> Cyril Tawney > Songs > The Nightingale / Bonny, Bonny

The Nightingale / Bonny, Bonny

[ Roud 32290 ; Henry H75b ; Ballad Index HHH075b ; Mudcat 169128 ; trad.]

Sam Henry’s Songs of the People

Frank Harte recorded The Nightingale in 2001 for his and Dónal Lunny’s album My Name Is Napoleon Bonaparte. This video shows him at Rocky’s Bar, Clonmany, Co. Donegal, on 25 March 1997:

Dan Milner sang The Nightingale on his 1998 Folk-Legacy album Irish Ballads & Songs of the Sea. He noted:

The need for sailors to man the Royal Navy often grew so acute that it was necessary to send gangs ashore to force (or press) civilians into duty. The practice continued into the mid-19th century. I thank Frank Harte, the splendid Dublin singer, for this exquisite Co. Antrim song. A similar yet still distinct version appeared as Bonny, Bonny in Songs of the People, a weekly feature in the Northern Constitution newspaper of Coleraine, Co. Antrim, between 1923 and 1939. In the end, it totaled some 850 songs and ballads. It was compiled largely by one man, Sam Henry.

Mark Dunlop sang The Nightingale in 2008 on his Greentrax CD Islands on the Moon.

Karan Casey sang Ther Nightingale in 2010 on her and John Doyle’s Compass album Exiles Return. She noted:

This song runs as a good anti-war ballad. It contrasts the cruelty of war with the pleasant rural life led by the singer. There is none of the bravado of war in this song, just the loneliness of being forced or “pressed” to be away from his beloved Nancy. Frank Harte sang this to me years ago and the original version can be found in Sam Henry’s collection.

Nick Dow sang The Nightingale on his 2018 album of unaccompanied traditional folk songs, Far and Wide. He noted:

From the singing of the late Frank Harte. To my knowledge there are no English versions of this song of a pressed man hoping to survive a foreign war. It may be found in the Sam Henry Collection and has been recently recorded by Mark Dunlop on his solo CD. There a some compelling images in the song.


Dan Milner sings The Nightingale

Oh woeful was the day when I was pressed to sail afar
And leave behind the girl I loved in the town of Ballinagard.
The shady groves were my delight till I was forced to sail.
You all may guess at my distress lying in the Nightingale.

Oh, grief and woe that I must go and fight for England’s King.
I do not know his friends or foe and war’s a cruel thing.
The Nightingale lies near at hand, my time alas is brief.
From pearling streams and mountain rills I part with bitter grief.

No more I’ll walk the golden hills with Nancy by my side
Or stroll along the sun-bright rills or view my land with pride.
We sail away at dawn of day. Our sails are ready set.
When Old Ireland’s shore I see no more, I will sigh with deep regret.

Now all is changed and I must range across the ocean wide.
Our ship she may in Biscay Bay be sunk beneath the tide.
If I should fall by a cannonball or sink beneath the sea,
Good people all, a tear let fall and mourn for mine and me.

But if God should spare my graying hair and bring me back again,
I will love far more my Antrim shore, it’s dark blue hills and glens.
Around my fire but one desire God grant till life shall fail
To keep me far from cruel war and from the Nightingale.