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The Constant Farmer’s Son

[ Roud 675 ; Master title: The Constant Farmer’s Son ; Laws M33 ; G/D 2:221 ; Henry H806 ; Ballad Index LM33 ; VWML FK/15/248/1 ; Bodleian Roud 675 ; GlosTrad Roud 675 ; Wiltshire 384 ; trad.]

George Belton of Madehurst, Arundel, Sussex, sang The Constant Farmer’s Son to Sean Davies and Tony Wales on 29 January 1967. This recording was included in the same year on his EFDSS album All Jolly Fellows …. Tony Wales commented in the sleeve notes:

This is a classic love story, as used by Boccaccio, Keats and Hans Sachs. (The same story is also found in the song Bruton Town.) Although fairly well known, it does not appear in the Child collection of English and Scottish Ballads. Versions were printed in Broadwood: English Traditional Songs and Ballads; and the Folk Song Society Journal.

John Maguire of Co. Fermanagh sang The Constant Farmer’s Son to Robin Morton in 1972. This recording was released a year later on his Leader album Come Day, Go Day, God Send Sunday.

Josie Connors sang The Constant Farmer’s Son to Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie, probably in Langley, near Slough, in 1973-83. This recording was released in 1964 on the VWML cassette of songs of Irish travellers in England, Early in the Month of Spring, and in 2003 on the extended Musical Traditions anthology From Puck to Appleby. Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie commented in the latter’s booklet:

The plot of The Constant Farmer’s Son was used in the 14th century by Boccaccio in The Decameron and later made the subject of poems: by Nuremberg poet Hans Sachs in the 16th century and, in the early 19th century, by John Keats in his Isabella and the Pot of Basil.

Based on an older song, The Bramble Briar or Bruton Town, which has been described as “probably the song with the longest history in the English tradition”, it owes its continued popularity to its appearance on nineteenth century broadsides. A version from Hertfordshire in 1914 gives it as Lord Burling’s (or Burlington’s) Sister or The Murdered Serving Man.

As well as being found widely in England, it is very popular in Ireland, though it has only appeared in print there a couple of times. It is included in the Sam Henry Collection which gives four sources and, more recently it was included in Fermanagh singer John Maguire’s autobiographical Come Day, Go Day, God Send Sunday. Josie learned it from her mother, a Dublin Traveller.

Louis Killen sang The Constant Farmer’s Song on the 2003 CD Irish Songs From Old New England. Dan Milner commented in the liner notes:

Sam Henry, the Irish folk song collector who corresponded extensively with Helen Hartness Flanders, included a text of The Constant Farmer’s Song in his weekly newspaper column in 1939 calling it a “universal favourite”. The Flanders singer was Annie Syphers of Monticello, Maine. Singing now is Louis Killen who was born in Gateshead, Co. Durham, England, of Irish parentage. Lou is widely regarded as a ballad singer of the highest stature. He lived for many years in Maine and Massachusetts and sang for seven years with the Clancy Brothers.

Andy Turner learned The Constant Farmer’s Son from Josie Connor’s recording and sang it as the 8 March 2014 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.


Josie Connors sings The Constant Farmer’s Song

There being a lovely lady near Limerick town did dwell,
She was admired by lords and squires, her parents loved her well;
She was modest fair and handsome, with all her hopes in vain,
There being but one, a farmer’s son, that young Mary’s heart could gain.

For a long time Willie courted her and appointed the wedding day,
But all of her parents gave consent and the brothers they did say:
“There is one young lord have placed his word and him you shall not shun,
For we’ll betray and we will slain your constant farmer’s son.”

There being a fair not far from there, the brothers went straight away,
And asked young Willie’s company with them to spend the day.
The day being gone and the night rolled on, they said, “Your race is run.”
’Twas with two sticks they took the life of my constant farmer’s son.

As Mary lay on her pillow soft, she had a sadful dream,
She dreamed she seen her own true love lying by a russell stream.
She then have ’rose, put on her clothes, to seek her love she run.
’Twas pale and cold she did behold her constant farmer’s son.

The tears rolled down her cherry cheeks and mingled in her gore, [his]
And to release her troubled mind, she kissed him more and more.
She got the green leaves from the tree to shade him from the sun,
Three nights and days she passed away with her constant farmer’s son.

’Til hunger it crept over, poor girl fell down in grief and woe,
And to acquaint her parents, it is home straight away she did go.
“Oh, parents dear, you soon shall hear the dreadful deed that is done,
In yon green vale lies cold and pale my constant farmer’s son.”

Up steps the youngest brother who says, “It was not me.”
The same reply the other, aye, who swore most bitterly.
Young Mary says, “Don’t be afraid to try the law to shun.
Youse done the deed and youse shall bleed for my constant farmer’s son.”

Oh, now the two are taken and locked all in a cell,
Surrounded by cold irons, aye, and their sad face to be seen.
The jury found them guilty and for the same were hung;
In a madhouse cell, young Mary did dwell, for her constant farmer’s son.

Louis Killen sings The Constant Farmer’s Song

There was a fair damsel in London Town did dwell.
She was proper, tall and handsome; her parents loved her well.
She was admired by lords and squires but all their hope was vain
For there was one old farmer’s son who Mary’s heart did gain.

A long time they courted and appointed the wedding day.
Her parents they consented but her brothers they did say,
“A wealthy lord has pledged his words and him she shall not shun.
We’ll first betray and then we’ll slay the constant farmer’s son.”

There being a fair all out of town her brothers went to play:
They invited young William with them to spend the day.
When mark—returning home again—they said his race was run
And with a stake the life did take of the constant farmer’s son.

As Mary on her pillow lay she dreamed a dreadful dream,
She dreamed she saw her William dear down by a flowery stream.
She then arose, put on her clothes to seek her love did run
There dead and cold she did behold the constant farmer’s son.

She gazed on his rosy cheeks all mangled in his gore.
She kissed his ruby lips and she kissed them ten times o’er and o’er.
She pulled the green leaves from the trees to shade him from the sun,
While night and day she spent her way with the constant farmer’s son.

Hunger came on this poor girl, she wept with grief and woe;
To find out his murderers, she straightway home did go.
“Oh, parents dear, you soon shall hear of a dreadful deed that’s done,
In yonder vale lies cold and pale the constant farmer’s son.”

Her brothers they confessed their guilt and for the same they died
While Mary on her pillow lay and never ceased from crying.
“Oh, parents dear, you’ll soon find the glass of life has run!”
And Mary cried and in sorrow died for the constant farmer’s son.