The bonny Irish boy, song

Lizzie O’Hagan, singing in English
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Once I was courted by a bonny Irish boy,
He called me his darling and his heart’s delight and joy;
Often we talkéd about our getting wed,
Then in a short time after my bonny boy he fled.

He bundled up his clothes and for England took his flight,
I bundled up my own clothes and followed him by night;
I wrote my love a letter, sure, I vow and declare,
He wrote to me the answer that he would meet me there.

When that I landed in fair London town
I heard my love was married to a lady of renown;
But when he came before me he on his knees did fall
Saying, – Mary, I’ll go with you, love, in spite of them all.

– Oh no, my darling Jamie, such things will never be,
The curses of your wedded wife will ne’er be brought on me,
Your wedded vows and promises will ne’er be broke by me,
For I can go home to my own country.

Down in the lowlands where often we walked,
Down in the lowlands where often we talked,
The birds they sat whistling and the larks they sang high,
But the song I kept singing was ‘My bonny Irish boy’.


From early in the nineteenth century the textual prototype of this song was a favourite of the popular press in Britain and Ireland. The ‘bonny’ boy’s unrepentant infidelity finally caused the girl to go mad:

Rattling in her chains on a strong bed she lies,
And still she cries out for her bonny Irish boy
In the strong walls of Bedlam she is plain to be seen,
She is a poor distracted girl her age just sixteen. (H)

Modern oral tradition has dropped such strong meat and progressively shortened the text, finally introducing a moralizing note in the girl’s wistful comment on the sanctity of marriage. In the last line there is possibly an allusion to a real song. A number of nineteenth-century songs were entitled ‘My/The bonny Irish boy’, but the one which bid most to outdo this one in popularity, Irish in origin, described a girl who successfully followed an errant lover across the sea: Index, ‘Bonny Irish boy2’. A thematic synthesis of the two songs has also been printed and continues to be sung: B1 p. 14b, n.p.d.; 6802, S. Antr. 1968.