Blow away the morning dew

Leggi in italiano

In the older version of the ballad known as The Baffled Knight, a young and inexperienced knight meets a girl in the fields and asks her to have sex, but the lady makes fun of her love inexperience and tricks him into a ploy.


Child ballad #112 D

This ballad is reported in many text versions both in the eighteenth-century collections and in the Broadsides, as well as transmitted orally in Great Britain and America with the titles of “Blow (Clear) (Stroll) Away The Morning Dew”; the male protagonist from time to time is a gentleman, or a shepherd boy / peasant. The novelty compared to the versions A and B already seen (here and here) is the refrain that, declined in a couple of variations, recalls an allusive morning breeze that sweeps away the night’s dew.
The Renaissance courtly ballad of the “Baffled Knight” is now transposed into a popular setting, linking it to an ancient Celtic auspicious and healthy ritual, still practiced by the peasants, that of the Bath in the dew of Beltane.(see more).


Geoff Woolfewrites “Cecil Sharp noted several versions of this song in his travels around Somerset in the early 1900s, and in 1916 published what became the ‘standard’ version later sung by many schoolchildren and choirs. Vaughan Williams used the tune for his folk song suite for military band in the 1920s. The text in Mrs Nation [Elisabeth Nation of Bathpool, Somerset]’s version is similar to most others; its meaning may have been lost on collectors and schoolchildren in more innocent times” (from here)

Oscar Brand & Joni Mitchell 1965: a still unknown Joni Anderson, but already refulgent. This video is part of the television series “Let’s Sing Out” conducted by Oscar Brand, which was recorded on various Canadian university campuses and aired on Canadian television from 1963 to 1966. The textual version of the ballad has been slightly retouched and reduced in the form of humorous song.

There was a young farmer(1)
Kept sheep all on the hill;
And he walk’d out one May morning(2)
To see what he could kill.(3)
And sing blow away the morning dew
The dew, and the dew.
Blow away the morning dew,
How sweet the birds they sing(4)
He looked high, he looked low,
He cast an under look;
And there he saw a pretty maid
that swimming in a brook.
“If you take to my father’s castle(6)
Which is walled all around,
And, you may have a kiss from me
And twenty thousand pound”(7).
When they got to her father’s gate,
quicly she ride in:
There is a fool without
And here’s a maid within.
There is a flower in the garden,
they call it Marigold(8):
And if you do not
when you’re young(9),
then you may not when you’re olde.

1) or “shepherd boy” in  Phyllis Marshall (which collected 26 popular songs between 1916 and 1917 from Bathpool and West Monkton, Somerset). In the Somerset Scrapbook, Bob and Jackie Patten write: “in 1916 and 1917 Miss Phyllis Marshall was collecting songs around West Monkton. Although only a small collection, her note books contain some choice material. This collection only came to light in the 1970s when it was found in a second-hand book shop and bought for a few pence“. Both the Oscar Brand and Phyllis Marshall versions are attributable to the “standard” one published by Cecil Sharp in 1916.
2) the verse is significant and clarifies the refrain: it is the May Day, when the sun of Beltane gives more power to the dew (vedi).
3) here the young man goes hunting for necessity, but initially he was a gentleman hunting for pleasure: it is evident the allusion to the woman as prey
4)the verse has been changed to make it more “winking”, The refrain reported by Cecil Sharp says:
And sing blow away the morning dew,
The dew, and the dew.
Blow away the morning dew,
How sweet the winds do blow.
5)in this version are missing a couple of verses as reported by Phyllis Marshall
“The dew’s all on the grass, it’ll spoil my wedding gown
Which cost my father out of his purse as many pounds as crowns”
“I’ll take off my riding coat and wrap it round and round
There is a wind come from the west which soon will blow it down”
The woman tries to dissuade the man with a pretext (and who sings does not seem to have doubts about the incongruity of the two just out of the stream where they were supposedly naked swimming), that of the dress that is rubbing (it is here is even a wedding dress , a Bride of May?) is a staple of the story that already in its seventeenth-century versions warned the inexperienced (in love) young men  “Spare not for her gay clothing, But lay her body flat on the ground”
6) normally it is a gate, I assume that Oscar Brand used the word “castle” to confirm the “ancient” origin of the ballad, (making a little effort to make it stand in the metric)
7) the girl boasts a rich dowry that could tempt the man not to go immediately to rape, but to aim at obtaining the consent of the parents (he can have money only in exchange for the marriage of course) the stanza collected by Phyllis Marshall, that it could be misunderstood if not included in the context, it says “And you shall see what I can do for fifty thousand pounds”
8) flower that already in the second half of 1600 was brought to America by the first settlers. The flower takes up the solar symbolism and was considered a protective plant. In this context it symbolizes the virtue of the girl
9) the maximum is softened

Eliza Carthy – Blow the winds from Red Rice 1998 (following The Game of Draughts)

There was a shepherd’s son,
He kept sheep on the hill.
He laid his pipe and his crook aside
And there he slept his fill.
And blow the winds high-o, high-o
Sing blow the winds high-o
Well he looked east and he looked west,
He took another look
And there he saw a lady gay
Was dipping in a brook.
She said: “Sir, don’t touch my mantle,
Come let my clothes alone.
I will give you as much bright money
As you can carry home.”
“I will not touch your mantle,
I’ll let your clothes alone,
But I’ll take you out of the water clear
My dear to be my own.”
He mounted her on a milk white steed,
Himself upon another,
And there they rode along the road
Like sister and like brother.
And as they rode along the road
He spied some cocks of hay,
“Oh look!” he says, “there’s a lovely place
For men and maids to play (1).”
And when they came to her father’s house
They rang long at the ring,
And who is there but her brother
To let the young girl in.
When the gates were opened
This young girl she jumped in,
“Oh, look!” she says, “you’re a fool without
And I’m a maid within!
IX (2)
“There is a horse in my father’s stable,
He stands behind the thorn,
He shakes himself above the trough
But dares not pry the corn.
“There is cock in my father’s yard,
A double comb (3) he wears,
He shakes his wings and he crows full loud
But a capon’s crest he bears.
“And there is a flower in my father’s garden,
It’s called the marigold,
The fool that will not when he can,
He shall not when he would.”
Says the shepherd’s son as he doffed his shoes,
“My feet they shall run bare
And if I ever meet another girl
I’ll have that girl, beware.”

1) curious inversion of roles now it is the girl to tease the boy that does not react
2) the two strophes are “veiled” insults, the girl insinuates that the boy is a powerless
3) review of cock’s crests (see more)

Clear Away the Morning Dew

Ian Robb from “Ian Robb and hang the Piper” 1979
In the notes Ian writes ” the bulk of the text and the tune coming from ‘This Singing Island’, MacColl and Seeger

As I walked out one morning fair,
To see what I could shoot,
I there espied a pretty fair maid
Come a-tripping by the road.
And sing, Hail the dewy morning’
Blow all the winds high-O.
Clear away the morning dew,
How sweet the winds do blow.
We both jogged on together
‘Till we came to some pooks of hay.
She said’ “Young man, there is a place,
Where you and I can lay”.
I put me arms around her waist
And I tried to throw her down.
She said “Young man, the dewy grass
Will rumple my silk gown. (1) “
“But if you come to me father ‘s house
There you can lay me down.
You can take away me maidenhead,
Likewise a thousand pounds.”
So I took her to her father’s house,
But there she locked me out.
She said’ “Young man, I’m a maid within,
And you’re a fool without! ”
So it’s if you come to a pretty maid,
A mile outside of town,
Don’t you take no heed
of the dewy grass
Or the rumpling of her gown.

1) very curious the attitude of the girl who first teases him by proposing to lie down between the hay (with an obvious double meaning) and then complains when he hugs her

Dew Is on the Grass

From the field recording of Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1907 from the testimony of Jake Willisof Hadleigh, Suffolk, in Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams (Roy Palmer 1983 )
Lisa Knapp from Wild & Undaunted 2007

As I walked out one midsummer’s morn
All in in the month of May, sir,
O there I beheld a fair pretty maid
Making of the hay, sir.
Fol de lie de lay
I boldly stepped up to her
Asked her to lay down, sir.
The answer that she gave to me
Was, “The dew is on the ground, sir.”
“O but if you come to my father’s house
You may lay in my bed, sir;
You can have my maidenhead
All on a bed of down, sir.”
But when we got to her father’s house,
It was walled in all around, sir.
And she ran in and shut the gate,
Shut the young man out, sir.

“O when you met with me at first
You did not meet a fool, sir;
Take your Bible under your arm,
Go a little more to school, sir.
“And if you meet a pretty girl
A little below the town, sir;
You must not mind her squalling
Or the rumpling of your gown, sir.
“There is a cock in my father’s garden
Will not tread the hen (1), sir;
And I do think in my very heart
That you are one of them, sir.
“There is a flower in my father’s garden
Called a marigold, sir,
And if you will not when you may
You shall not when you would, sir.”
1) now the insult is explicit: the boy is an impotent, in the Irish versions the most recurring phrase is:” when they got to bed upstairs, sure the bay he wasn’t able
TITLES: The Baffled Lover (knight),  Yonder comes a courteous knight, The Lady’s Policy, The Dew is on the grass, The Disappointed Lover, The (Bonny) Shepherd Lad (laddie), Blow away the morning dew, Blow Ye Winds in the Morning, Blow Ye Winds High-O, Clear Away the Morning Dew
Child #112 A (Tudor Ballad): yonder comes a courteous knight
Child #112 B
Child #112 D ( Cecil Sharp)
Child #112 D (Sheperd Lad)
Blow Away The Morning Dew (sea shanty)


Jack In The Green: Chimney Sweeps’ Day

Leggi in italiano
Green Jack ” (the Green Man) was a popular mask of the English May, from the Middle Ages and until the Victorian era, fallen into disuse at the end of the nineteenth century, it returned to show itself and spread to starting from the 1970s in May Day parades.

In the nineteenth century the first of May was the feast of the chimney sweeps and so the nursery rhyme “The first of May” says
Chimney Sweeps’ Day, Blackbird is gay,
Here he is singing, you see, in the “May”.
He has feathers as black as a chimney sweep’s coat.
So on Chimney Sweeps’ Day he must pipe a glad note.
Jack-in-the-Green from door to door
capers along with the followers four.
As May Day mummers are seldom seen,
let us all give a copper to Jack-in-the-Green.
(from here)

A chimney sweep maskered himself as “Jack in the Green”  slipping inside a pyramid-shaped wicker structure, covered with ivy and foliage, surmounted by a wreath of flowers. He went out into the streets with his other friends to dance and collect offers in money: they are a King and Queen (or a Lord and Lady), jesters, clowns, chimney sweeps and musicians.


First recorded in London in the 700, Jack-in-the-Greens were soon appearing across the country. The documentation collected by Keith Chandler is instead related to the publication in newspapers in the years 1820 and up to 1890 (see more)
A series of anecdotes on how the disguise was born (see more)



Some scholars connect this disguise to the Green Man carved in the stones of medieval churches in Europe that is usually depicted only in the face, a human face metamorphosed in foliage.
“In the tenth century they begin to appear as illustrations on the manuscripts, especially in France, such as Bibles, books of Psalms and Ordals, books of hours, even works by famous theologians such as the” Moralia “of St. Gregory the Great, a exegesis of the book of Job, where they often merge with the intertwined motifs typical of Saxon and Celtic art: they are reminiscent of snakes that bite their tails, decorative motifs of evident stylistic practicality, and can be interpreted as pitfalls and obstacles of the earthly life.Afterwards they appear as architectural elements in the churches of Germanic style.They soon spread everywhere in churches, cathedrals and abbeys, but also in other buildings, ecclesiastical and not, both as architectural friezes, both in wooden furniture (like the benches), and also in the funeral art (on the tombs, in short) Their popularity grows between the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
In the simplest form, the faces are generally masculine, from whose orifices, eyes, nose, mouth and ears, foliage appears, often branches or leaves of vines, or which have leaves and bushes instead of beard and hair; these last ones seem almost versions of the Medusa to the masculine, which they resemble in a disturbing way. But there are also more abstract, where vegetation is predominant and the human features are only hinted at, barely distinguishable: heads made of leaves that would have pleased Arcimboldo. In spite of the name, it is not always human faces: often they are demons, masks (or stereotypes), even animals, in preference felines. Sometimes they are provided with teeth and seem to bite the branches. If in some cases their association with the evil one is evident, in others they seem decorative motives without particular meaning, more than anything else a demonstration of the taste for the absurd and the bizarre typical of the Middle Ages. “(translateb from here)

Dunblane Cathedral, Scotland XV secolo

The green men are not a product of Christianity (or they have been clothed with a new theological role) because we have a lot of sculptural decorations, and paintings dating back to the age of Imperial Rome ( Domus Aurea of Nero). Masquerones with plant decorations also recall sylvan gods like Pan, Bacchus, Dionysus, and so on, thus some scholars see in the symbol of the green man of early Christianity the intent to incorporate myths and practices of the most widespread mystery religions in the countryside. (see more)

Other characters connected to the Green Man are also the Wild Man, Puck and Robin Hood, the Green Knight opponent of Sir Galvano, but also the Christian Saint George. In psychology it is said to be an archetypal figure connected to the arboreal myths, or an example of the divinization of nature. (see first part)

Brian Froud: Green Man


Magpie Lane from “Jack in the Green”  1998: Jack in the green (composeb by Martin Graebe in 1972 ) and Jack’s Alive a traditional and popular dancing tune in England and Scotland.

Martin Graebe notes: “”This song was written when Cherri and I were living to the east of Exeter in the area that is marked on the Ordnance Survey map as “Jack in the Green.” We were also drinking fairly often in the pub of the same name and the connection led to the above bit of fantasy based on traditional themes. A number of people have told me at different times that they have heard “Jack in the Green” described as a traditional song. It was the first of my songs to turn up on the Internet, where it was described on the Digital Tradition database as a traditional song. Most recently, someone told me about an American CD of pagan music that includes Jack as an example of a traditional pagan song from the British Isles.”
in the video  “Hastings Jack in the Green Festival”

by Martin Graebe 1972
Now winter is over,
I’m happy to say,
And we’re all met again
in our ribbons so gay.
And we’re all met again
on the first day of Spring
To go about dancing
with Jack in the Green(1).
Jack in the Green, Jack in the Green
And we’ll all dance each springtime
with Jack in the Green

Now Jack in the Green
is a very strange man,
Tho’ he dies every Autumn,
he is born every Spring.
And each year on our birthday,
we will dance through the street,
And in return Jack
he will ripen our wheat.
Now all you young maidens
I’d have you beware
Of touching young Jack,
for there’s strange powers there.
For if you but touch him,
there is many will tell
Like the wheat in our fields
so your belly will swell.
With his mantle
he’ll cover the trees that are bare.
Our gardens he’ll trim
with his jacket so fair.
And our fields he will sow
with the hair of his head.
And our grain it will ripen
‘til Old Jack is dead(3)!
Now the sun is half up
and betokens the hour
That the children arrive
with their garlands of flowers.
So now let the music
and the dancing begin,
And touch the good heart
of young Jack in the Green!

1) Jack is the diminutive of two different names James and John, but more than a name right here is to indicate the Green Man
2) Magpie Lane have skipped this stanza
3) it is the myth of the Spirit of the Wheat: the spirit of the Wheat-Barley never dies because it is reborn the following year with the new harvest, its strength and its ardor are contained in the whiskey that is obtained from the distillation of barley malt!


Two dance tunes which I’d been playing for years, before I realised that they are in fact the same tune played in different time signatures. The first, in 6/8, is from Wilson’s Ballroom Companion, via one of Bert Simon’s Kentish Hops pamphlets. I first heard it played by the Oyster Ceilidh Band. Curiously their first LP was called Jack’s Alive, but this tune was not on it; they finally recorded it on their 20 Golden Tie-Slackeners album. I originally knew the 4/4 tune as an unnamed morris tune from Badby in Northamptonshire. Oyster Morris from Canterbury used it for a dance called ‘The Panic’ – originally ‘Pogle’s Panic’ – which had been written in the early 1980s by Pete Collinson. It was some years later that I found the tune in The Yetties’ The Musical Heritage of Thomas Hardy as ‘Jack’s Alive’.” (from here)

Aly Bain & Tom Anderson 
English country dance

Morris Dance

“The Green Man”  Richard Hayman
“Images of Lust: Sexual carvings on medieval churches”  Anthony Weir and James Jerman.


Jack in the Green festival

Leggi in italiano
man-natureThe Green Man is an archetypal figure connected with the cycle of nature, it is the immanent green force of Nature. The myth tells of a Goddess, the Mother, who generates her child, but this child is not immortal, and because the cycle of life is renewed, he must die.
His death and rebirth are the regeneration of the Spring and with it the regeneration of the community that celebrates the rite for propitiate fertility.

The Green Man  is the guardian spirit of the woods, perhaps an ancient god of vegetation and fertility transversal to many cultures that takes the name of Pan, Cernunnos, Dionysus ..

Heart of Faerie Oracle tarot, Brian & Wendy Froud

It is depicted as a human face among the green foliage or rather its skin is of foliage: in the illustration (Heart of Faerie Oracle tarot, Brian & Wendy Froud) they are artistically reproduced oak leaves, holly, ivy and the palmate leaf of the Maple. Two branches look like horns, the eyes are reddish like those of the fairies of Avalon, among the branches a sprig of mistletoe grows with its berry, the sacred plant of the Druids.
From the mouth of the Green Man sprouts the rowan twigs with the characteristic red berries. The rowan of the birds, as it is commonly called, represents in the Druidic tradition the rebirth of light after the winter and was therefore considered the tree par excellence of the awakening of Nature.

And yet all this veneration of the past was lost in the Middle Ages when the old gods died and the Green Man became a sort of decorative mask to be understood sometimes as benign but more often as a depiction of the evil one.

British Library, Add MS 18850, the ‘Bedford Hours’ , Paris XV century



Notre Dame la Grande, Politiers : X century

The deep bond between man and nature is all in the archetype of the green man, the man metamorphosed into a tree, the indissoluble bond between man and nature and its laws. A bond that instills fear but also peace and tranquility hence the ambivalence of the benign or malicious symbol depending on the context: the images smile benevolently or are mocking and fierce. But there is a third type of Green Man: one in which the faces seem scared and suffering.

If some Green Man, instead of joyous, look scary, we find others that, on the contrary, seem scared. These are certainly not demons, but we can not even associate them with images that celebrate the relationship between man and nature. We are faced with another value that this image can take on, that of suffering. In the late Middle Ages, especially after the terrifying experience of the pestilence known as the Black Death, there are rarely joyful and peaceful Green Men. Often branches and leaves stick out of the eyes, in an image that can be terrifying; sometimes the teeth are protruding or very pronounced, as if trying to bite the plant that protrudes from the mouth, to cut it and thus free itself from its suffocating grip. Finally, sometimes we find deformed faces and this too is a very strong signal for the medieval mentality: at that time, in fact, the deformities were a phenomenon much more frequent and known than in the present day, due to insecurity on the places of work, malnutrition and poor care for poor people, and not too advanced medicine. Such incidents in a man’s life were always associated with some divine punishment for his sins. A suffering face that turns into a plant, therefore, puts the accent on the boundary between natural and supernatural, and can sound like a warning against sin and temptations. Another typical representation that can be found is that of Green Man that show the language, probably inspired by the classic Gorgon masks, where it was supposed that this gesture had the sense to drive away evil. It is certain, however, that the people of the Middle Ages did not look at this image in the same way: beyond, in fact, the passages of the Bible that speak of the language as an “unseemly organ”, something that if shown could give rise to scandal, a face with the tongue outside also remembered the image of the hanged man, so certainly not pleasant. (translate from here)


Trisha Fountain Design

In the English folk tradition The Green Man is reborn in a popular May mask of medieval origins (and presumably even more ancient). “Green Jack” was a popular mask of the English May, from the Middle Ages and until the Victorian era, fallen into disuse at the end of the nineteenth century, it returned to show itself and spread to starting from the 1970s in May Day parades.

William Hone in his “The every day book” of 1878 describes the mask of Jack-o’-the-Green “Formerly a pleasant character dressed out with ribands and flowers, figured in village May-games under the name of The Jack-o’-the-Green would sometimes come into the suburbs of London and amuse the residents by rustic dancing.. A Jack-o’-the-Green always carried a long walking stick with floral wreaths; he whisked it about the dance, and afterwards walked with it in high estate like a lord mayor’s footman”

Jack’s mask is further spectacularized by the guild of chimney sweeps, with a boy inside a pyramid-shaped wicker structure, covered with ivy and foliage, surmounted by a kind of wreath of flowers. He went out into the streets with his other friends to dance and collect offers in money. see more


As well as the other parts of England, the custom was lost in the early twentieth century, but in Hastings  (East Sussex, England) the local group of Morris dance, “Mad Jacks” has had the brilliant idea to resume the tradition, mainly organizing a noisy and green festival that lasts a long weekend from Friday to Monday! Songs and dances, drum races, folk music sessions, concerts, follow each other to culminate the last day in the costume parade with the Morris dancers, musicians, chimney sweeps, queens of May, wild men, and green men, to greet the return of Jack, so a long procession is formed behind him, from 10 in the morning until noon where they converges in the stage on the West Hill where among foods, drinks, performances of participants, crafts fair we spend the afternoon for arrive at 4 when Jack is symbolically killed and stripped of his leaves which are thrown to the crowd as a good luck charm.
Ewan Golder & Daniel Penfold movie (The Child Wren’s music),  they write in the video notes “Since 1983 folk-lore revivalists have organised the annual Jack In The Green Festival held over the May Day weekend in Hastings. The ‘Jack’, covered head to foot in garlands of flowers and leaves, is paraded through the streets before being ‘ sacrificed’. His death marks the end of winter and the birth of summer. Beltane is the Gaelic name of this festival. The film follows Jack’s journey through the streets of Hastings, to his inevitable demise upon the hilltop.

Jethro Tull,  from “Songs from the wood“, 1977

Have you seen Jack(1)-In-The-Green?
With his long tail hanging down.
He sits quietly under every tree –
in the folds of his velvet gown.
He drinks from the empty acorn cup
the dew that dawn sweetly bestows.
And taps his cane upon the ground –
signals the snowdrops it’s time to grow.
It’s no fun being Jack-In-The-Green –
no place to dance, no time for song.(2)
He wears the colours of the summer soldier –
carries the green flag all the winter long.
Jack, do you never sleep –
does the green still run deep in your heart?
Or will these changing times,
motorways, powerlines,
keep us apart?
Well, I don’t think so –
I saw some grass growing through the pavements today.
The rowan(3), the oak and the holly tree(4)
are the charges left for you to groom.
Each blade of grass whispers Jack-In-The-Green.
Oh Jack, please help me through my winter’s night.
And we are the berries on the holly tree.
Oh, the mistlethrush is coming(5).
Jack, put out the light.

1) Jack is the diminutive of two different names James and John, but more than a name right here is to indicate the Green Man
2) the first of May was the feast of Green Jack, with the masks that went around singing and dancing for begging
3)  The druids considered the rowan the tree of the Down of the year and it was the symbol of the return of light for its spring rebirth. But they consider most sacred the fruits that they thought were the food of the gods, able to rejuvenate, to prolong life, to satiate and to treat serious wounds. The tree was often planted near houses and stalls to protect them, because it was believed to turn away lightning; if it grew spontaneously close to the houses, it was a bearer of good luck. (translated from here)
4) Holly is a tree with masculine symbology, linked to fraternal love and paternity, the winter counterpart of the Quercia. Sir James George Frazer, in his book “The Golden Bough” and Robert Graves, in “The White Goddess” and “The Greek Myths”, they describe a ritual ceremony that was, according to them, practiced in Ancient Rome and in other more ancient European cultures: the ritual fight between King Holly and King Quercia, a struggle that guaranteed the alternation of winter and summer seasons.  (see more)
5) The thrushes and the blackbirds are insensitive to the toxicity of the holly berries and consume large quantities of them becoming the disseminators. The male holly starts to flower when it is about 20 years old and produces small, fragrant white-rosy flowers from May to June. The berries (on the female holly) are green and in autumn they become a shiny red similar to coral: they remain on the tree for the whole winter constituting an important source of food for the birds (be careful because the berries are instead toxic for the man)

second part


Lancashire, Yorkshire & Oxfordshire may day carols

Leggi in italiano


Manchester May Day.
“One tradition was for girls to don mainly white dresses, made from curtains or whatever, and carry around a broomstick representing a maypole. Another tradition was for boys to dress up in women’s clothing and to colour their faces – they were called molly dancers, ‘molly’ being an old expression for an effeminate man. Dr Cass[Dr Eddie Cass, the Folklore Society] says they went round quoting a verse. One such, from the Salford area, was: I’m a collier from Pendlebury brew. Itch Koo Pushing little wagons up a brew I earn thirty bob a week I’ve a wife and kids to keep I’m a collier from Pendlebury brew Dr Cass himself remembers both traditions. The girls would dance round the maypole and sing other songs, such as: Buttercups and daisies Oh what pretty flowers Coming in spring time To tell of sunny hours We come to greet you on the first of May We hope you will not send us away For we dance and sing our merry song On a maypole day (from here)


The version reproduced by Watersons in 1975 is taken from W & R Chamber “Book of Days” – 1869 – with words and music collected by Mr. Job Knight (1861) –  A.L. Lloyd comments
The critical seasons of the year—midwinter, coming of spring, onset of autumn—were times for groups of carollers to go through the villages singing charms for good luck, in hope of a reward of food, drink, money. This one was sung on May Eve or thereabouts in Yorkshire and Lancashire, but it’s much like similar songs from any other county.”

This song is  titled “Drawing Near the Merry Month of May” and the text is also reported in Edwin Waugh’s book “Lancashire Sketches” (1869)
The area of reference is Yorkshire and Lancashire and “Swinton” was a small borough, then Salford city now become a part of Manchester (England)

The Watersons from For Pence and Spicy Ale -1975

Brass Monkey from Flame of Fire – 2005

The two melodies are different, the version of the Brass Monkey recalls the Padstow May Song, another song of springtime still popular ritual in the town of Padstow, Cornwall.
As reported in Chambers’ Book of Day (1869), Swinton’s two songs were the Old May song and the New May song. The Old May Song was a so-called Night song that was sung during the night by groups of mayers accompanied with various musical instruments.


All in this pleasant evening together
come has we
for the summer springs so fresh and green and gay.
We’ll tell you of a blossom and a bud on every tree
Drawing near to the merry month of May
Rise up, the master of this house all in your chain of gold
For the summer springs so fresh and green and gay
We hope you’re not offended with your house we make so bold
Drawing near to the merry month of May
Rise up, the mistress of this house with gold all on your breast
For the summer springs so fresh and green and gay
And if your body is asleep we hope your soul’s at rest
Drawing near to the merry month of May
Rise up, the children of this house, all in your rich attire
For the summer springs so gresh and green and gay.
And every hair all on your head shines like a silver wire
Drawing near to the merry month of May
God bless this house and arbor, your riches and your store
For the summer springs so fresh and green and gay
We hope that the Lord will prosper you both now and evermore
Drawing near to the merry month of May
So now we’re going to leave you in peace and plenty here
For the summer springs so fresh and green and gay
We will not sing you May again until another year
For to drive you these cold winter nights away

Charles Daniel Ward: Processing of Spring -1905
Charles Daniel Ward: Processing of Spring -1905

We heve a direct testimony in the book”Memoirs of Seventy Years of an Eventful Life  from Charles Hulbert (Providence Grove, Near Shrewsbury:1852), pg 107
With feelings of indescribable pleasure, I still call to my remembrance various customs and scenes familiar to my early years. Still present is the delight with which I hailed the approach of May-day morning, when a select company of the musical Rustics of Worsley, Swinton and Eccles, would assemble at midnight to commence the grateful task of saluting their neighbours with the sound of the Clarionet, Hautboy, German Flute, Violin, and the melody of twenty voices. On this occasion the leader of the band would commence his song under the window or before the outer door of the family “he delighted to honour” with
O rise up Master of this House, all in your chain of gold,
For the summer springs so fresh, green and gay;
I hope you’ll not be angry at us for being so bold,
Drawing near to the merry month of May.
In this strain, including some encomiums or happy allusion to the various qualifications of all the other branches of the family the whole were saluted: after which a purse of silver or a few mugs of good ale were distributed among the company; thus they proceeded from house to house, tilling the air with their music and happy voices, till six o’clock in the morning.
Among the drinks with which the singers were refreshing their throat in addition to the inevitable beer there was also the Syllabub prepared with milk cream. see more



CMB-009Here is the transcription of a 19th-century May song sung by Swalcliffe’s children, clearly a Day Song
Swalcliffe (pronounced sway-cliff) is a village near Banbury in North Oxfordshire. The words of this carol were noted by Miss Annie Norris around 1840 from the singing of a group of children in the village. The words were passed onto the collector – and Adderbury resident – Janet Blunt in 1908, and she finally collected a tune for the song from Mrs Woolgrove of Swalcliffe, and Mrs Lynes of Sibford, at Sibford fete, July 1921.” (from here)

Magpie Lane from The Oxford Ramble 1993

Awake! awake! lift up your eyes
And pray to God for grace
Repent! repent! of your former sins
While ye have time and space
I have been wandering all this night
And part of the last day
So now I’ve come for to sing you a song
And to show you a branch of May
A branch of may I have brought you
And at your door it stands
It does spread out, and it spreads all about
By the work of our Lord’s hands
Man is but a man, his life’s but a span
He is much like a flower
He’s here today and he’s gone tomorrow
So he’s all gone down in an hour
So now I have sung you my little short song
I can no longer stay
God bless you all both great and small
And I wish you a happy May

LINK making_history/makhist10_prog5d.shtml swintonmaysong.html oxford_ramble/may_day_carol.htm week-88-swalcliffe-may-day-carol/

Cambridgeshire & Hertfordshire may day carols

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The tune is known as “Arise, arise” and the carols of Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire are very similar, even in the lyrics.

Ruth Barrett & Cyntia Smith from  “Music of the Rolling World” (1982) I really like the processional gait cadenced by the drum

Arise, arise, you pretty fair maids
And take your May Bush in
For if it is gone before tomorrow morn
You would say we have brought you none.
All through the night before daylight
There fell the dew and rain.
It sparkles bright on the May Bush white;
It glistens on the plain.
Oh, the hedges and fields are growing so green,
as green as grass can be.
Our Heavenly Mother watereth them
With her heavenly dew so sweet (1).
A branch of May we’ll bring to you
As at your door we stand.
It’s not but a sprout, but ‘tis well budded out,
The work of Our Lady’s hand.
Our song is done,
it’s time we were gone
We can no longer stay.
We bless you all, both great and small
And we send you a joyful May.

1) This carol lets us glimpse, among the tributes paid to the Virgin Mary, some pre-Christian rituals practiced in May Day: in addition to the May branch also the bath in the dew and in the wild waters rich in rain. The night is the magic of April 30 and the dew collected was a real panacea able to awaken the beauty of women!

Shirley Collins, Cambridgeshire May Carol

Arise, arise, you pretty fair maids,
And take your May bush in,
For if that is gone before tomorrow morn/ You would say we had brought you none.
Oh, the hedges and fields are growing so green,
As green as grass can be;
Our heavenly father watereth them/With his heavenly dew so sweet..
I have got a little purse in my pocket
That’s tied with a silken string;
And all that it lacks is a little of your gold
To line it well within.
Now the clock strikes one,
it’s time we are gone,
We can no longer stay;
So please to remember our money, money box
And God send you a joyful May.



Collected in 1900 in the Peterborough area
Mary Humphreys

Good  morning, lords and ladies,
It is the first of May;
I hope you’ll view the garland,
For it looks so very gay.
To the greenwood we will go.
I’m  very glad to spring as come
The sun is shine so bright
The little birds upon the threes
Are singing with delight
The  cuckoo(1) sings in April,
The cuckoo sings in May,
The cuckoo sings in June,
In July she flies away.
The  roads are very dusty
The shoes are very thin
We have a little money-box
To put a money in

SOURCE: Fred Hamer: Garners Gay (1967)
“Mrs. Johnstone [Margery” Mum “Johnstone] learned this carol from her grandmother who came from Carlton and seems to have been popular in some villages close to the Northamptonshire border.The same melody with similar words is spread throughout the south-east of the Midlands ”

Lorraine Nelson Wolf (Bedford carol) 

Good   morning lords and ladies
it is the first of May,
We hope you’ll view our garland
it is so bright and gay
For it is the first of May,
oh it is the first of May,
Remember lords and ladies
it is the first of May.
We gathered them this morning
all in the early dew,
And now we bring their beauty
and fragrance all for you
The cuckoo comes in April,
it sings its song in May,
In June it changes tune,
in July it flies away
And now you’ve seen our garland
we must be on our way,
So remember lords and ladies
it is the first of May


Also known under the title “The Sweet Month of May” is a popular song in Cheshire. The text presents many similarities with the Swinton May song to which reference is made for comparison see more

The Wilson Family

All on this pleasant morning, together come are we,
To tell you of a blossom that hangs on every tree.
We have stayed up all evening to welcome in the day,
Good people all, both great and small, it is the first of May.
Rise up the master of this house, put on your chain of gold,
And turn unto your mistress, so comely to behold.
Rise up the mistress of this house, with gold upon your breast,
And if your body be asleep, we hope your souls are dressed.
Oh rise up Mister Wilbraham, all joys to you betide.
Your horse is ready saddled, a-hunting for to ride.
Your saddle is of silver, your bridle of the gold,
Your wife shall ride beside you, so lovely to behold.
Oh rise up Mister Edgerton and take your pen in hand,
For you’re a learned scholar, as we do understand.
Oh rise up Mrs. Stoughton, put on your rich attire,
For every hair upon your head shines like the silver wire.
Oh rise up the good housekeeper, put on your gown of silk,
And may you have a husband good, with twenty cows to milk.
And where are all the pretty maids that live next door to you,
Oh they have gone to bathe themselves, all in the morning dew.
God bless your house and arbour, your riches and your store.
We hope the Lord will prosper you, both now and ever more.
So now we’re going to leave you, in peace and plenty here,
We shall not sing this song again, until another year.
Good people all, both great and small, it is the first of May.


So many carols have been Christianized, shifting the homage to the ancient deities to God and Our Lady, as in the next examples. These verses were also documented in the newspapers of the time, for example in the parish of Debden and in the village of Saffron Walden in Essex it was sung:
‘I been a rambling all this night,
And sometime of this day;
And now returning back again,
I brought you a garland gay.
A garland gay I brought you here,
And at your door I stand;
‘Tis nothing but a sprout, but ‘tis well budded out,
The works of our Lord’s hand.
So dear, so dear as Christ loved us,
And for our sins was slain,
Christ bids us turn from wickedness,
And turn to the Lord again.’

Each verse was sometimes also interspersed with a refrain::
‘Why don’t you do as we have done,
The very first day of May;
And from my parents I have come,
And would no longer stay.’

Jean Ritchie

I’ve been a-wandering all the night
And the best part of the day
Now I’m returning home again
I bring you a branch of May
A branch of May,
I’ll bring you my love,
Here at your door I stand
It’s nothing but a sprout, but it’s well budded out
By the work of the Lord’s own hand
In my pocket I’ve got a purse
Tied up with a silver string
All that I do need is a bit of silver
To line it well within
My song is done
and I must be gone
I can no longer stay
God bless you all both great and small
And send you a joyful May

1) la strofa è a volte preceduta da questa
Take a bible in your hand
And read a chapter through
And when the day of judgment comes
The Lord will think of you

In the “Nooks and Corners of English Life, Past and Present”, John Timbs, 1867: “At Saffron Walden, and in the village of Debden, an old  May-day song is still sung by the little girls, who go about in parties carrying garlands from door to door. The garlands which the girls carry are sometimes large and  handsome, and a doll is usually placed in the middle, dressed  in white, according to certain traditional regulations : this doll represents the Virgin Mary, and is a relic of the ages of Romanism.”


William Hone in his “The Every Day Book”, describes in a letter dated May 1, 1823 the mummers of May Day to Hitchin who cheer the passers-by with their dances: they are “Moll the crazy” and her husband (with the face blackened by smoke and clothes of rags, “she” holding a big ladle and he a broom), “the Lord and the Lady” (dressed in white and decorated with ribbons and gaudy handkerchiefs, with the gentleman holding a sword) and five/six others  couples of dancers and some musicians- they are all men because the ladies were not allowed to mummers mix: they dance grimaces, chase people with the broom and make the audience laugh.

Always William Hone tells us that the Mayers went from house to house to bring May already at the first light of the day (starting at 3 am) singing “Mayer’s Song” and William Chappell in The Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Time, 1859 also transcribes the melody, more or less the same as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.”

Hitchin May Day Song

‘Remember us poor Mayers all,
And thus we do begin
To lead our lives in righteousness,
Or else we die in sin.
We have been rambling all this night,
And almost all this day,
And now returned back again,
We have brought you a branch of May.
A branch of May we have brought you,
And at your door it stands;
It is but a sprout, but it’s well budded out
By the work of our Lord’s hands.
The hedges and trees they are so green,
As green as any leek,
Our Heavenly Father he watered them
With heavenly dew so sweet.
The heavenly gates are open wide,
Our paths are beaten plain,
And, if a man be not too far gone,
He may return again.
The life of man is but a span,
It flourishes like a flower;
We are here to-day, and gone to-morrow,
And we are dead in one hour.
The moon shines bright, and the stars give a light,
A little before it is day;
So God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you a joyful May!’

Sedayne, live The Heavenly Gates (a may carol)

not exactly the same verses, some stanzas are missing
We’ve been rambling all the night, the best part of this day,
we are returning here back again to bring you a garland gay.
A bunch of May we bare about, before the door it stands;
it is but a sprout but it’s well budded out; it is the work of God’s own hands.
Oh wake up you, wake up pretty maids, and take the may bush in –
for it will be gone e’er tomorrow morn and you will have none within.
The heavenly gates are open wide to let escape the dew;
it makes no delay, it is here today & it forms on me & you.
The life of a man is but a span, he’s cut down like the flower;
he makes no delay, he is here today & he’s vanished all in an hour
And when you are dead & you’re in your grave, all covered with the cold cold clay,
the worms they will eat your flesh good man & your bones they will waste away.
My song is done I must be gone, I can no longer stay;
God bless us all both great & small & wish us a gladsome May.

LINK NonChristmas/bedfordshire_may_day_carol.htm 7/73/1908_32_Bedfordshire_May_Day_Carol.pdf

PADSTOW May Day Songs

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On May 1, in Padstow, a characteristic event called “Obby Oss Festival” is celebrated, centered on the Hobby Horse dance; Padstow is a small fishing port of North Cornwall on the mouth of the river Camel, now a tourist destination. (first part)

In this second part I’m going to bring back a couple of songs incorporated in the Padstow Oss tradition but that have been written more recently in the 20th century!


Dave Webber, founder with his wife Anni Fentiman of the Beggar’s Velvet group, wrote a May Song inspired by the oss tradition for their debut album “Lady of Autumn” released in 1990. The song was so convincing that it was adopted among the celebrations for the Padstow May, also known as the “Drink To The Old ‘Oss” (see more)
Magpie Lane from Jack in the Green 1998

by Dave Webber 1990
Winter time has gone and past-o,
Summer time has come at last-o.
We shall sing and dance the day
And follow the ‘obby ‘orse that brings the May.
So, Hail! Hail! The First of May-o!
For it is the first summer’s day-o!
Cast you cares and fears away,
Drink to the old horse on the First of May!
Blue bells(1) they have started to ring-o,
And true love, it is the thing-o.
Love on any other day
Is never quite the same as on the First of May!
Never let it come to pass-o
We should fail to raise a glass-o!
Unto those now gone away
And left us the ‘obby ‘orse that brings the May!

1) The Hyacinthoides of Spanish origin is sometimes called Spanish Bluebells to distinguish it also in the vulgar name from the Hyacinthoides non-scripta, known as English Bluebells.


In 1982 Larry McLaughlin dedicated this song to his wife Maureen on their silver wedding! Here is a tasty anecdote about it told by Larry McLaughlin’s son: “Dad and I were playing in Padstow one night and, inevitably, we did ‘Queen of the May.’ Afterwards, a woman of middle years and a rich Cornish accent came up to us and said to Dad, ‘’Ere boy, you got the words wrong.’ ‘Oh really,’ Dad replied, ‘But I wrote it.’ ‘So you’re the bugger,’ she replied. “But her husband shouted across, ‘’E didn’t write that, I remember my father singing it.’ To which some else joined in with, ‘You don’t even know who your [bleep]ing father was.’ And such was a typical evening in Padstow. “And in many ways the song has been absorbed into the traditions of Padstow. But we should never forget that it is Mum’s song; its original title is ‘Maureen’s Song.’ A treasured gift from Dad to celebrate their Silver Wedding Anniversary, as he says—without having to spend any money!”

by Larry McLaughlin 1982
Winter is over and summer has come
And the Obby Oss waits in his stable for dawn
Rise up my love early and deck yourself gay
And I’ll take you to Padstow today
Chorus: And put your arms round me. I’ll dance you away
For you are my Queen of the May
Skip out o’er the fields and the woods and the dells
Pick primroses, daises, cowslips and bluebells
And from the green woods cut a sycamore spray
And I’ll take you to Padstow today
We’ll breakfast on ale and an old chorus song
Musicians will come with accordion and drum
We’ll meet the old Oss and we’ll welcome the May
When I take you to Padstow today
When the years have rolled on love and we are both old
And the stories of May day and Padstow are told
And though I’m old and feeble you’ll still hear me say
I’llt take you to Padstow today


Obby Oss Festival

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On May 1, in Padstow, a characteristic event called “Obby Oss Festival” is celebrated, centered on the Hobby Horse dance; Padstow is a small fishing port of North Cornwall on the mouth of the river Camel, now a tourist destination.

padstow oss
Oss and his teazer

The Oss are two, one of the Red group(the old horse) and the other of the Blue group (a more recent addition of the Victorian era): the masks are identical, looking fierce and black dressed , which emerge from a characteristic round shape (a circle of 2 meters) edged to the ground by the black fabric: the horses are led by their “teazers” a jugglers with a characteristic stick followed by a cortege of dancers and musicians (mostly drums and accordions): the dominant color in the parade is the white with red or blue depending on the group.

The Oss during his dance – revolving on himself and kicking – seems to war with the teazer or he is courting the young women, who if dragged under the mantle of the oss will become pregnant within the year (or they will get married by the year if they are still young maids)!

Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy and filmmaker George Pickow collected footage at Padstow in 1951


It is not easy to find the origins of the ritual that is celebrated in Padstow, some indications come from the history of the village: the first settlement was the monastery built by St. Petroc in his mission of evangelization (VI century), but it was destroyed by a Viking raid in 981. Thus the monks moved further inside to Bodmin. Some hypothesize that the ceremony took place on that occasion as an extreme attempt at defense.
obby_oss_sHistorical references of the Oss date back to the late Middle Ages (early 1500) with traces still in the Victorian era: in 1803 is documented the presence of a horse made with the skin of a stallion with a man inside who sprinkled water on the crowd.

Some scholars trace the ritual to pre-Christian celebrations, connected with the Celtic festival of Beltane. Donald R. Rawe compare the oss to thehobby  horses of the Morris dances that are associated with the May fertility rites. (see also the Robin Hood games for the May day). The branches of the May brought into the village, the symbolic coupling with the young women kidnapped under the skirts by the oss, the death and rebirth of the same oss are clear references to fertility that are part of the May Celtic celebrations. However little else can be affirmed with certainty and the verses of the “daytime” singing are rather obscure.
Equally numerous are the references to the winter rituals of Samain that began at the end of October and ended after about twelve days. During the Christmas period the disturbing mask of a horse (hodden or hooden horse), is led through the streets of the village by a “tamer” who held it by the bridle: the children tried to mount the horse and people throw sweets or coins into the mouth of the animal as propitiatory offers. see more


In the singing the Padstow May Song (mostly they repeats the first verse) at some point the music stops the Oss collapses to the ground, the teaser caresses him with his characteristic bat and they sing a kind of dirge funeral
Oh where is Saint George? Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat, all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.
The oss dies then the “teaser” screams “Oss Oss” and the crowd answers “We Oss” thus the Oss comes back to life and gets up again to resume the dances..

Death-Resurrection of the Oss

Once between the two Oss was engaged a dance-fight, now the two parades march through the streets without ever meeting until late in the evening around the May Pole, before returning to their respective stables.



The parade lasts all day from the morning around 11 am until evening and obviously several men alternate to play the Oss. At the end of the festival the Farewell to the Oss is sung with the phrase:
Farewell farewell my own true love
Farewell farewell my own true love

How can I bear to leave you
One parting kiss I’ll give you
I’ll go what ‘ere befalls me
I’ll go where duty calls me
No more will I behold thee
Nor in my arms enfold thee
With spear and pennant glancing
I see the foe advancing
I think of thee with longing
Think though while tears are thronging
That with my last faint sighing
I whispered soft whilst dying

NIGHT SONG : Drink To The Old ‘Oss

The ritual of the oss begins, however, the night of May 1, at the stroke of midnight and until about two o’clock, with the Night Song, a clear song of begging, in which the youngsters are alerted to go into the woods to cut the branches of May: whoever sings asks in exchange for good phrases (prosperity, health, happiness) a little beer!

Unite and unite and let us all unite,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.
I warn you young men everyone
For summer is a-come unto day,
To go to the green-wood and fetch your May home
In the merry morning of May.
Arise up Mr. —- and joy you betide
For summer is a-come unto day,
And bright is your bride that lies by your side,
In the merry morning of May.
Arise up Mrs. —- and gold be your ring,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And give to us a cup of ale the merrier we shall sing,
In the merry morning of May.
Arise up Miss —- all in your gown of green
For summer is a-come unto day,
You are as fine a lady as wait upon the Queen,
In the merry morning of May.
Now fare you well, and we bid you all good cheer,
For summer is a-come unto day,
We call once more unto your house before another year,
In the merry morning of May

Steeleye Span live (they have recorded the song several times)

Unite and unite, and let us all unite
For summer is a-comin’ today.
And whither we are going we all will unite,
In the merry morning of May.
The young men of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
They might have built a ship and gilded it with gold
In the merry morning of May.
The young women of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
They might have built a garland with the white rose and the red
In the merry morning of May.
Oh where are the young men that now do advance
For summer is a-comin’ today.
Some they are in England and some they are in France
In the merry morning of May.
Oh where is King George? Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat, all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.
With the merry ring and with the joyful spring,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
How happy are the little birds and the merrier we shall sing
In the merry morning of May.

Lisa Knapp from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017

Unite and unite
For summer is a-come unto day,
Unite and unite,
In the merry morning of May.
With the marry ring
For summer is a-come unto day
Adieu the marry spring
In the merry morning of May
Arise up Mr. …
In the merry morning of May.
Unite and unite and let us all unite,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.
Oh where is King George?
Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat,
all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite,
down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood,
she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.


The May branches brought into the village, the symbolic coupling with the young women kidnapped under the skirts from the oss, the death and rebirth of the same oss are clear references to fertility that are part of the May Celtic celebrations. However little else can be affirmed with certainty and the verses of the “daytime” singing are rather obscure.
The young people who build a ship and cover it with gold, could symbolize the solar ship, and the theme of rebirth in a new afterlife it is the journey of purification of the soul of the deceased to the Hereafter.
The garland of red and white roses of young women (the colors of Beltane) symbolizes the union of the masculine principle with the feminine one and takes up again the theme of fertility propitiation. Even the last stanza is a clear reference to the lark, a messenger between the human and the divine, representation of youthful exaltation, a sacred and solar bird, symbol of good luck.
The interpretation of the verse already mentioned on the occasion of the funeral dirge in which the apparent death of the Oss is represented is very problematic!
Oh where is King George? Oh where is he-O?

The reference to the Hanover dynasty would start any historical dating to 1700, but on closer inspection the king is actually Saint George: it is precisely at this point when the Oss is about to die killed by the jester, that is Saint George who defeats the dragon, he is the solar god, who defeats the darkness, the Spring that defeats Winter.
But the most enigmatic of all is Aunt Ursula Birdhood with her old sheep! And here is the fantasy gallops and a local legend recalls an old woman who brought together the women of Padstow to drive away the Viking raiders (in another version become French) while the men were all out to sea to fish: disguised with the Obby Oss and guiding the women in a dancing procession to the beach Orsola has managed to get rid of the marauders convinced to see a monster!!
Some scholars see Birdwood as a mispronunciation of Birdwood and then link it to the figure of Robin Hood extensively connected to the celebration of May since the Middle Ages. Others recall the pagan myth concerning the goddess Freyja (or Sant’Orsola) who, with the name of Horsel or Ursel, welcomed the dead girls into the aftermath.

 second part


Irish May Day (Beltane)

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May day is called in Ireland the “na Beal tina” or “the day of the fire of Beal” consecrated to Bel or Belenos. On the eve large fires are lit and the cattle are passed between them – as was the ancient custom of the Celts – custom still conserved in the Irish countryside with the belief that this preserves cows from diseases and from Good People (wee folk).

All hearths were extinguished at sunset and rekindled with the embers of the collective bonfire only the next day (and still today in Ballymenone county of Fermanagh).
The cattle were then taken to the summer pastures, where they remained until Samahin, watching by a buachaill.


Fee74aBeltane is a crucial day in the season (Winter ends and Summer begins) and fairie can more easily make contact with the world of humans. The eve is a day in which you have to pay the most attention, because the fairy people (Good People for the Irish) can be very spiteful and even the malefics are more effective. So no Irish woman would ever taking her newborn for a walk outside so as not to risk finding a challenger in return. In particular, youth and beauty can arouse the envy of fairies and therefore even the beautiful girls are indoors.
In general it is popular belief that illnesses or injuries occurring on the May Eve are the most difficult to cure. So it is a good idea to always leave the house with an iron amulet around your neck or in your pocket and leave an offer of food to the fairies!


Mummers were typical beggars during the nineteenth century, masked figures equivalent to the English Morris dance. Thomas Crofton Croker in “The Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland” (published in 1825) reports many Irish traditions of May and describes precisely the May Mummers; in short, Croker tells us that during his trip to the south of Ireland he witnessed the May festival, which is the favorite of the Mummers: a group of girls and boys from the village or neighborhood who march in procession in a row for two, the men are dressed in white with brightly colored jackets or waistcoats and carry colored ribbons on their hats and on their sleeves and even the women are dressed in white or in light colors. A pair of girls carries a holly bush for each, decorated with many colored ribbons with hanging many new hurling balls (a popular sport that begins in May), a May gift for young people in the village. The procession is preceded by musicians, bagpipes or pipes and drums. There is a clown wearing a scary mask and bearing a long pole with scraps of fabric on top (like a broom) that plunges into the water and shakes it around the crowd to keep the little ones entertained.
The masks parade through the villages or go from house to house dancing to receive money and spend the evening with a cheerful and colossal drink.

The Procession of the May Queen Herbert Wilson Foster (1846–1929)


May Pole and the dances around the pole are quite common in Ireland, Holywood town in Northern Ireland is famous for its May tree erected in the middle of a crossroads: according to local tradition it dates back to 1700 (taken from the mast of a ship) and is still a place for dances to the annual May festival.

Holywood Pole

But the most typical custom is to cut a branch of hawthorn (or rowan) and plant it next to the door or put it on outside the door, making a garland with yellow flowers (primroses, marigolds and buttercups) and colored ribbons.
From this tradition was born the May basket crafted by the childrenand and filled with fresh flowers, to be left – secretly – next to the door of the neighbors or beloved one. With this auspicious token, the inhabitants are protected from fairies, because fairies cannot overcome these flowered barriers.


The herbs harvested before sunrise in May Day have better healing properties especially to treat warts. When butter production was a homemade churning process, the first butter produced with milk from May Day was considered the best to prepare ointments.

Another custom of the eve was a good whipping with nettles and the children went around running with a bunch of nettles to hit the comrades or the unfortunate bystanders; their task was to collect the shoots of nettles to bring home to the kitchen pantry. Known as a purifying and detoxifying herb since ancient times, nettle was in fact used in the preparation of soups and the Irish rural tradition recommended eating nettles in May to treat or prevent rheumatism. Even in ancient Rome it was recommended to those who suffered from rheumatism or rheumatoid arthritis to roll in the nettle. see more

Nettles once rivaled linen and hemp as weaving fiber, for sails, clothes and household linen.


Amhrán Na Bealtaine

Leggi in italiano

TITLES: Amhran Na Bealtaine, Samhradh, Summertime, Thugamur Fein An Samhradh Linn (We Brought The Summer With Us, We Have Brought The Summer In) or Beltane Song
It is a traditional Irish tune sung on May Day (Lá Bealtaine).

Charles Daniel Ward: Processing of Spring -1905
Charles Daniel Ward: Processing of Spring -1905


A Gaelic Summer song that could date back to the late Middle Ages played in the feast for the landing of James Butler Duke of Ormonde in 1662, the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. It is a traditional song in the southeastern part of Ulster (Northern Ireland) and it was sung by young men and women on May Eve, while they carried around the Garland of May.
Most likely this was a begging song to get food or drink in exchange for the May branch, tabranch of hawthorn or blackthorn to be left in front of the door. With this auspicious gesture, the inhabitants are protected from fairies because fairies could not overcome these flowered barriers (see more).

The song is still very popular in Ireland, Oriel area (t included parts of Louth, Monaghan and Armagh) and is performed both in instrumental version and sung.
Edward Bunting states that the song had been played in the Dublin area since 1633.
The Chieftains (a instrumental version that is a hymn to joy, a song of birds awakening to the call of spring: the Irish flute starts imitating a lark followed in musical canon by some
wind instruments (the Irish flute, the whistle and the uillean pipes) and the violin, great!)

Gloaming  live Samhradh Samhradh (Martin Hayes fiddle)

Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin from A Stór Is A Stóirín 1994 

English translation*
Mayday doll(1),
maiden of Summer
Up every hill
and down every glen,
Beautiful girls,
radiant and shining,
We have brought the Summer in.
Summer, Summer,
milk of the calves(2),
We have brought the Summer in.
Yellow(3) summer
of clear bright daisies,
We have brought the Summer in.
We brought it in
from the leafy woods(4),
We have brought the Summer in.
Yellow(3) Summer
from the time of the sunset(5),
We have brought the Summer in.
The lark(6) is singing
and swinging around in the skies,
Joy for the day
and the flower on the trees.
The cuckoo and the lark
are singing with pleasure,
We have brought the Summer in.
Irish gaelic
Bábóg na Bealtaine,
maighdean an tSamhraidh,
Suas gach cnoc
is síos gach gleann,
Cailíní maiseacha
bán-gheala gléasta,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn
Samhradh, samhradh,
bainne na ngamhna,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.
Samhradh buí
na nóinín glégeal,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.

Thugamar linn
é ón gcoill chraobhaigh,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.
Samhradh buí
ó luí na gréine,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn
Tá an fhuiseog ag seinm
‘sag luascadh sna spéartha,
Áthas do lá
is bláth ar chrann.
Tá an chuach is an fhuiseog
ag seinm le pléisiúr,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.

* from here
garlan-may-day1) the Bábóg is the spring doll, Brídeóg, the “little Bride”, (Brigit, or Brigantia in Britannia, a trine goddess -Virgin, Mother, Crona) among the most important of the Celtic pantheon, the maiden of wheat made by women in Imbolc (February 1) with the last sheaf of harvest; the young Goddess of Spring, a strong symbol of rebirth in the cycle of death-life in which Nature is perpetuated: in the doll still lives the spirit of the wheat. Brigid’s dolls were also dressed in a white dress, decorated with stones, ribbons and flowers and carried in procession throughout the village.
The doll will reappear in the Victorian celebrations of May in her white-robed, placed between a wreath of flowers and ribbons hanging on a rod and carryed by mayers (see more)
2) milk from cows for calves. The May Day is called na Beal tina or the day of the fire of Beal, then consecrated to the god Bel or Belenos. On the eve large fires were lit and the cattle were passed among them, this celtic custom is still remained in the Irish countryside with the belief that this prevented the Wee Folk to make bad jokes like braiding the tails of the cows or stealing the milk
3) the May flowers were mostly yellow to recall the color and the warmth of the sun. Flowers and green branches were placed on the threshold of the house and window sills to protect the inhabitants from the fairies and as a sign of good fortune. Fairies could not overcome these flowered barriers. This tradition was typical of Northern Ireland. The children mostly went to pick wild flowers to make garlands, especially with yellow flowers.4) the greenwood, the most inviolate and sacred forest of the ancient Celtic rituals

Bringing Home the May, 1862, Henry Peach Robinson
Bringing Home the May, 1862, Henry Peach Robinson

5) the youth go into the woods at night of the eve till the morn  (see more)
6) the lark is a sacred bird with solar symbolism (see more)
7) the song of the cuckoo is a harbinger of Spring, also because once the season of love is over (end of May), the cuckoo (male) no longer sings  (see more)

Extra verses 

English translation (*)
Holly and hazel
and elder and rowan,(1)
We have brought the Summer in.
And brightly shining ash
from Bhéal an Átha,(2)
We have brought the Summer in
Irish Gaelic
Cuileann is coll
is trom is cárthain,
Thugamar féin
an samhradh linn
Is fuinseog ghléigeal Bhéal an Átha,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.

1) The hawthorn is a fairy plant like holly, hazel, elderberry and rowan, protective and auspicious (probably due to the very sharp thorns). The May tradition places the branch of hawthorn outside the house (hanging on the windows and next to the entrance) because if it is brought into home, especially when it is flowered, brings bad luck. This negative meaning dates back to the Middle Ages when the branches of hawthorn were used as amulets against the evil eye, witches and demons; it might be traced back to the vague rotting smell of the branches, but it is certainly linked to the Church’s attempt to assimilate pre-Christian rites to satanic practices.
2) Bhéal an Átha literally the mouth of the ford is also a place known today as Ballina a city on the river Moy in the Mayo counts. However, the settlement is relatively recent (late 15th century). Na Bealtaine is more likely to refer to a toponym Beulteine as it was called the place of the Beltane festival on the border between the county of Armagh and that of Louth, in Kilcurry, today there are only a small mound with the ruins of an old church. All versions collected in the area describe a radius around this location of about twenty miles

Bábóg na Bealtaine, Other Tunes

La Lugh (Eithne Ní Uallacháin & Gerry O’Connor) from Brighid’s Kiss 1995. Tune composed by Eithne Ní Uallacháin (I, III,IV, V, VI)

Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin has reinterpreted the song, previously published on the tune transcribed by Edward Bunting, on the tune and text as transcribed by Séamus Ennis from the testimony of Mick McKeown, Lough Ross recorded on a wax cylinder (I, II, III, IV, V , VII)

English translation*
Golden Summer of the white daisies,
we bring the Summer with us,
from village to village
and home again,
and we bring the Summer with us.
I Mick McKeown version
Golden summer, lying in the meadows,
we brought the summer with us;
Golden summer, spring and winter,
and we brought the summer with us.

Young maidens, gentle and lovely,
we brought the summer with us;
Lads who are clever, sturdy and agile,
and we brought the summer with us.
Beltaine dolls,
Summer maidens
Up hill and down glens
Girls adorned
in pure white,
and we bring the Summer with us.
The lark making music
and sky dancing
the blossomed trees laden with bees
the cuckoo and the birds
singing with joy
and we bring the Summer with us.
The hare nests on the edge of the cliff
the heron nests
in the branches
the doves are cooing,
honey on stems
and we bring the Summer with us.
The shining sun is lighting the darkness
the silvery sea shines like a mirror
the dogs are barking,
the cattle lowing
and we bring the Summer with us.
Golden summer, lying in the meadow,
we brought the summer with us;
From home to home and to Lisdoonan of pleasure,
and we brought the summer with us.
Irish Gaelic
Samhradh buí na nóiníní gléigeal,
thugamar fhéin an samhradh linn,
Ó bhaile go baile is chun ár mbaile ’na dhiaidh sin,/’s thugamar fhéin an samhradh linn
(Mick McKeown version
Samhradh buí ’na luí ins na léanaí,
thugamar féin a’ samhradh linn;
Samhradh buí, earrach is geimhreadh
is thugamar féin a’ samhradh linn.)
Cailíní óga, mómhar sciamhach,
thugamar féin a’ samhradh linn;
Buachaillí glice, teann is lúfar,
is thugamar féin a’ samhradh linn.
Bábóg na Bealtaine,
maighdean an tsamhraidh
suas gach cnoc is síos gach gleann
cailíní maiseacha, bángheala gléasta,/’s thugamar fhéin an samhradh linn
Tá an fhuiseog ag seinm is ag luasadh sna spéartha,
beacha is cuileoga is bláth ar na crainn,
tá’n chuach’s na héanlaith ag seinm le pléisiúr,/’s thugamar fhéin an samhradh linn
Tá nead ag an ghiorria ar imeall na haille,
is nead ag an chorr éisc i ngéaga an chrainn,
tá mil ar na cuiseoga is na coilm ag béiceadh,/’s thugamar fhéin an samhradh linn.
Tá an ghrian ag loinnriú`s ag lasadh na dtabhartas,
tá an fharraige mar scathán ag gháirí don ghlinn,
tá na madaí ag peithreadh is an t-eallach ag géimni
’s thugamar fhéin an samhradh linn
Samhradh buí ’na luí ins a’ léana,
thugamar féin a’ samhradh linn;
Ó bhaile go baile is go Lios Dúnáin a’ phléisiúir,
is thugamar féin a’ samhradh linn.

* from here and here


Amhrán na Craoibhe (The Garland Song)


May day in Piedmont (Italy)

Leggi in italiano

In the Spring rituals of the rural world, groups of begging musicians went from house to house to sing May, stopping in the farmyard: the inhabitants of the house offered to drink, while the group sang the verses dedicated to the landlord, his wife and their daughters for an happy marriage.

Time ago in the whole Asti area, the Monferrato and the Langhe there was the female home visiting of the Cantè Magg, when groups of young girls carried in a procession the erburin (the small tree) and / or a little doll adorned with flowers: they singed the return of May and in exchange for gifts (mostly eggs) thanked with the verses auspicious. With Queen of May also joined a King of May and the couple of children was called the “Sposini” (the little spouses): the Bride and the Green Man gathered to renew the life and fertility of the Earth. ( see more )

The tradition is also consolidated in a more distinctly Easter rite called Cantè J’ov (J’euv) (Sing the eggs).
It is a spring quest that has its roots in the Piedmont area and in particular that land historically belonged to the domain of the Marquis of Monferrato.
At one time it was only the young people of the village, who wandered around the farms at night asking for food, wine and even money with which to organize Easter Monday lunch. It was an opportunity to feast on eggs (symbol of fertility) and spree, but also to sing and play lots of music!
Many communities still keep these traditions alive, especially in the Monferrato (geographical), in the Langhe and in the Roero. 
see more



It was the women who went a-maying in the morning (or early afternoon) of the first of May: the May Bride with her maids walked around the town asking for eggs and money. The custom was interrupted in many countries between the first and second world war and was revived around the years 60-70 by some local groups and folklorists.
In Casal Cermelli (province of Alessandria) in the years 40-50 to the girls were joined also the boys to bring the flowered branch decorated with ribbons and bows, a little bird and a rag doll.

Tre Martelli from Giacu Trus 1985: Ben vena magg

Guardé cula fijeta(1)
cl’è an cima al arburen
Ca l’ha il scarpötti biònchi
ei cauzete a canaren(2)
Ben vena magg
e poi turna al meis ad Mağ
Guardé sur caminet
cha jie di carùzen(3)
da fej la riverenza
a sijura madamin
Padrouna padrouna
padrouna dir pulè
oh dami j ovi freschi
e i lendi ai lasa sté
English translation Cattia Salto
Look at that girl
on top of the branch,
she has white shoes
and canary socks
Welcome May
and then returns the month of May,
Look on the fireplace
that there is soot
to congratulate
to the mistress.
Mistress, mistress
mistress of the chicken coop,
give me fresh eggs
and the old ones leave them there.

garlan-may-day1) it’s a green garland with a doll with a white wedding dressin the middle, helded up by a rod.
It is the “little Bride” the Celtic triple goddess, the wheat girl made by women in Imbolc (February 1st), that is the Spring Bride, a strong symbol of rebirth in the cycle of death-life in which Nature is perpetuated: spirit of the wheat lives in the doll .
Brigid’s dolls were also dressed in a white dress or decorated with stones, ribbons and flowers and carried in procession throughout the country passing from door to door for each to leave a gift. see more
2) canarin = canary to indicate the typical canary-yellow color
3) the term is found in the Venetian dialect

Ariondassa live

Entroma ant’ is palasi
che l’ è csi bel antrè
Ai dioma a la padrouna
c’ am lasa ‘n po’ canté
Magg, Magg, Magg,
turnirà la fin di Magg
Io sono Maggio
e sono il più bello
Fiorellin d’amor
che canta sul cappello
Uccellin d’amor
che canta sulla rama
Siura padrouna
padrouna dir pulé
c’ am daga j ovi freschi
e i lendi ai lasa sté
Chi cl’ é ‘sta bela fija(1)
c’ansima dl’ arburii
E cl’ à la vesta bianca
e ‘l scarpi d’ maruchii
E s’in voi nènt cröddi
che Mağ a l’è rivà
Sfacév da cùla fnèstra
ch’l’alber l’è piantà
English translation Cattia Salto
We go into that building
that’s so good to enter
And we ask to the mistress
leaving us to sing a while
May, May, May,
the end of May will come back.
I am May
And I’m the most beautiful,
little flower of love
singing on the hat.
Little bird of love
singing on the branch.
Mrs. Mistress,
mistress of the chicken coop
give us fresh eggs
and the old ones leave them there.
Who is this pretty girl
on top of the tree
with white dress
and the fine leather shoes?
And if you do not want to believe
that May has arrived
look out of that window
that the tree is planted


The “Carlin” of May (personification of May Day) passes from house to house with her group of singers and musicians to announce the coming of Spring and bring the best wishes of happiness / prosperity with a quest.

The area in which this tradition is spread is that of the Four Provinces – homogeneous area for landscape and culture (Alessandria – Pavia – Piacenza – Genoa) where it tries to preserve the great heritage of folk songs.
The ritual is still alive on the Apennines of Pavia and Piacenza: in Marsaglia a town in the municipality of Corte Brugnatella (Pc) in the Trebbia Valley it begins on the evening of 30 April, or rather late in the afternoon, until late at night (three or four in the morning)! People gather in the main square forming the procession of singers and musicians, followed closely by the inhabitants of the village and neighbours, and passes from house to house, scattered hamlets and farms more isolated. The merry brigade was composed exclusively of men, while young women were in the houses waiting for the arrival of the .. suitors.

The symbolic tree of the Carlin is not the hawthorn (not yet bloomed) but the laburnum with its characteristic yellow flowers cluster-like, so yellow and green have become the dominant colors of the feast.

La Ciapa Rusa from  “Faruaji” (1988) and valzer “J’è semp temp par l’amur” written by Maurizio Martinotti

Tendachent from Ori Pari 2000 ♪ Carlin di Maggio (in medlay track 5)

The Carlin announces carrier of May and with the noise produced, wake up the landlady who goes to get eggs and also to drink good wine to the players.

Gh’ê chì Carlin di maggio(1)
con l’erba e con la foglia,
la rosa e la viola.
Belo venga oi maggio
Belo venga oi maggio
Belo venga oi maggio

O sentì a tramescà:
la padrona la s’ê levà
O sentì a mov a mov:
la padrona la pôrta i ov
Vi saluto padron di casa
v’ò purtà ‘na nova.
Di dentro di questa casa
gh’è fiorì le rose.
E di dentro di questa casa
gh’è la mè morosa
e se lè la sarà brava
la mi darà le ova.
E di dentro di questa casa
c’è una brava sposa
E se lè la sarà brava
la mi darà le ova
E la luna la pssa i monti
e non si vede andare.
In pace vi troviamo,
in pace vi lasciamo,
vi do la buona sera
e vi ringraziamo
English translation Cattia Salto
The Carlin of May has arrived
with the grass and the leaf,
the rose and the violet.
Welcome today is May
Welcome today is May
Welcome today is May
I heard the bustle:
the missus got up.
I heard her steps:
the missus carries the eggs.
I greet you master
I brought the news.
In this house
roses have bloomed.
And in this house
there is my sweetheart.
And if she will be good
she will give me some eggs.
And in this house
there is a good bride.
And if she will be good
she will give me some eggs.
The moon is behind the mountains
and you can not see where to go.
In peace we find you,
in peace we leave you,
I’ll give you a good evening
and we thank you.

1) laburnum branch

In the “Four provinces” May song is a polyphonic one
Carlin di Maggio in Marsaglia  (Trebbia Valley)

O sentì a tramescà:
la padrona la s’ê levà
Belo venga oi maggio
Belo venga oi maggio
Belo venga oi maggio

O sentì a mov a mov:
la padrona la pôrta i ov.
[I prati verdeggianti
per consolar gli amanti,
per consolar gli amanti.]
Tira fora u pisadù,
dà da beive  ai sunadù.
In pace vi troviamo,
in pace vi lasciamo.
vi diam  la buona sera
e ce ne andiamo via.
English translation Cattia Salto
I heard the bustle:
the missus got up.

Welcome today is May
Welcome today is May
Welcome today is May

I heard her steps:
the missus carries the eggs.

[The verdant meadows
to rejoice lovers,
to rejoice lovers.]
Take out the jug
and give us to drink.
In peace we find you,
in peace we leave you.
weill give you a good evening
and we go away.

Among the traditional stanzas also this auspicious one

campa la ciossa
con tutti i pulastrin,
crepa la volpe
con tutti i suoi vulpin!
English translation Cattia Salto
Long live the hen
with all her chicks,
let the fox die
with all her little foxes


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