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Down by the Riverside

Roud #25802

This song tells the tale of a man whose parents force him to marry a woman of higher social status, forsaking the woman he loves. He later murders his wife because he cannot live with his choice. He is sentenced to hang for his crimes.

After Minnie Murphy finished her performance, one of the men present in the room comments that he sometimes heard this song in the lumber camps of western Newfoundland. Little is known about the origins of the song, though the reference to Wexford Gaol suggests a possible southeast Ireland connection. Variants, including that collected by MacEdward Leach from John James of Trepassey, Newfoundland, have been recorded almost exclusively in Newfoundland.

Listen to Minnie Murphy sing “Down by the riverside,” view Aidan O'Hara's transcript, and download your own copy of the words.

Down by the riverside / Minnie Murphy

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Down by the riverside / Minnie Murphy

Down by the riverside, song (When I was young and in my prime my age scarce twenty-one …) This song tells the tale of a man whose parents force him to marry a woman of higher social status, forsaking the woman he loves. He later murders his wife because he cannot live with his choice. He is sentenced to hang for his crimes.  After Minnie Murphy finished her performance, one of the men present in the room comments that he sometimes heard this song in the lumber camps of western Newfoundland. Little is known about the origins of the song, though the reference to Wexford Gaol suggests a possible southeast Ireland connection. Variants, including that collected by MacEdward Leach from John James of Trepassey, Newfoundland, have been recorded almost exclusively in Newfoundland.

Minnie Murphy's version of “Down by the riverside”

When I was young and in my prime my age scarce twenty-one,
I fell in love with a pretty young girl, she had my heart near won;
My own I loved her dearly, she was my only pride,
Now she lives home with her parents dear, down by the riverside.

The very first time I saw my love it pierced me through the heart,
With her right hand she placed in mine, I thought we would never part;
And turning my back around to her, heartbroken I was drove,
Saying, ‘What is the good of my gold to me when I haven’t the girl I love?’

I murdered my wife on a moonlight night on the twenty-third of June,
Soon I was taken to Wexford Gaol to meet my coming doom;
The judge he passed my sentence, sure that’s where my case was tried,
Saying, ‘Tomorrow by night, sure you must hang down by the riverside.’

It being on the very next morning as I lay in my cell,
I thought on my parents who were so cruel, would not let me choose my own mind,
I thought on my parents who were so cruel, would not let me choose my own bride,
They would rather see me bend the tree, down by the riverside.

So come on all folks take warning don’t ever try to part,
The one that you love dearly, don’t turn her from your heart;
For if she is poor or happy on shore and dearly love the bride,
Don’t ever stand to see him hanged, down by the riverside.