Molly Bawn

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  • Teideal (Title): Molly Bawn.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 840121.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): 166.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): O36.
  • 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): 31/01/1984.
  • 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.

Now as we’re on the subject of fairies and dead people coming back- Now there’s a story about this girl, she came back when her lover was on the brink of being hung for killing her; her spirit appeared. And the song is called ‘Molly Bawn.’ And ‘a fowler’ is a man of course that uses a gun1. And he killed his own girlfriend because he thought she was a fawn on the edge of a lake. A fawn is a young deer. And he saw the fawn – what he thought was a fawn – and he shot the fawn, and what was it but his own girlfriend going to visit her uncle. And she had her apron over her head to keep the rain off, and instead of shooting the fawn, he shot his girlfriend. And this is the song…

Come all you young fowlers who carries a gun
Don’t ever go a-shooting by the setting of the sun
I was once a brave young fowler, as you may understand
And I shot my own true love, I took her for a fawn.

She was going to her uncle when the rain it came on
She went under a bush for to let the rain pass
With her apron all around her, I took her for a fawn
Oh, I never would have shot my own Molly Bawn.

And when he came to her, and found it was she
His limbs, they grew weary, his eyes could not see
His heart it was broken in sorrow and in grief
And imploring to heaven he looked for relief.

Young Jimmy went home with his gun in his hand
Saying, ‘Father, dearest Father, I have done what’s wrong:
With her apron all around her, I took her for a fawn-
Oh, alas, and alas, I shot my Molly Bawn.’

[‘I rapped her fair temples, and found she was dead
A torrent of tears for my true love I shed
And now I’ll be forced by the laws of the land
For the killing of my darling my trial for to stand.]2

And the day of her funeral, her spirit it appeared
Saying, ‘Uncle, dearest Uncle, do not hang my dear
With my apron all around me he took me for a fawn
Oh, he never would have shot his own Molly Bawn.’


1. In Conamara, ‘fowling’ appears to be a generic term for ‘hunting’. The Irish word for ‘hunting’ is foghlaereacht – a word clearly borrowed from English – that can either mean (as here) shooting or (as perhaps in bygone times) going out with a hunting ‘fowl’ – a hawk or falcon.

2. This additional verse occurs in a performance recorded at ‘Afternoon Tea with Joe Heaney,’ University of Washington, April, 1983 (UW83-13.2).

Joe told Lucy Simpson, ‘My father had that. And the funny thing – it’s the same way Mrs Cronin in Cork had it… But in the north of Ireland they have another version of it… Some people added verses to it that had nothing to do with the song at all. ‘The girls of this place is all glad that Molly Bawn is gone’ – I don’t know where that came from.’ He also insisted to her that the young fowler mistook his target for a fawn, not a swan, because there were laws passed in Ireland since time immemorial that prohibited hunting swans. When Lucy asked him what word had been in Mrs Cronin’s version, Joe told her it was ‘fawn’ (UW85-39.8).

Joe is mistaken here however. Apart from employing the same air, Elizabeth Cronin’s version of ‘Molly Bawn’ (The Songs of Elizabeth Cronin, Four Courts, 2000) differs in a number of respects from the version Joe sings – and she sings ‘swan,’ not ‘fawn.’ Joe’s version does, however, bear some similarities to a longer version recorded by Donegal singer Packie Manus Byrne for Topic’s ‘Voice of the People’ series (TSCD 656). The only other version I’ve encountered in which the word ‘fawn’ occurs is the one given by P.W. Joyce, Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (London and Dublin, 1909), p. 220.