> Martin Carthy > Songs > Handsome Polly-O

Handsome Polly-O / The Bonnie Lass of Fyvie / Peg of Derby

[ Roud 545 ; G/D 1:84 ; Ballad Index SBoA020 ; Bodleian Roud 545 ; Wiltshire 971 ; trad.]

101 Scottish Songs Everyman's Book of British Ballads Bothy Songs and Ballads Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland The Cruel Wars The Scottish Folksinger The Seeds of Love Songs from North-East Scotland

John Strachan sang The Bonnie Lass of Fyvie to Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson in Fyvie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on 16 July 1951. This recording was included in va 1955 on The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music Volume VI: Scotland, in 2002 on his Rounder album Songs from Aberdeenshire, and in 2005 on the Rounder anthology 1951 Edinburgh People's Festival Ceilidh.

Thomas Moran of Mohill, Co. Leitrim, sang Handsome Polly-O in a recording made by Séamus Ennis in 1954 for the BBC Sound Archive. It was included on A Soldier's Life for Me (The Folk Songs of Britain, Volume 8; Caedmon 1961, Topic 1970) and in 2012 on the Topic anthology Good People, Take Warning (The Voice of the People Series Volume 23). The first album's notes comment:

This tale of the love-lorn captain still enjoys widespread popularity in the English-speaking world. It was published in Cecil Sharp's English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians under the title of Pretty Katie-O and in Scotland it is generally sung as The Bonnie Lass of Fyvie to the air Kelvin Grove.

Ewan MacColl sang The Bonnie Lass of Fyvie in 1962 on his Folkways album Popular Scottish Songs. He printed it in his 1965 book Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland.

Derek Sarjeant sang Peggy-O on his 1962 EP Folk Songs Sung By Derek Sarjeant.

Nigel Denver sang Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie in 1964 on his eponymous Decca album, Nigel Denver.

John Mearns sang Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie on his ca 1964-5 EP John Mearns Sings Folk-Songs of the North-East.

Paul McNeill sang Bonnie Lass of Fyvie on his 1966 Decca album Traditionally at The Troubadour.

Jimmy McBeath sang The Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie in a recording made by Peter Hall in Scotland in July 1971. This was published in 1978 on McBeath's Topic album Bound to Be a Row and in 1998 on the Topic anthology Come Let Us Buy the Licence (The Voice of the People Series Volume 1).

Martin Carthy sang Handsome Polly-O on his 1972 album Shearwater. He noted:

Handsome Polly is from the recording made by Séamus Ennis of Thomas Moran of Mohill, Co. [Leitrim] and is a nicely unfussy way of doing a song which in one form at one time was part of every folk guitarist's staple diet (not so much now. God is good).

Martin Carthy sang this song live on Steeleye Span's BBC radio programme “Peel's Sunday Concert” on 15 September 1971. This programme was included as a bonus CD of the 2006 reissue of Steeleye Span's third album, Ten Man Mop or Mr Reservoir Butler Rides Again.

Isabel Sutherland sang The Bonnie Lass of Fyvie in 1974 on her eponymous EFDSS album Isabel Sutherland.

Muckram Wakes sang Peg of Derby in 1976 on their eponymous album Muckram Wakes and Roger Watson returned to it in 2009 on his WildGoose album Past and Present. He noted:

A frequently heard story in ballads is that of the itinerant soldier, whose beloved—hard-hearted or sensible, whichever way you chose to see it—refuses to follow him to a new posting, causing him to die of a broken heart. I first learned it more than 40 years ago as The Bonny Lass of Fyvie-O, and later as Peg of Derby-O. I lived in Derby for a time, just around the corner from the main Rolls-Royce works, and recall vividly the atmosphere in the town when the company crashed in 1971. That became the setting for this version of the song.

Battlefield Band sang Bonnie Barbry-O on their 1980 album Home Is Where the Van Is.

The Old Blind Dogs sang The Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie on their 1992 CD New Tricks. Iain Clavey noted:

The Old Blind Dogs base this version on the popular song known all over Scotland. Unfortunately, the original version carries the song to seventeen verses, as in Ord's Bothy Songs and Ballads, but due to popularisation it has been reduced to its shortened state by numerous singers and bands long before the Old Blind Dogs got hold of it. At least it is still alive and now kicking!

Jock Duncan sang Bonnie Lass o Fyvie on his 1996 Springthyme album Ye Shine Whar Ye Stan!. The album's booklet noted, and cited Jock:

This song telling of the dragoon captain who died for the love of the bonnie lass o Fyvie has been widely popular. There are over 20 versions in the Greig-Duncan Collection (G/D 1:84) with considerable variation in text and tune. The song was collected by Cecil Sharp in the Appalachians under the title Pretty Peggy O (EFSSA 95) and Ford’s Vagabond Songs has a song Bonnie Barbara O localised in Derby. But the song seems certainly to belong to Fyvie.

There may or may not have been a barracks in or near Fyvie but it is clear from the song and local tradition that Fyvie was a staging post on the military route from Aberdeen to Fort George on the Moray Firth.

The howe of Auchterless lies to the north of Fyvie and follows the river Ythan turning west at Towiebarclay Castle to the Kirkton of Auchterless. The Garioch, or the Gearie as it is pronounced, is the land to the west of Inverurie between Benachie and Oldmeldrum.

Jock: After Fort George wis built they cam through Fyvie and they took the ford at Gicht—the roads wisna good then. In the song:

Early neist mornin they aa mairched awa,
And oh but oor captain wis sorry;
An the drums they did beat ower the bonnie braes o Gicht,
An the pipes played the Bonny Lewes o Fyvie O.

The Lewes is the name given to the land around the village—the low lying ground.

Another thing they said (in Fyvie): During the Irish rebellions that the Irish Dragoons cam over here wi prisoners heading for Fort George. They aye mentioned the name O’Connors—Irish prisoners. That wis a very favourite song wi Willie Allen, and the wife tee, at Tifty Croft. They baith sang that een thegither.

John Aitken from Kirriemuir in Angus sang The Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie on the 2000 Sleepytown anthology The Bothy Songs and Ballads of North East Scotland Vol. 2.

Malinky sang The Bonnie Lass of Fyvie in 2000 on their Greentrax album Last Leaves; with the album title referring to Greig and Keith's Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs (Aberdeen 1925). A live version from the Strathclyde Suite, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, at Celtic Connections in January 2009 was included in 2019 on the bonus CD of their 20th anniversary album Handsel where they noted:

All members past and present for Malinky’s 10th anniversary show, singing the first song Steve [Byrne] and Karine [Polwart] ever tried out together in the basement of the Royal Oak, Edinburgh. This one’s for Paddy Bort (1954-2017) who helped us a fair way along the road.

Gordon Easton sang The Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2003 or May 2004. This recording was included in 2005 on the festival's CD Here's a Health to the Company (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Vol. 1) and in 2007 on his Autumn Harvest CD The Last of the Clydesdales. The album's notes commented:

This song telling of the dragoon captain who died for the love of the bonnie lass o' Fyvie has been and still is widely popular. There are over 20 versions in the Greig-Duncan Collection (GD 1:84) with considerable variation in text and tune. It is clear from the song and local tradition that Fyvie was a staging post on the military route from Aberdeen to Fort George on the Moray Firth.

Wheeler Street sang Handsome Polly-O live at The Corn Exchange, Maidstone on 29 March 2010. The concert recording was released in the following year as their album Live.

Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys sang Bonny Lass of Fyvie on their 2017 CD Pretty Peggy.

Terry Dey sang Bonny Lass of Fyvie live at St Andrew's in the Square, Glasgow, during Celtic Connections 2018. A recording of this concert was released in the same year on the TMSA CD 101 Scottish Songs: The Wee Red Book 3.

Iona Fyfe sang Bonny Lass of Fyvie in 2020 on her download single Bonnie Lass of Fyvie. She noted:

One of the most well-known of Aberdeenshire songs, I got this from the singing of Sam Kelly, who recorded The Bonnie Lass of Fyvie on his album titled Pretty Peggy. Bob Dylan recorded Pretty Peggy-O on his 1962 debut album and performed the song with a more traditional melody on 18 April 1997 in State University of New York, Albany. Pretty Peggy O was collected by Cecil Sharp from Mrs Combs, Knott County Kentucky in 1908.

The Bonnie Lass of Fyvie details the failed romance between a soldier and ‘Peggy’. Versions can be found in the form of Pretty Peggy or Fennario in the Appalachians, The Maid of Fife in Fife, and the localised Pretty Peggy o Derby in England. Variants are set within the time period of American Civil War in 1812, but in the North East, the song dates back to 1644, when the Marquess of Montrose’s Royalist Army invaded Fyvie Castle.

There are over twenty versions of the song in Volume 1 of the Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection. The earliest manuscript is a Bodleian Broadside from before 1839. The earliest recorded North East version of the song comes from Fyvie-man John Strachan who sung it to Hamish Henderson in 1952, the next being from John MacDonald, the famous Morayshire melodeon-playing mole-catcher who sung it to Hamish Henderson in 1954.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings Handsome Polly-O

Oh a regiment of soldiers came to Mohill O,
A regiment of soldiers came to Mohill O,
When the captain on parade
He fell in love with a lady's maid.
And the name that she was called was handsome Polly O.

“Will you list in the army, handsome Polly O?
Will you list in the army handsome Polly O?
Ah, you'll get a horse to ride
And your rifle by your side
And a whole band of music going afore ye O.”

“Didn't I give you your answer long, long ago?
Didn't I give you your answer long, long ago?
That I ne'er intend to roam
Into any foreign shore
Nor to marry a poor soldier in the army O.”

Now when she come in presence of the captain O,
And she come in presence of the captain O,
Ah, she made him there to stand
With his cap and gun in hand
And she laughed him to scorn to his soldiers O.

The regiment got the rout into Ivy O,
The regiment got the rout into Ivy O,
And the captain he fell sick,
And he died all in a week,
And it was all for the love of handsome Polly O
And all for the love of handsome Polly O.
Ah, the captain he fell sick,
And he died all in a week,
And it was all for the love of handsome Polly O.

The soldiers went to mourn for the captain O,
The soldiers went to mourn for the captain O.
For if Polly wouldn't do,
They would get another view;
For there were far better girls out in Ivy O.

Jock Duncan sings Bonnie Lass o Fyvie

Green grow the birks upon bonnie Ythanside,
And low lie the bonnie lewes o Fyvie O;
In Fyvie thereʼs bonnie, in Fyvie thereʼs braw,
In Fyvie thereʼs bonnie lassies mony O.

There cam a troop o the Irish Dragoons,
And they were stationed in Fyvie O;
And their captain fell in love wi a very bonnie lass,
And her name was caʼd Pretty Peggy O.

Chorus (after every other verse):
For thereʼs mony a bonnie lass in the howe o Auchterless,
Thereʼs mony a bonnie lass in the Gearie O,
Thereʼs mony a bonnie Jean in the toun o Aiberdeen,
But the flooer o them aa is in Fyvie O.

“Come doun the stair pretty Peggy my dear,
Come doun the stair pretty Peggy O;
Oh come doun the stair and kame back yer yeller hair,
Take a last fareweel o yer daddy O.”

“For itʼs braw, oh itʼs braw a captainʼs lady for tae be,
Itʼs braw being a captainʼs lady O;
Itʼs braw tae rant and rove and tae follow at his word,
And tae mairch when the captain he is ready O.”

The colonel he cried, “Come mount boys, mount.”
The captain he said, “Let us tarry O,
Let us gyang nae awa this day at or twa,
Till we see if the bonnie lassʼll marry O.”

“Iʼve gien ye my answer, kind sir,” she said,
“And dinna spier at me ony farther O;
For I have no intentions of going to foreign lands,
And Iʼd scorn to follow a sodger O.”

On the following mornin, they aa mairched awa,
And oh but oor captain he was sorry O;
An the drums they did beat ower the bonny braes o Gicht,
And the pipes played the ʻBonny Lewes o Fyvie O.ʼ

And fan they won tae Auld Meldrum toun,
They haed their captain tae cairry O;
And fan they won tae bonnie Aiberdeen,
They hid their captain tae bury O.

His name was captain Ward and he died on the guard,
He died for the love of pretty Peggy O;
He said, “When Iʼm gone, you will let it be known,
That I died for the bonnie lass o Fyvie O.”

For green grow the birks upon bonnie Ythanside,
And low lie the bonnie lewes o Fyvie O;
In Fyvie thereʼs bonnie, in Fyvie thereʼs braw,
In Fyvie thereʼs bonnie lassies mony O.

Malinky sing The Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie

There once was a troop of Irish dragoons,
Come marchin' doon through Fyvie O,
The captain's fa'en in love
Wi' anither bonnie quine
An' the name that she had was Pretty Peggy O.

“Come runnin' doon the stairs Pretty Peggy my dear,
Come runnin' doon the stairs Pretty Peggy O,
Come runnin' doon the stairs
And tie back yer yellow hair,
Tak' a last fareweel tae yer daddie O.”

“For it's I'll buy ye ribbons and I'll buy ye rings
And I'll buy ye necklaces o' lammer O.
I'll buy ye silken goon
Tor tae clead ye up an' doon
If ye'd just come doon in tae ma chamber O.”

“Well, I'll hae nane o' yer ribbons, I'll hae nane o' yer rings!
I'll hae nane o' yer necklaces o' lammer O!
An' as for silken goon
I will never put it on
An' I never will enter yer chamber O.”

Well there's mony a bonnie lass in the howe o' Auchterless
An' mony a bonnie lass in the gearie O.
There's mony a bonnie Jean
In the toon o' Aberdeen
But the flo'er o them a' bides in Fyvie O.

The colonel he cried, “Mount boys, mount boys, mount!”
The captain he cried, “Tarry O!
Tarry for a while
Just anither day or twa
For tae see if the bonnie lass will marry O.”

“Well I'll drink nae mare o' yer guid claret wine,
I'll drink nae mare o' yer glasses O,
For the morn is the day
That I maun ride away
Wi' adieu tae ye Fyvie lasses O.”

Syne e'er we got tae Old Meldrum toon
Oor captain we had far tae carry O.
An's syne e'er we
Got tae bonnie Aberdeen
Oor captain we had tae bury O.

So it's green grow the birks on bonnie Ythanside,
And low lie the Lowlands o Fyvie O;
Our captain's name was Ned
An' he's died for a maid,
He's died for the bonnie lass o Fyvie O.

Gordon Easton sings The Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie

Oh there were a troop o Irish dragoons,
And they were stationed in Fyvie O;
And the captain's faan in love
Wi' an awfa bonnie lass,
And her name is caad Pretty Peggy O.

Chorus:
Now there's mony a bonnie lass in the Howe o Auchterless,
There's mony a bonnie lassie in the Gearie O;
Aye there's mony a bonnie Jean
In the toon o Aiberdeen,
But the flooer o them aa lives in Fyvie O.

“Now come doon the stair Pretty Peggy my dear,
Oh come doon the stair Pretty Peggy O;
Aye, come doon the stair,
Bind up yer yeller hair,
Tak a last fareweel o yer daddy O.”

“Now I never did intend a captain's lady tae be,
I never will marry a soldier O;
And I never did intend tae gang
Tae a foreign land,
So I never will marry a soldier O.”

Now it was the early morning that they marched awa,
And oh but our captain was sorry O;
The drums they did beat
O'er the bonnie Braes o Gicht,
And the band played the Lowlands o Fyvie O.

But as we won the length o auld Meldrum toun,
Wir captain we had tae cairry O;
And as we won the length
O bonnie Aiberdeen,
Wir captain we had tae bury O.

Now green grows the birks on bonnie Ythanside,
And low lies the Lowlands o Fyvie O;
Our captain's name was Ned
And he died for a maid,
He died for the bonnie lass o Fyvie O.

(Chorus)

Iona Fyfe sings Bonnie Lass of Fyvie

As we rode oot by Fyvie-o,
as we rode oot by Fyvie-o
Well I fell in love wi a lady like a dove
And her name it wis caad pretty Peggy-o

There’s mony a lass in Auchterlass,
there’s mony a lass in the Garioch-o
There’s mony I’ve seen in the streets o’ Aiberdeen
Bit the flooer o’ them aa’s pretty Peggy-o

Chorus (twice after every other verse):
Woah, pretty peggy, woah bonny lass of Fyvie

Well if you wid mairry me pretty Peggy-o
If you wid mairry me pretty peggy-o
Well if you wid mairry me, then a’ll set yer city free,
And a’ll spare aa the people o Fyvie-o

A’ll gie ye ribbons an a’ll gie ye rings
A’ll gie ye a necklace o’ amber-o
I’ll stitch ye a dress, silk and flooers on it’s chest
If you a foreign sodger for tae mairry-o

Well I wida mairried you sweet William-o
Well I wida mairried you sweet William-o
Well I wida mairried you, afore my brithers hairt you slew
Noo I’ll tak nae foreign sodger for tae marry-o

Come steppin doon the stairs, pretty Peggy-o
Come steppin doon the stairs, pretty Peggy-o
Come steppin doon the stairs, and bind up yer yellow hair
Tak a last fareweel o yer Daddy-o

It wis early last mornin fin we mairched awa,
The captain said he wis sorry-o
Well the drums they did beat like the grun aneath oor feet
And the band played The Bonnie Lass o’ Fyvie-o

If niver I return pretty Peggy-o
If niver I return pretty Peggy-o
When I see the morning dew, oh I will think of you
My bonnie lass o’ Fyvie-o

Well lang ere we cam tae Aulmeldrum toon
Oor captain we had to carry-o
Bit when we returned tae the streets o’ Aiberdeen
Oor captain we had to bury-o

Green grow the birk upon Ythanside
And low lie the lowlands o Fyvie-o
Oor captain's name was Ned and he died for a maid
He died for the bonnie lass o Fyvie-o

Final chorus:
Woah, pretty peggy, woah bonny lass of Fyvie
Woah, pretty peggy, woah bonny lass of Fyvie
Woah, pretty peggy, woah bonny lass
Woah, pretty peggy, woah bonny lass of Fyvie-o