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The Banks of Red Roses

[ Roud 603 ; G/D 7:1444 ; Ballad Index Doe315 ; trad.]

Sarah Makem sang The Banks of Red Roses on her 1968 Topic LP Ulster Ballad Singer. This track was also included on Topic's 70th anniversary anthology, Three Score and Ten. Sean O'Boyle commented in the original recording's sleeve notes:

In contrast to the light and airy theme of The Banks of Red Roses (Irish Street Ballads, No.8), Mrs. Makem's song is a dark story of seduction and premeditated murder, on the lines of The Cruel Ship Carpenter, with which it should be compared. (English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. Vol. 1, pp 317-327). See also E.F.S. Journal Vol. II, p 254. The tune is Doh Mode Hexatonic.

Pete and Chris Coe learned The Banks of Red Roses from the singing of Sarah Makem via her next door neighbour, and recorded it in 1972 for their Trailer LP Open the Door and Let Us In. Their liner notes commented: “No motive is given for the murder, but unwanted pregnancy is a possible reason.”

Lizzie Higgins sang The Banks of Red Roses on her 1969 Topic LP Princess of the Thistle. This recording was also included on the anthology Who's That at My Bed Window? (The Voice of the People Vol. 10, 1998).

And June Tabor sang The Banks of Red Roses on her 1988 album Aqaba.

Jon Boden sang Banks of Red Roses as the July 26, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in the project's blog:

This is one of a number of songs that I used as a template when I first started singing—learning each of June Tabor’s ornaments pretty much note for note. I’ve probably strayed a bit from it now but it’s a very good way of assimilating technical tricks of the trade.

Lyrics

Sarah Makem sings The Banks of Red Roses

Oh, when I was a young girl I heard my mother say
That I was a foolish lass and easy led astray.
And before I would work, I would rather sport and play
With my Johnny on the banks of red roses.

For he took her to his lodge and he treated her to tea,
Saying, “Drink my dearest Mary and come along with me,”
Saying, “Drink my dearest Mary and come along with me
To the bonny, bonny banks of red roses.”

On the banks of red roses my love and I sat down
And he pulled out his charm flute and played his lass a tune.
In the middle of the tune well the bonny lassie cried,
“Ara Johnny, lovely Johnny would you leave me?”

Well, they walked and they talked til they came unto a cave
Where Johnny all the day had been digging up a grave,
Where Johnny all the day had been digging up a grave
For to leave his lassie low among the roses.

Then he pulled out a pen knife, it was both long and sharp,
And he plunged it right into his own dear Mary’s heart.
And he plunged it right into his own dear Mary’s heart
And he left her lying low among the roses.

Lizzie Higgins sings The Banks of Red Roses

When I was a wee thing I heard my mother say,
“Before I would work I would rather sport and play,
Before I would work I would rather sport and play
With my Johnny down among the red roses.”

Johnny took out his tune-box to play his love a tune.
In the middle of the tune, she stood up and cried,
“Oh Johnny dear, oh Johnny dear, it's dinna leave me noo
In the bonny, bonny banks beneath the roses.”

Bur Johnny took out a knife; it was long, thin and sharp.
He's plunged it right into bis bonny Mary's hart,
He's plunged it right into bis bonny Mary's hart
And he left her lying low beneath the roses.

June Tabor sings The Banks of Red Roses

When I was a wee thing and easy led astray
It's before I would work I would rather sport and play,
It's before I would work I would rather sport and play
With my Johnny on the banks of red roses.

On the banks of red roses my love and I sat down
He took out his fiddle and began to play a tune.
And when the tune was ended, his love broke down and cried,
“Oh Johnny, darling Johnny, never leave me!”

He took out his pocket knife, and it was long and sharp
And he plunged it through and through the bonny lassie's hart,
He plunged it through and through the bonny lassie's heart
And he left her lying low among the roses.

(repeat first verse)