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The Flower of Sweet Strabane

[ Roud 2745 ; G/D 4:722 ; Ballad Index HHH224a ; trad.]

Margaret Barry sang The Flower of Sweet Strabane to Ewan MacColl on March 10, 1955. This recording was included a year later on her Riverside album Songs of an Irish Tinker Lady, and in 1965 on her Topic album with Michael Gordon Her Mantle So Green. An earlier recording made by Peter Kennedy in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, in 1952 was included in 1998 on her Rounder anthology I Sang Through the Fairs.

Paddy Tunny sang The Flower of Sweet Strabane in 1965 on his Topic album of Irish traditional ballads, A Wild Bee's Nest. Sean O'Boyle commented in the album's sleeve notes:

There is one idea that underlies song after song in Ulster—the idea that the poets own lovely locality has produced the fairest woman in all Ireland. Sometimes she is The Rose of Moneymore, sometimes The Maid of Ballydoo or The Flower of Magherally. Paddy sings of lovely Martha whose coldness sends a lovelorn poet away from Sweet Strabane to exile in America. The tune is Re Mode, pentatonic.

Norma Waterson sang Flower of Sweet Strabane in 2000 on her third solo album, Bright Shiny Morning, and on the Topic sampler The Folk Awards 2001. She was accompanied by Julian Goodacre, Leicestershire smallpipes, Martin Carthy, guitar, banjo, and Ben Ivitsky, viola, tenor guitar.

Norma Waterson said in the Bright Shiny Morning sleeve notes:

Sort of from Margaret Barry. I first heard Margaret Barry in Ken Colyer's Jazz Club in 1957 the first time I went to London. She opened her mouth, struck on her banjo and I was lost.

Andy Turner learned The Flower of Sweet Strabane from the singing of Johnny Moynihan on De Danann's second album, Selected Jigs, Reels and Songs (they got the song from Margaret Barry or Eamonn O’Doherty). He sang it as the February 14, 2014 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Lyrics

Norma Waterson sings Flower of Sweet Strabane

As I rode out one evening being in the month of May
Down by a shady garden I carelessly did stray
I spied a lovely fair maiden as you can understand
Aye and they called her lovely Martha the Flower of Sweet Strabane

Were I the king of Erin's isle and had all things at my will
I'd roam for recreation few comforts to find still
But the comfort I would look for as you can understand
Is for to win the heart of Martha the Flower of Sweet Strabane

Her cheeks are like the roses red her hair is a lovely brown
And o'er her milk-white shoulders in ringlets it hangs down
She's one of the fairest creatures in the whole Milesian* clan
And my heart is captivated by the Flower of Sweet Strabane

I wish I had my darling way down in Inisowen
Or in some lonesome valley in the wild woods of Tyrone
I would do my endeavour and I would work my plan
All for to gain the heart of Martha the Flower of Sweet Strabane

I've often been to Phoenix Park and to Killarney's fair
In blithe and bonny Scotland on the winding banks of Ayr
And yet in all of my travelling I never met that one
That could compare with Martha the Flower of Sweet Strabane

Farewell bonny Lifford and to Mourne's sweet waterside
For I am bound for America whatever may betide
Sailing down Lough Foyle brave boys I'll wave my bonny white hand
Aye and I'll bid adieu to my Martha the Flower of Sweet Strabane

*Milesian. Of Milesius, a mythical king of Spain, or his sons and their followers who seized Ireland: Irish, an Irishman (usu. jocular). [Chambers]

Acknowledgements

Transcription by Garry Gillard. Many thanks to Noreen for help with the words in the Mudcat Café thread Bright Shiny Morning. See also the thread Flower of Sweet Strabane.