The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #48219   Message #722782
Posted By: Malcolm Douglas
04-Jun-02 - 10:32 AM
Thread Name: DTStudy Donnybrook Fair / Widdecombe Fair
Two songs noted by Thomas Wood from William Sparkes appeared in The Journal of the Folk Song Society, vo.VIII issue 33, 1929; Donnybrook Fair and The Spanish Fight. Wood wrote:

"I have spent some time during this year (1928-9) in trying to find folk-songs in the Stour valley. The results are not large. I have so far found only two men who were able to give the tunes and texts of songs in anything like a complete form. They are both farm hands, and have lived in the Bures district all their lives. The first is Maurice Cardy, 70, of Bures St. Mary, the other William Sparkes, 50, of Hobbs' Well, Mount Bures. Both of them speak the beautiful north Essex dialect, with its careful sounding of the "h", the softening of the "er" into "ar", the inevitable use of "that" for "it", and the translation of all tenses into the present, with the plural ending. Both have some idea of singing, and both were much interested in what I wanted, when I had carefully explained what I was after. Cardy works for me for part of the year, when another man is required about the place, and Sparkes works on this land (which is rented by a neighbouring farmer) so that I see them constantly and had heard these songs many times before I noted them down. I have given them as sung, except that I have not attempted to show the vocal inflections."

Of Donnybrook Fair, Wood commented:

"It was sung by William Sparkes in the highest alto I have ever heard, with great vigour, and much emphasis was laid on the punning surnames of the old pal's wife."

Anne Geddes Gilchrist added the following notes:

"Here is a modernised relic of an old cumulative song, known in Scotland as The Beggars of Coldingham Fair (see Chambers' Popular Rhymes of Scotland, where it is reprinted from Tait's Magazine, X, 121), and in the north of Ireland as Craigbilly (or Crebilly) Fair (see Ulster Songs and Ballads, 1925, collected by H. Richard Hayward). The Scottish version begins:

The first time that I gaed to Coudingham fair
I there fell in with a jolly beggare;
The beggar's name, O, it was Harry,
And he had a wife, and they ca'd her Mary;
O Mary and Harry, and Harry and Mary,
And Janet and John;
That's the beggars one by one;
But now I will gie you them pair by pair,
All the brave beggars of Coudingham fair.

A pair of new names is introduced into each verse, so that what seems to be the refrain or chorus is lengthened to suit. The Antrim version from Ulster Songs begins:

As I went up to Craigbilly fair
Who did I meet but a jolly beggar,
And the name of this beggar they called him Rover,
And the name of his wife it was Kitty-lie-over;
There was Rover and Rover and Kitty-lie-over,
There was Rooney and Mooney,
And Nancy and Francey,
And Lily and Billy,
And Jamie and Joe,
And away went the beggar-men all in a row.

This version, also, piles up the names in successive verses. Mr. Haywood states that the fair of Crebilly (locally pronounced Craigbilly) was held annually until quite recent times; the charter for it being granted by Charles I to the O'Haras of Crebilly House. In past times Crebilly fair was noted, he says, for the vast number of beggars it attracted. Donnybrook fair, which gives the title to the Essex version, was also a famous -indeed notorious- gathering -the "Bartholomew" of Dublin, as it has been called- but was suppressed about a hundred years ago, as the result of the rioting and drunkenness which prevailed at it. Dr. Wood's jolly tune is a curious blend of Villikins and his Dinah, something Irish, and an old English song, I wonder when I'm to be married. "

The full text of Coldingham Fair is in the DT:


In the 1950s, Peter Kennedy recorded two versions; one, Widdliecombe Fair, from Harry Cox of Catfield in Norfolk (1953), is given in full in Kennedy's Folksongs of Britain and Ireland (1975 and 1984); the other, Monaghan Fair, from Francis McPeake of Belfast (1952), is quoted in part. He learned it at a dance in County Antrim at the turn of the century. Jean Ritchie and George Pickow have also recorded it from him.

Versions have also been found in Suffolk in the 1960s (As I Was a-Going to Barningham Fair) and in Nottinghamshire in the 1980s (Widdlecombe Fair). James Orchard Halliwell (The Nursery Rhymes of England, 1846), printed an unprovenanced text, The Beggars of Ratcliffe Fair, where the beggars all have Welsh names; Kennedy quotes it in part.

Note that this Donnybrook Fair is not related to the song The Humours of Donnybrook Fair, nor is the tune related to the well-known jig Donnybrook Fair.