Down by the canal, song

Eddie Butcher, singing in English
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As I went a-walking one evening in June
To view the green fields and the meadows in bloom
I spied a fair maiden and on her did call
Just as I was walking down by the canal.

– We have met in good pleasure, we have met in good time,
If this place was convenient I would tell you my mind;
Come sit down beside me and I’ll sit by thee
And we’ll have a fine courtship in a short time, you’ll see.

– To sit down beside you I’m afraid it’s too late,
My journey is far and my message is great;
Forbye, I have suffered a lot over you,
Both sleep, meat and drink, love, you have hindered from me.

– You must apply to some doctor, take the blame all off me,
Or some+ skilful surgeon your vision to see;
It’s all a distemper that runs through your brain,
You must get your veins lanced, love, it will ease all your pain.

– To apply to some doctor I intend it to do
But before that I do it I’ll be counselled by you
For you are my doctor and surgeon also,
You can cure all the pains, love, that I undergo.

Do you see yon bright Phoebus going down by the west
And all feathered fowls are going home to their nest?
Dark shades they are approaching and I must away,
Let those few words excuse me, no longer can stay.

She hastened to go then when softly he said
– Let this ring be a token you have me betrayed;
She smiled and consented and blesséd the day
That down by Gill’s water she happened to stray.


The retrieval of this song was an interesting affair. On 12 July 1966 while staying with me in Dublin Eddie attended a ceilí held for foreign university students and heard a girl sing Padraic Colum’s ‘She moved through the fair’. This overworked poem is based on a traditional song which Eddie himself sings – see Shields16, especially p. 281–4 yet he then appeared unacquainted with its text. On the other hand, the traditional air reminded him of an unfamiliar song. We recorded a scrap of it right away, and about a week later in Magilligan another still incomplete rendition (lacking 2.3–3.3, 7.3–4). In a radio programme of some of his songs I appealed for information about this one. None came. It was Eddie himself, visiting Dublin again two years later, who restored a full text (which formed the basis of another broadcast).

Our only other version is a fragment which localizes the scene at Kilwarlin, described by the singer Robert Cinnamond as ‘a district beside Moira [N. Down] . . . very fertile . . . and there’s lovely farms and groves of trees’. ‘Gill’s water’ (7.4) is an understandable alteration of ‘Kilwarlin’; the canal in question is the old Lagan Navigation Waterway, built 1756–94, which linked Belfast to Lough Neagh. It is now closed and the Kilwarlin stretch is incorporated in a motorway. See Shields9 p. 3–4.

The song dates perhaps from the early nineteenth century, but is full of older traditional poetry that distances the love scene. The doctor motif adapts a lyric commonplace found notably in ‘The brown girl’ (Child no 295) and its derivative ‘The sailor from Dover’, some versions of which are sung to melodies similar to Eddie’s: Bronson IV 404–7, nos 3–11, cf. Henry 72. In these songs the motif is followed by the return of a ring or plighted troth, in our Ulster song on the other hand by the giving of a ring. It is given with so little fuss that we might wonder whether v. 7 abridges two concluding verses.