> Steeleye Span > Songs > Mantle of Green

The Mantle so Green / Mantle of Green / Willy O' Reilly

[ Roud 714 ; Master title: The Mantle So Green ; Laws N38 ; G/D 5:1033 ; Henry H76 ; Ballad Index LN38 ; Bodleian Roud 714 ; Wiltshire 628 , 885 ; Mudcat 11494 ; trad.]

Sam Henry's Songs of the People

Jim O'Neill of Markethill, Co. Armagh, sang Her Mantle So Green to Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle at Markethill, Co. Armagh, on 12 July 1952. This recording was included in 1975 on the Saydisc anthology Traditional Songs of Ireland and 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).

Margaret Barry sang Her Mantle So Green on her 1957 Topic album Street Songs and Fiddle Tunes. This track was also included in 1965 as the title track of her Topic album Her Mantle So Green. Two versions, one of them with Michael Gorman on fiddle, are on her 1998 Rounder anthology I Sang Through the Fairs.

Robert Cinnamond of Belfast sang Willy O' Reilly on the anthology A Soldier's Life for Me (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 8; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970). This was also included with the title Young Willy Reilly in 1985 on his posthumous Topic album You Rambling Boys of Pleasure. Proinsias Ó Conluain commented in the latter album's sleeve notes:

Not Willie Reilly and His Colleen Bawn [Roud 537] but Willie Reilly, “my chief comrade in famed Waterloo”, whose “Nancy, lovely Nancy”, had she been there, would have helped him to die content. Belonging to the “broken token” category, the song is usually known as The Mantle So Green (see Ó Lochlainn, Irish Street Ballads, no. 7).

Richard Grainger sang Willy O'Reilly in 1984 on his Fellside album Herbs on the Heart.

Kevin Mitchell learned The Mantle So Green “from the singing of Jim O'Neill, Tyrone” and sang it on his 1996 Greentrax CD I Sang That Sweet Refrain.

Sheila Stewart sang Mantle So Green in 2000 on her Topic CD From the Heart of the Tradition.

Frank Harte sang Mantle of Green in 2001 on his album My Name Is Napoleon Bonaparte.

Maddy Prior sang Mantle of Green on Steeleye Span's 2004 CD They Called Her Babylon and live at The Rose Theatre Tewkesbury on 20 April 2004, published on both their video The 35th Anniversary World Tour and the CD The Official Bootleg. Ken Nicol commented in the first album's sleeve notes:

A “broken token ballad”. These are songs that typically contain the theme of two lovers dividing a “token”, normally in the form of a ring, then parting as he goes off to fight in some foreign land. When eventually he returns, by sheer coincidence their paths cross again, but she does not recognise him.

Nick Dow sang Her Mantle So Green in 2016 on his CD The Devil in the Chest. He noted:

I learned the tune and some of the words from the Gypsy Folk. The song is a broken token ballad.

This version of the song has been with the Travellers for over 100 years. I have found the verses once again from Colm Ó Lochlainn's Irish Street Ballads.

James Findlay sang Mantle of Green on Fellside's 2018 anthology Destination.

Ye Vagabonds sang Her Mantle So Green, “from the singing of Elizabeth Cronin, with some lyrical alterations,” on their 2022 CD Nine Waves. They noted:

Originally from Armagh singer Jim O'Neill, aided by ballad sheets found at ITMA and our friends Micheál Quinn and Andreas Schultz.


Kevin Mitchell sings The Mantle So Green

As I went a-walking one morning in June
To view the fair fields and the meadows in bloom,
I spied a fair female, she appeared like a queen,
In her costly fine robes and her mantle so green.

I stepped up to her, put her in surprise;
I own she did not know me, I being in disguise.
Says I, “Fairest creature, will you come with me?
Oh we'll join in wedlock and married we'll be.”

She says, “Oh no, young man, I must be excused,
For I'll wed with no man, so you must be refused.
To the green fields I will wander, to shun all men's view
Since the lad I love clearly is in famed Waterloo.”

“Well, since you will not marry me, will you tell me your love's name?
As I was in that battle, I ought to know the same.”
“Draw near to my garment, for it's there to be seen,
His name is embroidered in my mantle of green.”

At the raising of her mantle. it was there I beheld
His name and his surname in letters of gold.
Young Willie 0' Reilly appeared to my view,
“He was my chief comrade in famed Waterloo.

“Your love and I fought where the bullets did fly
And in the field of battle his body does lie.
We fought for four days till the fifth afternoon,
He received his death-summons on the eighteenth of June.”

When she heard the sad news she fell into despair,
With the wringing her hands and the tearing of her hair.
“To the green fields I will wander to shun all men's view
Since the lad I loved dearly lies in famed Waterloo.”

“Oh Nancy. lovely Nancy. it was I won your heart,
In your father's garden the day we did part;
In your father's garden so plain to be seen
I rolled you in my arms in your mantle of green.”

And now this couple's married, I've heard people say,
Great nobles attended their wedding day.
He dressed her in fine silk, she appeared like a queen
In her costly fine robes and her mantle of green.

Steeleye Span sing Mantle of Green

As I was a-walking one morning in June
To view the gay fields and the meadows in bloom,
I spied a young female, she appeared like some queen
With her costly fine robes round her mantle of green.

He said, “Lovely fair maid, if you will agree,
Then we'll join in wedlock and married we'll be.
I'll dress you in riches, you'll appear like some queen
With your costly fine robes round your mantle of green.”

She quickly made answer, “May you be excused,
For I'll wed with no man, you must be refused.
To the greenwoods I'll wander and shun all men too
For the lad that I love fell at famed Waterloo.”

“If you will not marry, tell me your love's name.
For I've been a soldier, and might know the same.”
“Draw near to my garment and soon you will see
His name I've embroidered on my mantle of green.”

Enrising of her mantle, it's there I behold
His name and his surname in letters of gold.
Young William O'Reilly it appeared to my view,
I cried, “He was my comrade at famed Waterloo.”

Now when that she heard it, the paler she grew.
She fell in his arms with her heart full of woe.
“Your heart I have wounded, the truth I declare
Here is your love's token, the gold ring I do wear.”

“In your father's garden, beneath a green tree,
We pledged our true love and long we'd agree.”
This couple got married, I've heard people say.
She wore a mantle of green on their wedding day.