John O'Reilly (MacEdward Leach)

See also: Riley The Fisherman (The Moonshiners)

I rode out one evening
in the lovely month of May,
I heard a lovely maid complain,
the tears rolled from her eyes;
This is a dark and a stormy night,
those words to me did say,
My love is on the raging seas
bound to America.

My love he was a fisherman,
his age was scarce eighteen,
He was the nicest young man
that ever yet was seen;
My father he had riches great
and Reilly he was poor,
Because I loved this fisherman
they could not him endure.

John O'Reilly was my true love's name,
lived near the town of Bray,
My mother took me by the hand,
those words to me did say;
If you'll be fond of Reilly,
you must quit this country,
Your father says he'll take your life,
so shun his company.

Oh, mother dear, don't be severe,
where will you send my love?
My very heart lies in his breast
as constant as a dove;
Oh, daughter dear, I'm not severe,
here is one thousand pounds,
So send Reilly to America
to purchase there borne ground.

When Ellen got the money,
to Reilly she did run,
Saying, this very night to take your life,
my father charged a gun;
Here is one thousand pounds in gold
my mother sends to you,
So sail away to America
and I will follow you.

It was just three weeks later
they were lying by the shore,
When Reilly he came back again
and took his love away;
The ship got wrecked all hands were lost,
her father's grief was sore,
Found Reilly in her arms
and they drownded on the shore.

And in her bosom a note was found,
and it was wrote with blood,
Saying, cruel was my father
who thought to shoot my love;
So, let this be a warning
to all fair maidens so gay,
To never let the lad you love
go to America.

####.... Author unknown. Variant of a mid-19th-century British broadside ballad, Riley The Fisherman [Laws M8] American Balladry From British Broadsides, p.263 (G Malcolm Laws, 1957). Also a variant of a 19th century British broadside ballad, Riley The Fisherman, published by A Ryle and Co (London) between 1845 and 1859, and archived at the Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads, shelfmark: Harding B 17(257b) ....####
Sung in 1950 by Michael (Mike) A Kent [1904-1997] of Cape Broyle, NL, and sung as Willie Reilly by John (Jack) Knight [1883-1975] of Shoe Cove, NL, and published in MacEdward Leach And The Songs Of Atlantic Canada, ©2004 Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA).

A very similar variant was collected in 1952 by Kenneth Peacock from Philip J Foley [1905-1982] of Tilting, NL, and published as O'Reilly The Fisherman in Songs Of The Newfoundland Outports, Vol 3, pp.698-700, by The National Museum Of Canada (1965) Crown Copyrights Reserved.

Kenneth Peacock noted that this beautiful Irish ballad has appeared in many English and American broadsides and books, but he doubted that any of them surpass this Newfoundland variant.

A variant was also collected in 1976 by Genevieve Lehr and Anita Best from Gerald Campbell [1933-?] of Branch, Placentia and St Mary's District, NL, and published as #84 in Come And I Will Sing You: A Newfoundland Songbook, pp.149-150, edited by Genevieve Lehr (University of Toronto Press ©1985/2003).

See more Lehr and Best songs.


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