> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > The Maid on the Shore
> Martin Carthy > Songs > Fair Maid on the Shore
> Frankie Armstrong > Songs > Maid on the Shore
> Eliza Carthy > Songs > Maid on the Shore

[Fair] Maid on the Shore / The Mermaid

[ Roud 181 ; Laws K27 ; Ballad Index LK27 ; MusTrad DB24 ; Mudcat 51828 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang The Maid on the Shore in 1956 on his Tradition album The Foggy Dew and Other Traditional English Love Songs. He noted:

As the song comes to us, it is the bouncing ballad of a girl too smart for a lecherous sea captain. But a scrap of the ballad as sung in Ireland hints at something sinister behind the gay recital. For there, the girl is a mermaid or siren. So the song the girl sang may once have been the song Homer spoke of, with which the strange bird-women beguiled unwary seamen, and the sailor's deep sleep may have been, in earlier sets of the ballad, the sleep of death.

Peggy Seeger sang The Fair Maid by the Shore on her 1957 Topic album Eleven American Ballads and Songs, which was reissued in 1996 as part of her Fellside CD Classic Peggy Seeger, Alan Lomax noted on the original album:

Unaccompanied, Peggy sings one of the very few songs about mermaids to be found in the English language. Originating from around Newfoundland and New England, this song, like many of the inhabitants of that territory, has its roots deep in Gaelic tradition. It is probably the English language version of an old Gaelic myth.

Martin Carthy sang Fair Maid on the Shore in 1966 on his Second Album. A live recording with Dave Swarbrick at the Folkus Folk Club in the same year is available on Both Ears and the Tail. Martin Carthy noted on his original recording:

Bronson in his Tunes of the Child Ballads lists Fair Maid on the Shore as a variant on the Broomfield Hill theme, where a young girl extricates herself from a nasty predicament by employing a mixture of guile and magic. The story of a siren, whether benevolent, malevolent or just plain amoral, is quite widely diffused in Europe but is not so common in England. Learned originally from the vast repertoire of A. L. Lloyd.

Frankie Armstrong sang Maid on the Shore in 1972 on her LP Lovely on the Water; this track was re-released on the Topic theme CDs The Bird in the Bush: Traditional Songs of Love and Lust and Round Cape Horn: Traditional Songs of Sailors, Ships and the Sea. A.L. Lloyd noted on Frankie Armstrong's version:

Another girl trickster, but this time perhaps she's no ordinary girl at all. Seemingly at the mercy of a crew of rough sailors, she extricates herself with such aplomb that it's no wonder some country folk call the song The Mermaid. The evocation of moonlight through the song seems to emphasise a supernatural atmosphere, though the delicate wit of it keeps the song's feet on the ground.

John Lyons sang The Maid on the Shore in 1974 on his Topic album The May Morning Dew. A.L. Lloyd and Sandra Kerr noted:

Patrick Joyce first printed this ballad in his Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (Dublin, 1909), and he boldly titled it: The Mermaid. There's nothing to say that the artful heroine was anything other than human, but nonetheless there's something uncanny in the way that she sings herself out of the delicate fix she's in, among those licentious sailors. The song has its European ancestors, Nordic and Romance. In a French version, L'epee liberatrice, it's a sailor who sings the girl asleep to facilitate the abduction. It's been more often reported from America than from Britain, but that's sheer chance. John Lyons got it “from an old tape of Eamon Butler and the Chieftains”.

Stan Rogers sang Maid on the Shore on his 1977 album Fogarty's Cove.

Jacqui McShee sang The Maid on the Shore in 1980 on the John Renbourn Group's Transatlantic album The Enchanted Garden. John Renbourn noted:

For once the young woman gets the better of the situation. A sea captain offers all his wealth to his crew to lure a young woman on board his ship, but she turns the table on all of them, and keeps her liberty, taking with her all the “Gold and Silver” on board. I first heard this song sung by Peggy Seeger.

Cyril Tawney sang The Maid on the Shore on his 1992 cassette In Every Port: More Songs of Seafarers and the Fairer Sex. This track was also included in 2003 on his CD Nautical Tawney: Songs of the Old Seafarers.

Sandra and Nancy Kerr sang The Maid on the Shore in 1996 on their Fellside CD Neat and Complete. They noted:

John Lyons, the delightful singer from Co. Clare, came over to England some twenty five years ago to record an LP for Topic. Sandra kept him company in the studio and wrote some sleeve notes. This song was on the album. When asked “John, in the song is it ‘booty so gay’ or ‘beauty so gay’?”, he said “Yes”.

Niamh Parsons sang The Maid on the Shore in 1999 on her Green Linnet album Blackbirds & Thrushes. She noted:

John Lyons recorded a version of this on his The May Morning Dew album on Topic, which was the first time I heard it—but I learned this version from my father, who got it from Martin Carthy. The song is attributed to A.L. Lloyd. I love the way my father sings it.

Eliza Carthy learned The Maid on the Shore from Cyril Tawney's CD and recorded it with the Ratcatchers (Jon Boden, Ben Ivitsky, and John Spiers) for her 2005 album Rough Music. She noted:

Girls have always fancied that the sound of their voice could possibly lull a man, or perhaps a forest full of enchanted creatures, into doing exactly what they want. But perhaps she really is magic. Songs where the hero or heroine tricks someone, fools him of her into falling in love or getting into a compromising position are quite common. Doesn't seem very nice, but it's true, and the tradition can be seen carrying on to this day in hilarious adverts for cleaning products.

This is a video of Eliza Carthy and the Ratcatchers playing Maid on the Shore at Buxton Opera House in 2007:

Rachael McShane sang Maid on the Shore in 2009 on her CD No Man's Fool.

Jon Boden sang Maid on the Shore to Frankie Armstrong's tune (instead of the above Ratcatchers' version) as the 29 March 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

The Askew Sisters sang The Maid on the Shore in 2014 on their RootBeat CD In the Air or the Earth. They noted:

The young woman in The Maid on the Shore finds herself crossing a very different boundary, that between the land and the sea. We don't know much about her, perhaps she is some kind of siren, but being on the shore seems to be woven into her identity and she is never referred to by any other name. There is a very dark story at the heart of this song and unlike a conventional siren, the maid uses her power to escape peril rather than lure the sailors into danger, and just decides to steal a few of their valuables on the way! This song is full of references to nature and the elements, and the age-old association of women with the moon also seems to run through it. Our text is collated from the many versions collected in the USA and Canada, and Hazel composed a new version of the tune to set it to.

This video shows the Askew Sisters at Wickham Festival in 2015:

Gudrun Walther and J├╝rgen Treyz sang Maid on the Shore on their 2017 CD Duo. They noted:

Versions of this song exist in Ireland, Scotland, England, and Newfoundland. The general plot (girl preserves her virginity with cunning/magic) is told in many songs all across Europe, Germany amongst them.

Kris Drever sang The Fair Maid on the Shore on his 2019 mini-album Hill and Shore.

Rachel Newton sang Maid by the Shore on her 2020 album To the Awe. She noted:

Lyrics and music based on a version recorded by Peggy Seeger on her 1957 album Eleven American Ballads and Songs.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings Fair Maid on the Shore

Oh it's of a sea captain who sailed the salt sea
And the moon it shone gentle and clear-o.
“I will die, I will die,” the captain did cry,
“If I can't have that maiden who walks on the shore,
If I can't have that maid on the shore.”

So the sailors all got in the very long boat
And it's off for the shore they did steer-o,
Saying, “Ma'am if you please will you enter on board
To view a fine cargo of costly ware,
To view a fine cargo of ware.”

Now it's with much persuasion they got her on board
And the moon it shone gentle and clear-o,
And she sat herself down in the stern of the boat
And off for the ship the bold sailors did steer,
And it's off for the ship they did steer.

And when they've arrived alongside of the ship
Oh the captain he spat out his chew-o,
Saying, “First you will lie in my arms all this night
And then I'll hand you to me jolly young crew,
Then I'll hand you right back to me crew.”

“Oh thank you, oh thank you,” this young girl she cried,
“Oh that's just what I've been awaiting for:
For I've grown so weary of my maidenhead
As I walked all alone on the rocky old shore,
As I walked all alone on the shore.”

So she sat herself down in the stern of the ship
How the moon it shone gentle and clear-o,
And she sung so neat, genteel and complete,
She sung the sailors and captain right off to sleep,
She sung sailors and captain to sleep.

And she's robbed them of silver, she's robbed them of gold,
And she's plundered their bright costly ware-o.
And the captain's bright sword she's took for an oar
And she's paddled right back to that rocky old shore,
And she's paddled right back to the shore.

“Oh were my men drunk or were my men mad
Or were they sunk deep in despair-o
That they let her away with her beauty so gay?
And now she's a maiden once more on the shore,
She's a maiden once more on the shore.”

“Now your men were not drunk and your men were not mad
Nor were they sunk deep in despair-o.
But I deluded your crew and likewise yourself too,
And again I'm a maid on the rocky old shore
And again I'm a maid on the shore.”

Frankie Armstrong sings Maid on the Shore

Well it's of a sea captain who sailed the salt sea
And the moon it shone gentle and clear-o.
“I'll die, I'll die,” this captain did cry,
If I can't have that maid who walks on the shore,
If I can't have that maid on the shore.”

“Well I have got silver and I have got gold
And a-plenty of costly fine ware-o,
Well I'll give half to you, oh me gallant young crew,
If you fetch me that girl who walks on the shore,
If you fetch me that girl on the shore.”

So the sailors they got them a very long boat
And off for the shore they did steer-o,
Saying, “Ma'am if you please will you enter on board
To view a fine cargo of costly ware,
For to view a fine cargo of ware.”

With much persuading they got her on board
And the moon it shone gentle and clear-o,
She sat herself down in the stern of the boat
And back for the ship the young sailors did steer,
And back for the ship they did steer.

And when they arrive alongside of the ship
The captain he spat out his chew-o,
Saying, “First you will lie in my arms all this night
And then I'll give you to me jolly young crew,
And then I'll give you to me crew.”

“Oh thank you, oh thank you,” this young girl she cried,
“It's just what I've been waiting for-o:
For I've grown so weary of my maidenhead
As I walked all alone on me rocky old shore,
As I walked all alone on the shore.”

She sat herself down in the stern of the ship
And the moon it shone gentle and clear-o,
She sang so sweet and so neat and complete,
She sang sailors and captain right fast asleep,
She sang sailors and captain asleep.

And she robbed 'em of silver, she robbed 'em of gold,
She plundered that costly fine ware-o.
The captain's bright sword she's took for an oar
And she paddled right back to her rocky old shore,
She paddled right back to the shore.

“Oh were my men drunk or were my men mad
Or were they sunk deep in despair-o
That they let her away with her beauty so gay?
And the sailors all wished that that sweet maid was there,
How the sailors all wished she was there.”

“Now your men they weren't drunk and your men they weren't mad
And neither sunk deep in despair-o.
But I deluded your crew and likewise yourself too,
Captain, now I'm a maid on me rocky old shore
I'm a maiden once more on the shore.”

Sandra and Nancy Kerr sing The Maid on the Shore

It's of a fair maiden who walked all alone,
She walked all alone on the shore-O.
And no-one could she find for to calm her sweet mind
As she walked all alone on the shore, the shore,
She walked all alone on the shore-O.

It's of a sea-captain who sailed a fine ship,
The weather was pleasant and clear-O.
“I shall die, I shall die,” this young captain did cry,
“If I can't have the maid on the shore, the shore,
If I can't have the maid on the shore-O.

This captain had silver, this captain had gold,
This captain had fine costly ware-O.
And all these would he give to this pretty fair maid
If she'd please take a sail from the shore, the shore,
If she'd please take a sail from the shore-O.

After many persuasions they got her on board,
The captain he set down a chair-O.
He invited her down to his cabin below.
Farewell sorrow, farewell now dull care-O,
Farewell sorrow farewell now dull care-O.

“I'll sing you a song,” this fair maiden did cry,
The captain was weeping for joy-O.
But she sang it so sweetly, so neat and completely,
She sang sailors and captain to sleep-O,
She sang sailors and captain to sleep-O.

Then she's robbed him of silver, she's robbed him of gold,
Robbed him of fine costly ware-O.
And the captain's broadsword she has used as an oar
And she's rowed herself back to the shore, the shore,
She's rowed herself back to the shore-.

Now the captain was mad but the captain was sad,
He was deeply sunk down in despair-O
To see her go away with her booty (sic) so gay,
With her rings and her things and her fine fare-O,
Her rings and her things and her fare-O.

“Now your men must be mad and your men must be sad,
And your men must be deep in despair-O.
For I've robbed you of silver, I've robbed you of gold
And again I'm a maid on the shore, the shore,
Again I'm a maid on the shore-O.”

Eliza Carthy sings Maid on the Shore

There was a young maiden who lived all alone,
She lived all alone on the shore-o.
There was nought she could find that would comfort her mind
But to roam all alone on the shore, shore, shore,
But to roam all alone on the shore.

There was a young captain who sailed the salt sea,
Let the winds blow high or blow low-o.
“O, I'll die! O, I'll die!” that young captain did cry,
“If I don't get that maid on the shore, shore, shore,
If I don't get that maid on the shore.”

“I've got lots of silver, I've got lots of gold,
And I've got lots of costly ware-o.
I'll divide, I'll divide,” this young captain did cry,
“If they'll bring me the maid from the shore, shore, shore,
If they'll bring me the maid from the shore.”

So with long persuading they got her on board,
Let the winds blow high or blow low-o,
Then he sitted her down in his cabin below.
Here's adieu to all sorrows and care, care, care,
Here's adieu to all sorrows and care.

The night being so still and the water so calm,
Let the winds blow high or blow low-o.
She sang charming and sweet, she sang neat and complete,
She sang sailors and captain to sleep, sleep, sleep,
She sang sailors and captain to sleep.

Then she robbed him of silver, she robbed him of gold,
She robbed him of costly ware-o.
And she stole his broadsword for to make her an oar
And she rowed herself back to the shore, shore, shore,
And she rowed herself back to the shore.

“Well, were my men stupid or were my men drunk
Or were my men deep in despair-o?
For to let you away with your beauty so gay
For to roam once again on the shore, shore, shore,
For to roam once again on the shore.”

“No, your men they weren't stupid, your men they weren't drunk,
Your men weren't so deep in despair-o.
I deluded your sailors as well as yourself,
I'm a maiden once more on the shore, shore, shore,
I'm a maiden once more on the shore.”

Rachael McShane sings Maid on the Shore

It's of a fair maiden who walked all alone,
She walked all alone on the shore-o.
No-one could she find for to calm her sweet mind
As she walked all alone on the shore, the shore,
As she walked all alone on the shore.

It's of a sea captain who sailed a fine ship,
The weather was pleasant and clear-o.
“I shall die! I shall die!” this young captain did cry,
“If I can't have that maid on the shore, the shore,
If I can't have that maid on the shore.”

This captain had silver and this captain had gold,
This captain had fine costly ware-o.
And these would he give to this pretty fair maid
If she'd please take a sail from the shore, the shore,
If she'd please take a sail from the shore.

After many persuasions they got her on board,
The captain he's set down a chair-o.
He's invited her down to his cabin below.
Farewell sorrow, farewell now dull care-o,
Farewell sorrow, farewell now dull care.

“I will sing you a song,” this young maiden did cry,
The young captain was weeping with joy-o.
She sang to them sweetly, so neat and completely,
Sang sailors and captain to sleep-o,
Sang sailors and captain to sleep.

Then she's robbed them of silver, she's robbed them of gold,
She's robbed them of fine costly ware-o.
The captain's broadsword she has used as an oar
And she's rowed herself back to the shore, the shore,
She's rowed herself back to the shore.

The captain was mad and the captain was sad,
The captain was deep in despair-o
To see her go away, with her beauty so gay
And her rings and her things and her fine fare-o,
Her rings and her things and her fine fare

“Now your men must be mad and your men must be sad,
And your men must be deep in despair-o
For I've robbed you of silver and I've robbed you of gold
And again I'm a maid on the shore, the shore,
Again I'm a maid on the shore.”

Acknowledgements

Martin Carthy's version transcribed by Garry Gillard and Reinhard Zierke. Thanks to Roberto Campo and Uilm Abruzzo for transcribing from Eliza Carthy's singing.