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Down By the Shannon Side / Captain Thunderbolt

[ Roud 1453 ; Ballad Index Ord202 ; Bodleian Roud 1453 ; trad.]

Phoebe Smith sang Captain Thunderbolt to Mike Yates in her home in Melton, Woodbridge, Suffolk, on April 22, 1976. This recording was included in the following year on Topic's anthology of Gypsy singers, The Travelling Songster. Mike Yates commented in the album's sleeve notes:

Lucy Broadwood used to refer to this song as The Betrayal and she believed that it shared a common—possibly Irish—origin with songs such as The Lily White Hand and Blackwater Side. My own view is that the song at one time recorded a more supernatural encounter—possibly with the Devil himself—and is, I feel, connected in spirit to another lrish tale of the netherworld, Reynardine, in which a girl plays out a meeting with a disturbing half-animal, half-human being. For an early version of the song, see The Westerne Knight and the Young Maid of Bristoll, Their Loves and Fortunes related—a blackletter broadside that was licenced to be printed on June 1, 1629 and is reprinted in Hyder Rollins, A Pepysian Garland (Harvard) 1922 (reprinted 1971).

The Cornish traveller Charlotte Renals sang Down By the Shannon Side in a recording made in 1978 by Pete Coe. It was published in 2003 on the Backshift/Veteran CD Catch Me If You Can: Songs from Cornish Travellers. Mike Yates commented in the album notes:

Once a widely-known song. Cecil Sharp collected nine versions in the west of England and Superintendent Ord of the Glasgow police said that it was “common all over the North-east of Scotland” (Bothy Songs and Ballads, 1930). Originally an Irish song, some later singers localised the song’s setting (Frank Kidson found it being sung in parts of Yorkshire as Down By the Derwent Side, for example), while some singers, including the Gypsy singer Phoebe Smith, called it Captain Thunderbolt. Charlotte’s version fills in some of the details that singers such as Phoebe had lost.

Mary Delaney sang Peter Thunderbolt on one of Jim Carroll's and Pat Mackenzie's recordings of Irish Travellers in England that were published in 2003 on the Musical Traditions anthology From Puck to Appleby. The collectors commented in the accompanying booklet:

An early text of this from a black-letter broadside entitled A Western Knight and dated 1629, was published in H.E. Rollins’ A Pepysian Garland [1922]. In his note to the song, the editor compares it to The False Lover Won Back (Child 218), Child Waters (Child 63) and particularly to Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight (Child 4).

Cecil Sharp collected several versions with the title The Shannon Side mainly from singers in Somerset, and Ord has it in his collection with the same title, where it is described as 6ldquo;an Irish folk-song common all over the North-east of Scotland”. William Christie, the Dean of Moray, quotes a verse in his Traditional Ballad Airs, but says: “The ballad of The Shannon Side is not suited for this work.”

It has also been found among English Gypsies, a recording of it being included on the Topic album, The Travelling Songster, sung by Phoebe Smith of Woodbridge, Suffolk. The only Irish versions we could find were one collected by Seamus Ennis for the BBC in the 1950s from Thomas Moran of Mohill, Co Leitrim and another we got from Pat McNamara of Kilshanny, Co Clare in 1976.

Andy Turner learned Down By the Shannon Side from the singing of Charlotte Renals and sang it as the April 26, 2014 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.


Phoebe Smith sings Captain Thunderbolt

Was on one May morning so early in the spring
When prim-a-rosy violets come spreading round the green,
And one of them so manfully come Jack-in-the-field with pride
As we both walked down together along the Shannon side.

“Where are you going my pretty fair maid?
Where are you going this way?”
“I am going to seek my father’s ship
Down by the Shannon side.”

“May I come with you my pretty maid, may I come along your way?
And if you’ve any objections I will follow on behind.”
The ground being moss and slippery, one foot from her did slide
And they both went down together along the Shannon side.

“Now since you’ve had your will of me pray tell to me your name.
That’s when my baby that is bom as that may be the same.”
“My name is Captain Thunderbowl and the truth I’ll never deny
For l have got men to guard me over yonders mountains high.”

Charlotte Renals sings Down By the Shannon Side

It was in the month of April and early in the morn,
The cowslips and the violets were growing in the long;
The flowery, flowery mantle it decked the fields with pride,
When I meet with a lovely damsel down by the Shannon side.

“Good morning to you sweetheart,” all unto her I cried,
“Where are you going so early now, where are you going this way?”
“I’m going to see my father’s sheep,
Down by the Shannon side.”

But she said, “Young man excuse me my parents would be annoyed,
If I am seen with any man down by the Shannon side.”
“I will chance myself in transport to you I’ll give a kiss.”
She said, “Young man be civil what do you mean by this?”

The ground was mossy where they stood, their feet from them did slide,
And they both fall down together, down by the Shannon side.
Now three times he kissed her rosy cheeks, as she lay on the grass,
And when she came to herself again she cried out for the love.

Now we both shook hands and parted and from her I did steer,
We hadn’t parted many months not more than half a year;
Before he was crossing mossy banks my love I chanced to see,
She was scarcely able for to walk down by the Shannon side.

I pretend to take no notice and steered all on my way,
My love she turned her head aside those words to me did say;
“Don’t never forget the poor young girl,
Down by the Shannon side.

And since you’ve had your will of me, make me your lawful bride,
Don’t never you leave me here to mourn, down by the Shannon side;
There is fifty pounds all in bright gold my father will provide,
And sixty acres of good land down by the Shannon side.”

I said, “My pretty fair girl I love your offer well,
But I am engaged already the truth to you I’ll tell;
It’s to a fair young lady who wishes to be my bride,
She’s a wealthy grazier’s daughter down by the Shannon side.”

“Now if you cannot marry me pray tell me then your name,
And when my baby it is born I may call it the same.”
“My name is Captain Walters, my name I will never deny,
While I have men to guide me on yonder mountain side.”

Now the tears like crystal fountains now down her cheeks did slide,
Saying, “I hope this will be a warning to all young girls beside,
And never to trust you now young man,
Down by the Shannon side.”