Tossing the hay, song

John Butcher senior, singing in English
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Oh, it being on a summer’s morning abroad as I did go
To saunter out for pleasure down by a shady grove,
Down by a piece of meadow as I carelesslie did stray
There I spied a maid quite busy, she was tossing out the hay.

Through a close hedge I viewed this maid, to her I wasn’t seen,
Her beauty it did far exceed the Kathleen Julius queen
And all around her ivory neck those amber locks did play
Ay, and the diamond glance shone in her eye at the tossing of the hay.

I stepped up unto this maid, she unto me did say,
– I fear we’ll have a fall of rain, we have a gloomy sky.
–  Oh ma’am, said I, those weighty clouds they’ll shortly wear away,
There will be no rain for to detain the tossing of your hay.

I says, – My dear, how comes it that you’re left here your lone?
– My brother he has left me, unto the bog he’s gone
To raise the turf in winnin’ rows while he has light or day
And he’s left me here quite bird alone to toss and dry the hay.

Well, I took her in my arms and I rolled her on the green,
Sure I began to kiss this maid and she began to scream,
But I being in a merry mood with her did sport and play
Saying, – The day’s long, we have time enough to toss and dry the hay.

Well, her chest and breast sure they were like the plumage of a swan,
It was enough for to entice the heart of any man
And all around her ivory neck those amber locks did play,
Ay, and the diamond glance shone in her eye at the tossing of the hay.

Well, I says, – my dear, if you’ll comply and with me you’ll agree
In wedlock’s bands we’ll join our hands, love, married we will be.
And what is here at your command I’m willing for to pay
And we’ll link and bind together and we’ll toss and dry the hay.


The oldest text of this pastourelle, dated 1813 or 1815, is from Belfast (A) and the song looks like an Ulster one. Cork printers copied it; but there is no evidence that it was sung outside Ireland except in places having cultural links with Ulster: the Lowlands of Scotland and Newfoundland. Oral versions have pruned the excessively detailed broadsides, lingering less on the girl’s appearance or the manner in which her ‘virgin bloom’ is ‘cropt’ (A). Derry versions touch lightly on prospective matrimony, while others pursue the couple to the girl’s home and the matter is concluded to her parents’ satisfaction (HIK). In Scotland the conclusion is assimilated to the Scots ballad theme of the rich suitor in disguise: ‘And wasn’t she well rewarded for the turning of the hay?’ (I). In Ulster oral versions the country setting is enhanced by an unexpectedly homely conversational exchange about the weather.