As I Roved Out


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.



25 Responses to “As I Roved Out”

  1. Phil says:

    A pedant writes: Eire is the Irish for Ireland; if you’re writing in English, the name of the country is Ireland or ‘the Republic of Ireland’ (but not ‘the Irish Republic’, incidentally).

    Is that pizzicato fiddle we can hear? I thought for a moment Jon had taken up the banjo. It’s a lovely melody, right enough.

  2. Phil says:

    I’d never heard that story about ‘marrying’ absent soldiers’ wives & it doesn’t ring at all true to me – apart from anything else, I can’t see the absent soldiers being too pleased with the arrangement! You’d think it would have appeared more definitely in traditional songs, too.

    And when she saw this token, she fell into my arms crying
    ‘You are welcome, dearest Willy, from the plains of Waterloo, but can you just stop here for a moment while I nip home and tell Bob to pack his stuff? I’ll explain later.’

  3. Jane Ramsden says:

    On a brief internet search, I can’t find anything about a custom of young men ‘marrying’ soldiers’ wives whilst they were away at war, but such unofficial polygamy must occasionally have happened. ‘If you want monogamy, marry a swan,’ said Quentin Crisp. Mind you, people in the guise of a swan don’t fare too well in folk songs!

    Beautiful song tho’ and beautifully sung, Jon. May is a bumper month!

  4. mike says:

    The lassie who has the land = the queen, so “marrying” her = joining the army.

  5. johnone says:

    I thank you Jane. Good Ole Quentin It made me laugh. I used to monogamous. Now, perhaps I am looking for a swan.

  6. Dave Rogers says:

    The story about “marrying” absent soldiers wives reminds me that I’ve read somewhere that wife-swapping (aka “swinging”) was “invented” originally by US airmen in WW2 as a way of encouraging support for their wives if they (the airmen) failed to return from a mission.

    No idea if this has any basis in fact or reality.

  7. Diana says:

    A real tear jerker this one. Beautifully sung – loved the accompaniment too.

    I also found a lot of last years comments fascinating – what a strange custom if true. Jane mentions swans – they mate for life and are such wonderful birds.

  8. Muzza (N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    Cor Blimey Guvnor…this is a perfect example of “Enjoy the song for what it is”
    The words lead off in all directions and add confusion…….
    and there you are…worrying about what it all means.soldiers..swan upping(I mean wife swopping) Local boys with diamond rings…..unveracity…….all too much for me.
    Just close your eyes and listen to this lovely, gentle song… ..simples.

  9. Peter Walsh says:

    Well said Muzza, I’ve done just that! Fabulous! What a rich seam of Folk we are mining for May.

  10. Jane Ramsden says:

    It is very lovely, and the song leading off unexpectedly adds scope, interest & bigger issues.

    I’m thinking maybe ‘mike’ above part-nailed it in his comment from last year – ‘The lassie who has the land = the queen, so “marrying” her = joining the army.’

    The lad/soldier could have been beguiled, or even press-ganged. Even if it’s a simple case of his head being turned by wealth and security, as two lines in June Tabor’s sung version on Mainly Norfolk say:

    ‘When misfortune falls sure no man may shun it,
    I was blindfolded I’ll ne’er deny.’

    And maybe the Great Hunger was the misfortune alluded to. Lads the world over have signed up to get away from hunger and poor homes, good or bad. A great song, Tedthinks!

  11. Linda says:

    Don’t forget Chris Evans 6 till 7 on the red button with Bellowhead

  12. Diana says:

    Hi Linda I will have to get it on iPlayer with a bit of luck. Have not been here for a while so missed your message but good of your to post it.

  13. Reynard says:

    I wonder how resistant people are to correcting errors.

    Fay has just tweeted a review of Orfeo by some Pete Fife on Fatea Records’ website. The review itself is quite nice but when I saw it for the first time on Mr Fife’s own blog a month ago, I sent him a message that he had misspelt the names of Sam Sweeney (“Sweeny”) and Maddy Prior (“Pryor”). I think this is quite disrespectful to the artists. By now this review has been published at least four times and everytime there were the same uncorrected spelling errors.

  14. Diana says:

    I am nearly though “Mother Tongue” Reynard and finding it rivetting. The peculiarities of language in so many countries is astonishing none more so than between Britain and America which are supposed to speak the same language. And to think we owe our basic language to the Angles and the Saxons from your part of the world.

  15. Reynard says:

    ‘from your part of the world’: but a long, long time ago. I don’t remember teaching you basic language.

    And I’m learning too – didn’t know ‘riveting’ before.

  16. Diana says:

    Thanks for spelling the word correctly – I knew when reading it after submitting it I had added an extra T. I expect you had to resort to your OED then, or else thought I was working on boat – riveting. How odd our language is – I am surprised that I ever learnt it. We both posted at the same time so did not read your comment until today. I agree with you it is rude not to spell a person’s name correctly especially under those circumstances.

  17. Reynard says:

    No, my OED is at home and I’m at work (more precisely, at lunch break). I just goggled for the word – I was quite positive that you meant something, er, positive but wanted to be sure.

  18. Diana says:

    Rnjoy your lunch, am about to do the same. Good old “google” it is a boon. You don’t always think about words when you use then – they tend to come naturally but sometimes there is another meaning but it does not enter one’s mind. Glad that you learnt a new word just the same.

  19. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Reynard: Whilst anyone can make a mistake, those are hard to credit, & would have been especially easy to correct in advance, being names of known artists. I think most serious reviewers would at least check names & facts before submission. It is rather basic, and people do take umbrage, as you say, for reasons of respectful identity. To then not make a correction once an error has been pointed out, seems to me to be a bit ‘laisser faire,’ though I suppose the same review might have been sent off to several places simultaneously and the assumption made someone would proof-check. In my view, it is really the author’s responsibility to do that, but you pointed out the errors, you were right, and you can do no more. He’ll know for next time… or maybe not! I suppose some people get a bit cavalier in tweeting/blogs. I don’t like to let missen down like that, let alone misrepresent.

  20. Diana says:

    Well said or rather typed Jane. People who should know better should check all facts and any information before publishing in any form. It should be the first rule, but to do it again is reprehensible.

  21. Diana says:

    Reynard I do hope your goggling came up with words like fascinating or enthralling as the word was intended when I used it.
    There is something to be said for “plain english” but there are so many more interesting words to use, so why not use them?

  22. Muzza (N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    Our Reynard a Goggler……what next!

  23. Soozie Campbell says:

    I’ve never believed he married another woman.

    I’ve always thought the lassie who owned the land was the Queen. He was wedded to his job – the army. That’s the only explanation that makes sense of the last verse.

  24. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Ref Soozie Campbell…..November 2018!!!!!!!
    she must have been sitting there, on a dark November evening, ploughing through the archives!….and so incensed that she had to put pen to paper and spring to the defence of our hero!

  25. John Bryson says:

    Interesting to read these comments from ten years ago (where does the time go), about swinging, Wife swapping and surrogate husbands. I’m pretty broad minded but certainly the latter I’ve never hear of – Am I missing out on something, I wonder ?!

    The bottom line is, as so many on this post say, this is a lovely song and adds to the collection of great songs in the month which are a joy to listen to.

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