> Folk Music > Songs > The Lily of the West

Flora, the Lily of the West / The Lily of the West

[ Roud 957 ; Master title: Flora, the Lily of the West ; Laws P29 ; Henry H578 ; Ballad Index LP29 ; VWML SBG/3/1/596 ; Bodleian Roud 957 ; GlosTrad Roud 957 ; trad.]

Songs of the West Sam Henry’s Songs of the People

Evelyn Ramsey sang The Lily of the West to Mike Yates at her home in Sodom Laurel, Madison County, NC, on 29 August 1980. This recording was included in 2002 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs, tunes and stories from Mike Yates’ Appalachian collections, 1979-1983, Far in the Mountains Volume 2. Mike Yates noted:

In the old days folksongs passed by word of mouth and via broadsides. Evelyn Ramsey, a neighbour of Cas Wallin and Dellie Norton, shows how things can so easily change. The Lily of the West is a song that she remembers friends singing years ago. She had forgotten the song—words and tune—until she came across a copy of Cecil Sharp’s Appalachian Collection, which contained a version of the song that Sharp had collected in Kentucky. Evelyn relearnt the words and, being unable to read music, set them to a slowed down version of the tune used by Charlie Poole for the railroad song Bill Mason (Columbia 15407-D).

Despite the American place names, the song first saw light in early 19th century England (or Ireland), and was popular with British singers up to the beginning of the 20th century. Sabine Baring-Gould heard it from three singers in the west country around 1900. Bascom Lamar Lunsford, also from North Carolina, sang a good version on the now-deleted album Music From South Turkey Creek (Rounder 0065) and a version collected by Vance Randolph from the Ozarks singer Charles Ingenthron can be heard on Ozark Folksongs (Rounder CD 1108).

Claire Mann sang Lily of the West on Tabache’s 1996 album Are You Willing?. They noted:

Claire learned this song from the singing of Maighread Ni Dhomhnoill. It tells the tale of a young man who is denied by his true love. It has in it the usual traditional song structure of Love, Jealousy and Murder. At least the last stage has been somewhat abated in modern time, I assume!

Show of Hands sang Flora on their 1997 album Dark Fields.

Dan Milner sang The Lily of the West in 1998 on his Folk-Legacy album Irish Ballads & Songs of the Sea.

Martha Tilston sang Lily of the West in 2003 on her CD Rolling.

Pete Coe sang Flora, the Lily of the West on his 2010 CD Backbone. He noted:

[…] Speaking of Cyril [Tawney], he sang this version at our folk club many years ago but he’d never recorded it commercially. Recently, I mentioned it to Martin Graebe and three days later he not only sent me the music but also a recording Cyril had done for a workshop. It was collected by Baring-Gould from Matthew Baker, Lew Down in 1889 [VWML SBG/3/1/596] . Many thanks to Martin, I hope Cyril would have approved of my version of his version.

Josienne Clarke sang Lily of the West in 2011 on her CD with Ben Walker, The Seas Are Deep.

Steve Turner sang Lily of the West on his 2018 Tradition Bearers CD Late Cut. He noted:

In the late ’80s, Gina le Faux and I did a series of concerts and festivals together and this song was in our repertoire. I completely forgot about it till Gina played me a barely audible demo cassette which we made at the time which contained this American influenced version of the well-known song. Unfortunately, I can’t remember which book I got it from. It was possibly a compilation of several versions and a variant on one of the tunes. The story unfolds to show a rather unhappy young man, who when jilted by his girlfriend, instead of dealing with it and moving on, decided to murder his rival—times don’t change?!


Evelyn Ramsey sings The Lily of the West

I’ve just came down from Louisville, some pleasure for to find.
A handsome girl from Michigan was so pleasing to my mind.
Her rosy cheeks, her rolling eye, like arrows pierced my breast.
They called her handsome Flora, the Lily of the West.

I’ve courted her for many a day, her love I thought to gain.
Too soon, too soon she slighted me, which caused me grief and pain.
She robbed me of my liberty, deprived me of my rest.
They call her handsome Flora, the Lily of the West.

One evening as I rambled, down by yon shady grove.
I met a lord of high degree, conversing with my love.
He sang, he sang so merrily, while I was so depressed.
And he sang for handsome Flora, the Lily of the west.

I rushed upon my rival, my dagger in my hand.
And I drew him back from my own truelove, and boldly bid him stand.
Being mad to desperation, my dagger pierced his breast.
And I was betrayed by Flora, the Lily of the West.

Oh, now my trial has come on, and sentenced soon shall be.
They put me in the criminal box, and there convicted me.
She so deceived the jury, that I might have saved address.
For she far outshone bright Venus, the Lily of the West.

Oh, now my liberty I’ve gained, I’ll rove this country through.
I’ll ramble this city over, to find my love once more.
Though she robbed me of my liberty, deprived me of my rest.
But still I love my Flora, the Lily of the West.

Steve Turner sings Lily of the West

When first I came to Limerick my fortune for to find
A damsel there from Abbeyfeale her beauty filled my mind
Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips like arrows pierced my breast
The name she bore was Flora, the Lily of the West

I courted lovely Flora, she promised ne’er to go
But soon a tale was told on me that filled my heart with woe
They say she weds another man and holds my love in jest
But still I trusted Flora, the Lily of the West

Down in yonder shady grove lived a man of high degree
Spoke unto my Flora and he kissed her tenderly
And the answer that she gave to him like arrows pierced my breast
I was betrayed by Flora, the Lily of the West

I strode up to my rival, a dagger in my hand
I seized him by the collar and I boldly bid him stand
And in my desperation I stabbed him in the chest
I killed a man for Flora, the Lily of the West

Before the judge and jury next morning I appeared
They threw me in the prisoners box and then commenced on me
And though they tore my life away, deprived me of my rest
Still I love my Flora, the Lily of the West