An Cailín Beag Meidhreach

The Merry Young Woman

Véarsa 1 Verse 1
A chailín bhig mheidhrigh do raghainn leat ag ól, O my merry young woman I would go drinking with you.
Do bhéarfainn guth gadhar duit agus radharc bailte mór, I would give you the sound of hunting dogs and the sight of cities.
D’iompóinn féin m’aghaidh ort ‘s do mheallfainn uait póg, I would turn my face towards you and would coax a kiss from you.
Is fé thuairim do mhaighdnis nó an bhfaighinn dul id’ chomhair. And, as for your virginity, would I be allowed near you?
Véarsa 2 Verse 2
Do ghealluis si[1] siúd dom is dúraís liom bréag You promised me this and that and you lied to me,
Go ndéanfá me[2] [a] phósadh gan feóirling don tsaoghal. That you would marry me without a farthing in the world.
Do shiúlfainn-se an drúcht leat is ní bhrúfainn an féar, I would walk through the dew with you and I would not crush the grass
Is go gáirdín na n-úll leat, a rúin searc mo chléibh. And I would go to the apple orchard with you, darling love of my heart.
Véarsa 3 Verse 3
Mairnéalach loinge me [a] shiúlaigh a lán. I am a ship’s sailor who has travelled afar
Is do ghlacas mar thaithí bheith ag startuigheacht le mnáibh.[3] And I am in the habit of telling stories to women.
Níor stracas do chóta is níor leónas do lámh I didn’t tear your petticoat and I didn’t injure your arm
Is níor luíos ar do leabuig ach an t-aon oíche amháin. And I spent only one night in your bed.
Véarsa 4 Verse 4
Nuair a luím-se ar mo leabuig, ní altaím i gcóir When I lie in bed I can’t pray properly
Is nuair a éirím ar maidin ‘sí m’osna ‘n ochón And when I rise in the morning my sigh is like a lament.
Mo ghruaig bhreá nuair a scaoilim ag imeacht ‘na ceó[4] When I let down my beautiful hair it falls out like mist
Mar gheall ar an nDailtín[5] ná féidir dul ‘na chómhair. Because of the Nursling to whom I cannot go.
Véarsa 5 Verse 5
A ógánaigh uasail cá bhfuil t’fhortún[6] le fáil O noble young man where is your fortune to be found?
Ná deachais[7] féin liomsa ar aon lóistin amháin? Didn’t you yourself share lodgings with me?
‘Sé mo chreach fhada bhrónach nách pósta leat atáim, It is my woe and my sorrow that I am not married to you,
M’fhear-sa faoi na fóduibh[8] is me ar tóramh do mhná. My own husband dead and I attending your wife’s wake!
Véarsa 6 Verse 6
A ógánaigh uasail cár chodlaís aréir? O noble youth where did you sleep last night?
Do chodlas ar mo leabuig. Cár chodlaís féin? I slept in my bed. Where did you sleep?
Dá mbeadh fios mo scéil agat ní chodlófá néal If you knew the truth of my story you would not sleep a wink
Is gurb é do chomhrá caoin cneasta d’fhúig[9] an osna so[10] im’ thaobh. And it was your kind, gentle conversation which caused this heartfelt groan in me.
Véarsa 7 Verse 7
Ar maidin dé Domhnaigh nuair a ghabhaim-se annso[11] siar On Sunday morning when I go to the west,
Do dhearcas an óigbhean ‘s í reómsa[12] sa tsliabh. I saw the young woman, ahead of me on the mountainside.
‘Sí siúd do bhreóigh me[13] is do dhóigh mo chroí im’ chliabh It was she who wounded me and burned the heart in my breast
Is m’fhadthuirse[14] brónach mar [a] phósas bean riamh. And I am sad and sorry that I ever married a woman.


This song has elements of amhrán an chailín tréigthe, the song of an abandoned girl but it is also, in part, a dialogue between the girl and her seducer. The reference to the seafaring sailor in verse 3 can be found in a west Kerry song called An Mairnéalach Loinge although that song (see Bibeanna, ed. Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin, Cork, 2007) has only one verse in common with An Cailín Beag Meidhreach.

Another version of that song was published in An Lóchrann in April, 1910 but this verson is not an agallamh or dialogue song.

A song collected in Ardmore, Co. Waterford by Liam de Noraidh called Ríon Óige has one verse, verse 5, which is very similar to verse 2 in An Cailín Beag Meidhreach except that the speaker is a man. The text of Ríon Óige appears to have suffered some corruption.

In Goodman’s song the man speaks with unusual openness, not to say callousness. He did not force her to sleep with him and they spent only one night together.

As is often the case in songs of this type, there is not a clearly linear story. The narrative is more circular than linear and this is one of the main differences between Irish traditional songs and folksongs in English in Ireland, and indeed in England.

That said, I am not convinced that all the verses of this beautiful and touching song hold together organically, even allowing for the ‘circularity’ of the narrative line. I would be inclined to sing verses 1, 2, 3, 6 and 4 in that order and to exclude verses 5 and 7 if my purpose were to tell the story of the song in a coherent way. However, depending on the tolerance and expertise of one’s audience, one could certainly make a case for singing the whole text.

It is quite common in amhráin grá for verses to be lost, new verses to be added, words to be changed or misunderstood, local references or characters to be introduced etc. The result is songs that are not always consistent but are almost always beautiful. The classic example of this kind of change within a song text is to be found in the very well-known A Spailpín, a Rúin whose three surviving verses do not hang together. Verses 1 and 2 make perfect sense as a dialogue between the farm labourer and the wealthy woman who wants to see the world beyond her farm, despite his unwillingness to take her. Verse 3, however, refers to agrarian unrest and has little relation to what has gone before. Perhaps some missing verses would explain the story. All three verses are usually sung together nowadays, probably because the song would be too short otherwise!

The motifs of the girl’s hair falling out (verse 4) and the wish for the deaths of their respective spouses (verse 5) are found elsewhere in the song tradition. The rather callous wish for the death of the beloved’s husband is, for example, articulated in Song 6 in this collection, Bean an Fhir Rua.

It is a hallmark of Goodman the collector that he does not decide what verses should be preserved but copies them all. In this, he is unique among song collectors of his time and is deserving of our gratitude.

[1] ‘si’ here may be a scribal error; Goodman may have meant to use the phrase ‘so súd’ or ‘seo siúd’ lit. ‘this and that,’ in referring to all the promises the man made.

[2] See Grammatical Notes.

[3] Old Dative Plural of ‘mná’ which I have kept for the sake of the metre.

[4] ‘ceó’ – I have kept the síneadh fada on this and on other words where it is clearly meant to indicate where the stress falls. See also ‘feóirling’ in verse 2.

[5] Goodman used a capital letter here and I have left it.

[6] I have left ‘t’fhortún’ rather than modernising it to ‘d’fhortún.’ It is slightly easier to sing.

[7] ‘Ná deachais’= Nach ndeachaigh tú.

[8] This is an old Dative Plural of the noun ‘fód’ which I have left in order to preserve the metre of the line. Nowadays it would be ‘fóid’ in the plural which, clearly, would not work.

[9] I have left ‘d’fhúig’ rather than replacing it with the modern ‘d’fhág’ again in order to preserve the metre of the line (2 syllables rather than 1).

[10] ‘so’ rather than ‘seo’ as the noun ‘osna’ is broad.

[11] Goodman has ‘annso’ rather than ‘anseo’ and I have kept it.

[12] I have kept the slender ‘reómsa,’ rather than using the broad ‘romham-sa’ again to preserve the metre.

[13] See Note 2, above.

[14] ‘atuirse’ is more usual nowadays.