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The Rich Man’s Daughter

[ Roud 2987 ; trad.]

Packie Manus Byrne sang The Rich Man’s Daughter to Tony Engle and Mike Yates in London in 1974. It was released in 1977 on his Topic album Songs of a Donegal Man. Mike Yates commented in the sleeve notes:

Several ballads which Professor Child included in his English and Scottish Popular Ballads are concerned with the theme of incest between a brother and his sister and in both Sheath and Knife (Child 16) and Lizie Wan (Child 51) the ballads end with the sister’s death at the hands of her brother. Recent research has led Professor R.S. Thomson to suggest that these ballads stem from a scandal which occurred in the French Court of Henry of Navarre and which, no doubt. was soon a topic of conversation throughout Europe. The Rich Man’s Daughter clearly belongs to this tradition. However, as with Young Alvin, Packie appears to be the first person from whom this ballad has been collected. The text, which is full of romantic imagery, would seem to date from the latter half of the 19th century, although it is difficult to imagine that a poem dealing with an incestuous relationship could have been written at this time and, accordingly, one is tempted to believe that the piece may in fact be even more recent. Packie learnt the ballad in 1946 from Tom O’Connor of Cork when they were both employed as cattle drovers and he uses an air which is related to the well-known Boyne Water family of tunes.

Peta Webb sang The Rich Man’s Daughter in 1986 on her and Pete Cooper’s album The Heart Is True, and in 2000 on her and Ken Hall’s Fellside CD As Close As Can Be. She commented in the latter album’s notes:

The Rich Man’s Daughter, from Packie Byrne, Co. Donegal, is a grim but gripping ballad of incest and betrayal unexpected from such a wise, witty and entertaining character. Unlike the classic Child Ballads this offers no retribution. Only the song shames the sinner.

Rachel Newton sang Rich Man’s Daughter in 2008 on her and Lillias Kinsman-Blake’s Fellside CD Dear Someone. The liner notes commented:

Rachel learned this song from a recording, given to her by Chris Coe of Donegal’s great source singer and story-teller Packie Byrne.


Rachel Newton sings Rich Man’s Daughter

The rich man’s daughter lay on her bed
As morning stars were paling
Until her faithful servant maid
Her secret was unveiling.

“Do not tell my father dear,
Do not tell my mother.
But saddle a horse and ride to Bath
Wherein you’ll find my brother.

“Say I ask him to come home,
Our child is due tomorrow.
And if it be that he won’t come
Then I shall die of sorrow.”

So the maid she saddled a fleet young grey,
The fastest in the stable,
And unto Bath she rode that day
As fast as she was able.

She searched high and she searched low
Until at last she found him
In a tavern where the wine did flow
And many fair maidens round him.

“O master, O master,” the maid she cried,
“Your sister pines to meet you.
But she is sick and bearing child
And cannot ride to meet you.”

He thrust aside the maidens all,
His goblet he threw over,
Saying, “I must ride to my sister’s side
For once she was my lover.”

And when at her bedside he did stand
Her cries ran through the chamber,
Saying, “Brother, brother, take my hand
For this night I fear great danger.”

“Fear you not, my sister dear,
I’ll lift you from your covers
And carry you to the greenwood side
Where you and I were lovers.”

But when they arrived at the greenwood side
He said, “You foolish lover,
’Twas to take your life I’ve carried you here
Where noone will discover.”

And from his belt a blade he drew,
It was both sharp and slender.
And with one thrust he plunged it
Through her heart so young and tender.

And he buried her there that evening,
With grass her grave he covered.
And there she sleeps in the greenwood side
And never was discovered.

And the rich man’s daughter she died that day,
And her child it died within her.
And the rich man’s son still goes his way,
A vile and dreadful sinner.