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Step It Out Mary

[Sean McCarthy, c. 1955]

Sean McCarthy wrote about his song Step It Out Mary in his songbook The Road to Song: Sean McCarthy, His Songs, Their Music and Story [Clo Duanaire: Cork, 1983|:

Step It Out Mary is based on a children's skipping-song:

Step it out Mary, my fine daughter
Step it out Mary, if you can
Step it out Mary, my fine daughter
Cock your legs for the country man.

The children in the swaying circle took their game very seriously. All along the Kanturk streets, farmers and shopkeepers traded and argued, but the children paid no heed to them, they were too intent in their skipping game. The rules of the skipping game were fairly simple. Each skipper took it in turn to use the skipping rope, while the others changed the above ditty. When it came to the last line, the skipper stopped with the left leg cocked as high as he or she could manage and stayed still until the next skipper took his or her place. If the skipper failed to keep their left leg cocked or it if touched the ground, then with many jeers and catcalls they were banished from the game. It is only a slightly mad, or a childish Kerryman who would have watched the children at all. I watched them for a whole hour.

Kanturk in the County of Cork is a town of numerous pubs, friendly people and plenty of craic. I started my search that night, but could find no man or woman who had ever heard extra verses to the children's skipping song. Indeed my own Kerry, home of strange songs and poems, failed to supply any more than the four lines. In desperation then, in a London building site, when again times were hard on folksingers, I composed the story of the soldier and Mary, and added it to the Kanturk children's skipping ditty.

I did it while I was hiding from the foreman under a concrete stairway, and I used the inside of a cement bag for note paper. I took it home to my modest flat, stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it. Eighteen months later, when fortune was again smiling in my direction, I found myself, along with two others, running a folk singing club in the Clapham area of London.

The folk club was called “The Crubeen” and I suppose if you are a folk buff, you will remember that it started a lot of the present day trend. If you were a folk singer, then the Crubeen was the place to sing. Most of your present day singers, Irish, English and American, dropped in there to try out their material. A young Dublin ex-army rifleman named Danny Doyle wandered in there one night, I sung Step It Out Mary and later gave him the words, no longer written on the cement bag, but neatly typed on shop paper.

The rest is folk history.

Robin M. Williams and Jerome Clark rewrote this song in 1979 as Step It Out, Nancy; it is now set in Wyoming, the rich suitor kills her lover and gets shot in revenge at the wedding.

Danny Doyle sang Step It Out Mary in 1967 as the title track of his EP Step It Out Mary.

Isambarde sang Step It Out Mary on their 2009 Live EP.

Ciaran Boyle sang Step It Out Mary in 2012 on his Hallamshire Traditions CD Bright Flame. He noted:

This was a popular ‘folk’ song when I was very young. I used to travel to Leeds, with my father Tommy, for Sunday afternoon pub sessions in pubs such as The Regent. Perhaps this is where I first heard Bernard Davey sing this song. Leeds has always had a thriving Irish community and I remember seeing Bernard and many others sing both at Fleadhs and in pub sessions. […] The Regent is sadly no more, a sign of changing times, but there is still fine music played in the city.

The Norfolk Broads sang Step It Out Mary, using the revenge ending, on their 2017 CD In the Valley of the Flowers. Castle Rising and Downham Market are places in Norfolk near Kings's Lynn.

Lyrics

Sean McCarthy's Step It Out Mary

In the village of Kilgory, there's a maiden young and fair,
Her eyes they shine like diamonds, she has long and golden hair.
But the country man comes riding, rides up to her father's gates,
Riding on a milk-white stallion, he comes at the strike of eight.

Chorus (after each verse):
Step it out, Mary, my fine daughter
Step it out, Mary, if you can
Step it out, Mary, my fine daughter
Show your legs to the country man

I have come to court your daughter, Mary of the golden hair,
I have gold and I have silver, I have goods beyond compare.
I will buy her silks and satin and a gold ring for her hand,
I will buy for her a mansion, she'll have servants to command.

I don't want your gold and silver, I don't want your house and land,
I am going with a soldier, I have promised him my hand.
But the father spoke up sharply: You will do as you are told,
You'll get married on the Sunday and you'll wear that ring of gold.

In the village of Kilgory there's a deep stream flowing by,
On her marriage day at midnight she drowned with her soldier boy.
In the cottage there is music, you can hear her father say:
Step it out, Mary, my fine daughter, Sunday is your wedding day.

The Norfolk Broads sing Step It Out Mary

𝄆 Fol de rol diddle aye dye tiree aye tiree aye
Whack fol diddle aye day
Whack fol rol diddle aye dye tiree aye tiree aye
Whack fol diddle aye day 𝄇

In the town of Castle Rising there's a maiden fine and fair,
Her eyes they shone like diamonds, she had long and golden hair.
Then a country man came riding, he came to her father's door,
Mounted on a milk white pony, he came at the stroke of four.

Chorus (after each verse):
Step it out, Mary, my fine daughter
Step it out, Mary, if you can
Step it out, Mary, my fine daughter
Cock your leg for the country man

I have come to court your daughter, Mary of the golden hair,
I've gold and I have silver, I have lands beyond compare.
I will buy her silks and satins and a gold ring for her hand,
I will build for her a mansion, she'll have servants to command.

Can't you see I love another, I have promised him my hand,
I don't want your gold nor silver, I don't want your house nor land.
Then up spoke her father sharply, you shall do as I command!
And you'll send the young man hither with a rifle in his hand.

Fol de rol diddle …

He came back from Downham Market, on his pony was a sack,
And the body of her lover it was slung across the back.
In the town of Castle Rising you can her her father say,
Step it out, Mary, my fine daughter, Sunday is your wedding day.

Then poor Mary cried in anguish, she wept loud and tore her hair;
Slipped into her father's chamber, found a pistol lying there.
On the Sunday came the wedding, all the town's folk gathered by;
They saw Mary pulled the trigger for the country man must die.

Mary said, I am not sorry, when the jury heard her tale,
Though he rots beneath she soil and now I shall rot in gaol.
There inside the crowded courtroom, twelve good people took their stand,
Said, we will not hold you, Mary, for the killing of a country man.

Fol de rol diddle …

Links

See also the Mudcat Café threads Origins: Step it out, Mary, my fine daughter and DTStudy: Step It Out Nancy.