Willie O

Len Graham from Newry, Northern ireland: On Autumn Harvest ah011: Old Songs & Bothy Ballads 8: The Little Ball of Yarn Live from the Fife Traditional Singing Festival May 2011.

This rather fine and rare ballad has been collected only a few times. Len first heard this song in the early 1960s from Jimmy McGinley from Ros Ghoill, Co. Donegal. Joe Holmes from Killyrammer, Co. Antrim provided Len with the all important verse five with the cock crowing motif. The drowned sailor, after a seven year absence, appears as a ghost at his true love's bedside in the middle of the night and, as with all ghostly beings, departs before the dawn.

The song appears as a broadside ballad in the nineteenth century and seems to borrow from the older 'night-visit' theme of the ballad - Sweet William's Ghost (Child 77). However, Bronson classifies the ballad along with The Grey Cock (Child 248) which also includes the night visit and cock crowing motifs. Len has recorded the song on Topic 12TS334LP (1976) and on Cranagh CMCD4453 (2010). There are several copies of Willie O in the Bodlean Library collection of Broadside Ballads. Child 77/ 248, Roud 50/ 179.

1: Young Willie sails on board a tender,
And where he's bound I do not know;
Seven long years I've been constantly waiting,
Since he crossed the bay of Biscay O.

2: One night as Mary lay a-sleeping,
A knock came to her bedroom door;
Saying, “Arise, arise, my lovely Mary,
Till you get one glimpse of your lover O.”

3: Young Mary rose, put on her clothes,
And out of her bedroom she did go;
'Twas there she saw young Willie standing,
Aye, and his two cheeks as white as snow.

4: Saying, "Willy dear, where are those blushes,
Those blushes you had many years ago?”
“Oh Mary dear, the cold clay has changed them,
I am only the ghost of young Willie O.”

5: "Oh Mary dear, I must be going,
For now the cocks they're began to crow."
And when she saw him disappearing,
Down her cheeks the tears did flow.

6: "My body lies in the West Indies,
My ghost shall guard you to and fro;
So love, I fear that we are parted,
No more will you see young Willie O."

7: “Had I all the gold and silver
Or all the money in Mexico;
I would grant it all to the King of Erin,
For to bring me back my Willie O.”

c p 2012 Autumn Harvest : www.springthyme.co.uk