> The Halliard > Songs > The Spanish Lady

The Spanish Lady / Dublin City

[ Roud 542 , 3086 ; G/D 4:746 ; Henry H532 , H641 ; Ballad Index E098 ; trad.]

Mary Cruickshank's version of The Spanish Lady was printed by Gavin Greig in the Buchan Observer on May 10, 1910, and is one of nine versions of this song in volume 4 of The Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection. Katherine Campbell included it in 2009 in her book Songs from North-East Scotland.

Seamus Ennis sang a fragment of Dublin City to Alan Lomax in Dublin in 1951. This recording was included on the anthology Songs of Seduction. (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 2; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968) and in 2000 on the album's Rounder CD reissue. Alan Lomax and/or Peter Kennedy commented in the album's booklet:

Burl Ives used to sing another version of this song, which begins:

A I walked out in Dublin city
About the hour of twelve at night,
I spied a fair young maiden
Washing her feet by candlelight,

In the refrain, she appears to be counting, but in reverse series, running from twenty to nothing and from nineteen to one. If one combines this refrain with the second stanza of the present version, perhaps the song may make sense as a picture of a market girl or a prostitute summing up her day's receipt of coins. On the other hand, perhaps, the first stanza here is another of the many instances in Irish folk song of an encounter with a feminine symbol of the spirit of depressed Ireland—in this case a revolutionary one. Now it appears that Seamus Ennis has collected a version with an number of stanzas linking the song with No, John, No or Keys of Heaven (see text). My guess is that these stanzas are an addict and an afterthought, but what the song really concerns, no one can be sure. Perhaps Robert Graves could offer on of his reasonable, supernatural explanations.

References:
Also called The Spanish Lady—Irish equivalent of the English song No, John, No (see Vol. I, Side A: Track 9); Keys of Heaven (See Reeves: Idiom of the People); the American versions Paper of Pins and Uh-Uh No

Dominic Behan sang The Spanish Lady in 1959 on his Topic LP Down by the Liffeyside. The liner notes of the 1963 reissue commented:

Dominic writes [in the original album notes]: “Hamish Henderson tells me this was written by Joseph Campbell of Ulster. Fancy that now!”

In her traditional dress, the Spanish lady is sometimes encountered washing her feet, sometimes combing her hair, sometimes counting her cash (Alan Lomax thinks she might be a prostitute counting up her evening takings)—but always by the light of a candle and always in Dublin City. Yet who she is and how she got there we do not know; all we know is that she was very beautiful, and very exotic, and also inaccessible.

This is a treatment of a tune and theme common throughout the British tradition.

The Halliard (Nic Jones, Dave Moran, Nigel Patterson) sang The Spanish Lady in 1967 on their first album, It's the Irish in Me.

Paddie Bell sang The Spanish Lady in 1968 on her LP I Know Where I'm Going.

Al O'Donnell sang Spanish Lady in 1967 on a single on the Tribune label. This track was also included in the following year on the Tribune anthology Ballads for Drinking and the Crack. This video was recorded in New York City in 2009:

The Ripley Wayfarers sang Spanish Lady in 1971 on their Traditional Sound album Chips and Brown Sauce.

Frank Harte sang The Spanish Lady in 1973 on his Topic LP Through Dublin City. He noted:

For too long this fine old Dublin song has been sung mainly by choral groups and concert sopranos. I remember the song from childhood and it has grown as I heard verses of it year after year. In some versions the last verse ends—

She had 20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 none
She had 19 17 15 13 11 9 7 5 3 and 1,

meaning “she had the odds and the evens of it“—in other words she had everything.

[George Townshend sang this numerical chorus in his song Twenty, Eighteen, … which is a short two-verse version of Madam, I Have Come to Court You.]

Jimmy Hutchison sang The Spanish Lady on his 2000 Tradition Bearers CD Corachree. He noted:

Learned from the singing of Dominic Behan (a much under-rated singer) who again was one of the regular residents in the London Singers Club in the Sixties. I know nothing about this lovely song apart that it is from the streets of Dublin.

Ed Miller sang The Spanish Lady on his 2006 CD Never Frae My Mind.

Pete Coe sang The Spanish Lady in 2017 on his CD The Man in the Red Van. He noted:

This started as a tribute to the late Al O'Donnell, a great singer, player and influence on me back in the 60s. I'd learned this and other songs from him but then Mary O'Connor gave me additional verses learned from her mother and suggested I give the song a more reflective narrative treatment. The Spanish Lady may well have been ‘an obliging kind of girl’ but beyond this young man's pocket. A ‘Poddle swaddy’ is a local working class lad [from Poddle, a small river in Dublin], a ‘mott’ is a girl friend or mistress and a ‘sizar’ is a poor scholarship student at Trinity College. The numerical chorus comes from Frank Harte's version. So now it's a tribute to all three great singers.

This video shows Pete Coe at The Bridge on June 26, 2017:

Lyrics

Mary Cruickshank sings The Spanish Lady

As I went up thro' Edinburgh city, half-past twelve o'clock at night,
There I spied a Spanish lady dressing herself with candle light.

She had a basin full of water and a towel into her hand.
Five gold rings on every finger, like an angel she did stand.

Oh she was a charming creature, what she is I do not know.
But I'll go court her for her beauty, whether she be high or low.

“Madam, I am come to court you, if your favour I could gain.
If you gently entertain me maybe I'll come back again.”

“Sit ye doon, ye're harty welcome, whether ye come back or no.
All I want is a handsome young man whether he be high or low.”

“Madam, ye talk much of beauty, that's a flower will soon decay.
The fairest flower in all the summer, when winter comes it doth fade away.”

Seamus Ennis sings Dublin City

As I walked through Dublin City at the hour of twelve at night,
Who should I see but a maiden beauty, combing her hair with a four-pronged pike?

Chorus (after each verse):
Turry-idle-ido-dido-dido,
Turry-idle-ido-dido-day.

As I walked again through Dublin, on the same or another night,
Who should I see but the same fair maiden, counting her cash by the candlelight?

[ Verses sung by Matt Linehan, Kerry (collected by Seamus Ennis)
I says, “Fair maid I come you a-courting, your fine features for to win,
If you'll kindly entertain me some dark night I'll call again.”

She says, “Kind sir, you've come me a-courting, my fine features for to win,
And if I kindly entertain you, you may never call again.”

She sent me very tight all over, including the crown of my old hat,
I pulled out my “pouse” revolver and let fly a terror shot.

When I heard the answer that she made me, I called her a bloody bean,
“Don't you know to whom you're talking? I am Linnehan from Lisheen.

“I have gold and I have money, I have cattle and I have land,
I have ships upon the ocean ready to sail at my command.”

“I don't want your gold or money, I don't want your cattle and land,
I don't want your ships from the ocean; all I want is a fine young man.”

Courtin' women is foolish folly and marryin' women is just the same.
Courtin' women when they're not willin' is like throwin' water against the stream. ]

The Halliard sing The Spanish Lady

As I came down to Dublin City at the hour of twelve at night,
Who should I see but a Spanish lady washing her feet by candle light?
First she washed them, and then she dried them, over a fire of angry coals.
In all my life I never did see such a maid so neat about the soles.

Chorus (twice after each verse):
Whack fol the too-ra loo-ra laddy,
Whack fol the too-ra loo-ra-lay

I stopped to look but the watchman passed. Said he, “Young fellow, now the night is late.
Along with you home or I will wrestle you straightway through the Bridewell gate.”
I drew a kiss of the Spanish lady, hot as a fire of angry coals,
In all my life I never did see such a maid so neat about the soles.

Now she's no mott for a Poddle swaddy with her ivory comb and her mantle fine
But she'd make a wife for the Provost Marshall drunk on brandy and claret wine
I drew a kiss of the Spanish lady, hot as a fire of angry coals,
In all my life I never did see such a maid so neat about the soles.

I've wandered North and I've wandered South through Stoneybatter and Patrick's Close,
Up and down the Gloucester Diamond and back through Napper Tandy's house.
Old age has laid her arm on me cold as a fire of ashy coal
And where is the lovely Spanish lady neat and sweet about the soles?

Pete Coe sings The Spanish Lady

As I roved out through Dublin City at the hour of twelve at night,
Who should I spy but the Spanish lady washing her feet by candle light.
First she washed them, then she dried them over a fire of ambery coals.
In all my life I ne'er did see such a maid so neat about the soles.

Chorus (after each verse):
Twenty, eighteen, sixteen, fourteen, twelve, ten, eight, six, four, two, none,
Nineteen, seventeen, fifteen, thirteen, eleven, nine, seven, five, three and one.

As I came back through Dublin City at the hour of half past eight,
Who should I spy but the Spanish lady combing her hair in broad daylight.
First she washed it, then she brushed it, and on her lap was a silver comb.
In all my life I ne'er did see such a maid so neat as I did roam.

As I went out through Dublin City just as the sun began so set,
Who should I spy but the Spanish lady catching a moth in a golden net.
But when she saw me then she fled me, lifting her petticoats over her knee.
In all my life I ne'er did see such a maid so shy as this lady.

Well, she's no match for a Poddle swaddy, with her silver comb and her mantle fine,
A hellfire buck would better suit her, drinking brandy and claret wine.
I'm just a decent college sizar, poor as a sod of smouldering coals,
How could I dress that Spanish lady, and her so neat about the soles.

She'd make a mott for the Provost Marshal before the Mayor in his coach so high,
Before a Duke in Andalusia, kicking her heels in the Cardinal's eye.
I'm blue as cockles, brown as herrings over a grid of glimmering coals,
All for the sake of the Spanish lady, and her so neat about the soles.

I've wandered North and I've wandered South by Stoneybatter and Patrick's Close,
Up and 'round by the Gloucester Diamond and back by Napper Tandy's house.
Old age has laid her hand on me, cold as a fire of ashy coals.
Where is the love of the Spanish lady, so mortal neat about the soles?

See also the Mudcat Café thread The Spanish Lady.