My Boy Willie

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  • Teideal (Title): My Boy Willie.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 853909.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): 273.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): K12.
  • 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): Lucy Simpson.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 09/01/1980.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): private.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

‘Twas early, early in the spring
My love Willie went to serve the King
The raging sea and winds blew high
It parted me from my sailor boy.

The night is dark, I can find no rest
The thoughts of Willie lies in my breast
I’ll search the valleys and woodlands high
Hoping to find my sailor boy.

‘Oh father, father, build me a boat
On the ocean I may roam
I’ll watch the big ships as they sail by
Hoping my true love to find.’

She wasn’t long on the ocean blue
When a big ship sailed into view
‘Oh, captain, captain, come tell me true –
Is my love Willie on board with you?’

‘What sort of suit did your Willie wear?
What was the color of your true loves’s hair?’
‘He wore a jacket of the royal blue
But you’d know my love for his heart is true.’

‘And your love Willie, I’m sad to say
Was drowned at sea the other day
On yon green island as we passed by
We buried three more and your sailor boy.’

She wrung her hands and tore her hair
Then she fell in deep despair
With every sob she shed a tear
And every tear was for Willie dear.

‘Oh father, dig my grave both long and deep
Place a tombstone at my head and feet
On my breast place a turtle dove
So the world will know that I died for love.’


Joe told Lucy that he learned this song at home; his father used to sing it. It became a standard item in Joe’s concert repertoire in the States, but he never recorded it commercially.

An American variant of this song turns up in the Joe Heaney Collection in a performance by Mike Seeger, who led a series of workshops with Joe at the University of Washington in February-March 1978.