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The Green Linnet

[ Roud 1619 ; Ballad Index SWMS211 ; Bodleian Roud 1619 ; trad.]

In 1972, Bill Leader issued three albums on his Trailer label with a version of the Napoleon Bonaparte song The Green Linnet. Al O'Donnell sang it on his eponymous album Al O'Donnell, Dick Gaughan sang it on No More Forever, and Tim Lyons sang it as the title track of his album The Green Linnet. Tim also sang it in 2012 on his and his brother John Lyons's Veteran CD Easy & Bold. The latter album's producer, John Howson, commented in the liner notes:

Often called Maria Louisa's Lamentation for the Green Linnet, this ballad concerns Napoleon Bonaparte's second wife Maria Louisa of Austria whom he married in 1810 after divorcing his first wife Josephine. She is in search of her young emperor and recounts his exploits, saying that she will search until she finds him. It is not unusual in Irish history to use a bird as the name of a leader. During the Jacobite period the Stuart Pretender was known as the ‘Royal Blackbird’, Dan O'Connell was known as the ‘Kerry Eagle’, and Charles Stewart Parnell was known as the ‘Blackbird of Avondale’.

The Green Linnet was another song which was favoured by song publishers with the earliest seeming to be that given in Zimmermann's Songs of the Irish Rebellion (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1967) which comes from a garland printed by W. Kelly in Waterdorf, c.1830, under the title Maria Louisa's Lamentation for the Loss of her Lover. Under the title The Green Lennet it was included in John Ross's Catalogue of Slip Songs which was published in Newcastle on Tyne in 1849. English broadside printers particularly favoured the song and in London alone there were at least five different imprints including Hillatt & Martin, Hodges, Catnach, Batchelar and Birt. In Cork, ballad printer Haly published it and that text is included in P.W. Joyce's Old Folk Music and Songs (Hodges & Figgis, Dublin, 1909). Tim learned the song from the great west Cork singer Elisabeth Cronin.

Outside of Ireland the song was popular in Canada: Kenneth Peacock collected it from Philip Foley of Tilting, Newfoundland, in 1952, and Edith Fowke recorded it from O.J. Abbott in Hull, Quebec, in 1957. That recording was included on the Folkways LP Irish & British Songs from Ottawa Valley (FM4051). Recordings from Ireland include Elizabeth Cronin from Macroom, Co. Cork, on one of the CDs which accompany the book The Songs of Elizabeth Cronin (Four Courts, Dublin, 2000) under the title Sweet Boney Will I E'er See You More, and Joe Heaney from Connemara, Co. Mayo, on CIC 020 Come All Ye Gallant Irishmen.

Martin Simpson sang Green Linnet, followed by American delta blues singer Son House's song Grinning in Your Face, in 1983 on his Topic album Grinning in Your Face. This track was also included in 1992 on his Topic anthology The Collection. Another recording is on the deluxe 2 CD version of his 2013 Topic album Vagrant Stanzas. He commented in this album's liner notes:

Dick Gaughan sang The Green Linnet on his first LP No More Forever which remains a massive influence for me. It is a song about Napoleon Bonaparte, who was largely vilified by the English, a bogey man for children, and a popular bust moulded into the bottom of chamber pots. He was regarded however as a possible saviour by the Irish, and was therefore mourned in a number of exquisitely verbose songs.

Damien Barber and Mike Wilson learned The Green Linnet from Dick Gaughan's album too and recorded it for their 2009 album Under the Influence.

Maggie Boyle sang The Green Linnet on her 2012 WildGoose CD Won't You Come Away. She noted:

Another song from dear Oliver [Mulligan of Co. Monaghan]. Given to me, as I recall, on the same session as Donal Óg. A classic. How lucky I was.


Dick Gaughan sings The Green Linnet

Curiosity led a young native of Erin
For to view the lone banks of the Rhine
Where an empress he saw and the robe that she was wearing
All over with diamonds did shine
No goddess in splendour was ever yet seen
To equal this fair maid so mild and serene
In soft murmurs she cried, “Oh, my linnet so green
Sweet Boney, will I ne'er see you more”

The cold frosty Alps you did freely pass over
Which nature had placed in your way
At Marengo, Beltona around you did hover
All Paris rejoiced the next day
It grieved me the hardships you did undergo
The mountains that you travelled all covered with snow
But the balance of power your courage laid low
Sweet Boney, will I ne'er see you more

The crowned heads of Europe they were in great splendour
And they swore they would have you submit
But the goddess of freedom soon had them surrender
And they lowered their standards to your wit
Old Frederik's colours to France he did bring
His offspring found shelter under your wing
That year at Vienna you so sweetly did sing
Sweet Boney, will I ne'er see you more

What numbers of men there were eager to slay you
Their malice you viewed with a smile
Their gold through all Europe was found to betray you
They joined with the Mamelukes on the Nile
Like ravenous vultures their vile passions did burn
The orphan they slew and caused the widow to mourn
But my linnet he is gone and he never will return
Sweet Boney, will I ne'er see you more

I have roamed through the deserts of wild Abyssinia
And could yet find no cure for my pain
I will go and enquire at the isle of Saint Helena
But soft whispers murmur, “'tis vain”
Come tell me ye muses, come tell me in time
What nations I must rove my green linnet to find
Was he slain at Waterloo in France or on the Rhine?
No—he's dead on St Helena's bleak shore