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Helen of Kirkconnell Lea

[ Roud 8191 ; Ballad Index OBB152 ; Mudcat 56887 ; trad.]

Walter Scott published Fair Helen of Kirconnell in Volume 2 of Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.

John Laurie recited Helen of Kirconnell in 1959 on the anthology The Jupiter Book of Ballads.

Dave Walters sang Helen of Kirkconnell in 1977 on his Fellside album Comes Sailing By.

Bobby Eaglesham sang Helen of Kirkconnell in 1982 on his Fellside album Weather the Storm. This track was also included in 2006 on the Fellside anniversary anthology The Journey Continues.

Archie Fisher sang Helen of Kirkconnell Lea on a bonus track of the 1997 CD re-issue of his 1976 Folk-Legacy album The Man With a Rhyme. He noted:

The story which forms the subject of this ballad was first told in Pennant's Tour in Scotland. It also appear in Ritson's Scottish Songs and in Scott's Minstrelsy. The tradition says that Helen Irving, daughter of the Laird of Kirkconnell in Annandale, at about the latter end of the reign of James V, was loved by two gentlemen, Adam Fleming of Kirkpatrick, whom she herself favoured, and another, said to have been Bell of Blacket House, who was encouraged by her friends. As Helen and Fleming walked on the banks of the Kirtle, her rejected suitor “leveled his carabine” at the breast of his rival. Helen threw herself before her lover, took the bullet in her own breast, and dropped, dying, in his arms. A thorn tree in the glen is pointed out to this day as the spot where she fell. The legend further tells us that Fleming avenged her immediately (“I hackit him in pieces sma‘ “) and later, upon returning from the wars in Spain, visited the lonely spot, and, overcome by grief, died on her grave.

The story [sung] here is somewhat abbreviated, which is probably just as well. (Information borrowed from Eyre-Todd's Ancient Scots Ballads, London and Glasgow, nd, by S.P.)

Claire Mann sang Helen of Kirkconnell on Tabache's 1999 album Waves of Rush. They noted:

This beautiful song is an 18th Century tragic love story from the south west of Scotland, about a young lady called Helen Irving. She had do choose between two lovers, and eventually chose Adam Fleming. One day whilst walking along the banks of the River Kirtle Helen spotted the rival lover, Bell of Blockhouse, with a gun in his hand. She threw herself in front of Adam to try and save him but was killed by the bullet meant for him.

We're not quite sure what he did after that, but some say he crossed the river to lay his rival. He then fled to Spain and served in the Spanish army. However, it is also said that he pursued Bell of Blockhouse throughout Europe and eventually found and killed him near Madrid, before returning to Helen's grave where he expired and was buried alongside her.

Claire learned this song from the singing of Jamie McMenemy. There is also a slightly different version attributed to Robert Burns, O that I were Where Helen Lies.

Sangsters sang Helen of Kirkconnel in 1993 on their Greentrax CD Begin.

Ian Giles sang I Wish I Were Where Ellen Lies in 1997 on his WildGoose CD The Amber Triangle. He noted:

Sometimes known as Helen of Kirkconnell, a border ballad of love, death and revenge.

John Morran sang Helen o Kirkconnel in 1998 on the Linn anthology The Complete Songs of Robert Burns Volume 6.

John Wright sang Helen of Kirkconnell in 2000 on his CD A Few Short Lines.

Isla St Clair sang Helen of Kirkconnell on her 2000 CD Murder & Mayhem.

Emily Smith sang Fair Helen of Kirkconnel in 2002 on her first CD, A Day Like Today. She noted:

This is a song from my home region of Dumfries & Galloway. The story goes that Helen, who lived on Kirkconnel estate near Ecclefechan in Dumfriesshire, was fought over by two men both in pursuit of her heart. Unfortunately Helen got in the way of their battle and was tragically killed herself.

Emily Smith also sang Fair Helen of Kirkconnel on most of the concerts of the Unusual Suspect's 2004 tour. On their last concert at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, in February 2004 she wasn't available though, and so this video has Annie Grace singing it instead:

Hector Gilchrist sang Fair Helen of Kirkconnel in 2007 on his WildGoose CD Ingleneuk. He noted:

I first recorded this song on vinyl at the Liverpool Folk Festival in 1966. It recalls the many friends whom I made during my eight years in Cheshire and at the Crewe Folk Club. The lass Helen, in this ballad, was obviously in the wrong place at the wrong time! The tale is well documented in Border literature.

Wendy Weatherby sang Helen o' Kirkonnel in 2010 on her Fellside album A Shirt of Silk or Snow.

Barbara Dymock sang Helen of Kirkconnel on her 2016 CD Leaf an' Thorn. She laconically noted:

Helen of Kirkconnel is just such a fascinating and tragic story.

Fiona Hunter sang Helen of Kirkconnell Lea in 2016 on the Greentrax CD of pipe music and song from the Scottish Borders, Reclaimed. The album's booklet commented:

Fiona sings the classic ballad Helen of Kirkconnell Lea taken from Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802). The action is set on the banks of the Kirtle Water in Dumfriesshire (only a few miles from Middlebie) where Helen Irving dies defending her lover Adam Fleming from a rival suitor. Adam kills his rival, flees overseas to serve in the Spanish army, and eventually returns to Kirkconnell where he is said to be buried near Helen in the kirkyard of the Old Parish Church.

Hannah Rarity and Catherine Tinney sang Helen of Kirkconnell on the TMSA Young Trad Tour 2019.

Anna Tam sang Helen of Kirkconnell on her 2022 album Hatching Hares. She noted:

Based on a true story from the 16th century, Helen Irving and Adam Fleming are now buried in the same grave in Kirkconnell, Southwest Scotland. The story goes that Adam’s rival lover decided to shoot him whilst he and Helen sat on the bank of the river Kirtle. Seeing him Helen came between them, taking the bullet herself, and dying. Adam then killed the rival and later went to war in Spain but could not forget. On his return he lay on Helen's grave and died.

Lyrics

Fair Helen of Kirconnell in The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border

I wish I were where Helen lies!
Night and day on me she cries;
O that I were where Helen lies,
On fair Kirconnell Lea!

Curst be the heart, that thought the thought,
And curst the hand, that fired the shot,
When in my arms burd Helen dropt,
And died to succour me!

O think na ye my heart was sair,
When my love dropt down and spak nae mair!
There did she swoon wi' meikle care,
On fair Kirconnell Lea.

As I went down the water side,
None but my foe to be my guide.
None but my foe to be my guide,
On fair Kirconnell Lea.

I lighted down, my sword did draw,
I hacked him in pieces sma,
I hacked him in pieces sma,
For her sake that died for me.

O Helen fair, beyond compare!
I'll make a garland of thy hair,
Shall bind my heart for evermair,
Untill the day I die.

O that I were where Helen lies!
Night and day on me she cries;
Out of my bed she bids me rise,
Says, “Haste, and come to me!”

O Helen fair! O Helen chaste!
If I were with thee I were blest,
Where thou lies low, and takes thy rest,
On fair Kirconnell Lea.

I wish my grave were growing green,
A winding sheet drawn ower my een,
And I in Helen's arms lying,
On fair Kirconnell Lea.

I wish I were where Helen lies!
Night and day on me she cries;
And I am weary of the skies,
For her sake that died for me.

Archie Fisher sings Helen of Kirkconnell Lea

O gin I were where Helen lies,
Where, night and day, on me she cries.
O gin I were where Helen lies,
On fair Kirkconnell lea.

Curst be the mind that laid the plot;
Curst be the hand that fired the shot
That to my arms fair Helen brought
To die for love o' me.

An' think ye no' that my heart was sair
To see her lie and speak nae mair.
There did she woon wi' mickle care
On fair Kirkconnell lea.

O Helen rare, beyond compare,
I'll mak' a garland o' your hair;
'Twill bind my heart forever mair,
Until the day I dee.

I wish my grave was growin' green,
And a windin' sheet hap't ower my een,
And I in Helen's arms was lain,
Wha died for love o' me.

O gin I were where Helen lies,
For night and day on me she cries.
O gin I were where Helen lies,
On fair Kirkconnell lea.

Emily Smith sang Fair Helen of Kirkconnel

I wish I was whaur Helen lies
For nicht and day on me she cries
For nicht and day on me she cries
I wish I was whaur Helen lies
On fair Kirkconnel Lea

Oh Helen fair, oh Helen chaste
Were I with thee I would be blessed
Were I with thee I would be blessed
Where though liest low and at thy rest
On fair Kirkconnel Lea

Oh Helen Fair beyond compare
I’ll mak a garland o’ thy hair
I’ll mak a garland o’ thy hair
Wrapped roon’ ma hairt forever mair
Until the day I dee

But curse the heart that hatched the thoucht
And curse the hand that fired the shot
Aye curse the hand that fired the shot
When in my arms my Helen dropped
And died for sake o’ me

But think na ye ma hairt was sair
My love droppit doon an’ spak nae mair
I laid her doon wi’ muckle care
Oh think na ye ma hairt was sair
On fair Kirkconnel Lea

For I found ma foe behin’ a wa’
I lichtit doon my sword tae draw
Stern was oor strife on Kirtleshaw
As I hacked him intae pieces sma’
Wha’d ta’en ma love frae me

I wish I was whaur Helen lies
For nicht and day on me she cries
I wish I was whaur Helen lies
On fair Kirkconnel Lea