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When I was a young thing, my mother used to say
That I'd be a rovin' lass and easy led astray;
Before I would work, sure, I'd rather sport and play
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of the roses.

On the banks of the roses, my love and I sat down,
He's ta'en oot his German flute to play his love a tune;
In the middle o' the tune, noo, the bonnie lassie cried:
"O, it's Johnnie, dear, O Johnnie, dinna leave me!"

For he's ta'en oot a wee penknife as sharp as ony lance,
And he's plunged it right tae yon bonnie lassie's hairt;
He plunged it right in tae yon bonnie lassie's hairt,
And he left her lyin' low amang the roses.

Noo, come a' ye traivellin' lasses, a warnin' take by me,
It's never let a Gorgi lad an inch abune your knee;
For if ye dae, ye'll be sure to rue
For he'll leave ye lyin' low amang the roses.

(Final chorus omitted)

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Source: MacColl and Seeger, Traveller's Songs from England and Scotland, Routledge And Kegan Paul, 1977

Sung by John MacDonald.

MacColl and Seeger wrote:

... this piece is most commonly found in Ireland (where it has a different melody), less commonly in Scotland (nearly always found the to melody given here) and scarely found at all in England and the United States. In all the printed texts to which we refer, "The Bans of Red Roses" is a sweet and whimsical love-song expressing the viewpoint of the man.  Some of these texts refer pointedly to the disapproval of the girl's parents but comment philosophically on the fact that "she's pretty, but I can leave her alone and go court some other".  Other text end happily at the altar.

There are a number of significant differences between these printed sets and those now found commonly in oral tradition.  First of all, the song is now generally sung from the girls'  point of view. Secondly, a new melody of Scot's derivation shares the scene with the most commonly printed Irish tune (see O'Lochlainn).  But the most striking new feature of the song is the murder element and, though this is not found in any of the sources given below, it appears in almost every rendition of "The Banks of Red Roses" that we have heard. The admonition given in the third stanza is not a common feature of the song and it is interesting to note that on a previous occasion Mr MacDonald gave the line as "It's never let a country lad an inch abune your knee." 

Roud: 603 (Search Roud index at VWML)

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