> Cyril Tawney > Songs > The Ragged Beggarman
> Lal & Norma Waterson > Songs > The Beggar Man
> June Tabor > Songs > The Auld Beggarman

The Beggar Man / The Auld Beggarman / The Jolly Beggar

[ Roud 118 ; Child 279 ; G/D 2:274 ; Ballad Index C279 ; trad.]

Maggie Murphy (née Chambers; 1924-2006) and her niece Sarah Chambers of Tempo, Co. Fermanagh sang The Auld Beggarman on July 18, 1952 to Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle. This BBC recording was later included on the anthology The Child Ballads 2 (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 5; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968) and in 1996 on Murphy's Veteran CD Linkin' o'er the Lea as its title track. Maggie Murphy also sang Linkin' o'er the Lea to Keith Summers at her home in Killaculla, Tempo, Co. Fermanagh on August 1, 1980. This recording was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology First I'm Going to Sing You a Ditty (The Voice of the People Series Volume 7).

Ewan MacColl sang The Jolly Beggar in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd's Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume I. This song and 28 other from this series were reissued in 2009 on his Topic double CD set Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. Kenneth S. Goldstein commented in the album notes:

The earliest printing of this delightfully ribald Scottish ballad is from the middle of the 18th century, though an English broadside from the Pepysian collection (ca. 1675) has the same story and may have been the foundation for it. Child, however, thought the Scottish ballad “a far superior piece of work” to the English forerunner.

The Jolly Beggar has not been reported from tradition in England and only fragmentary texts have been collected in the United States. Though Greig collected six versions in Aberdeenshire at the turn of this century, the ballad may well be extinct in tradition in Scotland at the present time.

The version sung by MacColl was learned from Greig and Keith [Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs].

Cyril Tawney sang The Ragged Beggarman in 1969 on his album of traditional ballads from Devon and Cornwall, The Outlandish Knight. He commented in his sleeve notes:

Collected by Baring-Gould between 1889-90 from three Devon singers, Will Setter of Two Bridges, J. Gerard of Hellhole, Chaffed, and James Parsons of Lew down. The tune is Will Setter's. There are two recognised forms of this ballad, namely The Jolly Beggar and The Gaberlunzie Man, of which the former is the older. Even in this form, however, the beggar frequently turns out to be a rich lord in disguise. Which leaves us with the interesting question: Have the Devonshire singers ‘lost’ those last few stanzas of preserved an even older form of the ballad?

Danny Spooner sang The Gaberlunyie Man on his 1978 album Danny Spooner and Friends. This track was also included in 2007 on his anthology Years of Spooner. He noted:

Another ballad from the Child collection, which is a variant of The Jolly Beggar (No. 279). Child says that tradition imputes the authorship of both of these to James V of Scotland, but it is a thing we well probably never know for sure. One thing that is certain, however, is that James often travelled the country dressed as a beggar doing a bit of checking up on his subjects. Historians have remarked that although he believed himself to be unrecognisable in this garb, most people had no trouble recognising him.

A ‘gaberlunyie’ man was a licensed beggar, a pre-requisite for beggars in that period.

The Clutha sang The Gaberlunzie Man in 1974 on their Topic album Scots Ballads, Songs & Dance Tunes.

Lizzie Higgins sang The Beggar Man at the Jeannie Robertson Memorial Concert in 1977. This recording was included in 2006 on her Musical Traditions anthology In Memory of Lizzie Higgins. Another recording, made by Doc Rowe on April 12, 1988 at the National Folk Music Festival, Sutton Bonington, Leicestershire, was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology It Fell on a Day, a Bonny Summer Day (The Voice of the People Series Volume 17). The booklet accompanying her anthology commented:

Very widely sung in Scotland, and all but one of Roud's 67 instances are from here. (Extraordinarily, though, Lizzie is the only singer of whom he has a recording.) Cilla Fisher and Artie Tresize sing a version in Cilla & Artie.

The lively tune first appear in the Balcarres Lute Book (1690-1700), with tune plus words in Thomson's Orpheus Caledonius in 1725 (see the remarkably detailed accounts in Nick Parkes and John Purser's 2006 CD-Rom of James Oswald's Caledonian Pocket Companion). The words alone also appeared in Allan Ramsay's highly influential Tea Table Miscellany in 1724, and together with the equally popular thereafter, Jolly Beggar, has been attributed to James V (1512-1542), the hanger of Johnny Armstrong, who reputably wandered his kingdom in disguise, often as a beggar, as The Guidman of Ballangeich, in his sympathy with the common people, (although this may have been simply a liking for low life). His short life and troubled reign would not have left him much spare time for such sojourning, nor his marriages to two wives, the second bearing him the future, tragic Mary Queen of Scots (and France). Lizzie said this was the first song she learned from her father, when she was aged4, and was a genuine ‘pipe folksong’.

Lal and Norma Waterson and Lal's daughter Maria Knight sang The Beggar Man in 1977 on their album A True Hearted Girl. This track was also included on the 1992 CD reissue of For Pence and Spicy Ale and in 2003 on the Watersons' anthology The Definitive Collection. Bob Hudson noted:

A variant of Child Ballad No. 279, often called The Gaberlunzie-Man, or The Jolly Beggar. Tradition has it that it was written by King James V of Scotland, and indeed, there were a number of ballads describing his romantic conquests while roaming the countryside in disguise. It was first printed in Thomas Ramsay's Tea Table Miscellany (1724). In 1952, folklorist Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle recorded two Irish women, Maggie and Sarah Chambers, singing this song (in Tempo, County Fermanagh). Both their tune and lyric are close to the one sung here, leaving one to suspect that the Irish version may have been the source for the Watersons.
Variant text: Kinsley, The Oxford Book of Ballads, no. 132.

Cilla Fisher and Artie Tresize sang The Beggar Man in 1979 on their Topic album Cilla & Artie. The commented in their liner notes:

We learned this from a classic recording of Maggie & Sarah Chambers from Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. While we’ve tried to retain their feeling and enthusiasm for the song, we have made some minor adjustments to the words to accommodate our Scottish style.

Elizabeth Stewart & Tom McKean sang The Jolly Beggar at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2004 and Gordon Easton sang The Beggar Man at the same place in May 2006. These recordings were included on the festival CDs Here's a Health to the Company and Some Rants o' Fun (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volumes 1&3).

Lisa Knapp sang Beggar Beggar in 2007 on her first CD, Wild and Undaunted. Her version is basically Lizzie Higgins's one with the text anglicised.

June Tabor sang The Auld Beggarman on her 2007 Topic album Apples. She commented in her liner notes:

Chile No. 279, often called The Gaberlunzie Man, first printed version in the Tea Table Miscellany 1724; this version collected from Maggie and Sarah Chambers of Tempo, Co. Fermanagh in the 1950s. A song “beloved by travellers and other unsettled people, and by girls who live in remote places” (Sam Henry)

Does the girl see through the beggar's disguise, or is she just desperate to escape the slavery of her lonely farmstead home?

Sarah Hayes sang The Beggarman in 2015 on Wildings' eponymous CD Wildings.

Lyrics

Lizzie Higgins sings The Beggar Man Liza Knapp sings Beggar, Beggar

A beggar, a beggar cam ower the lea,
He was asking lodgings for charity.
He was asking lodgings for charity,
“Wid ye loo a beggar man-o,
Lassie, wi ma tow row ray?”

A beggar, a beggar cam over the lea,
He was asking lodgings for charity.
He was asking lodgings for charity,
“Could you love a beggar man-o,
Lassie, with my tow row ray?”

“A beggar, a beggar, I'll never loo again.
I had a dochter and Jeannie was her name.
I had a dochter and Jeannie was her name;
She's run awa with the beggar man-o,
Laddie, wi ma tow row ray.

“A beggar, a beggar, I could never love again.
For I had one daughter and Jeannie was her name.
For I had one daughter and Jeannie was her name;
She's ran away with the begging man-o,
Laddie, with my tow row ray.

“I'll bend my back an I'll boo my knee
An I'll pit a black patch oer my ee.
And a beggar, a beggar they'll tak me to be
An awa wi you a'll gang-o,
Laddie, wi ma tow row ray.”

“I'll bend my back and I'll bow my knee
I'll put a black patch over my eye.
And I'll kilt my skirts up above my knee
And away with you I'll ran, ran,
Laddie, with my tow row ray.”

“Oh lassie, oh lassie, yer far too young
An ye hannae got the cant o the beggin tongue.
Ye hannae got the cant o the beggin tongue
An wi me ye winnae gang-o,
Lassie, wi ma tow row ray.”

“Lassie, oh lassie, you are far too young
And you haven't got the cant of the begging tongue.
Oh you ain't got the cant of the begging tongue
And with me you will not gang-o,
Laddie, with my tow row ray.”

She's bent her back and she's booed her knee
An she's put a black patch oer her ee.
She has kilted her skirts up aboun her knee
An awa wi him she's gan-o,
Laddie, wi ma tow row ray.

But she bent her back and she bowed her knee
She put a black patch over her eye.
And she's kilted her skirts up above her knee
And away wi him she's aan-o,
Lassie, with my tow row ray.

“Yer dochter Jean is comin ower the lea;
She's taken hame her bairnies three
She has yin on her back, ay, another on her knee
An the other yin is toddlin hame-o,
Lassie, wi ma tow row ray.”

“Your daughter Jean is coming over the lea;
She's bringing home her babies three
She has one on her back and another on her knee
Anrs the other one is toddlin home-o,
Lassie, with my tow row ray.”

Lal and Norma Waterson sing The Beggar Man June Tabor sings The Auld Beggarman

An old beggar man come over the lea,
Many is the fine tale he tellt me.
“Goodwife, for your charity,
Will you lodge a lame poor man?”

As I was a-linking o'er the lea,
The finest weel that I ever did see
Looking for his charity,
“Would you lodge a lame poor man?”

For the night being wet and it being cold
She took pity on the poor old soul,
She took pity on the poor old soul
And she bade him to sit down.

Chorus (after every other verse):
With his tooren ooren an tan ay
Right an ooren fal la doo a day
Right an ooren ooren ay
With his tooren ooren aye doe

Chorus (after every other verse):
With his tooran nooran nan tan nee
Right ton nooran fol the doo-a-dee
Toraan nooran noraan nee
With his tooran nooran-i-do

He sat himself by the chimney nook
Wi' all his bags about his crook,
All his bags about his crook,
And so merrily he did sing.

He sat himself in the chimbley neuk
And the bonny young daughter gave him the look.
With all his bags behind the crook
Right merrily he did sing.

Now he grew canty and she was fain,
But little did her mother ken
Just what the two of them were saying
As they sat sae thrag.

“Well, if I was black as I was white
As the snow that falls on yon fell-dyke,
Dress meself some beggar-like
And along with you I'd gang.”

“O if I was black as I am white
Like the snow on yon fell-dyke,
I'd dress myself so beggar-like
And away with you I'd gang.”

“Lassie, lassie, you're over young,
You hannae got the cant o' the begging tongue,
Hannae got the cant o' the begging tongue,
So along ye cannae gang.”

“O lassie, lassie, you're far too young,
And you haven't got the lilt of the begging tongue,
You haven't got the lilt of the begging tongue,
So with you cannot gang.”

“But I'll bend my back and beck my knee,
And I'll put a black patch on my e'e,
And for a beggar they'll take me,
So along wi' you I'll gang.”

“I'll burden my back and I'll bend my knee,
I'll draw a black patch o'er my e'e,
And for a beggar they'll take me,
And away with you I'll gang.”

All the doors being locked quite tight,
The old woman rose in the middle of the night,
The old woman rose in the middle of the night
To find the old man gone.

For all that the doors were locked quite tight,
The old woman rose in the middle of the night,
The old woman rose in the middle of the night
For to find the old man gone.

Well, she ran to the cupboard, likewise to the chest,
All things there and nothing missed.
Clasped her hands, saying, “God be blessed,
I've lodged an honest old man.”

She's run to the cupboard, likewise to the chest,
All things there and nothing missed.
Clapping her hands and the dear be blessed,
Wasn't he an honest old man?

The breakfast was ready and the table was laid
And the old woman went for to look for the maid:
The sheets were cold and the bed was made,
She's away wi' the lame poor man.

When the breakfast was ready and the table laid
The old woman went for to waken the maid:
The bed was there but the maid was gone,
Away with the lame poor man.

Seven long years have passed and gone,
This same old beggar come back again.
“Goodwife, for your charity,
Will you lodge a lame poor man?”

Now seven years were passed and gone,
And this old beggar came back again
Looking for his charity,
“Will you lodge a lame poor man?”

“Well, I never lodged any but the one,
He with me only daughter's gone,
He with me only daughter's gone,
And I chose you to believe.”

“I never lodged any but the one,
And with him my one daughter did gang,
And I chose you to be the very one
AndI'll have you to be gone.”

“If it's your daughter ye want to see,
She's got two bairnies on her knee,
Got two bairnies on her knee
And another one comin' round.

“If it's your daughter you want to see,
She has two bairnies on her knee,
She has two bairnies on her knee
And a third one coming round.

“Yonder she sits, yonder she stands,
The finest lady in all Scotland.
She has gold at her command
Since she went wi' the lame poor man.”

“For yonder she sits, yonder she stands,
The fairest lady in all Scotland.
She has servants at her command
Since she went with the lame poor man.”

Danny Spooner sings The Gaberlunzie Man

O a beggar, a beggar cam’ ower yon lea,
And mony fine tales he hae telt tae me,
Sayin’ guid wife fae ye’r charity
Will ye lodge a beggar man,
Lal lal tee too roo ree.

The nicht was cauld and the carl was wat,
And doon ahint the ingle he sat,
And ma daughters shoother he gang tae clap
And aye he ranted an sang
Lassie tae ma too roo ree.

O if I was black as I am white,
As the snaw that lies on yonder dyke,
I wad dress mysel’ some beggar-like,
And awa wi’ ye I’d gang
Laddie tae ma too roo ree.

O lassie, O lassie ye’r ower young
And ye haena get the cant o’ the beggin’ tongue,
No ye haena get the cant o’ the beggin’ tongue
And wi me ye canna gang,
Lassie tae ma too roo ree.

O I’ll bend my back and I’ll crook ma knee
And I’ll pit a black patch ower ma e’e,
And a beggar’s lassie they’ll tak’ me tae be,
Syne awa’ wi ye I’ll gang,
Laddie tae ma too roo ree.

Then atween the twa they made a plot
Tae rise twa hours afore the cock
And sae cannily they slippit the lock
And awa through the fields they ran,
Laddie tae ma too roo ree.

In the morning time the auld wife rose
And at her leisure pit on her claise;
Tae the servants bed she then did go
Tae spier for the silly puir man,
Lassie tae ma too roo ree.

She’s gaen tay the bed where the beggar lay,
But the strae was cauld and he was away.
And she’s clappit her hands crying “Welladay,
Is there ony o’ oor guid gear gane?”
Lassie tae ma too roo ree.

Some ran tae the coffer and some tae the kist,
But naethin’ was awa’ that could be missed,
And she danced her lane, crying, “Praise be the blessed
I’ve lodged an honest auld man.”
Lassie tae ma too roo ree.

Ah some did rin and some did ride
Tae find the place fa’ they did hide,
But they couldna find fa they did bide
As in the brae they lay.
Lassie tae ma too roo ree.

When years had passed some twa or three
That same beggar carl cam’ ower the lea,
Saying “Guid wife for ye’r charity
Will ye lodge a silly puir man?”
Lassie tae ma too roo ree.

O no, O no, I’ll not lodge again
For I ance had a dochter ain o ma ain,
But awa’ wi a beggin’ man she’s gane
And I dinna ken whence na whar.
Laddie tae ma too roo ree.

He said, “Yonder she’s comin’ ower yon lea
Wi mony a fine tale tae tell tae ye,
She’s a baby donlin’ at her knee
And another yen coming hame.
Lassie tae ma too roo ree.”

“O yonder she’s comin’ tae your bower,
In silk and satin and mony a flower.”
And the guid wife rose and she blessed the hour
She’d gane wi’ the beggin’ man.
Laddie tae ma too roo ree

Acknowledgements and Links

Thanks to Greer Gilman for the transcription of Lal and Norma Waterson's singing.

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: A Beggar A Beggar for the Lizzie Higgins / Lisa Knapp version.