Derry Gaol


This belongs to a family of ‘Hangman’ songs referred to as Child ballad #95, where the victim is saved by a last minute reprieve. It includes Gallows Pole and Pricklie (Prickly, Prickleye) Bush and often the condemned is female, although that isn’t the case here.  Jon Says, “I really love the first verse of this – doesn’t seem to have much to do with the story but it somehow elevates the rest of the song, perhaps because of being somewhat abstract. I forget who Bellamy learnt this off. Paddy Tunney maybe?” According to this mainly Norfolk link it will have come from Sarah Makem and the sleeve notes Of Spiers & Boden’s Songs, from Jon’s previous recording of the song, make the same connection. This variant is sometimes called The Streets Of Derry, which you’ll note on that MN link it’s what Shirley Collins called it, with Cara Dillon also recording a version with that title more recently. There seems a sense of looming injustice in this, with the priest seeking to delay the execution by insisting on hearing a confession, where it is more usually the condemned who seeks a stay. Is it just me or does the mention of the victim “Being more like a commanding officer,” when marched through the streets give this a political edge?  There are lots of threads at Mudcat to keep you busy should you need further reading.

You can buy the August digital album now from all good download stores:



21 Responses to “Derry Gaol”

  1. Jane Ramsden says:

    This song really hits the mark, resurrecting images of my visit to Kilmainham Gaol. I would say it was an Irish rebel song as the mainly Norfolk link above suggests. This one is likely to get my August vote. Very well-rendered, Jon. And, for me, what folk is all about.

  2. Andy says:

    I didn’t like this one. Sorry – Jon can’t hit all the right buttons every time.

  3. Simon Dewsbury says:

    Andy, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way Jon sings but I agree that it’s not an especially striking song on 1st listen (sorry Jane) – but then I was a bit doubtful the first time I heard ‘Yellow Roses’ so what do I know?

    Incidentally, only slightly off subject, this is the track listing for ‘Hedonism’ [from the Navigator Records website]
    1. New York Girls
    2. A-Begging I will Go
    3. Cross-Eyed And Chinless
    4. Broomfield Hill
    5. The Hand Weaver And The Factory Maid
    6. Captain Wedderburn
    7. Amsterdam
    8. Cold Blows The Wind
    9. Parson’s Farewell
    10. Little Sally Racket
    11. Yarmouth Town

    I’m desperately hoping that ‘Amsterdam’ is the the Jacques Brel song.

    Just imagine Jon singing the start

    “In the port of Amsterdam
    There’s a sailor who sings
    Of the dreams that he brings
    From the wide open sea…”

    …and the arrangement going completely over the top by the end.

  4. Joanna says:

    Hi Simon,

    Thanks for the tracklisting. Amsterdam is the Jacques Brel song, they sang it in Groningen (Netherlands) last April and it sounded superb!

  5. Simon Dewsbury says:

    Joanna, thanks for that, I’m looking forward to the new CD even more than before. Think I might have to listen to Amsterdam before the rest of the album. Mind you, how about Jon doing ‘My Death’ unaccompanied on AFSAD? Might revive the ‘grim songs’ debate.

    I’d half hoped Bellowhead would being doing Danny Deever on Hedonsim, again I can just imagine how it would sound, brass section could have a field day, but Amsterdam will more than do to be going on with.

  6. John says:

    I wondered if Jon was going to try Yarmouth Town sometime. Now I see my wish is granted as it’s to be the last track on ‘Hedonism’!

  7. Jane Ramsden says:

    Whether people like this song or not, it was an appropriate choice as Derry is the new UK City of Culture, taking up the mantle in 2013.

  8. Phil says:

    Thumbs up from here. An odd little tune with a rather abrupt ending, but it repays listening to.

    By the way, I know a guy who does a terrific unaccompanied version of Amsterdam… (Not me – I’ve done a couple of Brels but never scaled the heights of that one.)

  9. Jo Breeze says:

    More about Derry Gaol from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

    There are 5 records of Derry Gaol in the Library, all collected in Co. Armagh save for one in Co. Tyrone, by Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle.

    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. 896, this rises to 41 records; the song is also known as James Derry, Gallows, The Dreary Gallows and Sweet Ann O’Neill and has made it at least as far as New Hampshire, Arkansas, Nova Scotia and Ontario.

    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.

    There are no records of the song in the Take 6 archive.

    We use the Roud index and the Take 6 online collections in the search for information on Jon’s selections.

    For more information, or to carry out your own search for songs, please visit
    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or

  10. Yehudit says:

    For me, the Bothy Band version is the tops.

  11. […] adds nicely to this. I’m also grateful as having fallen somewhat behind,  I can simply refer you back here and vow to get myself ahead tomorrow. There are some extras to look courtesy of EFDSS and I’ll […]

  12. Jane Ramsden says:

    I think the priest insists on hearing the confession to allow the condemned man’s sweetheart time to get there with the pardon, otherwise she’d have been too late!

    I was at Otley Folk Club on Wednesday to hear Steve Tilston and The Durbervilles. A singer called Duncan McFarlane sang the ‘Prickle-Eye Bush’ and I was able to join in, thanks to knowing it through AFSAD! And he did a lovely song he wrote in memory of his grandfather, who had a passion for racing pigeons. Should save it really for when we get to ‘King of Rome,’ but YouTube link here:

    Couldn’t find his ‘Prickle-Eye Bush,’ as nearly all Bellowhead on YouTube! But here’s guitar maestro Steve Tilston’s ‘Weeping Willow:’

    Find The Durbervilles at:

    They do a folk and roots radio show at BBC Radio Leeds Sundays 8-9pm. An hour to go! But you can listen again on BBC iPlayer through the above link to their site.

  13. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    @Jane………….thanks for the Duncan McFarlane link…………..
    trouble is… appeared on Pete Simmonds site and he has 6,000+ folk videos posted and I could be in there FOREVER!!!aaaaarrrrgggghhh

  14. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: It doesn’t go anywhere ‘cept to Duncan & his ‘Circle for Danny’ when I click on the YouTube link, so I think you must just have had a glitsch!

  15. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    @Jane…… glitsch……Open youtube with your above link…..
    under the title “Duncan etc” it tells you it was posted by…..”SIMMO7TS”…and he has posted 6,233 others. Click on the little arrows between his name and “Subscription” to see all his titles………that’ll keep you busy until Christmas!
    Ps:.haven’t had a glitsch for ages!

  16. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: Sorry, I read wot you wrote wrong on account of being poorly & having an unclear head.

    Me: Upper respiratory tract infection. Cat: Lower urinary tract disorder. Me: Lemsips, £2.50. Cat: 2 jabs at vets, £83! Me: Coughing for England (no voice, ergo no singing). Cat: Right as a bobbin! Isn’t private medicine wonderful?

    PS I have given up glitsching… the above was… er, a glitsch… you must have got my last one…

  17. Diana says:

    Like both versions – Jon’s and Spiers and Boden’s and they are quite diverse. Always pleased when there is a happy ending – being a typical female.

  18. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    @Jane…………..Ref your comment from last August…….has the lurgy got you again?…
    This time…YOU go to the vet’s……..give the cat the Lemsip!

  19. Diana says:

    @Muzza thank you for all the photos that Jane relayed to me . They were all lovely and I do like your cuddly friend although unlike you he was wide awake. The boy scout photo was good as well. Aren’t you clever getting these to me via Jane? Also at last I got to see the Fiddlers Green photo from way back when you went to Cornwall wasn’t it?

  20. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Cor blimey Guvnor………….(see Janey comments above)
    upper respiratory infections/lower urinary tract infections/jabs….oh how I miss ’em

  21. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey UK) says:

    Janie has moved on from all those common urinary tract thingys…..she’s gone upmarket and wooden leg rules these days

Your Reply

Warning: Undefined variable $user_ID in /customers/a/0/f/ on line 121