I ran into this song by accident. It interests me because it is a very powerful song, and I don't think I fully understand it. Looking on line, I could find only one cursory reference identifying it as a political song where a woman "changes from the Orange party . . .to the Green." [See below.]
I am no expert on things Irish, but I understand that the 12th of July was a time for provocative marches by Protestants, often through Catholic neighborhoods, which did (or do) "create anger and strife" as indicated. I also understand that a "ribbon man" is a Fenian. O.k. so far.
But there is more here than politics. In keeping with folk traditions, a man might strangle a sister who who goes over to the Enemy. But men do not commit suicide for political reasons–not in Europe, anyway. In Child Ballads, a man might kill himself if he made his sister pregnant. And the following song looks to me as if it was re-worked from an older incest ballad into a political song, or the suggestion of incest is being used as a political slur, or the idea is to wish a particularly bad death on a hated enemy. If anyone actually knows, I would be interested in hearing.
Much of the force of the song comes from its tune and delivery, which I lack the skills to reproduce in writing. But I'm sure many of you must know it. Any comments?
BOLD RIBBON-MAN'S WIFE
On the twelfth of July, with joy, my sister would roam,
And parade by the side of my drum,
She was ready and willing to create [?] anger and strife,
But she now wears the green,
Has become a bold ribbon man's wife.
I'll go down to yon oak tree and there end my life.
Hang myself to the tree with my sigh,
For she now wears the green, has become a bold ribbon-man's wife.
So he hung from the tree, and his face it turned black,
And fell down with a terrible cry.
If they'd only let him bide, he'd wear the green
Like a bold ribbon man's wife
"RIBBON MAN'S WIFE, THE - "On the 12th of July - with joy my sister would roam" - she changes from the Orange party, marching beside the drum, to the Green -- Frank CARD of Dungannon, Co Tyrone rec by PK, Belfast 18/8/53: RPL 19359/ FTX-435"