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Kelvin’s Purling Stream

[ Roud 3947 ; Ballad Index Ord345 ; trad.]

John Ord: Bothy Songs and Ballads

Tony Cuffe sang Kelvin’s Purling Stream on his posthumous 2003 Greentrax album Sae Will We Yet. Stuart Eydmann noted:

This is just one of many nineteenth and early twentieth-century songs which feature Scotland as the adopted home of Irish emigrants. Like a number of Tony’s favourite songs it was collected by John Ord, Superintendent of the Glasgow Police Force, and published in his Bothy Songs and Ballads of 1940. The River Kelvin runs through the West End of the city close to where Tony studied at Glasgow University in the 1970s.

Mick West sang Kelvin’s Purling Stream in 2009 on his Greentrax CD Sark o’ Snaw. The album’s booklet noted:

A broadside published by James Lindsay of 9/11 King Street, Glasgow gives us—

The Summer time being in its prime
The weather calm and clear,
My troubled mind no peace can find,
For thinking on my dear

And throughout the song refers to Lurgan and Glasgow. Lurgan, Co. Armagh, is featured in many other broadside ballads, mainly in conjunction with travelling and emigration. This ballad, however, focuses on returning to find an old flame at the height of summer’s bloom—so the atmosphere is one of hope and tranquillity. The song featured on many Lindsay’s publications, often being published with another love or summer poem. This would have heightened the audience’s enjoyment of the sheet, with one poem enhancing the other.

Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term ‘ballad’ eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topic.

A similar version was later published by John Ord, in Bothy Songs and Ballads, John Donald Publishers Ltd.

Mick originally found this version of the song in Songs and Ballads of Upper Clydesdale, A. Nimmo, Glasgow 1882.

The tune is based on a fine recording by the late Tony Cuffe.

Jim Malcolm sang Kelvin’s Purling Stream on his 2014 album The Corncrake. He noted:

I first heard Glasgow singer Mick West sing this delightful song. Also the late Tony Cuffe sang a great version. The Kelvin is a tributary of the Clyde, which flows through Glasgow though the upper reaches are still fairly rural. It mentions streams and fish—what’s not to like?

Fiona Ross sang Kelvin’s Purling Stream in 2020 on her and Shane O’Mara’s CD Sunwise Turn. She noted:

This dates back to the 1850s—a period when large numbers of Irish workers were immigrating to Scotland, and to Glasgow in particular. The River Kelvin flows through Partick where I grew up and lived till my early 20s. This wistful song always makes me reminisce on those years of my life.


Tony Cuffe sings Kelvin’s Purling Stream

The summer time being in its prime,
The weather calm and clear;
I left that town called Portadown,
Between me and my dear.
In Glasgow city I arrived
And to Woodside I came;
Where all alone I made my moan
To Kelvin’s purling stream.

“Ye stream,” said I, as I passed by,
“Give ear to what I say:
How can you roll without control,
Unto some foreign quay?
Your murmurs pain my bosom sore,
Here stands an honest boy;
He’ll ne’er prove false to the girl he loves
Till Kelvin’s stream runs dry.”

There’s many a pretty little fish
Swims in yon water clear;
There’s many a long and a weary mile
Between me and my dear.
There’s many a flower grows in yon bower
That would my fancy please,
But I’ll ne’er forget the lass I left
Who lives near Lurgan’s Braes.