> Folk Music > Songs > Carrickfergus


[ Roud 26183 ; Ballad Index San323 ; DT CARRKFRG ; Mudcat 16707 ; trad.]

Dominic Behan sang The Kerry Boat Song on his 1960 Folklore album The Irish Rover. He also sang it as Kerry Boatman in 1965 on his Pye album Ireland Sings, which accompanied his book of the same name, and where he noted:

Before my friend, Peter O’Toole, rode a camel in the desert, he sang this song for me at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, in Stratford-upon-Avon. It had a beginning and an end. I gave it the middle it has now, and I hope, Peter a cara, you approve.

The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem sang Carrickfergus on their 1964 album The First Hurrah!. And they, with Louis Killen, sang it live at the Bushnell Auditorium in Hartford, Connecticut on 17 March 1972. A recording of that concert was released in the following year on their album Live on St. Patrick’s Day. Robert Sherman noted on the first album’s sleeve:

Carrickfergus is an ancient and picturesque town on the north shore of the Belfast Lough. It was here that William III of England landed in 1690 on his way to defeat the forces of James II, and there still stands an inn which was kept by the ancestors of the American president Andrew Johnson.

The ballad which bears its name, though, takes no note of historical incident or scenic wonder: as Tom Clancy sings it, it is quite simply a heartbreaking tale of lost love—a passionate outcry against the cruel fates which would separate a man and his maid.

Five Hand Reel sang Carrickfergus on their 1977 album For A’ That.

Max Boyce sang Carrickfergus in 1981 on his EMI album It’s Good to See You.

The Holme Valley Tradition sang Carrickfergus live in Will Noble’s barn in Denby Dale, Yorkshire on 27 September 1986. A recording of that evening was released in the following year on the EFDSS cassette Wills’s Barn.

John Roberts this Carrickfergus on his 1989 album Songs From the Pubs of Ireland.

Marion Paterson sang Carrickfergus on the 2000 CD of recordings from Blairgowrie Folk Festival 1986-1995, The Blair Tapes.

Gibb Todd recited Carrickfergus in 1999 on his Lochshore CD Connected. He noted:

I always wanted to recite something against Finbar [Furey]’s great uillean pipes and this seemed appropriate. Once again, recorded in Dublin.

John Wright sang Carrickfergus on his 1999 Fenn Music / 2000 Greentrax album A Few Short Lines. He noted:

The powerful theme of lost love has produced many of the finest traditional songs. Carrickfergus is a localised Irish version of The Water Is Wide, a song which stands at the centre of lost-love-songs and with which it shares floating verses.

Logic sang Carrickfergus in 2004 as the title track of their Carrickfergus.

Mick Groves sang Carrickfergus on his 2010 album Still Spinning. He noted:

[…] Carrickfergus takes me back to those years indulging in the juice of the barley, years not totally consigned to history, as I still enjoy the occasional Bucket of the Mountain Dew [the next track on the album].

Niamh Parsons sang Carricfergus on her and Graham Dunne’s 2015 album Kind Providence. She noted:

Whatever the origins of this song, it is very popular. In Dominic Behan’s book Ireland Sings (London, 1965) he gives three verses of which he says, he wrote the middle one and the others he collected from the actor Peter O’Toole. Dominic Behan called it The Kerry Boatman and sings the first two lines—“I wish I was in Carrickfergus, in Elphin, Aoidtrim or Ballygrind.”

Piers Cawley sang Carrickfergus at a Trad Song Tuesday Twitter singaround. He included his recording in 2020 on his download EP Trad Song Tuesdays Volume 1.

The Haar sang Carrickfergus on their 2022 album Where Old Ghosts Meet. They noted:

Carrickfergus is an Irish song from the mid 19th century. Recent scholarship proposes that the lyrics refer to the marble quarry in Ballygrant on the island of Islay, evidencing the frequent flux of travel and strong connections between Scotland and Ireland over the centuries.


John Wright sings Carrickfergus

I wish I was in Carrickfergus,
Only for nights in Ballygrant.
I would swim over the deepest ocean,
Only for nights in Ballygrant.
But the sea is wide and I cannot swim over,
Neither have I the wings to fly.
I wish I could meet a handsome boatman
To ferry me over to my love and die.

My childhood days bring back sad reflections,
Of happy times spent so long ago.
My boyhood friends and my own relations
Have all passed on now, like the melting snow.
So I’ll spend my days, in endless roving,
Soft is the grass and my bed is free.
Oh to be young now, back in Carrickfergus,
Oh, the long road down to the soft blue sea.

Sure in Kilkenny it is reported
They have marble stone there, as black as ink.
With gold and silver, I must support her,
But I’ll sing no more now, till I’ve had a drink.
For I’m drunk today, and I’m seldom sober,
A handsome rover, from town to town.
Ah! but I’m sick now, my days are numbered,
Come all you young men, and lay me down.

Piers Cawley sings Carrickfergus

I wish I had you in Carrickfergus
Only for nights there in Ballygrant
I would swim over the deepest ocean
The deepest ocean to be by your side
But the sea is wide and I can’t cross over
And neither have I wings to fly
I wish I had me a handy boatman
To ferry my over to my love and die

My childhood days bring back sad reflections
To happy times there spent so long ago
My boyhood friends and my own relations
Have all passed over like the melting snow
So I’ll spend my days in endless roving
Soft is the grass and my bed is free
Oh to be with you in Carrickfergus
On the long road down to the salty sea

And in Kilkenny it is reported
On marble stones there as a black as ink
With gold and silver I did support
But I’ll sing no more now ’til I get a drink
I’m drunk today, and I’m seldom sober
A handsome rover from town to town
But I am sick now and my days are numbered
So come all you young men and lay me down