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If i was a blackbird?

14 Jan 99 - 12:02 PM (#54049)
Subject: If i was a blackbird?
From: Martin _Ryan

The DT has two versions of this. One is a three verse + chorus version which is close to the standard one heard in Ireland (as in O'Lochlainn's Irish Street Ballads). The other is credited to Andy M Stewart and, apart from a change to a male perspective, has two extra verses. Anyone know anything of the source of these verses? Or any others? I ask because a friend of mine recently heard a five-verse version and is trying to trace it. p.s. I came across an Andy M Stewart website which might well help - but can't get through to it.

14 Jan 99 - 01:05 PM (#54057)
Subject: RE: If i was a blackbird?
From: MMario

I'm going to try this again. (first post didn't take)

Try searching the forum using "blackbird" in the subject box. there was a previous thread on this song.


14 Jan 99 - 06:52 PM (#54112)
Subject: RE: If i was a blackbird?
From: Martin _Ryan


Thanks! I'd forgotten that thread. The reference to Walton's New Treasury is probably the answer to my question. Curiously enough, the song is not in my copy of the original Treasury (1947). I should be able to get a copy without too much difficulty. Alternatively, can anyone transcribe it for me?


15 Jan 99 - 03:37 AM (#54178)
Subject: RE: If i was a blackbird?
From: Wolfgang

I'll have a look into my copy of that book. A site with many Andy Stewart (and Silly Wizard) songs ( has no information except the lyrics (identical to DT's #1 five verses version).


15 Jan 99 - 09:35 AM (#54210)
Subject: RE: If i was a blackbird?
From: Wolfgang

Walton's has five verses very close to DTs version 1 (which mentions Andy Stewart as singer), except:

they leave out verse 2
they print instead as their verse 4:

For what can a poor colleen do by herself,
when her man's gone away, sure she's left on the shelf,
she longs for her sailor to be by her side,
for she knows in her heart she's his one darling pride.

If you think that doesn't fit into DT's male singer version, you're right, for Walton's print as their main version a woman's version starting:
I am a young maiden and my story is sad,
for once I was courted by a brave sailor lad,
he courted me truly by night and by day
but now he has laft me and gone far away.

Then they print an alternative verse for the male version:
I'm just a young sailor and my story is sad,
for once I was happy and a brave sailor lad.
I courted a lassie by night and by day,
but now she has left me and gone far away.

They leave it to the reader to adapt all other verses.

Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger in "Travellers' songs from England and Scotland" print two quite different versions. I cite from their notes:
"Like most identifiable combinations of floater-verses, this song has its kernel: the [chorus of DT version #1]. The couplets which form the first halves of [DT #1 verses and 4] are relatively stable elements as is [DT #1 verse 5].
The song does not appear to have survived in the New World, though one can find stanzas from it scattered throughout the huge corpus of love-lamentations like 'The Wagoner's lad', 'Little Sparrow', 'Pretty Saro', 'The Turtle Dove' and many others."


15 Jan 99 - 05:14 PM (#54282)
Subject: RE: If i was a blackbird?
From: George Seto -

Wolfgang, I beg to differ. The song DID survive in the New World. At least in Nova Scotia it did. There is a version, which Clary Croft, Margo Carruthers, Raylene Rankin and others sing, that was collected by Dr. Helen Creighton, on the mainland of Nova Scotia. I'll e-mail Clary Croft to get more specifics about it.

Oh! I should see about typing it up. I don't think it's in print anywhere, except in the Helen Creighton Collection.

17 Jan 99 - 04:21 PM (#54551)
Subject: RE: If i was a blackbird?
From: mm

Delia Murphy used to sing "If I Were a Blackbird", and I think a collection of her work is still extant.

17 Jan 99 - 06:00 PM (#54568)
Subject: RE: If i was a blackbird?
From: Bobby Bob, Ellan Vannin

The Delia Murphy version has been mentioned before in another thread. I'm a great fan of Delia, but I've had to assemble a CD collection of her recordings, plus one by her sister, Angela, by picking up compilations of old material with odd ones, twos, or perhaps as many as three. The Spinning Wheel I have in spades by now.

If you know of an extant collection of her work, I'd be very pleased to be pointed in the right direction.

Gura mie ayd,

Bobby Bob

17 Jan 99 - 09:48 PM (#54599)
Subject: ADD: If I Were A Blackbird (Creighton)^^^
From: George Seto -

The answer I got from Clary is:

Thanks for the update George:

The song, If I Were A Blackbird, was collected by Helen Creighton from the Armstrong twins, Alister and Judson, around 1950 in Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia. She never did publish the song. I discovered it in her manuscript collection with accompanying audio tape in 1986 and began performing it (first at the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival). Soon it became very popular and has since been recorded by many Maritime performers.

I have since collected variants from several sources, including one handwritten in the 1920s from the Sherbrooke area. The song appears to be Irish, and obviously many people here in Nova Scotia knew it and only had to be jogged in their song memory to bring it back. It is now found, along with mine and various other audio recordings, in Folksongs of the Maritimes by Kaye Pottie and Vernon Ellis, published by Formac in 1992.

Cheers, Clary


Here is the version he sings:

1 I once knew a maiden, a maiden so rare
 Fell in love with a sailor, a young sailor beau,
 She courted him dearly, by night and by day
 Til at length this young sailor, he sailed far away

Chorus And if I were a blackbird, I'd whistle and sing
       I'd follow the ship that my true love sails in,
       And on the top rigging I'd there build my nest
       And I'd fly like a seagull to his lilly white breast

2 My true love is handsome in every degree
  My parents despise him because he loves me
  Well, let them despise him, or say what they will
  While there's life in my bosom, I'll love the lad still (Chorus)

3 If I were a scholar, I could handle a pen
  One long, loving letter unto him I'd send
  I'd tell him my sorrow, my grief and my woes
  If I could but find him I'd crown him with gold (Chorus)

Repeat First Verse in 1st Person. ^^^

19 Jan 99 - 10:04 AM (#54726)
Subject: RE: If i was a blackbird?
From: Martin _Ryan

Thanks, gang for all your help.


19 Jan 99 - 04:58 PM (#54771)
Subject: RE: If i was a blackbird?
From: Bob Bolton

G'day Martin,

The song also got to Australia: John Meredith collected a 4-stanza version from Sally Sloane of Teralba, NSW, in the 1950s. Sally was a wonderful source of material ... raised in a family of railway workers and, by a sort of community agreement, she beacme the singer of the group. John collected well over 200 songs and tunes from Sally over about 18 months of visits.

The version was farly close to that in O'Lochlainn's Irish Street Ballads and the tune was clearly related. Sally learned this song from one of the railway workers, not from her family store of (mostly) Irish songs and tunes.


Bob Bolton

01 Feb 99 - 04:15 PM (#56676)
Subject: RE: If i was a blackbird?
From: Martin _Ryan


Managed to see a copy of Walton, eventually. Thanks again.


01 Feb 99 - 07:57 PM (#56760)
Subject: RE: If i was a blackbird?
From: Tim Jaques

Yes, and Teresa Doyle from PEI also sings it on her CD Forerunner.

04 Jun 16 - 04:55 PM (#3793830)
Subject: RE: If i was a blackbird?
From: GUEST,Julia L

I found Maine version in the Middlebury College Helen Hartness Flanders collection Hanford Hayes

just the chorus, but a nice tune. I've been transcribing Maine stuff from there.
We (Castlebay) just recorded this adding other lyrics on our new album of sea songs from Maine "Bound Away" (shameless plug)

Helen Hartness Flanders Collection
Sung by Hanford Hayes   Stacyville Maine May 1942

If I were a blackbird,
I'd whistle and sing
I'd fly to the vessel my true love sails in
I'd light on the topmast and there build my nest
And sing a sweet song to the one I love best