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The Lass of Roch Royal / Lord Gregory / Maid of Aughrim / Mirk, Mirk Is the Midnight Hour

[ Roud 49 ; Child 76 ; G/D 6:1226 ; Ballad Index C076 ; Bodleian Roud 49 ; trad.]

This ballad of refusal by the lover's mother is listed as #76, Lass of Loch Royal, in Francis J. Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Alexander Keith included it as Lord Gregory in his book of of ballads collected in Aberdeenshire by Gavin Greig, Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs (Aberdeen 1926).

Elizabeth Cronin sang Lord Gregory to Alan Lomax in Macroom, Co. Clare in 1951. This recording was included ten years later on the anthology The Child Ballads 1 (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume IV; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968). Fred McCormick commented in a Musical Tradition review of Dáibhí Ó Cróinín's book The Songs of Elizabeth Cronin:

And there is Lord Gregory. If any single song in this most remarkable of repertoires scoops all the Oscars, this must surely be it. […] What is significant, however, is the way the text has been restructured to accommodate the sexual mores of the Ireland Mrs Cronin grew up in. In its older forms Lord Gregory is a very long ballad, which moves through several episodes before culminating in the girl's death by drowning. In some versions, Jean Ritchie's is a case in point, Lord Gregory commits suicide when he learns of her fate.

In Mrs Cronin's version, the action centres around just one scene. The girl stands at the castle gates, the illegitimate babe dying in her arms, while she begs and pleads for admission. She is refused by Lord Gregory's mother and she leaves. We do not know what happens to her. We only know that when Lord Gregory discovers his mother's treachery, he vows that he will not rest until he can “find the Lass of Arrams and lie by her side”. Why? Why is the ballad so truncated, and why does this version obviate the more usual and more tragic ending? Why is the mother viewed as the traitor, and why, in a ballad which puts out several clues that the subject is a fallen woman, is so much weight, and sympathy, given to her plight? Remembering the moral climate in which Mrs Cronin's Lord Gregory existed, we might expect the ending to be retained intact as an example to others.

The answer does not lie in the supposed tendency of the Irish to turn every single narrative ballad into a lyric. Enough examples of balladry, native and imported, exist to demonstrate that the Irish are perfectly capable of handling narrative material. Nor is it the case that folksongs existed as integrative mechanisms to reinforce codes of social behaviour. If we try to interpret Mrs Cronin's version of Lord Gregory in normative or didactic terms, it does not make sense. Far from legitimising, or explicating, social codes, it is truer to say that folksongs existed as a means of enabling people to live under those codes.

Rural Ireland, until very recently, had harsh canons of sexual conduct. Association between unmarried individuals of opposite sexes was rare and frowned upon. If it happened that a girl found herself pregnant out of wedlock she could expect to be shown the door by her parents. In a land where arranged marriage was common enough to be considered the norm, and where marriage was constrained by inheritance and property rights, she could expect no sympathy from her own family and even less from the family of her seducer. She might as well go and drown herself. The fact that she does not appear to do so, and the fact that Lord Gregory vows to “lie by her side”, i.e. to marry her, suggests that Mrs Cronin's version both dramatises the dilemma of non-marital pregnancy, and offers an emotional solution to the dilemma.

Ewan MacColl sang Lord Gregory in 1956 on the Riverside album The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume IV. This and 28 other ballads from this series were reissued in 2009 on MacColl's Topic CD Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. Kenneth S. Goldstein noted in the album's booklet:

This tragic story is one of the most moving in the Child canon; nevertheless, it has been recorded rarely from tradition. One can not blame the length of the ballad for this situation (though it must be taken into account), for longer ballads have been recently collected. Perhaps the indelicacy of a situation in which the heroine is an unwed mother has driven this ballad from a folk society in which pristine morality, religious “hell-and-damnation” teachings, and general squeamishness hold sway.

What has taken firm hold with the folk are the “Who will shoe my pretty feet?” stanzas, the American equivalent of the “Wha will lave my shoes sae sma'?” in the Scottish version of the ballad sung on this recording. These stanzas have been collected widely by themselves as simple lyric song, as well as appearing as part of many ballads (see Coffin's The British Traditional Ballad in North America, p. 81, for a partial list of ballads to which these stanzas had appended). Collectors have, all too frequently, resorted to listing a version of The Lass of Roch Royal, when their contribution to recorded lore is merely another “Who will shoe” text. This is all the more surprising when one realises that is has never been determined whether these stanzas originated with this ballad. It should be noted that these same stanzas are also found in another Child ballad, The New-Slain Knight (Child 263). Child, however, thought these stanzas were borrowed from The Lass of Roch Royal.

The full ballad has not previously been reported from England in this century. In America, it has been reported in only two states, West Virginia and North Carolina. Greig collected two excellent versions in Aberdeenshire early in the 20th century. Apparently the ballad is still known in tradition in Britain, for MacColl recently learned the version he sings here from Margaret Logan of Corsham, Wiltshire.

Shirley Collins learned Lord Gregory from the singing of Elizabeth Cronin. She sang it unaccompanied on her and Davy Graham's 1964 album, Folk Roots, New Routes.

Peggy Seeger and Tom Paley sang both The Lass of Loch Royal Who's Going to Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot? as title track of their 1964 Topic and Elektra album Who's Going to Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot?. Peggy Seeger noted on both versions:

Here is an excellent example of how a ballad contributes to (or becomes) a song, or how elements of a ballad may be isolated out to become independent pieces. The Lass of Roch Royal hardly exists in full form any more in the United States, the present text being a collation of two North Carolina versions. They are the only ones I have found in print that even suggest the full story. It could hardly be affirmed that the shorter, lyrical piece is actually a fragment of the longer traditional ballad, as the verses they hold in common have now become ‘floater’ verses to be found in at least a dozen other songs.

LaRena Clark sang Lord Gregory in 1965 on her Topic album of folksongs from Ontario, A Canadian Garland.

Isla St Clair sang Annie of Lochroyan in 1972 on her Tangent album Isla St Clair Sings Traditional Scottish Songs. Hamish Henderson commented in the album's sleeve notes:

Number 76 in Professor Child's thesaurus English and Scottish Popular Ballads, The Lass of Lochroyan is a five-star example of folksong which is also poetry. The text Isla uses was condensed (by [her mother] Zetta and herself) from the version published by Sir Walter Scott in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Isla's tune descends from the two-strain melody published by James Johnson in The Scots Musical Museum (Vol I, No 5). Stenhouse stated that this was “a very ancient Gallowegian melody”, but Bronson has no hesitation in calling it a relative of the widely scattered Miller of Dee tune. This it no doubt is, but few who listen to Isla's singing will deny that it carries the melody nobly.

On 18 August 1971, Isla sang her version of Annie of Lochroyan as the opening song of the Sir Walter Scott Bicentenary Ceilidh.

Peggy Delaney sang this ballad as Maid of Aughrim, which was recorded by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie in between 1973 and 1985, on the 2003 Musical Traditions anthology of songs of Irish Travellers in England, From Puck to Appleby. Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie noted in the accompanying booklet:

This is undoubtedly a fragment of the ballad known as The Lass of Roch Royal, Lord Gregory or The Lass of Aughrim. Ballad scholar, Dr Hugh Shields, has traced it from its origins in Scotland to its first recorded discovery in Ireland in 1850, right though to its last, from Co Clare singer, Ollie Conway in 1985, via its inclusion in James Joyce’s short story The Dead. According to Child, it made its appearance in print as Isabell of Rochroyall in a Scots manuscript songbook in the early eighteenth century, though he points out that it is certainly much earlier than the first printed source and suggested that it was in a ballad form which had first appeared in the later Middle Ages. There have been comparisons made to Constance’s story in Chaucer’s The Sergeant-at-Law’s Tale.

The ballad survived mainly in Scotland and in the United Stated where a ‘floater’ verse, “Who’s going to shoe your pretty little foot”, (Peggy’s 3rd verse) took on a life of its own and has become a song in its own right.

There have been only a handful of versions found in Ireland, the best known of these being the one recorded from Elizabeth Cronin of Ballyvourney, Co Cork. Thomas Moran, the Co Leitrim singer with the seemingly inexhaustible repertoire, had it, and Tom Munnelly recorded it from Roscommon Traveller John ‘Jacko’ Reilly.

Peggy learned it when a child from her father, Michael McCarthy Snr., a travelling tinsmith and horse dealer, born in Kilrush, Co Clare, of Tipperary parentage.

Maddy Prior's version with the title Lass of Loch Royal seems to be more a ballad of rape and abandonment. She sang it in 1976 on her and June Tabor's album Silly Sisters, accompanied by Nic Jones, guitar; Danny Thompson, bass; and Gabriel McKeon, uilleann pipes. The album's sleeve notes comment:

This is part of a longer (and rambling) ballad; this portion is sometimes known as Lord Gregory.

Maddy Prior sang this ballad again as Lord Gregory on Steeleye Span's 2006 CD, Bloody Men. She noted:

I first heard this from the singing of Paddy Tunney, but it is many years since I heard his delicate rendition, and I expect there have been some changes. I don't have the most accurate musical ear, nor the best memory, so the folk process will be at its most evident in my versions of traditional songs. This is a beautifully portrayed picture of a devastating romantic encounter that leaves the girl in despair, given the social mores of the day.

Ian Manuel sang The Lass of Loch Royal on his 1977 Topic album The Dales of Caledonia.

Yorkshire Relish (Derek, Dorothy and Nadine Elliott) sang Lass of Loch Royal in 1980 on their Traditional Sound album An Old Family Business.

The Boys of the Lough sang Lord Gregory in 1981 on their Topic album In the Tradition.

Maggie Boyle learned Lord Gregory “from the singing of Bernadette McKenna, a lovely traditional singer from Luton” and recorded it in 1998 for her CD Gweebarra.

Mick Pearce and Kitty Vernon sang Lord Gregory in 1998 on their WildGoose CD Dark the Day. They noted:

This version of the ballad The Lass of Lochroyan is based on that recorded from the West Cork singer Elizabeth Cronin in the 40s. It starts after Lord Gregory has travelled abroad, left a pregnant girl behind, come home and been followed by the girl and her baby. At the door (or possibly only the window) of his castle, the girl fails to recognise Lord Gregory's mother pretending to be him and trying to get rid of her (clearly she hadn't seen him for some time!). As is usual with men, Lord Gregory, who has been asleep through all of this, wakes up after all the action is over.

Kathryn Roberts sang Lord Gregory in 2001 on Equation's EP The Dark Ages. This track was also included in the following year on her and Sean Lakeman's CD 1..

Robert Burns' version Mirk, Mirk Is the Midnight Hour was sung in 1999 by Mae McKenna on volume 6 of The Complete Songs of Robert Burns , in 2004 by Corrina Hewat on Bachué's CD The Butterfly, and in 2007 by Karine Polwart on her CD Fairest Floo'er.

Ewan McLennan sang The Lass of Aughrim in 2012 on his Fellside CD The Last Bird to Sing.

Kim Edgar sang Lord Gregory on Cara's 2013 CD Horizon and on their 2018 CD Live. They noted:

Our only traditional ballad on the album, and what an epic one! Ever since Gudrun [Walther] heard Jamie McMenemy's version with Orion she had in on her list of songs to be recorded one day. Kim didn't need much persuading and took to it instantly. There's nothing like a good old heartbreaking ballad once in a while—get the tissues out…

Nuala Kennedy sang Fair Annie of the Loch Royanne on her 2016 album Behave the Bravest.

Burd Ellen sang Fair Annie of Lochroyan on their 2019 CD Silver Came. Debbie Armour noted:

This powerful version of Lord Gregory comes from the singing of Isla St Clair, another of my favourite voices. Annie's agency and determination are a departure from the usual damp and powerless girl we see at the castle gates. We recorded this in one take, in sequence with Lemany.

Jim Moray sang Lord Gregory on his 2019 CD The Outlander. He noted:

Mainly learned by Osmosis from recordings by Maddy Prior and Kathryn Roberts, although I always felt the story wasn't finished. I added some verses from versions variously called The Lass of Loch Royal and The Lass of Aughrim to complete the story.

Martin Simpson sang Who's Going to Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot? in 2019 on his Topic album Rooted. He noted:

The travels and changes of the great British Ballads are well documented but it is always fascinating to me to revisit the songs. Woody Guthrie was the first person I heard sing, Who’s Going to Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot, which is what remains of the ballad, The Lass of Loch Royal (Child 76), in the USA. I later found it on the 1964, Peggy Seeger & Tom Paley LP of the same name on Topic Records. The tune is a perfect, simple gem, which I found myself playing as an instrumental. Eventually the lyrics started to appear and then to change. I read them to my friend, Martin Taylor, who pointed out that ‘illusion, greed and hate’ are known in Buddhism as ‘The Three Poisons’.

Jon Wilks talked with Burd Ellen about Lord Gregory on 18 July 2020 in Episode 11 of his Old Songs Podcast.

More Maids sang Lass of Aughrim on their 2021 CD Fourmaids. They noted:

This song is a shorter version of an old Irish ballad, as sung by Nrw Orleans singer and bouzouki player Beth Patterson. It tells the story of a young peasant girl who ends up pregnant after being seduced by Lord Gregory. She comes to his castle to beg for his help, but is turned away by his mother who is hiding behind the castle door, pretending to be him. Our version ends here; the longer ones tell us how Lord Gregory finds out about his mother’s deed and goes after the girl and her child—only to discover them both drowned.


Shirley Collins sings Lord Gregory

I am a poor young girl that's straight from Cappoquin,
I'm in search of Lord Gregory, pray God I'll find him.

The rain beats my yellow locks and the dew wets me still,
My babe is cold in my arms, Lord Gregory, let me in.”

Lord Gregory, he's not here and henceforth can't be seen,
For he's gone to bonny Scotland to bring home his new queen.

So leave now these windows and likewise this hall,
For it's deep in the sea you should hide your downfall.

But who will shoe my babe's little feet? Who'll put gloves on her hand?
Who will tie my babe's middle with a long linen band?

Who will comb my babe's yellow hair with an ivory comb?
Who will be my babe's father till Lord Gregory comes home?

Do you recall, darling Gregory, that night in Cappoquin
When we both changed pocket handkerchiefs and me against my will?

For yours was pure linen, love, and mine but coarse cloth,
For yours cost a guinea, love, and mine but one groat.

Do you remember, love Gregory, that night in Cappoquin
When we changed rings on our fingers and me against my will?

For yours was pure silver, love, and mine was but tin,
For yours cost a guinea, love, and mine but one cent.

Now my curse on you, Mother, my curse being so
Sure I dream the girl I love came a-knocking to my door.

Sleep down, you foolish son, sleep down and sleep on
For it's long ago that weary girl lies drowning in the sea.

The saddle me the black horse, the brown and the bay,
Come saddle me the best horse in my stable today.

And I'll range over mountains, over valleys so wide
Till I find the girl I love and I'll lay by her side.

Maddy Prior sings Lass of Loch Royal on Silly Sisters

I am a King's daughter come straight from Cappoquin,
In search of Lord Gregory, may God I'll find him.

The rain beats at my yellow locks, the dew wets me still,
The babe is cold in my arms, love, Lord Gregory let me in.

Lord Gregory is not here and he henceforth can't be seen,
For he's gone to bonny Scotland to bring home his new queen.

Leave now these windows and likewise this hall,
For it's deep in the sea you will find your downfall.

Do you remember, love Gregory, as we sat at the wine?
We exchanged rings and aye, the best was mine.

Yours was the purest gold and mine but false tin,
Yours it cost a guinea, love, but aye, 'twas false within.

Do you remember, love Gregory, that night in Cappoquin?
You stole away my maidenhead and sore against my will.

So open these windows, open and let me in,
The rain rains on my good clothing and the dew stands on my chin.

I have built a bonny boat all covered with pearl,
And at every needle tuck in it there hangs a silver bell.

But I'll take down that mast of gold and set up a mast of tree,
For it does not suit a forsaken maid to sail so royally.

And I'll leave now these windows and likewise this hall,
For it's deep in the sea I will find my downfall.

Maddy Prior sings Lord Gregory on Bloody Men

I am a King's daughter come straight from Cappoquin
In search of Lord Gregory, may God I'll find him.

The rain beats at my yellow locks, the dew wets me still,
The babe is cold in my arms, love, Lord Gregory let me in.

The rain rains on my good clothing, the dew stands on my chin,
The babe is cold in my arms, love, Lord Gregory let me in.

Do you remember, love Gregory, that night in Cappoquin?
We exchanged handkerchiefs and sore against my will.

Four yours it was fine linen, love, and mine but course cloth,
Yours it cost a guinea, love, and mine but one groat.

Do you remember, love Gregory, as we sat at the wine?
We exchanged rings and aye, the best was thine.

For yours it was the purest gold and mine but false tin,
Yours it cost a guinea, love, but aye, 'twas false within.

Do you remember, love Gregory, that night in my father's hall?
You stole away my maidenhead, and that's the worst of all.

Lord Gregory is not here and he henceforth can't be seen
For he's gone to bonny Scotland to bring home his new queen.

Lord Gregory is not here and he lately has gone,
He's gone to bonny Scotland to bring his new bride home.

So leave now these windows and likewise this hall,
For it's deep in the sea you will find your downfall.

She's took her young son in her arms, turned from that cold hall,
Saying, deep in the sea we will find our downfall.

Peggy Delaney sings Maid of Aughrim

“I am the maid of Aughrim, as they take me now for to be,
And I am in search of young Henery: pray to God I will him see.
The rain it has wet my yellow locks and the snow has beat my skin,
And the babe cold in my arms, will you rise up and let me in.”

“If you are the maid of Aughrim as I take you now for to be,
What is your last token between you and young Henery?”
“It is well I do remember that night in your father’s hall,
When you stole away my poor heart, the fairest of them all.”

“Who will boot your pretty foot and who will glove your hands?
Who will lace your slender waist which young Henry oft-times spanned?
Who will comb your yellow locks with that brown and berry comb?
And who will be the babe’s father 'til young Henery will come home?”

“My father will boot my pretty foot, and my brother will glove my hand,
My sister will lace my slender waist as Henry oft-times spanned,
My mother will comb my yellow locks with that brown and berry comb,
And God will be the babe's father 'til young Henery will come home.”

Cara sing Lord Gregory

“O wha will lace my shoes sae sma', and wha will glove my hand?
And wha will lace my middle sae jimp wi' my new-made linen band?
And wha will kaim my yellow hair wi' my new-made siller kaim?
And wha will faither my young son till Lord Gregory come hame?

“Sae I will ger a bonnie bonnie boat and I will sail the sea,
And I will gang to Lord Gregory since he cannae come hame to me.
O row, O row, ye mariners and bring me to dry land,
For yonder I see my love's castle close by the sault sea strand.

“O open the door, Lord Gregory, O open and let me in,
For the wind blows through my yellow hair and I'm shivering tae the chin.”
“Awa, awa ye wild woman, some ill death may ye dee,
Ah ye're either a witch or a wild warlock or a mermaid o the sea.”

“I'm neither a witch nor a wild warlock nor a mermaid o the sea,
But I am fair Annie of Roch Royal, O open the door to me.”
“Awa, awa ye wild woman, for here ye sanna win in,
Gae droon ye in the saut, saut sea or hang on the gallow's pin!”

When the cock did craw and the day did daw and the sun began to peep,
Then up did rise Lord Gregory and sair, sair did he weep.
“I dreamed a dream, my mother dear, the thocht o it gars me greet,
I dreamed fair Annie o Roch Royal lay cauld deid at my feet.”

“Git it be Annie o Roch Royal that gars ye mak' a this din,
She stood a' nicht at our ha' door but I didna let her in.”
“Awa, awa ye cruel mother, some ill death may ye dee,
That ye wadna let poor Annie in or else hae wauken me.”

Sae he's gane doon tae yon sea shore as fast as he could fare,
And he saw fair Annie in her boat and the wind it tossed her sair.
The wind blew loud, the sea grew rough, and the boat was dashed on shore,
Fair Annie she floated on the wave but her young son rose no more.”

Lord Gregory tore his yellow hair and he made his heavy moan,
Fair Annie lay cauld deid at his feet and his bonnie young son was gone.
“O wae betide, cruel mother, some ill death may ye dee,
That ye wadna let poor Annie in when she cam sae far tae me.”

Robert Burns' Mirk, Mirk Is This Midnight Hour

Oh mirk, mirk is this midnight hour,
And loud the tempest's roar;
A waefu' wanderer seeks thy tower
Lord Gregory, ope thy door!

An exile frae her faither's ha',
And a' for loving thee;
At least some pity on me shaw,
If love it may na be.

Lord Gregory, mind'st thou not the grove
By bonnie Irwine-side,
Where first I own'd that virgin-love
I lang, lang had denied.

How aften didst thou pledge and vow,
Thou wad for aye be mine;
And my fond heart, itsel' sae true,
It ne'er mistrusted thine.

Hard is thy heart, Lord Gregory,
And flinty is thy breast.
Thou dar of heaven that flashest by,
Oh wilt thou give me rest!

Ye mustering thunders from above
Your willing victim see!
But spare, and pardon my fause love
His wrangs to Heaven and me!

More Maids sing Lass of Aughrim

It was of the Lass of Aughrim
Her sad story I'll relate
Forsaken by her kith and kin
She stood by her lover's gate

The rain falls on my yellow locks
And the dew it soaks my skin
My babe lies cold in my arms
Lord Gregory let me in

If you'll be the Lass of Aughrim
As I take you to be
Tell me that first token
That passed between you and me

O don't you remember
That night on yon green hill
When we both met together
I am sorry now to tell

Go away, you base creature,
Go and leave this hall
Or else in the deep sea
You and your babe shall fall

O the rain falls on my heavy locks
And the dew it soaks my skin
My babe lies cold in my arms
And none will let me in