> Folk Music > Songs > The County of Tyrone

The County of Tyrone

[ Roud 1991 ; Henry H153ab ; Ballad Index SWMS218 ; Bodleian Roud 1991 ; trad.]

Gale Huntington: Sam Henry’s Songs of the People

Peta Webb sang Roving Round the County Tyrone in 1971 on Oak’s Topic album Welcome to Our Fair. This track was also included in 2003 on Oak’s Musical Traditions anthology Country Songs and Music. Sie Webb also sang it in a Spring 1989 recording made by John Howson on her 1989 Musical Traditions anthology The Magpie’s Nest. Rod Stradling noted on the 2003 album:

Peta learned this from the singing of Lal Smith, a northern Irish Traveller recorded in Belfast for the BBC by Peter Kennedy in 1952. The only other recording was that of Robert Cinnamond by Seán O’Boyle in 1955, also for the BBC. A fuller version variously known as Sweet Jane of Tyrone, Bold Maginnis of the County Tyrone, etc. turns up in several broadside collections. Lal Smith’s version omits much of the narrative to focus on the troubled experience of the female narrator; as so often travellers do, she brings out the emotional content of the song.

Sinéad Caher sang McGuinness of the County Tyrone in 1978 as the title track of her Mulligan album Flower of Magherally. Cathal O Boyle noted:

The idea of a married man taking a young girl does not occur very often in Irish songs. I do not mean that it does not often occur in life, but that such a subject is regarded as “unsuitable” by those who transmit the oral tradition. Most of the songs of love, indeed, all the others on this record, regard marriage as the proper goal of love. Since most of these songs are passed on through families it is not surprising that most of them show a vested interest in marital fidelity. Because of its unusual topic, apart from anything else, this is a song well worth knowing.

Roisín White sang McGuinness in 2009 on her Veteran album of traditional singing from Ireland, With Thanks. She noted:

I learned this song from the repertoire of Robert Cinnamond who lived near Glenavy, Co. Antrim and died in the mid 1960s. There was one LP made of his songs, You Rambling Boys of Pleasure, and he was well known for his unique delivery, with long powerful notes and a wide range in his voice.

and John Moulden and John Howson added:

Often called Sweet Jane of Tyrone, the earliest mention of this ballad seems to be in the 1847 ship’s journal of William Histed of the New Bedford Whaler the Cortes, and ti became popular with many 19th century broadside printers including: Phair, Fortey, Hodges, Pitts, Such. Paul and Ryle in London and W&T Fordyce in Newcastle. It appears in Sam Henry’s Songs of the People as The County of Tyrone and Henry explains that the reference to a vessel being able to travel from Newry to Co. Tyrone is due to the Newry and Lough Neagh Canal being constructed in 1745 which allowed sea traffic through to Tyrone. Early recordings of the song included Lal Smith, a Traveller recorded in Belfast by Peter Kennedy in 1952, and Robert Cinnamond, recorded for the BBC by Sean O’Boyle in 1955.


Peta Webb sings Roving Round the County Tyrone

Oh it’s as I was roving, one fine summer’s morning,
I met an old man as he being walking along.
I asked him if he’d direct me to where I’d get protection
And he told me to travel on to th’old County Tyrone.

Ah, but when it’s I got in to Newry well, it’s there I fell a-courting
With a handsome young fellow; had a wife of his own.
He said he would take me and he’d never forsake me,
And after some time, we could get married, where there’s no-one to know.

Ah, but now from him I’m departed, and it’s left me broken-hearted,
No-one for to talk to, or to call me their own.
For my father, he denies me and my sisters, they criticise me,
And I wished I ne’er went roving round the County Tyrone.

Well, it’s now to make a finish; my love’s name it is Maginnon.
I’ve travelled this wild world far over and o’er.
But I ne’er met a companion like that handsome young fellow
That’s first took me a-roving round the County Tyrone.