Holly and Ivy Girl, The

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  • Teideal (Title): Holly and Ivy Girl, The.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 840116.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): 3188.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): song.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): unavailable.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 29/11/1983.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): University of Washington, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): evening class.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

Joe Heaney: That used to a Dublin- That used to be a broadsheet ballad long ago, and I haven’t sung this for ages. My father used to sing it regularly, but. Oh, yeah, he had all these songs, every one of them.

Student: Maybe that’s why an American version of that exists, if it was a broadsheet ballad.

JH: It was a broadsheet. Quite a suitable song, I suppose, for the occasion – the way he used to sing it. Where is it?1

Come buy my nice fresh ivy, my holly sprigs so green
I have the finest branches that ever you have seen
Come buy from me, good Christians, and let me home, I pray
And I wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’s Day.

Ah! Won’t you take my ivy, the loveliest ever seen?
Or won’t you have my holly boughs, all you who love the green
Do take a little bunch of each, and on my knees I’ll pray
That God may bless you Christmas and be with you New Year’s Day.

This wind is black and bitter, the hailstones do not spare
My shivering form, my bleeding feet, stiff entangled hair
Then when the skies are pitiless, be merciful, I say
So heaven will light your Christmas and the coming New Year’s Day.

‘Twas thus a dying maiden sung, while the cold hail rattled down
And fierce winds whistled mournful o’er Dublin’s dreary town
One stiff hand clutched her ivy sprigs and holly boughs so fair
With the other she kept brushing the hail-drops from her hair.

‘Twas in the broad, bleak Thomas Street I heard the wanderer sing
I stood a moment in the mire, beyond the ragged ring
My heart felt cold and lonely, my thoughts were far away
Where I was many a Christmastide and happy New Year’s Day.

I dreamed of wandering in the woods among the holly green
I dreamed of my own native cot and porch with ivy screen
I dreamt of lights forever dimmed, of hope that can’t return
And dropped a tear on Christmas fire that never more can burn.

The ghost-like singer still sung on, but no one came to buy
The hurrying crowd passed to and fro, but did not heed her cry
She uttered one low piercing moan, then cast her boughs away
And smiling cried, ‘I’ll feast with God before it’s New Year’s Day.’

On New Years’s Day I said my prayers above a new-made grave
Dug recently in sacred soil, by Liffey’s murmuring wave
The minstrel maid from earth to heaven has winged her happy way
And now enjoys with sister saints an endless New Year’s Day.

JH: Is that the same? That was a broadsheet ballad. I think my father – I think that’s where he got that song ‘O’Brien from Tipperary,’ I think, too. He used to-

Student: Do you have any other songs that were broadsheet ballads?

JH: Not that I know of2. That’s the only one – I think it was broadsheet. I think it was. I’m not sure. It looked like one.


1. Joe is searching among a packet of song-texts that he was in the habit of handing out to his classes. From his correction of the text in the middle of the first line, it’s clear that he’s reading from the song-sheet as he sings this song.

2. A great many of Joe’s songs in English no doubt originated as broadsheets. What Joe perhaps means is that he didn’t know of any other broadsheets that his father had physically in the house. It’s interesting that Joe also thinks he recalls seeing one of his father’s favourite songs, ‘O’Brien from Tipperary,’ printed as a broadsheet at home. Joe was in the habit of saying that he never got a song out of a book – maybe it’s true and maybe not – but it is nonetheless clear that a great many songs to be found in Joe’s repertoire – or in that of any traditional singer, for that matter – ultimately derived from printed sources. The dividing line between oral and literary transmission is impossible to determine, because there was so much back-and-forth between the two.

‘The Holly and Ivy Girl’ was composed by John Keegan (1809-49), a poet and writer born in Co. Laois who contributed to a number of publications; many of his poems reflect upon the horrors of the Famine, and he himself died of cholera at a young age. ‘The Holly and Ivy Girl’ bears no relation to the popular English Christmas carol, ‘The Holly and the Ivy,’ which is perhaps what Joe’s student questioner was thinking of on this occasion.

Air: ‘Captain Wedderburn’s Courtship.’