Jon simply attributes this as “From Planxty. It has a beautiful melody, and there’s something about the story that rings true.”
On first glance this seems a straightforward case of a woman passed over for another with more wealth and Planxty’s notes at Mainly Norfolk associate this with the famine. That may be true, but there’s no mention either direct or indirect and there’s the slightly curious verse at the end too, which has either floated in from elsewhere, or suggests something else is going on. I came upon a Mudcat post or two confirming that with a lack of a clear reference, the famine idea seems misplaced. Also there is another song of the same title that seems to directly involve a soldier, but then that one has the more common taking advantage with no chance of marriage plotline and doesn’t share the verse. Then there was also this…
“I suspect that the singer will be glad when all soldiers return to Eire and are united with their wives. This will then relieve the singer of the burden of having had to marry “the lassie who has the land”. I read somwhere an explanation by Andy Irvine, that in Napoleonic times in Eire, it was a custom that single, young and fit men should “marry” the wives of absent soldiers, and thus ensure that the land the soldiers were leaving for the battlefield, was not allowed to fall into disrepair for lack of an able bodied male.”
That’s something else that I hadn’t come across, although it seems a little far-fetched to me and doesn’t tally with the rest of the song that definitely suggests that the lad has had his head turned and is already regretting it. If the above scenario were the case, then I would think it also common practice in England and so forth. It may be a simple lack of knowledge on my part again, but if anyone knows more please chip in. It’s another very lovely, if somewhat sad little song and a great tune.