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The Lakes of Shilin / Lakes of Cold Flynn / Loughinsholin

[ Roud 189 ; Laws Q33 ; G/D 2:228 ; Henry H176 ; Ballad Index LQ33 ; Bodleian Roud 189 ; Wiltshire Roud 189 ; trad.]

This Irish ballad tells the story of a young man going swimming in a lake and drowning. It is also known as Willie Lennox and Willie Leonard; and the lake is variously named Col Fin, Col Flynn, Cold Finn, Cool Flynn, Coolfin, Coephin, Coulfin, and Shilin. The named lake is no longer on the map. It may have been an expansion of the River Bann, which is mentioned in Willie Lennox.

Scan Tester sang The Lakes of Coalflin on May 27, 1960 at The Royal Oak, Milton Street. This recording by Brian Matthews was included in 2001 on the Musical Traditions anthology Just Another Saturday Night: Sussex 1960: Songs from Country Pubs. A second recording made by Frank Purslow and Ken Stubbs on October 26, 1960 in Copthorne, Sussex, was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology O'er His Grave the Grass Grew Green: Tragic Ballads (The Voice of the People Series, Vol 3). A further recording from 1965 was released in 1990 on his Topic anthology I Never Played to Many Posh Dances.

Goorge ‘Pop’ sang William Lennard on May 18, 1960 at The Cherry Tree, Copthorne. This recording by Brian Matthews was included in 2000 on Maynard's Musical Traditions anthology Down the Cherry Tree.

Mary Reynolds of Mohill, Co. Leitrim sang The Lakes of Shillin on the anthology album Fair Game and Foul (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 7; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).

Cathie Stewart sang The Lakes o' Shillin in a recording by Bill Leader in his home in Camden Town, London, in 1964 or 1965. This was published in 1965 on the Topic LP The Stewarts of Blair. Hamish Henderson commented in the album notes:

Irish songs have enjoyed tremendous popularity in Scots bothies and farm kitchens. Most of them were probably brought over by harvesters and itinerant labourers, though Greig thought that some at least may have been learned by Scots soldiers from Irish comrades-in-arms at camp-fire ceilidhs during the Napoleonic wars. This is undoubtedly an Irish song in origin—in P.W. Joyce's collection it is called The Lakes of Coolfin but it has been popular in Aberdeenshire for many years. Cathy learnt it from a North-Easter, Alec Stewart of Buckie. There is a version in Folk-Song of the North-East (article CXIV), and it was in the repertoire of the late John Strachan of Fyvie.

Oak sang The Lakes of Cool Flynn in 1971 on their album Welcome to the Fair, crediting Scan Tester as their source in their album's sleeve notes.

Tim Lyons sang The Lakes of Coolfin on his 1972 Trailer album The Green Linnet.

George Ling sang The Lakes of Coolfinn in a recording made by Keith Summers in 1974-75. It was released in 1977 on The Ling Family's Topic album Singing Traditions of a Suffolk Family and in 2006 on the Veteran CD of traditional songs and tunes from Suffolk, Good Hearted Fellows.

George Dunn sang a fragment of Young Leonard to Roy Palmer on October 29, 1973. This recording was included in 2002 on his Musical Traditions anthology Chainmaker. Roy Palmer and Rod Stradling commented in the booklet:

Otherwise known as the Lakes of Cold Finn, Coolfinn, Col Fin, Cold Stream, Shallin, Colephin—or Willie Lennard—this ballad is extremely widely distributed throughout the English-speaking world (except Australia), despite having only 72 Roud entries. Some scholars, including Phillips Barry, MacEdward Leach and G.  Malcolm Laws have tried to suggest that Willie was lured to his death by a water-woman who lived in the lake, thus linking the song with ballads such as Clerk Colville or Lady Alice (Child 42 and 85). Today, there is little support for such supposition and, as Tom Munnelly so poetically put it, “we must now let our Irish Clerk Colville sink, like Willie, beneath the waves” (Tom Munnelly, The Mount Callan Garland, Dublin, 1994. p.105).

Although there are several areas in Ireland with similar names, it is probable that our story was originally set either at Loughinsholin, near Garvagh, in Co Derry, or Lough Sillin, Co Cavan. At one time the clan living around the latter were the O'Flynns. The name of the song means “the lake(s) of the island of the O'Flynns”. P.W. Joyce collected it from Peggy Cudmore in Limerick in 1854 and printed it in 1873—it also appered in a number of other Irish and English broadsides shortly afterwards, which is possibly the reason it is so widespread.

Given that it appeared in print during the lifetimes of many of the singers who knew it, the variety of titles the song has attracted—particularly since the published Lakes of Cool Finn would be so obvious a choice—is quite astonishing. Some of the more interesting are Royal Comrade (Amy Birch following widespread Traveller tradition there), Johnny Bathin' (from Donegal), Billy Henry (Scotland), The Cruel Lake of Woolfrinn (New York) … and the almost inevitable 'Twas Early One Morning. For some reason, the song has remained popular to this day with Gypsies and other travellers.

Mary Ann Haynes sang Poor Leonard in a recording made by Mike Yates in 1972-75 that was released in 1975 on the Topic anthology of traditional songs from Sussex, Sussex Harvest, and in 2003 on the Musical Traditions anthology of gypsy songs and music from South-East England, Here's Luck to a Man.

Cyril Phillips sang The Lakes of Coolfin, on May 11, 1974 at the Lewes Arms, Mount Place, Lewes, Sussex. This recording made by Karl Dallas was released in the following year on the Transatlantic album The Brave Ploughboy: Songs and Stories in a Sussex Pub.

John Shiels and Robin Dawson sang The Lakes of Cool Finn in 1976 on a BBC Radio Carlisle recording that was included in the same year on the album The Best of BBC Radio Carlisle's Folk Workshop.

Amy Birch sang this ballad as Royal Comrade in a 1976 recording on the 1979 Topic anthology Devon Tradition. It was also included in 1998 on the Topic anthology My Father's the King of the Gypsies (The Voice of the People, Vol. 11).

Bob Davenport sang The Lakes of Coolfin on his and the Rakes' Topic album 1977 in, er, 1977.

Nic Jones recorded The Lakes of Shilin in 1978 for his fourth solo LP, From the Devil to a Stranger. As this album isn't available any longer, in 2006 Nic Jones published a CD of live performances from the late 1970s, Game Set Match, which also includes this song. He also sang it in two BBC Radio 1 John Peel sessions; one was recorded November 27, 1972 and broadcast December 12, 1972, the other was recorded October 14, 1975 and broadcast November 12, 1975.

Tom Lenihan sang The Lakes of Coolfin on his 1978 Topic album of songs traditional in West Clare, Paddy's Panacea.

Len Graham sang Loughinsholin in 1979 on his and Joe Holmes album on the Topic label, After Dawning.

Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick sang this ballad as Lakes of Cold Flynn live at Folk City, New York on October 27, 1983, again crediting Scan Tester as their source. This recording was included in 2001 on the anthology The Carthy Chronicles,

Tony Rose sang The Lakes of Shilin on his 1999 CD Bare Bones with very similar verses.

Chris Coe sang Young Leonard in 2001 on her Backshift CD A Wiser Fool.

Sheila Stewart sang Lakes o' Shillin at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2005. This recording was included a year later on the festival anthology For Friendship and for Harmony (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 2).

Jackie Oates sang Young Leonard in 2009 on her CD Hyperboreans.

Jim Causley sang Royal Comrade in 2011 on his WildGoose CD of songs from Devon, Dumnonia.

James Findlay sang Lakes of Shilin in 2011 on his Fellside CD Sport and Play.

Andy Turner sang The Lakes of Coolfin, as the June 29, 2013 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week, crediting Scan Tester via Bob Davenport.

Matt Quinn learned The Lakes of Coalflin from the singing of Scan Tester and recorded it for his 2017 CD The Brighton Line. He commented:

Irish in origin, this is one of the many versions found in Sussex. Scan Tester sang this for collectors on at least three different occasions.

Lyrics

George Ling sings The Lakes of Coolfin

It was early one morning young William arose
And away to his comrade’s bedchamber did go,
Saying, “Arise, oh my comrade and let no-one know,
For it’s a bright summer morning and a-bathing we’ll go.”

To the Lakes of Coolfin the companions then came
And the first one they met was a keeper of game.
“Oh, return, Billy Leonard, return once again,
There is deep and false waters in the Lakes of Coolfin.”

Young William plunged in and he swam the lake round
And he swam to an island of soft mossy ground,
Saying, “Comrade, oh, comrade, don’t you venture in,
There is deep and false waters in the Lakes of Coolfin.”

Then early next morning, his mother came there.
She was rubbing her hands and tearing her hair.
Saying, “Where was he drownded, where did he fall in,
In the deep and false waters in the Lakes of Coolfin.”

Nic Jones sings The Lakes of Shilin

Well it's early one morning Billy Henry arose
Straight to his comrade's bed-chamber he goes
Saying, “Rise, loving comrade, let nobody know,
To the dark and chilly waters a-bathing we'll go.”

So Billy he stripped and then he went in
And he swam the dark waters all round and around
Saying, “Oh my loving comrade, oh don't you go in
For I see there is a coffin in the Lakes of Shilin.”

But the other one, he stripped and then he went in
And he swam the dark waters all round and around
Saying “Oh my loving Billy, why did you go in
To the dark and chilly waters in the Lakes of Shilin.”

Now there was an old woman who lived there close by
She went to Billy's parents and she made this reply:
“Your son he went a-bathing as I've heard him say
And now your Billy Henry he's as cold as the clay.”

Down came his mother like one in despair,
She's a-wringing of her hands and a-tearing of her hair,
Saying, “Oh my Billy Henry why did you go in
To the dark and chilly waters in the Lakes of Shilin?”

So down came his father like one in despair,
He's a-wringing of his hands and a-tearing of his hair,
Saying, “I brought up a family of fine-bodied men,
And the best of them's drowned in the Lakes of Shilin.”

So it's down came his sweetheart like one in despair,
She's a-wringing of her hands and a-tearing of her hair,
Saying, “It's six months and better till my wedding day
And now me Billy Henry he's as cold as the clay.

So we'll go around to Martin's, to Martin's by the shore.
We'll hire us a small boat as we've done before
And we'll search the dark waters all around and all round
Till we see that Billy Henry's fair body is found.”

So they went around to Martin's, to Martin's by the shore
And they hired them a small boat as they'd done before.
And they searched the dark waters all around and all round
Till they saw that Billy Henry's fair body was found.

For to see Billy's funeral was such a fine sight:
There was six handsome young men all dressed up in white,
There was six pretty maidens all dressed up in green,
Just to show that he'd been drowned in the Lakes of Shilin.

Tony Rose sings The Lakes of Shilin

It was early one morning Billy Henry arose
Straight to his comrade's bed-chamber he goes
“Arise, loving comrade, let nobody know,
To the dark and chilly waters a-bathing we'll go.”

Oh Billy he stripped and then he went in
And he swam the dark waters all around and around
Crying, “Oh my loving comrade, oh don't you go in
For I see there is a coffin of the Lakes of Shilin.”

But the other one, he stripped and then he went in
And he swam the dark waters all around and around
Crying, “Oh my loving Billy, why did you go in
To the dark and chilly waters of the Lakes of Shilin.”

Now there was an old woman that lived there close by
She came to Billy's family and made this reply:
“Oh, your son he went a-bathing as I've heard him say,
But now your Billy Henry he's as cold as the clay.”

And it's down came his mother like one in despair,
All a-wringing of her hands and a-tearing of her hair,
Crying, “Oh my Billy Henry why did you go in
To the dark and chilly waters of the Lakes of Shilin?”

And it's down came his father like one in despair,
All a-wringing of his hands and a-tearing of his hair,
“Oh, I brought up a family of fine-bodied men,
And the best of them's lying in the Lakes of Shilin.”

And it's down came his sweetheart like one in despair,
She was wringing of her hands and a-tearing of her hair,
“Oh, it's six months and better till my wedding day
But now my Billy Henry he's as cold as the clay.

So we'll go around to Martin's, to Martin's by the shore.
And we'll hire us a small boat as we've done before
And we'll search the dark waters all around and around
Till we see that Billy Henry's fair body is found.”

So they went around to Martin's, to Martin's by the shore
And they hired them a small boat as they'd done before.
And they searched the dark waters all around and around
Till they saw that Billy Henry's fair body was found.

Oh, to see Billy's funeral, it was such a fine sight:
There was six handsome young men dressed up in white,
There was six pretty maidens all dressed up in green,
Just to show he'd been drowned in the Lakes of Shilin.
Oh, six pretty maidens all dressed up in green,
Just to show he'd been drowned in the Lakes of Shilin.

Martin Carthy sings Lakes of Cold Flynn

It was early one morning young William arose,
Straightaway to his comrade's bedchamber he goes;
Saying, “Comrade, dear comrade, don't let anyone know,
It is a fine morning and a-bathing we'll go.”

And as they were a-walking it was down a long lane,
And the first that they met with was a keeper of game.
“Oh William, dear William, do not adventure in,
For there's death in false waters in the lakes of Cold Flynn.”

Young William stepped in and he swam the lake around;
He swam round the island but not the right ground.
“Oh William, dear William, do not adventure in,
For there's death in false waters in the lakes of Cold Flynn.”

It was early that morning his sister arose,
Straightaway to her mother's bedchamber she goes.
“Oh mother, dear mother, I have had a strange dream,
Young William lies floating in a watery stream.”

It was early that morning his mother she was there,
She rowed round the island like one in despair.
“Oh where was he drownded, where did he fall in?
For there's death in false waters in the lakes of Cold Flynn.”

God bless his dear mother, she has reasons to mourn,
Likewise his dear sweetheart, she has reasons to mourn.
For every each other morning he did us salute
With the pink and white roses and the fresh garden fruit.

On the day of his funeral it'll be a grand sight,
There'll be four-and-twenty uncles and they're all dressed in white.
They'll carry him along and lay him in cold clay,
Saying adieu to young William and they'll all march away.

Acknowledgements

Martin Carthy's version transcribed by Garry Gillard.