MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada

Wexford Girl

John James NFLD 2 Tape 10 Track 8
Trepassey Audio:

It was down in Wexford city
Where a farmer he did dwell
He reared one only daughter
And I loved her quite well.

For she being a fair and a comely maid
And I had gained her heart
I promised that I’d marry her and
That I can't deny.

And going to my sister's house
At ten o’clock one night
It was my whole intention
For to meet my heart's delight.

And when I met my heart's delight
Oh, those words to her did say
Let us take a walk and have a talk
And 'point our wedding day.

They walked along together
Till they came to the level ground
He drew a stick out from the hedge
And knocked that fair one down.

And raising on her bending knees
"Oh, for mercy's sake," she cried
"Oh, Willie, dear, don't murder me
I’m not prepared to die."

He took her by the yellow locks
And he towed her on the ground
He threw her into a river
That flows through Wexford town.

Saying, "Lie there, lie there, you Wexford girl
For you thought you were going to be mine
I never promised I’d marry you
And that l can't deny."

And going to his mother's house
At the hour of twelve o'clock
He woke his dear old mother
Got up all in a shock.

Said, "Son, dear son, what have you done
Why those bloodstains on your clothes?"
He silently made an answer
"It's bleeding from the nose."

He asked her for a candle
For to light him to his bed
And all that night that Wexford girl
Lay bleeding o'er his head.

He twisted and turned, no rest he found
"Oh, no rest for you," she cried.
"The gates of hell are wide open,
Wide open to your eyes."

Come, all young men goes courting
A warning take by me
Don't ever slight your first true love
No matter who she be.

For if you do, you’ll surely ruin
And come down to die like me
You will die a cowardly rascal
In the heights of jealousy.


Sources: Laws P35 (The Oxford, Lexington, Knoxville or Murdered Girl; The Cruel Miller); Brewster 204; Creighton 1971: 194; Cox 311; MacKenzie 293; Mercer 193 (Wexford City), 197 (The Worcester Tragedy); Morris 336; Peacock 1965: 634, 636, 638, 640 (The Cruel Miller; The Miller Boy); Roud 263. It is also related to The Banks of the Ohio [Laws F5] and The Jealous Lover [Laws F1].
From the Memorial University Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA) Song Index and Song Annotation Collection: Abrahams, Roger and George Foss MUNFLA 69-4 (Knoxville Girl); Burke, Carmel (for Sr. Theresa Ryan) MUNFLA 72-261; Casey, George MUNFLA 68-40; Cornect, R. MUNFLA 68-39; Firestone, Melvin MUNFLA 64-17; Halpert, Herbert and F.W MUNFLA 66-24; Wareham, Wilfred MUNFLA 68-40 and 70-8; West, Eric MUNFLA 78-236.

History: The earliest known date of the popular “Wexford Girl” is 1889. According to The Traditional Ballad Index (, this song has both been linked to a 1774 murder in Reading, England and another in 1892 in Missouri. It is also suggested that the ballad might be older than either of these references and be related to a 1700 British broadside named “Berkshire Tragedy” or “The Wittam Miller.”

Text: Willie has promised to marry a Wexford girl. They go for a night walk to discuss wedding details. He denies his engagement promise, kills her and throws her body into the Wexford River. At home he explains away his bloody clothes as the result of a nosebleed. His mind is thereafter tortured by his deed until his own death. Other versions collected by Leach include poison and the stabbing of his father.

Tune: The text is through composed and melody repeated for each verse. The last few words are spoken. Speaking, instead of singing. a final word or phrase is generally thought to indicate Irish influence on the singer or song. The meter is 6/8 and the key g# natural minor or Aeolian mode. This is characterised by flattening the third and seventh tones. The range is an octave (g#-g#).

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