Caroline of Edinburgh Town

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  • Teideal (Title): Caroline of Edinburgh Town.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 853912.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): 397.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): P27.
  • 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): 28/04/1980.
  • 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.

Lucy Simpson: So what do you know about this?

Joe Heaney: As far as I know, this used to be an old broadside ballad. It was known all over. As far as I know, it was in books, somewhere, I don’t know. I heard it at home. Now, I picked it up, pieces here and there, and eventually sliced them all together, by – I suppose – by more or less by a bit of nagging from you about songs I used to remember… And a bit of nagging is good, too, sometimes, you know.

LS: Why, what do you mean?

JH: Well, it makes you think of things you didn’t think of before. A lot of songs now I sing I wouldn’t sing at all only for you told me ‘Go home and… sit over it!’

LS: But this one – you mean you put together a long time ago? from different people? or…

JH: No, no, this one, I, I, what I mean ‘put together’ I rememebered bits of it, but I finally pieced it all together, and this is the way it was. But… see, the point is, and you know yourself, when you don’t sing a song for so long you’re apt to forget about it, you know. And ever since I’ve been practicing it, you know. But I can’t find a book with it in it, not even in the book there. Anyway, let me sing it the way I heard it.

Come all you young and tender maids and listen to my rhyme
It’s of a pretty fair maid who was scarcely in her prime
She beat the blushing roses, she was loved by all around
She was called the blooming Caroline of Edinburgh Town.

Young Henry being a Highland man, a courting her he came
When her parents came to know, they got angry at the same
Young Henry being offended, he unto her did say,
‘Arise, my lovely Caroline, and with me come away.

‘We’ll both go off to London, and married we will be,
And you, my lovely Caroline, will [be] happy as can be.’
Thus enticed by Henry, she put on her evening gown,
And away they went that very night from Edinburgh Town.

Up in the lofty mountain this couple they did roam
Until they came to London, far far away from home.
She said to him, ‘Dear Henry, don’t ever on me frown,
Or you’ll break the heart of Caroline of Edinburgh Town.’

They had scarcely been in London for more than one half year
When hard-hearted Henry, he turned out severe.
He said to her, ‘I’m going to sea; your friends do on me frown;
So make no delay, but beg your way to Edinburgh Town.’

Full of grief, without relief, this damsel she did go
Into the wood, to eat such fruit as on the bushes grew;
Some people they did pity her, and some people on her frowned,
And more did say, ‘Why did you stray from Edinburgh Town?’

She placed her back against an oak, and she began to cry
As she watched a sailing ship gently pass her by
She gave three cries for Henry, and pushed her body down
And away she floated – Caroline of Edinburgh Town.

A note likewise [unintelligible] she left upon the shore
In this note, the lines she wrote: ‘Alas, I am no more!
I’m in the deep, and fast asleep, where the small fish swim around;
I was once the blooming Caroline of Edinburgh Town.’

…There’s another verse there at the end, but I’m not sure of it, you know…
I’m not sure have I the right words in it, you know…

Come all you tender parents, never try to part true love
You’re sure to see, in some degree, it often doesn’t work!
Likewise young men and maidens, never on your lovers frown
Just think of the fate of Caroline of Edinburgh Town.


Lucy Simpson was an excellent interviewer, and valiantly tried to pin Joe down about where and from whom he had learned his songs. On this occasion, we get valuable insight into his method of learning songs, or perhaps of re-learning ones he had heard in the past but which might not have been in his active repertoire for a long time, if ever. It is clear that, in addition to culling his own capacious memory – as he puts it himself, ‘going home and sitting on it’ – he also made use of songbooks for this purpose; and on occasion (as surely in the lame second line of the extra verse he gives Lucy here) was not above making something up to fill a gap.

In support of Joe’s account of having learned this song at home, a recording of this song exists in the archives of Áras Shorcha Ní Ghuairim, Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, Roisín na Mainiach, Carna, as sung by a local informant.