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The Red-Haired Man’s Wife

[ Roud 3046 ; Ballad Index OLoc097 ; trad.]

Ray Fisher sang The Red-Haired Man’s Wife in 1982 on her Folk-Legacy album Willie’s Lady. She commented in the accompanying booklet:

Here is a song that sums up all the anguish, emotion and controlled anger of unrequited love. I had heard Kevin Mitchell, from Ireland, now living in Glasgow, sing this song many times in the purest tenor voice ever. I loved the song and tune dearly. About two years ago, Kevin decided to sing it to a different ‘air’. The ‘new’ tune was a fine one, but I much preferred the other, ‘old’ tune. I have taken the liberty of singing Kevin’s original combination—for fear I’ll forget it. No chance!!

Danny Spooner sang The Red-Haired Man’s Wife (Bean an Fhir Ruaidh) with quite different lyrics (a different translation?) on his 1987 album When a Man’s in Love. He noted:

There is an old adage, “If you would plead for your life, plead in Irish”. The same might be said if you would plead for the return of a lost love. This tragic song was translated from the Irish by Douglas Hyde but having heard if sung in the original Irish by Tom Phaidin Tom, I feel much must have been lost in translation.

Tarras sang Red-Haired Man’s Wife in 2011 on their CD Warn the Waters.


Ray Fisher sings The Red-Haired Man’s Wife

Oh ye muses divine, combine and lend me your aid
To pen these few lines, for I find that my heart is betrayed
By a virgin most pure who is dearer to me than my life.
But from me she is flown and is known as the red-haired man’s wife.

Oh, a letter I’ll send with a friend down to the seashore
To let her understand I’m the man that does her adore.
And if she would but leave that slave I will forfeit my life;
She’d live like a lady and ne’er be the red-haired man’s wife.

I offered a favour and sealed it with my own hand.
She thus answered and said, “Would you lead me to break the command?
Oh, take it easy, Since Nature can cause so much strive.
I was given away and will stay as the red-haired man’s wife.”

May my life never end nor my yearning for passion abate
Till me and my darling lie as one ’neath the pleasant tree’s shade.
With no one to be near us, Save the black bird in the green leaves alone
And the red-haired man in his grave With his head ’neath a stone.

Danny Spooner sings The Red-Haired Man’s Wife

’Tis what they say, thy little heel fits in a shoe,
’Tis what they say thy little mouth kisses well too;
’Tis what they say, a thousand loves you’ve left me to rue,
That the tailor went the way, that the wife of the red-haired man knew.

Many months did I spend in a prison closed and tightly bound,
Chains on my arms, and a thousand locks all around.
But I would leap as the leap of the lonely swan,
To be lying down beside the wife of the red-haired man.

Many times have I thought of one house between thee love and me,
And ofttimes have I thought of my child all there on your knee;
But a curse from the High One on him now let it be,
And on all the band of boys that put silence love, twixt thee and me.

In the garden grows a tree and her branches tremble and shake,
Place my hand on the bark and I feel my poor heart will break;
Just one wish alone in my soul it has run,
Just one little kiss, from the wife of the red-haired man.

But a day of judgement it will come, and the seas and mountains will be rent,
And a mist shall fall from the thunder-clouds so newly sent;
And the seas will run dry and the earth under mourning shall ban,
And beloved she will cry, the wife of the red-haired man.