Molly Brannigan is the story of a man who loses not only his heart, but his britches as well, in unrequited love. The third verse is usually left out by singers, yet to me is both the funniest and the most poignant. There’s a version by the inimitable John McCormack here.
1. Mam, dear, did ye never hear of pretty Molly Brannigan?
In troth, then, she’s left me and I’ll never be a man again.
Not a spot on me hide will a summer’s sun e’er tan again
Since Molly’s gone and left me here alone for to die.
The place where me heart was you’d aisy roll a turnip in,
‘Tis large as all Dublin, and from Dublin to the Divil’s glen:
If she’d wish’d to take another, sure she might have left mine back again,
And not have gone and left me here alone for to die.
2. Mam, dear, I remember when the milking time was past and gone,
We strolled thro’ the meadow, and she swore I was the only one
That ever she could love, but oh! the false and cruel one,
For all that, she’s left me here alone for to die.
Mam, dear, I remember when coming home the rain began,
I wrapt my frieze-coat round her and ne’er a waistcoat had I on.
My shirt was rather fine lawn, but oh! the false and cruel one,
For all that she’s left me here alone for to die.
3. I went and told me story first to Father Matt McDonnel, Mam,
And then I went and asked advice of Counselor O’Connor, Mam.
He said that promise breaches have been ever since the world began,
But I have only one pair and they’re corduroy.
Alas, what can he mean, Mam? And what would you advise me do?
Must me corduroys to Molly go? I’ faith, I’m bothered what to do.
I can’t afford to lose ‘em both, me heart and then me britches, too!
But what have I left here to do but live for to die?
4. The left side of me carcase is as weak as water gruel, Mam,
There’s not a pick upon me bones, since Molly’s proved so cruel, Mam.
Oh! if I had a blundergun, I’d go and fight a duel, Mam,
For sure I’d better shoot m’self than live here to die.
I’m cool an’ determined as e’er the salamander*, Mam,
Won’t you come to me wake when I go the long meander, Mam?
I’ll think m’self as valiant as the famous Alexander, Mam,
When I hear ye cryin’ o’er me, “Arrah! why did ye die?”
NOTES: Some renderings of these lyrics use “Ma’am” instead of “Mam”, but to my mind, as “Mam” signifies the man’s mother, this is a truer translation. I’ve also noted a wide-spread substitution of “fine-drawn” for “fine lawn”, but as lawn is a delicate linen fabric, I believe it is the right word to be used here.
* Finally, a “salamander” as referenced here, is a spirit that protects one’s hearth and home, the word coming from the Greek word meaning “fireplace”. As I mentioned before, it was the Irish who kept many scholarly texts from destruction during Europe’s dark ages, so it is not surprising that the language was familiar to the scholars of Ireland.
3 thoughts on “MOLLY BRANNIGAN: An Irish Song”
Oh, the fickle Molly. I like the telling of this story, Gifford, and I agree with what you say about Mam and lawn. Both are better suited to this tale. Fine lawn cloth was quite well known. I can’t help being amused by the story, though whether it was intended to be funny, I don’t know. The constant reperition of Mam and the similarity of the last line of each verse somehow add to my amusement – as does John McCormack’s singing of it.
Glad you enjoyed it, Millie! It’s one of my all-time favorites.
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I can understand why. It’s a great song.