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Moorlough Mary

[ Roud 2742 ; Henry H173 ; Ballad Index HHH173 ; Bodleian Roud 2742 ; James Devine]

Gale Huntington: Sam Henry's Songs of the People Seán O Boyle: The Irish Song Tradition Colm O Lochlainn: Irish Street Ballads

In Songs of the People, Sam Henry credited Moorlough Mary to James Devine of Loughash, Donemana, Co. Tyrone, c. 1876.

John Doherty sang Moorlough Mary in 1964 on his EFDSS LP of songs, stories and fiddle tunes, Pedlar's Pack. An earlier field recording made by Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle in in Glentie, Co.  Donegal, in August 1953 was included in 2014 on the Topic anthology The Flax in Bloom (The Voice of the People Volume 27).

Paddy Tunney sang Moorlough Mary in 1962 on his Folk-Legacy album The Man of Songs, which was reissued in 1978 on Mulligan as Lough Erne Shore Songs. Sean O Boyle noted:

The girl celebrated in this song belonged to the mountainy district of Moorlough near Strabane, on the way from Derry to Donnemana. The words were written by the poet Devine of the same district. Local tradition has it that, though they never married, he remained in love with her until they both were very old.

The versification shows how, even in the nineteenth century in Tyrone, the unsophisticated poets of the countryside had the ring of Gaelic metrics in their ears. The internal and final assonantal rhymes are placed so as to correspond exactly with the natural stresses of the melodic line, which the poet used as a rhythmic pattern. “I always write my poems to the lie of a good tune” was how a country poet once explained the process to myself. In the following verse, the stressed assonances are underscored:

Now I'll away to my situation
My recreation is all in vain;
On the River Mourne where the salmon's sporting,
The rocks reporting my plaintive strain;
Where the thrush and blackbird do join harmonious,
Their notes melodious on the river brae,
And the little song-birds will join in chorus:
“O Moorlough Mary, won't you come away?”

Paddy's version of the song is one of the most melodious of many. The song spread all over the north of Ireland on Ballad Sheets and was sung to various tunes. Different words and tunes are to be found in the following publications: Irish Street Ballads (Sign of the Three Candles, Fleet Street, Dublin, Ireland); Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, Vol. II, No. 21 and Vol. IX, No. 15.

Peta Webb sang Moorlough Mary in 1973 on her Topic album I Have Wandered in Exile. Reg Hall or A.L. Lloyd noted:

A local Strabane poet, name of Devine, wrote the words of this, with the ring of Gaelic poetry in his ears, hence all those internal rhymes and assonances. The song spread all over the North of Ireland on ballad sheets and singers seem to have fitted the words to pretty well any tune of the same metre that came into their head. Paddy Tunney sings it, Colm Ó Lochlainn prints it, two versions appear in the Journal of Irish Folk Song (vols II and IX), and always the words are much the same but the melodies are quite different. Peta Webb's tune is a variant of the one used in Scotland for The Bleacher Lass of Kelvinhaugh.

The O'Halloran Brothers (Des and Vince O'Halloran) sang Moorlough Mary in 1977 on their Topic album of Irish traditional music and song, The Men of the Island.

Josie McDermott sang Moorlough Mary in 1977 on his Topic album of traditional songs played on flute and whistle, and songs from Shilo, Darby's Farewell. Robin Morton noted:

Learned from the singing of Paddy Tunney. Moorlough is near Strabane. According to Seán O'Boyle (The Irish Song Tradition, 1976) the song was written by a local poet called Devine. He reports the tradition that though the poet never consummated his love in marriage, he remained in love with Mary for most of his life.

Boys of the Lough sang Moorlough Mary in 1980 on their Topic album Regrouped. They noted:

This song was composed at the latter end of the last century by James Devine, of Loughash, Donemana, Co. Tyrone. There are numerous airs and interpretations of this song to be heard in the North of Ireland. This version is mainly from Kevin Mitchell of Derry City (now residing in Glasgow). Cathal [McConnell] adds his own stamp with some changes and variations to the air.

Maggie Boyle sang four verses of Moorlough Mary in 2012 on her CD Won't You Come Away; the album's title is from the chorus of this song.

Cara Dillon sang Moorlough Mary on her 2014 CD A Thousand Hearts. This track was also included on the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2015 anthology.

Lyrics

Paddy Tunney sang Moorlough Mary

The very first time I met my Moorlough Mary
'Twas in the market of sweet Strabane.
Her killing glances were so engaging
The hearts of young men she did trepan.
Her killing glances bereft my senses
Of peace and comfort either night or day,
And in silent slumbers I start and murmur,
“O Moor lough Mary, won't you come away?”

Were I a man of great education
Or Erin's Isle at my own command,
I would lay my head on your snowy bosom,
In wedlock bands, love, we'd join our hands.
I would entertain you both night and morning,
With robes I'd deck you both night and day,
And with kisses sweet, love, I would embrace you;
O Moorlough Mary, won't you come away?

On Moorlough's banks, now, no more I'll wander
Where heifers graze on yon pleasant soil,
Where lambkins sporting, fair maids resorting,
The timorous hare and blue heather bell;
I would press my cheese while my wool's a-teasing,
My ewes I'd milk by the break of day,
While the whirring moorcock and lark allures me,
O Moorlough Mary, won't you come away?

Now I'll away to my situation,
My recreation is all in vain;
On the River Mourne where the salmon's sporting,
The rocks re-echoing my plaintive strain;
Where the thrush and blackbird do join harmonious,
Their notes melodious on the river brae,
And the little song-birds will join in chorus:
“O Moorlough Mary, won't you come away?”

Now it's fare you well, my own charming Mary,
Ten thousand times I bid you adieu;
While life remains in my glowing bosom
I'll never cease, love, to think on you.
Now I'll away to some lonely valley
With tears bewailing both night and day
In some silent arbor when none can hear me,
Since, Moorlough Mary, you won't come away.

Maggie Boyle sings Moorlough Mary

The first time I saw young Moorlough Mary
'Twas at the market of sweet Strabane.
Her smiling countenance was so engaging,
The hearts of young men she did trepan.
Her killing glances bereaved my senses
Of peace and comfort both night and day.
In my silent slumber I start with wonder,
O, Moorlough Mary, won't you come away?

To see my darling on a summer's morning,
When Flora's fragrance bedecks the lawn,
Her neat deportment and manner courteous,
Around her sporting the lamb and fawn.
On you I ponder where'er I wander,
And still grow fonder, sweet maid, of thee.
By thy matchless charms, love, I am enamoured.
O, Moorlough Mary, won't you come away?

On Moorlough banks will I never wander,
Where heifers graze on a pleasant soil,
With lambkins sporting, fair maids resorting,
The timorous hare and blue heather bell,
I'll press my cheese while my wool's a-teasing.
My ewes I'll milk at the peep o' day.
While the whirring moorcock and lark alarms me
From Moorlough's banks I will never strain.

Were I a man of great education,
And Erin's Nation at my own command,
I'd lay my hand on your snowy shoulder,
In wedlock's portion I'd take your hand.
I'd entertain you both night and morning,
With robes I'd deck you both bright and gay.
With jewels rare, love, I would adorn you.
O, Moorlough Mary, won't you come away?