Three gipsies riding, song

Aughil children, singing in English
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There came three gipsies riding
Riding, riding
There came three gipsies riding,
Y– O – U.

– What are you riding here for? &c.

– We’re riding here to marry one of you boys.

– Who would marry you boys?

– We’re just as good as you boys.

– Your knees are stiff as pokers.

– We can bend our knees as well as you boys.

– Where will your mother sleep?

– Her mother will sleep in her father’s bed.

– Where will your father sleep?

– Her father will sleep in the maid’s bed.

– Where will the maid sleep?

– The maid will sleep in the pigsty.

– Where will the pig sleep?

– The pig will sleep in the riverside.

– Where will you wash your clothes?


A few sessions with Magilligan children made clear that they practise a wide range of traditional game songs and rhymes. ‘Three gipsies riding’ is anything but rare: dukes, the duke, a Jew, a duck, a king or a mere young man are alternatives to gipsies all over Britain and Ireland. What is unusual in print is the combination of this game with another, ‘Milking pails’, to which v. 8–16 belong. Yet the combination was noted long ago in Berkshire and must be widespread: Gomme I 388.

The children played and sang uncertainly. ‘Three dukes riding’ is traditionally a courtship game while ‘Milking pails’ in its full form enacts a mother-child relationship

–Mother, will you buy me a pair of milking-cans?
– But where shall I get the money from? &c.

Most versions end with punishment of the children’s glee at the prospect of ‘mother’ falling into the river. The composite verses have perhaps synthecized courtship and chastisement in a mock battle. ‘Three gipsies riding’ is also known in Magilligan without ‘Milking pails’ (DE, perhaps F) and in this form ends in a fight:

‘. . . then the others said that they were just as clean as you, sir, and then at the end they all started to fight, and the gipsies ran away’ – Gracie Butcher 6918.