> Folk Music > Songs > Lovely Molly

Lovely Molly / I Once Was a Ploughboy

[ Roud 1446 ; Henry H780 ; Ballad Index HHH780 ; Bodleian Roud 1446 ; trad.]

Jeannie Robertson sang I Once Was a Ploughboy on her 1963 Prestige album The Cuckoo's Nest and Other Scottish Folk Songs. James Porter and Herschel Gower commented in their Jeannie Robertson biography:

Hamish Henderson learned this song from Jock MacShannon while engaged in fieldwork in Kintyre (Stephanie Smith 1975: 241). He then taught it to Jeannie, who substituted ‘James’ for MacShannon's ‘George’ in the first stanza, presumably because of the number of Stuart kings in Scotland with that name. She subsequently taught it to [her daughter] Lizzie, who hat recorded the song on disc. Smith has suggested that the change in names was to make the text more Scottish, or more local, and the presence of words like ‘mavis’ (thrush) hints at a nineteenth-century reworking and localisation of a text such as that recorded by Sam Henry (1923-29, 2:282) from a County Antrim informant. The last line of verse  2 has “When the lark and the linnet and the nightingale sing.” Henry's first stanza runs:

I once was a ploughboy but a soldier I'm now;
I courted lovely Molly, a milkmaid I vow;
I courted lovely Molly, I delight in her charms,
For many's the long night I rolled in her arms.

No king is mentioned in Henry's five stanzas, the last of which introduced the “rue and thyme” motif familiar from variant texts of Green Grows the Laurel. It is probable that Jack MacShannon came by the song from Kintyre-Ulster contacts.

Lizzie Higgins sang this song as Lovely Molly to Bill Leader in his home in Camden Town, London, on January 5, 1968. This recording was released in 1969 on her Topic album of Scots songs and ballads, Princess of the Thistle, and was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology Come All My Lads That Follow the Plough (The Voice of the People Volume 5). Peter Hall commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Gavin Greig, the great Scottish collector, rightly criticised the widely held belief that the sentimental Jacobite songs of Lady Caroline Nairne, Lady Jane Scott and others of their kind, could claim to be folk songs. He went so far as to say that there were no truly traditional songs of the Jacobite risings, and indeed the majority of those sung by revival singers are from printed sources such as Hogg's Jacobite Relics. He was, however, overstating his case for there are a number of pieces like the present song which is from the time of the Old Pretender. As in most such examples, the political interest is small and the love interest great.

Emily Smith sang Molly Lovely Molly, in 2002 on her Foot Stompin' CD A Day Like Today. She commented:

This is one of the the first traditional songs I learnt and has become one of my favourites. It is a very old song dating back to the early Jacobite rebellions in Scotland and was taught to me by a great singer, Mr Andy Hunter.

David Gibb and Elly Lucas sang Lovely Molly, in 2013 on their duo CD Up Through the Woods. David Gibb commented in the liner notes:

We first heard this song being sung by the late great Lizzie Higgins on one of the Voice of the People CDs. It tells the well worn tale of young men heading off to war, and the women they left behind.

Sam Lee learnt Lovely Molly from Stanley Robertson who learnt it from Maggie Stewart. He recorded it in 2015 for his CD The Fade in Time and sang it at the BBC Folk Awards 2016 on April 27, 2016 when he won the award for the best traditional track:

Arthur Knevett sang Lovely Molly on his 2016 CD Simply Traditional. He commented in his liner notes:

According to Peter Hall, the Scots folk song collector and folklorist, this song dates back to the time of the first Jacobite Rebellion. It tells the familiar story of the young man going off to war and leaving his sweetheart behind. This version is from the singing of Lizzie Higgins.

Lyrics

Jeannie Robertson sings I Once Was a Ploughboy

I once was a ploughboy, but a soldier I'm now,
I courted wee lovely Molly, as I followed the plough;
I courted wee lovely Molly, at the age of sixteen,
But now I must leave her, for to serve James, my king.

Chorus (after each verse):
Oh Molly, lovely Molly, I delight in your charms,
And there's many's the night I have lay in your arms.
But if ever I return again, it will be in the Spring
Where the mavis and the turtle dove and the nightingale sing.

You can go to the market, you can go to the fair;
You can go to the church on Sunday, and meet your love there.
But if anybody loved you as much as I do,
Then I won't stop your marriage, so farewell, adieu.

Lizzie Higgins sings Lovely Molly

I once was a ploughboy but a soldier I'm now.
I courted wee lovely Molly as I followed the plough.
I courted wee lovely Molly at the age of sixteen,
But now I must leave her and serve James, my king.

Chorus (after each verse):
Oh Molly, lovely Molly, despite all your charms,
There is many's a night you have lay in my arms.
But if ever I'll return again it'll be in the Spring
Where the mavis and the turtle dove and the nightingale sing.

You may go to the market, you may go to the fair;
You may go to the church on Sundays and meet your new love there.
But if anybody loves you half as much as I do,
Then I won't stop your marriage; farewell, love, adieu.

(repeat second verse)