Flower of Sweet Strabane, The

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  • Teideal (Title): Flower of Sweet Strabane, The.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 853909.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): 2745.
  • 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): Lucy Simpson.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 21/01/1980.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): Ray 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.

This is about a pretty girl and the man who… could do anything in the world to have her… sitting by his fire. In other words, he do anything to have her for his wife. Even if he was the king of Ireland… Strabane is a little town in… Tyrone.

If I were king of Erin’s isle and all things at my will
I would roam for recreation my comfort to find still;
The comfort I would ask for, as you may understand
Is to win the heart of Martha, the flower of sweet Strabane.

Her cheeks they are a rosy red and her hair a lovely brown
O’er her lily-white shoulders it carelessly hangs down
She is one of the finest creatures of the whole Milesian clan
And my heart is captivated by the flower of sweet Strabane.

I wish I had my darling girl way down in Inishowen
Or in some lonely valley in the wild woods of Tyrone;
I would do my whole endeavour and work my newest plan
To have beside my own turf-fire the flower of sweet Strabane.

But since she will not marry me, no joy is here for me
I will seek forgetfulness in the land across the sea
But if ever I return again, I swear by my right hand
That by my own fireside I’ll have my bride – the flower of sweet Strabane.


Before singing, Joe goes into a long digression about the word ‘sweet’ in the title of this song, and about other songs he knows from the northern counties of Ireland. Lucy sounds unconvinced by his derivation of ‘sweet’ from an Irish word suidh for ‘pure white sand’ – and indeed, no such word is known to any of the dictionaries or the natives of Carna that we have consulted. It’s far likelier, as Lucy supposes, that the word simply means ‘sweet.’

Occasionally Joe indulged in elaborate fabrications – sometimes out of a wish to have an answer for a question, and other times out of pure devilment, as he would admit himself. It’s hard to tell what his motive is here. Lucy Simpson is one of the few people to whom Joe is generally comfortable giving the answer ‘I don’t know’ and when he’s indulging in a leg-pull there’s often a laugh that gives it away.

When asked where he heard it, Joe says ‘everybody sang it, to be honest with you, there was no special person – everybody loved it and sang it.’ This song, along with the other songs of northern origin that he names, became popular standards during the folk revival years, and it is entirely possible that he learned it from another singer at that time.