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Mary Neal

[ Roud 142 ; Laws M17 ; Henry H55 ; Ballad Index LM17 ; Bodleian Roud 142 ; trad.]

Martin Carthy sang Mary Neal unaccompanied on his 1974 album Sweet Wivelsfield. He commented in the record's sleeve notes:

The words of Billy Boy come from James Reeves The Everlasting Circle and the tune from the magnificent Mrs Marina Russell of Upwey, Dorset whose predilection for tunes in the Dorian mode, whilst being a delight to people like me, is probably a source of some annoyance to those academics who like to say the English, as a race, like this or that kind of a tune (and make charts to prove it). She was one of Sharp's more extraordinary ‘finds’ in his hunt for traditional song, music and dance, being by all accounts an incredibly gifted and inventive singer (and person). From her also, comes Mary Neal of which she had three verses, so I took the liberty of filling it out from other printed sources.

M.A. Harron's article The Ballad of Mary Neill refers to a broadside ballad published by the Glasgow stationer James Lindsay in between 1860 and 1880 and included by Colm O'Lochlainn's in his 1919 book Irish Street Ballads. With eleven verses it is much longer than Martin Carthy's version, gives another location for the ship's disaster in Crossford Bay, and has a happier end: Mary Neal gets rescued and her father reconciles with the couple.


Martin Carthy sings Mary Neal

I am a young and undaunted youth my name is John McCann,
I am a native of Edinburgh and willing to trepan.
For the stealing of an heiress I was laid and left in gaol
And her father says he would hang me for stealing Mary Neal.

All in cold irons I lay bound and my love sent word to me:
“Don't you fear my father's anger for I will set you free
There's a good ship that lies awaiting from Derry for to go
And I will bribe the captain that he'll let no-one know.”

I gave consent and back she went and she stole away her clothes
And to not a one that was in the house her mind she did make known.
We have joined our hands in wedlock bands before that we set sail;
For her father's wrath I valued not for I loved my Mary Neal.

It was on the proud and the swelling sea our ship did gently glide,
All on our passage to Quebec six weeks a matchless tide.
Until we come to Whitehead Bay we had no cause to wail
But on Whitehead Bay all on that day I lost my Mary Neal.

On the ninth of June in the afternoon a heavy fog come on.
Our captain cries, “Look out, my boys, or else we are all gone.”
Our vessel on the sandy bank was driven by a gale
And forty were washed overboard all along with Mary Neal.

Now many were the lines we threw all in the foaming spray,
And many were the times I dived but I could not find Mary
Till her yellow locks come a-floating all along the wave so high
And it's now I must stand me trial for a-stealing Mary Neal.


Transcribed by Garry Gillard. Thanks to Wolfgang Hell.