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Helen of Kirkconnell Lea

[ Roud 8191 ; Ballad Index OBB152 ; trad.]

Walter Scott published Fair Helen of Kirconnell in Volume 2 of The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.

Archie Fisher sang Helen of Kirkconnell Lea in 1976 on a bonus track of his Folk-Legacy CD The Man With a Rhyme. He commented:

The story which forms the subject of this ballad was first told in Pennant's Tour in Scotland. It also appear in Ritson's Scottish Songs and in Scott's Minstrelsy. The tradition says that Helen Irving, daughter of the Laird of Kirkconnell in Annandale, at about the latter end of the reign of James V, was loved by two gentlemen, Adam Fleming of Kirkpatrick, whom she herself favoured, and another, said to have been Bell of Blacket House, who was encouraged by her friends. As Helen and Fleming walked on the banks of the Kirtle, her rejected suitor “leveled his carabine” at the breast of his rival. Helen threw herself before her lover, took the bullet in her own breast, and dropped, dying, in his arms. A thorn tree in the glen is pointed out to this day as the spot where she fell. The legend further tells us that Fleming avenged her immediately (“I hackit him in pieces sma‘ “) and later, upon returning from the wars in Spain, visited the lonely spot, and, overcome by grief, died on her grave.

The story [sung] here is somewhat abbreviated, which is probably just as well. (Information borrowed from Eyre-Todd's Ancient Scots Ballads, London and Glasgow, nd, by S.P.)

Dave Walters sang Helen of Kirkconnell in 1977 on his Fellside album Comes Sailing By.

Bobby Eaglesham sang Helen of Kirkconnell in 1982 on his Fellside album Weather the Storm. This track was also included in 2006 on the Fellside anniversary anthology The Journey Continues.

Sangsters sang Helen of Kirkconnel in 1993 on their Greentrax CD Begin

Ian Giles sang I Wish I Were Where Ellen Lies in 1997 on his WildGoose CD The Amber Triangle. He noted:

Sometimes known as Helen of Kirkconnell, a border ballad of love, death and revenge.

John Morran sang Helen o Kirkconnel in 1998 on the Linn anthology The Complete Songs of Robert Burns Volume 6.

John Wright sang Helen of Kirkconnell in 2000 on his CD A Few Short Lines.

Isla St Clair sang Helen of Kirkconnell on her 2000 CD Murder & Mayhem.

Emily Smith sang Fair Helen of Kirkconnel in 2002 on her first CD, A Day Like Today. She also sang it on most of the concerts of the Unusual Suspect's 2004 tour. On the last concert at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, in February 2004 she wasn't available though and Annie Grace sang it instead:

Hector Gilchrist sang Fair Helen of Kirkconnel in 2007 on his WildGoose CD Ingleneuk. He noted:

I first recorded this song on vinyl at the Liverpool Folk Festival in 1966. It recalls the many friends whom I made during my eight years in Cheshire and at the Crewe Folk Club. The lass Helen, in this ballad, was obviously in the wrong place at the wrong time! The tale is well documented in Border literature.

Wendy Weatherby sang Helen o' Kirkonnel in 2010 on her Fellside album A Shirt of Silk or Snow.

Fiona Hunter sang Helen of Kirkconnell Lea in 2016 on the Greentrax CD of pipe music and song from the Scottish Borders, Reclaimed. The album's booklet commented:

Fiona sings the classic ballad Helen of Kirkconnell Lea taken from Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802). The action is set on the banks of the Kirtle Water in Dumfriesshire (only a few miles from Middlebie) where Helen Irving dies defending her lover Adam Fleming from a rival suitor. Adam kills his rival, flees overseas to serve in the Spanish army, and eventually returns to Kirkconnell where he is said to be buried near Helen in the kirkyard of the Old Parish Church.

Lyrics

Fair Helen of Kirconnell in The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border Archie Fisher sings Helen of Kirkconnell Lea

I wish I were where Helen lies!
Night and day on me she cries;
O that I were where Helen lies,
On fair Kirconnell Lea!

O gin I were where Helen lies,
Where, night and day, on me she cries.
O gin I were where Helen lies,
On fair Kirkconnell lea.

Curst be the heart, that thought the thought,
And curst the hand, that fired the shot,
When in my arms burd Helen dropt,
And died to succour me!

Curst be the mind that laid the plot;
Curst be the hand that fired the shot
That to my arms fair Helen brought
To die for love o' me.

O think na ye my heart was sair,
When my love dropt down and spak nae mair!
There did she swoon wi' meikle care,
On fair Kirconnell Lea.

An' think ye no' that my heart was sair
To see her lie and speak nae mair.
There did she woon wi' mickle care
On fair Kirkconnell lea.

As I went down the water side,
None but my foe to be my guide.
None but my foe to be my guide,
On fair Kirconnell Lea.

I lighted down, my sword did draw,
I hacked him in pieces sma,
I hacked him in pieces sma,
For her sake that died for me.

O Helen fair, beyond compare!
I'll make a garland of thy hair,
Shall bind my heart for evermair,
Untill the day I die.

O Helen rare, beyond compare,
I'll mak' a garland o' your hair;
'Twill bind my heart forever mair,
Until the day I dee.

O that I were where Helen lies!
Night and day on me she cries;
Out of my bed she bids me rise,
Says, “Haste, and come to me!”

O Helen fair! O Helen chaste!
If I were with thee I were blest,
Where thou lies low, and takes thy rest,
On fair Kirconnell Lea.

I wish my grave were growing green,
A winding sheet drawn ower my een,
And I in Helen's arms lying,
On fair Kirconnell Lea.

I wish my grave was growin' green,
And a windin' sheet hap't ower my een,
And I in Helen's arms was lain,
Wha died for love o' me.

I wish I were where Helen lies!
Night and day on me she cries;
And I am weary of the skies,
For her sake that died for me.

O gin I were where Helen lies,
For night and day on me she cries.
O gin I were where Helen lies,
On fair Kirkconnell lea.

Acknowledgements

See also the Mudcat Café thread Where Helen Lies/Kirkconnel Lea.