> Steeleye Span > Songs > When I Was on Horseback

When I Was on Horseback / The Dying Soldier

[ Roud 2 ; Laws Q26/B1 ; G/D 7:1404 ; Ballad Index LQ26 ; trad.]

Mary Doran of Waterford, Co. Waterford sang When I Was on Horseback on August 1, 1952 to Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle (BBC recording 18591). This recording was also included with the title The Dying Soldier on the anthology A Soldier's Life for Me (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 8; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970)

Steeleye Span recorded When I Was on Horseback in 1971 for their third album, Ten Man Mop or Mr Reservoir Butler Rides Again, and a second time in 2002 for their CD Present to accompany the December 2002 Steeleye Span reunion tour. They also performed it live for the BBC radio programme “Peel's Sunday Concert” on September 15, 1971. This programme was included as bonus CD on the 2006 reissue of Ten Man Mop.

The Ten Man Mop sleeve notes commented cryptically:

Another young man cut down in his prime … tasted and wasted … sickness and diseases pull you down … Oh and it's Mary Doran crooning her way into our hearts … O'Riordan's song in the snow flurries … the first tentative step—in which Peter is given his head.

The Digital Tradition comments:

One of countless songs of the Unfortunate Rake family. While each telling a completely different story, they all share the description of the funeral (here verses 2 and 3). This version is Irish and is the most stripped down I know, consisting of virtually nothing but the funeral. It is worth noting that most versions have it “…I know I've done wrong” while here it's “…that never done wrong”. American versions include The Streets of Laredo and St. James Infirmary, British versions are The Unfortunate Rake and Locke Hospital and many more. There is a Folkways record (The Unfortunate Rake, FS 3805) dedicated exclusively to this family. (MJ)

Compare this to A.L. Lloyd singing The Unfortunate Rake on his album English Street Songs and St James's Hospital on his album First Person, to Norma Waterson singing The Unfortunate Lass on her and her sister Lal's album A True Hearted Girl and Bright Shiny Morning, the title track of her third solo album Bright Shiny Morning. All of these songs share the funeral verses.


Steeleye Span sing When I Was on Horseback

When I was on horseback wasn't I pretty
When I was on horseback wasn't I gay
Wasn't I pretty when I entered Cork City
And met with my downfall on the fourteenth of May.

Six jolly soldiers to carry my coffin
Six jolly soldiers to march by my side
It's six jolly soldiers take a bunch of red roses
Then for to smell them as we go along.

Beat the drum slowly and play the pipes only
Play up the dead-march as we go along
And bring me to Tipperary and lay me down easy
I am a young soldier that never done wrong

(repeat first verse)