The Moorlough shore, song

Eddie Butcher, singing in English
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Oh, you hills and dales and flowery vales lies near to the Moorlough shore,
You winds that blow o’er mountainy hills, will I never see you more?
Where the primrose grows and violets blow and the sporting trout does play
With my line and hook delight I took for to spend my youthful days.

Last night I went to see my love and to hear what she would say
Thinking she would pity me lest I would go away;
She says, – I have a sailor boy he’s the lad I do adore,
So take this for your answer now and trouble me no more.

– Perhaps your sailor boy was lost when crossing o’er the main
Or he has found another love and he won’t return again.
– Well, if my sailor boy he’s lost no other will I take,
Through lonesome shades and valleys I will wander for his sake.

Our ship she lies at Warrenpoint now ready to set sail,
I hope the Lord will favour her with a sweet and pleasant gale
For if I had ten thousand pounds or ten times as much more
I would leave it all to the girl I love that dwells on the Moorlough shore.

Farewell unto Lord Antrim’s groves, likewise to the bleaching green
Where the linen cloth lies pure and white and the crystal streams runs clean,
Where many’s the pleasant day I spent, but now, alas, they’re o’er
Since the girl I love has banished me far far from the Moorlough shore.


This is a song with a story, as well as an interesting exercise in collaborative recall. The story goes that Mary McKeown, daughter of the miller at Mill Bay near Greencastle (S. Down), once had her fortune written down by an old ‘spayman’ and sealed in a satchel to be opened only on her twenty-first birthday. After refusing many suitors she became engaged to a fisherman Joe Cunningham; the marriage was fixed for the eve of the Greencastle fair, which was also Mary’s twenty-first birthday. But her lover was drowned in a storm, and when Mary went to look for him and found his body she so much lost her senses that she was swept out by the tide and was drowned herself. When the satchel was opened this tragedy was what the prophecy foretold – Fitzpatrick p. 31–4; W.H. Crowe The ring of Mourne Dundalk 1969, p. 76–7, and recorded comment on the story by W.H. Crowe, 7003.

Two songs are said to commemorate these events. ‘The Maid of Mourne shore’ – not the present song – is known to me only in a text which has little to do with the story: a fragmentary pastourelle leading to marriage or marriage envisaged – Fitzpatrick. ‘Walmsley’s shady groves – our present song – is said to tell the unrequited love of one of Mary’s previous suitors who ‘tuk away to Americky’ in despair, Walmsley’s groves being near Kilkeel – Fitzpatrick and 7003. At times the two songs became textually confused (H; cf. Fitzpatrick p. 32). A third song appearing on a broadside printed in England is distinct from both and associated with the river Mourne in E. Donegal – L: 1876 d 41, I 251, n.p.d., ‘Moran shore’. The disyllabic pronunciation /morən/ indicated by this title was of course also used in our song where it facilitated replacement of the toponym in North Ulster by ‘Moorlough’. Moorlough Bay is between Fair Head and Torr Head (NE Ant.).

In 1966 Eddie Butcher could sing me only three lines of ‘Moorlough Shore’ (l.1–2, 4). Three years later he asked a group of family visitors in his house if they knew it, and was rewarded by our first printed version in an operation taking about ten minutes and nicely stage-managed by his sister-in-law Tilly Quigley. Her husband Bill struck up v. 1, but like Eddie omitted line 3. Maria, Eddie’s brother John’s wife, made a fresh start and with her lead two verses were completed. Tilly then elicited a third from Bill, whose conviction that he could do no more expressed the general feeling. These three verses correspond to the full text of B. But Eddie, silently attentive, was able – by what means I could not discover – to sing a five-verse version the following year.