Johnny Doyle, song

Charlie Somers, singing in English
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Ay, for I’m a young lady most highly in love
And laid my complaints to the powers above
In hopes that He’ll relieve me and heal all my toil
For my heart’s it’s a-breaking for young Johnny Doyle.

It happened to be on a Saturday night
When me and my true love was going to take our flight
My waiting-maid being standing by as ye shall plainly see,
Oh, she run to my mother and told all on me.

She lockéd me up in a room that was high
Where no one could see me nor no one passed me by;
She bundled up my clothes and she bid me be gone,
Oh, for slowly and slily as I pinned them on.

It was ten score of guineas for me she did provide
And six double horses to ride by my side,
A horse and a pillion for me was to ride,
It was all for to make me young Sammy Moore’s bride.

Oh, we rode on together till we came to London town
And there at Mrs Gordon’s it’s where we lighted down;
– Sure it’s you have the pleasure, it’s I have the toil
For my heart’s it’s a-breaking for young Johnny Doyle.

Oh, the moment the minister he entered the door
My earrings they burst and they fell on to the floor;
In twenty-and-five pieces my stay-laces flew
For I thought my very heart would have broken in two.

Oh, behind my own brother I was carried home,
My mother conveyed me into my own rook
And on my own bedside she laid herself down
Oh, for sore, sick and weary my poor body found.

Oh, she bid her old mother make fast the room door,
– Until the break of day don’t let in young Sammy Moore,
For death it’s approaching and that will end all strife
For he never shall enjoy me or call me his wife.

– Oh, will I send for Johnny Doyle, child, and see if he will come?
– To send for Johnny Doyle, mother, now it’s too long;
The journey is far and death will be my fate
And to send for Johnny Doyle, mother, now it’s too late.

Oh, this poor girl died upon her wedding day
And on her aged parents her death she did lay;
Her father and mother distracted did run
And her old brother died for the (spoken) ill he had done.


The oldest dated text (A) goes back to 1845, but some broadsides may be older and the song could well date from the eighteenth century (McCall MS p. 105–6) ‘Johnny Doyle’,  dated 1835, is unrelated). People and places named in the text suggest Ulster origin, and this is consistent with the religious dilemma which some Irish versions make quite plain:         

There is one thing which grieves me, as I may confess
That I go to Meeting and my love to Mess . . . (A)

But this feature is thematically incidental; the wide popularity of the song is due to its commonplace narrative, which renews old ballad matter. It has been viewed as a rejuvenation of ‘Lord Saltoun’ (Child no 239, cf. Bronson III 422). Its distinctive motif of the bursting rings, clothes, buttons &c, symbolic of grief, is commonplace in old balladry: Child IV 302. In ‘Jamie Douglas’ (Child no 204), see IV 101) the bursting of buttons is attendant on pregnancy: a circumstance which the narrative of ‘Johnny Doyle’ could admit, though it does not suggest or require it.