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A farmer there lived in the North Country
(Hey, ho, Nanny, O)
And he had daughters, one, two three
(Where the swan swims so bonny, O)

These daughters they walked be the river's brim,
And the eldest pushed the youngest in.

"Oh sister, oh sister, pray lend me your hand,
And I will give you house and land."

"I'll neither give you hand nor glove,
Unless you give me your own true love."

Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam,
Until she came to the miller's dam.

The miller's daughter, being dressed in red,
She went to the water to make her bread.

"O father, oh daddy, here swims a swan,
And its very like to a gentlewoman."

They laid her on the bank to dry;
There came a harper passing by.

He made a harp of her breast-bone,
And the harp began to play alone.

He made harp-pins of her fingers so fair,
He made his harp-strings of her golden hair.

He brought it to her father's hall;
There was the court assembled all.

He laid the harp upon a stone
And straight it began to play alone.

"O yonder sits my father the king,
And yonder sits my mother the queen.

"And yonder sits my brother, Hugh,
And by him my William, sweet and true.

"And there does sit my false sister, Anne,
Who drowned me for the dake of a man."

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Source: Palmer, Roy, 1998, A Book of British Ballads, Llanerch

Roy Palmer wrote:

Tune and verses 1-6, 8-10 and 15 'sung by an 'Irishman, in Liverpool'; collected by Frank Kidson (JFS II, 1906, p285). Remainder of text: Verse 7 from a manuscript (marked no 22) in the Gilcrest papers (Cecil Sharp House); verse 11-14 from Scott's Minstrelsy, vol II, 1802, p 143.

The bones of a corpse serve to make a musical instrument, which sings by itself to reveal the identity of a murderer, the victim's older sister. This powerful theme has an atavistic quality, and the ballad was probably already ancient when it was first printed, in 1656. It is known throughout Europe, and has been found in Africa and America.

Kidson further commented: "The lines and the beautiful old tune were noted down in Liverpool from the singing of an Irishman, who had got it from an old Irish woman when he was young. He only knew the fragment as it stands."

First printed in the Journal of the Folk Song Society, vol.II issue 9, 1906, 285-6. Subsequently in A Garland of English Folk-Songs, 1926, p.26, with a much longer text apparently collated from various sources.

Bronson classifies this with his Group D (no. 83). This group also includes the set from Motherwell's collection (Child 10P), a few American sets, and one from Stanford-Petrie (no.688).

Roud: 8 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six
Child: 10

Related Songs:  The Twa Sisters [Bows of London] (thematic)

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