> Folk Music > Songs > Here's a Health to All True Lovers

Here's a Health to All True Lovers

[ Roud 1235 ; Ballad Index WT052 ; Bodleian Roud 1235 ; Wiltshire 819 ; trad.]

Mary Doran from Bewross, Co. Wexford, sang Here's a Health unto All Truelovers to Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle in Summer 1952. This recording was included in 2014 on the Topic anthology of traditional songs, airs and dance music in Ulster, The Flax in Bloom (The Voice of the People Volume 27).

Belle Stewart sang Here's a Health to All True Lovers in a recording made by Fred Kent in Blairgowrie, Perthshire in May 1976. It was published a year later on her Topic record Queen Among the Heather, and was also included in 1998 on the Topic anthology Tonight I'll Make You My Bride (The Voice of the People Volume 6). Geordie McIntyre commented in the original album's liner notes:

Belle learned this version of a ‘night-visiting’ song from her mother-in-law. The night-visit custom is found in several cultures and has given birth to many songs in the Scots and English traditions. The custom has its basis in the consummation of marriage, with parental approval on the evening before the wedding day. It is clear that Belle's lyric version is an ancestor of The Grey Cock (lover's ghost) where the girl is visited by the spirit of her sweetheart. In a note to The Grey Cock A.L. Lloyd has written that it is unusual to find the ‘bedroom window’ and the ‘cockcrow’ themes present in the one song. In this derivative we have both; however, the cockcrow has lost its supernatural significance of calling the ghost back to the grave.

In Belle's version the ‘servants’ referred to in the last verse are, by implication at least, farm servants. In the more robust ‘drinking song’ version, collected in the North East of Scotland, I'm a Rover, the last line leaves no doubt:

Remember I'm a ploughman
And the fairmer I must obey.

Belle's daughter Sheila Stewart sang A Health to All True Lovers in a recording made by Doc Rowe in Blairgowrie, Perthshire on October 15, 1998. It was published in 2000 on her Topic CD From the Heart of the Tradition. Doc Rowe noted:

The song was a favourite of Sheila's mother, who learned the song from Agnes Campbell, [her husband] Alec's mother. Ailie Munroe's description in The Democratic Muse (1996, p. 107) of Belle's singing this song is such a delight and equally applicable to Sheila's interpretation:

This is Belle Stewart in her most seductive vein: her flexible voice glides and slides its way till one feels, if female, one would definitely open that door, and, if male, would consider the long walk and getting drenched to the skin (a good line, that) well worthwhile.

Night-visiting songs sometimes relate to “bundling”—a custom found in many cultures—essentially a consummation of love sanctioned by the girl's parents on the night before the wedding. The theme is a common one and a similar text is found in the supernatural ballad, The Grey Cock. The girl is visited by the spirit of her sweetheart and the cock is begged not to crow, as this will signal the dawn and the lover's ghost would have to leave. Many night-visiting songs have abandoned the metaphysical ingredient—so that, instead of calling the ghost back to the grave, the cock simply proclaims the start of another day for the working person. In one Scottish version:

The day is dawin', the cocks are crawin'
The bottom park I maun ploo this day;
The factor's bell it will soon be ringing,
We are but servants and must obey.

Alison McMorland and Geordie McIntyre sang Here's a Health to All True Lovers on their 2007 Greentrax CD White Wings. They noted:

This version of a night-visiting song is from the singing of Belle Stewart of Perthshire (1906-91) and is very close, in text, to versions extant in Ulster, e.g. The Sweet Bann Water. It is an ancestor of the, supernatural, Lover's Ghost (Child 248). In this handsome derivative the cockcrow has lost its otherworldly significance of calling the revenant back to the grave.

Dougie Mackenzie sang Here's a Health to All True Lovers on his 2019 Greentrax album Along the Way. He noted:

A variant of the ballad The Grey Cock, learnt from the singing of Elsa Lemaitre and Erika Douglas. It can be found in Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger's collection The Singing Island.

Green Ribbons sang Here's a Health Unto All True Lovers in 2019 on their eponymous CD Green Ribbons. They noted:

This song is from the singing of Mary Doran, a Traveller singer from Newross, Co. Wexford, as recorded in 1952 by Sean O’Boyle and Peter Kennedy on the outskirts of Belfast.

Lyrics

Mary Doran sings Here's a Health unto All Truelovers

Then here's a health unto all truelovers
And my truelove where he must be.
It's tomorrow night, love, I mean to be with him,
Although he's a-many's the mile from me.

First when I reach to that fair maid's window,
I'd gently nailed upon his door;
And I put my hand through a small pane broken,
“My dearest dear, are you lying there alone?”

She rose so kind from her lying back pillow,
Her lily-white breast being quite exposed.
For we slept that night with the best of good pleasure
Until that long night came to an end.

The ripest apples were the soonest rotten,
The hottest noon were the soonest cold.
And the young man's promises are easily broken,
Beware, fair maids, and don't make so bold.

“For if I had you laid in your coffin
And satisfaction upon your shroud,
Ah, my friends are to bear you upon their shoulder
And I to be one among the crowd.”

“You will not have me laid in my coffin
Ne'er satisfaction upon my shroud,
Ne'er my friends are to bear you upon their shoulder
And I to be one among the crowd.”

“For if I had you in Phoenix Island,
One hundred mile from your native home,
It's not there I'd spend some long hours for to court you,
Calling you my wife; making you my own.”

Sheila Stewart sings A Health to All True Lovers Alison McMorland and Geordie McIntyre sing Here's a Health to All True Lovers

Here's a health to all true lovers
And here's to mine, wherever she may be.
This very night I will go and see her,
Although she is many's a long mile from me.

Here's a health to all true lovers
And here's to mine, wherever she be.
For this very night I will go and find her,
Although she's many's the mile from me.

Let the night be dark as the very dungeon,
Let not a star shine from above.
Still I will be guided, oh, safely guided,
Into the arms of my own true love.

Let the night be dark as any dungeon,
Let not a star shine from above.
I will be guided, safely guided,
Into the arms of my own dear love.

He then approached her bedroom window,
His knee he placed on a cold damp stone.
Through the panes of glass he gently whispered,
“My darling maid, do you sleep alone?”

And when he came to her bedroom window,
His knee he knelt on a cold, cold stone.
Through a pane of glass he gently whispered,
“My darling dear, do you lie alone?”

She raised her head from her soft white pillow,
Her hand she placed o'er her lily-white breast.
Through the panes of glass she gently whispered,
“Who is this that disturbs my quiet night's rest?”

She raised her head from her down soft pillow,
Her hand across her lily-white breast.
“Who's there, who's there at my bedroom window,
Disturbing me from my long night's rest?”

“'Tis only I, my darlin' lover,
Open the door, love, and let me in.
For I am tired of this long night's journey
And besides I am drenched to the very skin.”

“It's only I, your darling lover,
Open the door and let me in.
For I am come on a long night's journey
And I am drenched to the very skin.”

She opened the door with the greatest of pleasure,
She opened the door and he walked in.
They both embraced and they kissed each other
Till the dawning of the day it came creeping in.

She opened the door with the greatest of pleasure,
She opened the door and she let him in.
They baith held hands, then embraced each other
Till the dawning of the day they lay as yin.

“The cocks are crowing, love, I must be going,
The cocks are crowing, love, I must be away.
The cocks are crowing, love, I must be going,
For we are both servants and we must obey.”

“The cocks are crowing, love, I must be going,
The cocks are crowing, love, I must away.
The cocks are crowing, love, I must be going,
For we are servants and must obey.”