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Willie's Fatal Visit

[ Roud 244 ; Child 255 ; Ballad Index C255 ; trad.]

Jeannie Robertson of Aberdeen sang Willie's Fate to Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy in 1955. This recording was published on the anthology The Child Ballads 2 (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 5; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968). Another recording of her singing Willie's Fatal Visit made by Bill Leader in 1967 was included in the same year on the Topic anthology The Travelling Stewarts. Carl MacDougall commented in the latter album's sleeve notes:

This ballad is from Peter Buchan’s Ballads of the North of Scotland, and is numbered 255 by Professor Child. The full story is of a maid who, inquiring after her lover, is told that he will be with her that night. The lover, Willie, is admitted and given the option of cards, dice, wine or bed. He chooses the latter, which, in Child’s opinion, is “a too familiar commonplace in Buchan’s ballads.” The maid, Meggie, charges the cock not to crow today, with the promise that:

your kame shall be o the gude red gowd,
and your wings o the siller grey.

However, the cock crows an hour too soon. Willie dresses, leaves his love and on the road home meets with a ghost, who smiles on him. “The ghost tears him to pieces, and hangs a bit ‘on every seat’ of Mary’s kirk, the head right over Meggie’s pew! Meggie rives her yellow hair.” Jeannie’s version takes up the story from Willie leaving Meggie. The implication that the ghost is Willie’s former sweetheart is not in the Buchan version.

Lizzie Higgins sang Willie's Fatal Visit on the 1977 album sampler of Jean Redpath's BBC Scotland television series, Ballad Folk.

Ray Fisher sang Willie's Fatal Visit, accompanied by Martin Carthy on guitar, on her 1991 Saydisc album Traditional Songs of Scotland. Her album's liner notes commented:

Here we have a composite version of this gruesome ballad taken from the singing of Lizzie Higgins of Aberdeen and the written text of the ballad in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, edited by the wondrous Francis James Child. The tune used in this version was suggested by Martin Carthy, the outstanding singer who has breathed life into countless ‘bookbound’ ballads. The faithless hero of this tale foresees his own death in verse three, and the reason for it in verse six.

Jack Beck sang Willie's Fatal Visit in 2001 on his Tradition Bearers CD Half Ower, Half Ower tae Aberdour. He commented in his liner notes:

This rarely collected ballad is from the singing of Ray Fisher, who reconstructed a fuller version than is normally heard, and used a tune suggested by Martin Carthy. At last, a ballad where the woman gets revenge—albeit posthumously.

Ellen Mitchell sang Willie's Fatal Visit on Kevin Mitchell's and her 2001 Musical Tradition anthology Have a Drop Mair.

Ellen: Again from Lizzie [Higgins], and I know her mother sang it too. Lizzie said this was based on a true story of a slighted girl who dies in childbirth. Her dead baby could be buried in consecrated ground but she was buried outside the churchyard, with rather terrifying results for William.

Although this ballad was published in three Scots song books, and in Child, it doesn't appear to have had a broadside printing, and the only named sources within the oral tradition have been Jeannie Robertson and her daughter Lizzie Higgins.

Alistair Ogilvy sang Willie's Fatal Visit in 2012 on his Greentrax album Leaves Sae Green.

Lucy Farrell and the Furrow Collective sang Willie's Fatal Visit in 2016 on their second album, Wild Hog. They commented in their liner notes:

Lucy heard Ray Fisher singing this gruesome ballad, accompanied by Martin Carthy, on her 1971 album Traditional Songs of Scotland. As Ray writes in her notes, it is a composite version from the singing of the Aberdeen singer Lizzie Higgins (whose mother Jeannie Robertson also sang the song) and a text printed in F.J. Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. The tune of this version, however, differs from that which Lizzie Higgins used, and was suggested to Ray Fisher by Martin Carthy.

Lyrics

Ray Fisher sings Willie's Fatal Visit Ellen Mitchell sings Willie's Fatal Visit

Does my love ride, or does he rin,
Or does he walk the woods amang?
He vow'd this nicht tae come tae me
Alas but my love tarries lang.

Hi disnae ride nor does he rin,
But fast walks he along his way.
He has mair mind on his fair-new love
Than he has o' the licht o' day.

He saw a hound draw near a hare,
And aye that hare draw near a toon,
And that same hound has won the hare,
But Willie's won tae ne'er a toon.

For as he gaed up yon high high hill,
And on and doon yon dowie den,
'Twas there he met wi' a greivious ghost
That wad fear ten thousand men.

Oh Willie's gaed ower yon high high hill,
And doon yon dowie den.
It was there he spied a grievious ghost
Would a feared a thousand men.

He's hurried on thro' Mary's Kirk
And on and doon by Mary's Stile,
And wan and weary was the ghost
That upon him grimly smiled.

Willie's gaed ower yon high, high hill
And doon by Mary's Stile,
Wan and weary was the ghost
That on him grimly smiled.

Aft hae ye traivell'd this road, Willie,
Aft hae ye traivell'd it in sin.
But ye'll never traivel this road again,
For your days on Earth are deen.

“Aft hae ye travelled this road, Willie,
Your new love for to see,
Aft hae ye travelled this road, Willie,
Wi ne'er a thought for me.

“Aft hae ye traivell'd this road, Willie,
Wi' ne'er a thocht o' charity,
But ye'll never traivel this road again,
For the slighting o' the bairn and me.

“Aft hae ye travelled this road, Willie,
Your bonny new love to see,
Wi ne'er a thought for your poor soul
When your sinful life is done.

“Aft hae ye traivell'd this road, Willie,
Your fair and new love to see.
But ye'll never traivel this road again,
For this nicht aveng'd I'll be.”

“Aft hae ye travelled this road, Willie,
Your new love for to see,
But you'll never travel this road again,
For tonight avenged I'll be.”

Then she has ta'en her perjur'd love,
An she has torn him fae gair tae gair,
And on ilka side o' Mary's Stile
O' Willie she has hung a share.

And she has ta'en her perjured love
An she's rieved him frae gare tae gare,
And on ilka side o' Mary's Stile
O him she's left a share.

His faither and mither both mak moan
His bonnie new love she grat sair,
His faither and mother both mak moan
And his new love tears her hair.

His faither and mother they both mak main
And his new love muckle mare,
His faither and mother they both mak main
And his new love rieves her hair.