Molly Bawn (1)
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MOLLY BAWN . AKA and see "Come rest on this bosom," "Fowler (The)," "Lough Sheeling (2)." Irish, Air (3/4 time). D Minor (Joyce): A Minor (Heymann). Standard tuning (fiddle). One part. This once-popular traditional song (of the 'come-all-ye' genre, also called "The Fowler") appears on numerous broadside sheets in many different forms in all parts of Ireland, the British Isles and British North America, under titles such as "Polly Vaughan," "The Shooting of His Dear," "The Fowler," and "Molly Bond" [Roud+ 166, Laws+ O36]. The title "Molly Bawn" is an Englished corruption of the Gaelic "Mailí Bhán," or Fair Mary (Fairhaired Mary, White Haired Mary). Collector Edward Bunting printed the piece three times in his manuscripts, each time noting it was traditionally the first piece learned by beginning harpers. Many songs have been composed to the tune, most of which tell of the accidental shooting death of Molly by her lover, who while hunting mistakes the white clothing she has worn for a swan. P.W. Joyce (1909) remarks: "In the last century this song was very popular in the midland and southern counties. I once heard it sung in fine style in the streets of Dublin by a poor woman with a child on her arm. Like several other ballads in this book, it obviously commemorates a tragedy in real life. It has been published by Patrick Kennedy in The Banks of the Boro but his copy is somewhat different from mine; and by 'Dun-Cathail' in Popular Poetry of Ireland; but this last shows evident marks of literary alterations and additions not tending to improvement. My version is just as I learned it from the intelligent singers of my early days. The air is the same as "Lough Sheeling (2)' of Moore's song, 'Come, rest on this bosom!' but a different version." One version of the ballad begins:
Come all you young fellows that follow the gun,
Beware of going shooting by the late setting sun;
It might happen to anyone as it happened to me,
To shoot your own true love in under a tree. .... (John Loesberg, Folksongs and Ballads Popular in Ireland, vol. 1, 1979).
Molly Bawn is also the title of a novel by Irish author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford (1855?-1878), and is the source for the adage “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”
Sources for notated versions: Edward Bunting (1773–1843) manuscript [Heymann]; Patrick Joyce recorded: “sung in fine style in the streets of Dublin by a poor woman with a child on her arm” (mid-19th century). He felt it “obviously commemorates a tragedy in real life”.
Printed sources: Heymann (Secrets of the Gaelic Harp), 1988; p. 52. Joyce (Old Irish Folk Music and Songs), 1909; No. 409, p. 220. Roche (Airs and Fantasies vol. 4), 1932; No. 68.