> Martin Carthy > Songs > Mary Neal

(Charming) Mary Neal

[ Roud 142 ; Laws M17 ; Henry H55 ; Ballad Index LM17 ; MusTrad MT234 ; Bodleian Roud 142 ; trad.]

Colm O Lochlainn, Irish Street Ballads Gale Huntington: Sam Henry’s Songs of the People

Peter Donnelly sang John McCann (Charming Mary Neill) to Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle at Castlecaufield, Co. Tyrone, on 23 July 1952. This recording was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology of ballads sung by British and Irish traditional singers, Good People, Take Warning (The Voice of the People Volume 23).

Martin Carthy sang Mary Neal unaccompanied on his 1974 album Sweet Wivelsfield. He noted:

From [Marina Russell of Upwey, Dorset] also, comes Mary Neal of which she had three verses, so I took the liberty of filling it out from other printed sources.

M.A. Harron’s article The Ballad of Mary Neill refers to a broadside ballad published by the Glasgow stationer James Lindsay in between 1860 and 1880 and included by Colm Ó Lochlainn’s in his 1939 book Irish Street Ballads. With eleven verses it is much longer than Martin Carthy’s version, gives another location for the ship’s disaster in Crossford Bay, and has a happier end: Mary Neal gets rescued and her father reconciles with the couple.


Martin Carthy sings Mary Neal

I am a young and undaunted youth my name is John McCann,
I am a native of Edinburgh and willing to trepan.
For the stealing of an heiress I was laid and left in gaol
And her father says he would hang me for stealing Mary Neal.

All in cold irons I lay bound and my love sent word to me:
“Don’t you fear my father’s anger for I will set you free
There’s a good ship that lies awaiting from Derry for to go
And I will bribe the captain that he’ll let no-one know.”

I gave consent and back she went and she stole away her clothes
And to not a one that was in the house her mind she did make known.
We have joined our hands in wedlock bands before that we set sail;
For her father’s wrath I valued not for I loved my Mary Neal.

It was on the proud and the swelling sea our ship did gently glide,
All on our passage to Quebec six weeks a matchless tide.
Until we come to Whitehead Bay we had no cause to wail
But on Whitehead Bay all on that day I lost my Mary Neal.

On the ninth of June in the afternoon a heavy fog come on.
Our captain cries, “Look out, my boys, or else we are all gone.”
Our vessel on the sandy bank was driven by a gale
And forty were washed overboard all along with Mary Neal.

Now many were the lines we threw all in the foaming spray,
And many were the times I dived but I could not find Mary
Till her yellow locks come a-floating all along the wave so high
And it’s now I must stand me trial for a-stealing Mary Neal.


Transcribed by Garry Gillard. Thanks to Wolfgang Hell.