHORUS: Larry a-ma-lowdin, liden, looden,
Larry a-ma-1owdin liden lay.

2. With a vessel of cold water
And a mirror in her hand,
With her hair down over her shoulders,
Like an angel she did stand.
Chorus:

3. I can drink and not get drowsy,
I can fight and not get slain.
I can court a Spanish lady
And be welcome back again
Chorus:

4. Did you ever see a pewter vessel,
Mended with a copper pan?
Did you ever see a Spanish lady,
Married to an Irishman?
Chorus:

The last stanza compares to Bell Robertson's version as well as another Irish arrangement "Galway City" by Clancy Brothers. This Tennessee variant and some other versions have broken away from 8. Madam, I Have Come to Court You so that there are no stanzas of "Madam" present or just one or two floating stanzas. The following Irish version sung by Frank Harte combines a number of floating stanzas with a chorus that still resembles "Madam." This version is commonly titled "Madam, I'm a Darling" after the chorus:

CHESTER CITY (Madam I'm a Darling)- Recorded by Frank Harte.

As I came down to Chester City,
In the dark hour late at night
Who should I meet but a fair young maiden
Washing her clothes by the broad moon light

Cho: Madam I'm a darling a-di-ro-didero
Madam I'm a darling a-di-ro-dee

First she washed them , then she squeezed them
Then she hung them up to dry
Then she folded up her arms
Saying what a nice young girl am I!

Going to the well for a pail of water
Bringing it home for to make the tea
She fell over, I fell under
All the game was above the knee

Madam I will tie your garter,
I'll tie it above the knee
If you like, I'll tie it up farther
Madam I'm a darling a di-ro-dee

Madam you have gold and silver
Madam, you have tracts of land
Madam you ships on the ocean
All you need is a nice young man!

The first two stanzas are of "Spanish Lady I" while the next two[] are similarly found in "Oh No John." The last stanza is found in "Madam" but is closer to the Children's song 8B. "On the Mountain Stands a Lady." The Harte version has combined a number of appendices of "Madam."

The name "Spanish Lady," my Spanish Lady IV, is found replacing "lovely creature" in a number of "Madam" versions including at least one children's game song, "Here sits a Spanish lady" dated 1909 as collected by Waugh in Ontario. See also Wehman's print version of the late 1800s and Cox's version in "Folk Songs of the South," 1925. Here is the earliest record of a full version of Spanish Lady IV from Wehman Universal Songster, Volume 39 circa 1893 (New York):

THE SPANISH LADY.

Yonder sits a Spanish lady,
Who she is I do not know;
I'll go court her for her beauty,
Let her answer be yea or no.

Chorus. Nedy um a do to dod dum da,
Nedy um a do to du dum da.

Madam, I have come a-courting,
Though your name I do not know;
I will court you for your beauty,
Let your answer be yes or no.- Chorus.

Sir, if you have come a-courting
Some kind pleasure for to win,
I will kindly entertain you
If you will never come again.- Chorus.

Madam, I have gold and silver,
Madam, I have house and land;
Madam, I have a world of treasure,
All to be at your command.- Chorus.

What care I for your gold and silver,
What care I for your house and land;
What care I for your world of treasure,
All I want is a handsome man. - Chorus.

Blue is a pretty color
When it gets a second dip,
Young men when they go a-courting
Very often get the slip.- Chorus.

Ripest apples soonest rotten,
Hottest love soonest cold;
Young men's vows are soon forgotten,
Pray, pretty maids, don't be so bold.- Chorus

Iowa boys are the boys of honor,
To court pretty maids they're not afraid.
Hug them, kiss them, call them honey;
That's the way, boys; don't be afraid. -Chorus.

The last stanza is found in the Johnson Boys and is similarly found in a 1923 version from North Carolina[3]. In Folk Songs of the South (1925). Cox gives a version of Spanish Lady IV from West Virginia that he titles "Spanish Lady." In this case "Spanish Lady" is substituted for "Lovely creature" but no additional text is provided. Here's the first stanza and chorus:

Spanish Lady- Communicated by Miss Violet Noland, Davis, Tucker County, 1916; obtained from Mr. John Raese, who heard it sung when he was a boy.

1 Yonder stands a Spanish lady;
Who she is I do not know;
I'll go and court her for her beauty,
Let her answer yes or no.

Refrain: Rattle O ding, ding dom, ding dom,
Rattle O ding, dom day

The Spanish Lady- sung by Frank Harte at The Trinity Inn on June 12, 1998.
Listen: https://www.itma.ie/goilin/song/spanish_lady_frank_harte

As I was a-walking through Dublin City
About the hour of twelve at night,
It was there I saw a fair pretty female
Washing her feet by candlelight.

First she washed them and then she dried them
Around her shoulder she pegged a towel,
And in all me life I never did see
A maid so neat about the sole.

CHORUS: She had 20 18 16 14, 12 10 8 6 4 2 none,
She had 19 17 15 13, 11 9 7 5 3 and 1.

Well I stopped to look but the watchman passed
"Say, young fellow, the night is late
Along with you home or I will wrassle you
Straightway though the Bridewell Gate."

I got a look from the Spanish lady
Hot as the fire of ambry coals
And in all my life I never did see
A maid so neat about the sole.

CHORUS:

As I walked back through Dublin City
As the dawn of day was o'er
Oh, who should I spy but the Spanish lady
When I was weary and footsore.

She had a heart so filled with loving
And her love she longed to share,
And in all my life I never did meet with
A maid who had so much to spare.

CHORUS

Well, I've wandered north and I've wandered south
By Stoney Batter and Patrick's Close;
And up and around by the Gloucester Diamond
Back by Napper Tandy's house.

But old age has laid her hands upon me
Cold as a fire of ashy coals
But gone is the lovely Spanish lady
Neat and sweet about her sole.

CHORUS

2ND CHORUS: And round and round goes the Wheel of fortune,
Where it rests it wearies me,
Young maid's hearts are so uncertain,
Sad experience teaches me.

CHORUS

Frank Harte sang The Spanish Lady in 1973 on his Topic LP Through Dublin City. He commented in the album liner notes:


    For too long this fine old Dublin song has been sung mainly by choral groups and concert sopranos. I remember the song from childhood and it has grown as I heard verses of it year after year. In some versions the last verse ends—

        She had 20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 none
        She had 19 17 15 13 11 9 7 5 3 and 1,

    meaning “she had the odds and the evens of it“—in other words she had everything.
 



Harte's version sung  at The Trinity Inn on June 12, 1998 can be heard in the IMTA: https://www.itma.ie/goilin/song/spanish_lady_frank_harte

Seamus Ennis sang a fragment of Dublin City to Alan Lomax in Dublin in 1951. This recording was included on the anthology Songs of Seduction. (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 2; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968) and in 2000 on the album's Rounder CD reissue. The album's booklet commented:

    Burl Ives used to sing another version of this song, which began:

        A I walked out in Dublin city
        About the hour of twelve at night,
        I spied a fair young maiden
        Washing her feet by candlelight,

    In the refrain, she appears to be counting, but in reverse series, running from twenty to nothing and from nineteen to one. On the one hand, the song seems to portray a market girl summing up her day's receipts in coins. On the other, it is perhaps another instance in Irish folk song of an encounter with a feminine symbol—in this case a revolutionary one—of the spirit of oppressed Ireland. The song is also called The Spanish Lady (the title that was used by Herbert Hughes for his piano setting of the tune), the Irish equivalent for the English song, No, John, No. An American version is A Paper of Pins.

Seamus Ennis sings Dublin City

As I walked through Dublin City
At the hour of twelve at night,
Who should I see but a maiden beauty,
Combing her hair with a four-pronged pike?

Chorus (after each verse):
Turry-idle-ido-dido-dido,
Turry-idle-ido-dido-day.

As I walked again through Dubin,
On the same or another night,
Who should I see but the same fair maiden,
Counting her cash by the candlelight?

Courtin' women is foolish folly,
And marryin' women is just the same.
Courtin' women when they're not willin'
Is like throwin' water against the stream.

 

The first published version similar to Frank Harte's version with the two choruses was in 1948. It was titled "Dublin City" and was collected about 1944 [my date, Ives was back in NYC Dec. 1943] by a once Illinois farm-boy living in New York City from an Irish bartender on Third Avenue. This singer included it on his first album in 1945, "A Collection of Ballads and Folk Songs" (Personality Series. Album No. A-407. New York: Decca Records). Did Frank Harte get part of his version from Burl Ives, an itinerant Illinois farm boy? Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Here's the story behind the 1945 recording and the song, "Dublin City" which was published in "Wayfaring Stranger: An Autobiography" by BURL IVES. (Whittlesey House, 1948. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. New York:

It was lunchtime and I began to feel hungry. The aroma of beer drifted past my nostrils, my head turned toward it, and I followed my nose into a little bar-restaurant on Third Avenue.

The bar stretched along one wall; opposite was a row of tables covered with red-and-white checked cloths. A man and woman were seated at a table eatinsf boiled beef and white potatoes. An old man sat sipping a glass of beer at the end of the bar, his back toward the street. Further along the bar a grocery clerk sat in a white apron and coat and a hard-brimmed straw hat. I took a bar stool and ordered a beer and a salami sandwich. Above the bar were two Irish thorn canes crossed like swords. When the bartender spoke, my guess that he would be an Irishman was confirmed. He had the Irish kind of face that all good Irish bartenders have. He called my order to the kitchen. "Coming up," the cook called back.

The bartender mopped up the bar and served me a beer. Nobody spoke except the couple at the table and they spoke in quiet tones. An elevated train roared by every minute or two, trucks and taxicabs made gross music as they stopped, started and tooted their horns. The bartender took a clean cloth and started to polish the glasses stacked before the mirror behind the bar. As he twisted the white cloth in and out and around the glasses he hummed a melody in a minor key over and over. His song was interrupted by the cook who handed him a plate with my sandwich. He mopped the bar in front of me, and his cloth absorbed the rings of wet beer made by my glass.

"What was that tune you were humming?" I asked.

He looked at me, surprised and embarrassed. "And was I hummin' a tune?"

"Yes, you were, and a very nice tune."

He shook his head, "If my life depended on it, I couldn't repeat it."

I started to eat. He served a beer to the old man and began to polish the glasses again. Soon he was humming the tune. I took a pencil from my pocket, drew a musical staff on my paper napkin, and jotted down the notes of the melody.

I called him for another beer, and when he stood before me I said, "What is the name of this song?" I sang his tune back to him.

"Why, that's a song I sang as a young man in Dublin. Where did you hear it?"

I told him it was his melody, and he was much impressed and looked at the notes on the paper napkin. "What do you think about that now?" was all his amazement could utter.

I asked him if he could recall the words. "I think so," he said, and quietly he sang as only an Irishman can sing his own songs:


As 1 was a walkin through Dublin City
About the hour of twelve at night,
It was there I spied a fair, pretty maid,
Washing her feet in candle light.

First she washed them, and then she dried them,
Around her shoulders she pegged a towel,
And in all me life I ne'er did see,
Such a fine young girl, upon my soul.

She had 20, 18, 16, 14;
12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, none;
She had 19, 17, 15, 13;
11, 9, 7, 5, 8 and one:

Round round, the wheel of fortune
Where it stops wearies me.
Fair maids they are so deceivin'
Sad experience teaches me,

She had 20, 18, 16, 14;
12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, none.
She had 19, 17, 15, 13;
11, 9, 7, 5, 3 and one.

When I had learned the song and put a guitar accompaniment to it, I made an acetate record at a little voice-reproduction shop and brought it to my friend the bartender. When I saw him a few weeks later he told me that he had gathered all his friends together to listen to it. He said it was his most prized possession.


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