This Irish song of unrequited love—and with the narrator something of a cad—is known as Peggy Bawn, Peggy Bann, Peggy Benn, or Peggy Band, meaning simply fair-haired Peggy. It has nothing to to with the mistaken-for-a-swan Polly Vaughan / Molly Bawn.
According to Lesley Nelson-Burns' Contemplator website, Peggy Bawn was printed in Vocal Companion (1796), where it was dated around 1772, and afterwards appeared in many collections. The tune is from J.L. Hatton and J.L. Molloy, Songs of Ireland (ca. 1879) and is listed there as “an old melody”.
Peter Bellamy recorded Peggy Bawn accompanied on concertina in 1974 for The First Folk Review Record. This track was included in 1999 on his Free Reed anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes and in 2001 on the Fellside CD reissue of Keep on Kipling. The original album's liner notes commented:
An obviously Irish tune collected in Norfolk by Peter Bellamy from the singing of Walter Pardon; how it got there is anyone's guess. Words and music were published in Folk Review, August 1974, and are copyrighted by Walter Pardon.
… which makes me wonder how a traditional song and tune can be copyrighted by a third party.
Walter Pardon himself sang Peggy Bawn at home in Knapton, Norfolk on 24 June 1978, recorded by Mike Yates and published on his 1982 Topic LP A Country Life. This track was also included as Peggy Benn on the Topic anthology Come Let Us Buy the Licence (The Voice of the People Volume 1; 1998). Mike Yates commented in the original album's notes:
The song Peggy Bawn was probably first printed in a Belfast chapbook that bears the date 1764, although no printer's imprint is shown. In 1788 William Shield included it in his opera Marian.
The song later appeared in several Irish collections and Colm Ó Lochlainn notes that it was “once very popular in Northern Ireland and among the Irish in Scotland.” Several English broadside printers also included the song among their wares usually calling it Peggy Band. When I asked Walter why he used the spelling “Bawn” (rather than, say, “Bann”) he told me that, during the war, a visiting Irishman hat spelt it thus when he had queried the point with him.
Jon Boden sang this song as Peggy Bann as the 4 January 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.
Bernie Cherry learned Peggy Benn from the singing of Walter Pardon. His version can be found on his 2013 Musical Traditions anthology With Powder, Shot and Gun. Rod Stradling commented in the album's booklet:
This song is something of a mystery because, although the text appears to be Scottish, it was probably first printed in a Belfast chapbook that bears the date 1764, although no printer’s imprint is shown. It was published, without music, in the Scottish Vocal Companion dated around 1772, and in The Scots Musical Museum (1787-1802). This tune is found in The Songs of Ireland and is listed there as “an old melody”. The song thereafter appears in many collections, and in 1788 William Shield included it in his opera Marian. The song later appeared in several Irish collections and Colm Ó Lochlainn notes that it was “once very popular in Northern Ireland and among the Irish in Scotland”. However, none of Roud’s 64 entries are from Scotland and only two are from Ireland!
There are several variations in the spelling of Bawn (presumably from the Gaelic bán = fair or white), Peggy Band, Peggy Ban, Peggy Baun, Peggy Bawne or Fair Peggy—Walter Pardon is the only listed singer to call her Peggy Benn.
Only two singers seem to have been recorded singing this song; Hugh Shields collected it from Margaret Byrne, in Donegal in 1968, and several people recorded Walter Pardon singing it, an example of which can still be heard on TSCD651.
Bernie: As soon as I heard Walter Pardon sing this I knew it was for me.
Peter Bellamy sings Peggy Bawn
As I wandered over Highland hills to a farmer's house I came;
The night being dark and something wet, I ventured in the same,
Where I was kindly treated, and a pretty girl I spied,
Who asked me if I had a wife but marriage I denied.
So I courted her all that long even till near the dawn next day,
When frankly unto me she said, “Along with you I'll go.
For Ireland is a fine country and you to the Scots are kin.
Oh I will go along with you, my fortune to begin.”
And daybreak being nearly come I into the house was ta'en;
Where the good man kindly asked me if I would wed his daughter Jane.
“One hundred pound I'll give to you, likewise a piece of land.”
But scarcely had he said them words when I thought of Peggy Bawn.
“Well your offer, sir, it is very good, and I thank you, too”, said I,
“But I cannot be your son-in-law, I'll tell you the reason why:
My business calleth me in haste, i am king's messenger bound,
Oh I cannot be your son-in-law, till I've seen the Irish ground.”
And Peggy Bawn, she is my jewel, my heart lies in her breast.
Although we at a distance are, still I do love her the best.
Although we at a distance are, and seas between us roar,
Yet I'll be constant to Peggy Bawn, so adieu forever more.