O’Reilly the Fisherman

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  • Teideal (Title): O’Reilly the Fisherman.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 853914.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): 270.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): M8.
  • 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): Lucy Simpson.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Lucy Simpson.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 02/06/1980.
  • 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.

As I roved out one evening fair down by the riverside
I heard a lovely maiden complain, the tears fell from her eyes
‘This is a cold and stormy night,’ those words she then did say
‘My love is on the raging sea, bound for Americay.’

My love he was a fisherman, his age was scarce eighteen
He was as nice a young man as ever yet was seen
My father he had riches great, and Reilly he was poor
Because I loved this fisherman, they could not him endure.

John O’Reilly was my true-love’s name, reared near the town of Bray
My mother took me by the hand, and these to me words did say:
‘If you be fond of Reilly, let him quit this country;
Your father says he’ll take his life, so shun his company.’

‘Oh, Mother dear, don’t be severe! Where will you send my love?
My very heart lies in his breast, as constant as a dove.’
‘Oh, daughter dear, I’m not severe! Here is one thousand pounds,
So send Reilly to America to purchase there some ground.’

When Ellen got the money, to Reilly she did run
Saying, ‘This very night, to take your life, my father charged a gun!
Here is one thousand pound in gold my mother sent to you;
So sail away to Americay, and I will follow you.’

When Reilly got the money, next day he sailed away
And when he put his foot on board, these words she then did say:
‘Here is a token of true love, and we’ll break it now in two.
You’ll have my heart and half my ring until I find out you.’

It was three months after, as she was waiting by the shore,
When Reilly he came back again to take his love away.
The ship was wrecked; all hands were lost; her father grieved full sore
And found Reilly in her arms, and they drowned upon the shore.

He found a letter on her breast, and it was wrote with blood
Saying, ‘Cruel was my father, that thought to shoot my love.’
So let this now be a warning to all fair maids so gay:
To never let the lads they love go to Americay.


On this occasion, Joe turns the tables on Lucy Simpson, asking her to sing a song, and quizzing her about where she got it. She has chosen a song that she found in a book by Manus O’Connor, Old Time Songs and Ballads of Ireland (1901). As no tune is given in her source, she has chosen the air frequently associated with ‘The Lowlands of Holland.’ After Lucy sings it, Joe suggests a second tune that would also be suitable, ‘The Moon Behind the Hill;’ the two of them then sing it together.

This is a wonderful, intimate example, showing Joe’s infectious enthusiasm for a new song, his encouragement of a student (who was also a close friend), and his instant ability to get to grips with a new text and make sound artistic suggestions as regards line-reading and choice of air.

This song – which originally circulated as a broadside ballad – is still to be heard in Ireland. It is the repertoire of John Kennedy of Cullybackey, Co. Antrim; see Fintan Vallely, John Kennedy: Together in Time, Loughshore Traditions Group, (2001), 31. In addition, Patrick W. Joyce includes a few stanzas of ‘O’Reilly the Fisherman,’ as well as an air that he says was traditionally associated with it, in Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909), 29.