> Folk Music > Songs > Kellswater / Shot Like a Bird on a Tree

Kellswater / Shot Like a Bird on a Tree

[ Roud 916 ; Henry H695 , H112 ; Ballad Index HHH442 ; trad.]

Sam Henry's Songs of the People Traveller's Joy

Lemmie Brazil sang Shot Like a Bird on a Tree to Peter Shepheard at Over Bridge, Gloucester, on 6 May 1966. This recording was included in 2007 on the Brazil Family's Musical Tradition anthology Down By the Old Riverside. Rod Stradling noted in the anthology's booklet:

This was recorded just once from Lemmie Brazil (66.5.5). Danny Brazil later recorded (in 1978) essentially the same verses—whether with the assistance of the Brazil Song Book or not I do not know, and these are in Mike Yates' Traveller's Joy (2006).

It's a rare song, with only 17 Roud entries—11 of which are from Canada. Although 9 sound recordings are shown, this is the only one available on CD.

Planxty sang Kellswater in 1980 on their album The Woman I Loved So Well. Andy Irvine noted:

I learned this from the Sam Henry collection courtesy of John Moulden's fine book Songs of the People and it appears to have come originally from one Jim Carmichael of Ballymena, Co. Antrim. The story appears to be that the girl's father did not consider Willie to be a suitable match for his daughter and had him sent away overseas. She waits in the certain knowledge that he will return.

John Moulden writes, “The Kellswater, a tributary of the River Main, rises as the Glenwhinny river on the west slope of Agnews hill which overlooks Larne, and then flows westward through Kells, collecting its name as it goes, and joins the Main about five miles north of Randalstown.”

Our congratulations to the hero & heroine of this song for being the sole surviving characters on this album.

Julie Abbé sang Kellswater on her 2020 album Numberless Dreams. She noted:

I first heard Andy Irvine’s beautiful rendition of Kellswater a few years ago when he was performing at the Folk House in Bristol. I immediately fell in love with its melody, but found the traditional lyrics too lengthy and the story hard to follow. So I removed a few verses and rewrote the second one to bring more clarity to this promising love story unfairly brought to an end by a severe, unwilling father. I love the way it is told from the point of view of all characters involved, starting with the ship captain making an enticing description of Kellswater as they approach the village, then Johnny the young sailor proposing to his new love, followed by her dad threatening to hang the young lad if he doesn’t sail off, the girl daring to stand up to her father saying that she would travel “through an acre of fire” just to be with her lover, and finally the narrator’s voice wishing them both peace as their union gets abruptly interrupted. It is one of mine and Sid [Golsmith]’s favourite songs on the album, and the short, intense cello solo after the 4th verse gets us every time we listen to it!

Lyrics

Lemmie Brazil sings Shot Like a Bird on a Tree

Her father he came for to hear it,
Straight away to his daughter did go,
“Dear daughter I've heard you've been courting,
To a man that is 'low your degree.”

“Who's been telling these false tales, dear father,
Whose been telling these false tales on me?
My retention's1 to never get married,
To a man that is 'low my degree.”

“We'll send for young Jimmie to revide it.”
To revide it, young Jimmie he came.
He creeped upstairs in his stockings,
For to hear what they was saying.

“Dear daughter, I'll give you two chooses,
Two chooses I'll give unto thee;
You can either send Jimmie a-sailing,
Or to see him shot like a bird on the tree.”

“Oh father you'll give me two chooses,
Two chooses you'll give unto me;
I'd rather send Jimmie a-sailing,
Or to see him shot like a bird on the tree.”

Planxty sing Kellswater

Here’s a health to you, bonny Kellswater
Where you’ll get all the pleasures of life,
Where you’ll get all the fishing and fowling,
And a bonny wee lass for your wife.

Oh, it’s down where yon waters run muddy,
I’m afraid they will never run clear.
And it’s when I dig in for to study,
My mind is on them that’s not here.

It’s this one and that one they court him,
but if anyone gets him but me,
It’s early and late I will curse them
That parted lovely Willie from me.

Oh, a father he calls on his daughter,
Two choices I’ll give unto thee.
Would you rather see Willie’s ship a-sailing,
Or see him hung like a dog from yon tree?

Oh, Father, dear Father, I love him.
I can no longer hide it from thee.
Through an acre of fire I would travel
Alone with lovely Willie to be.

Oh, hard was the heart that confined her,
And took from her her heart’s delight.
May the chains of old Ireland bind around them,
And soft be their pillows at night.

Oh, yonder’s a ship on the ocean
And she does not know which way to steer.
From the east to the west she’s a-going.
She reminds me of the charms of my dear.

Oh, it’s yonder my Willie will be coming,
He said he’d be here in the spring,
And it’s down by yon green shades I’ll meet him,
And among yon wild roses we’ll sing.

For a gold ring he placed on my finger,
Saying, “Love, bear this in your mind,
If ever I sail from Old Ireland,
You’ll mind I’ll not leave you behind.”

Farewell to you, bonny Kellswater
Where you’ll get all the pleasures of life,
Where you’ll get all the fishing and fowling,
And a bonny wee lass for your wife.

Julie Abbé sings Kellswater

Here's a health to you bonny Kellswater
Where you'll get all the pleasures of life
Where you'll get all the fishing and the fowling
And a bonny sweet lass for your wife.

Oh it's down by yond green shade I met her
And amongst wild roses we kissed
And a gold ring I placed on her finger
As my only treasure to keep.

Oh a father he calls on his daughter
Saying a choice, girl, I'll give on to thee
Would you rather see Johnny's ship a-sailing
Or him hung like a dog from yon' tree?

Oh Father, dear Father, I love him
And I can no longer hide it from thee
Through an acre of fire I would travel
All alone with lovely Johnny to be.

Oh harsh was the heart that confined them
And took away her heart's delight
May the chains of Old Ireland bind around them
And soft be their pillows at night.

Here's a health to you bonny Kellswater
Where you'll get all the pleasures of life
Where you'll get all the fishing and the fowling
And a bonny sweet lass for your wife.