My first Irish song – in fact the first song so far not to have been collected in Southern England. I learned this from Peter Kennedy’s massive tome Folksongs of Britain & Ireland, which at the end of the 1970s I had on almost permanent loan from my local library (I think I got it as soon as it was added to stock, and nobody else knew it was there!). Kennedy collected the song, with Sean O’Boyle, from a young Irish traveller, Winnie Ryan. Peter Kennedy describes it thus
A group of travellers from Southern Ireland, singing around a camp-fire in Belfast in July 1952, resulted in some remarkable recordings of their style from the pretty young tinker girls. By the early hours of the morning, the men were under the spell of the Guinness, leaving the younger girls, some breast-feeding as they sang, tightly grasping the microphone one-by-one, and competing with each other in their display of vocal decorations in the love-songs.
sleevenotes to Folktrax cassette FTX-166 Blackwaterside: Irish Tinker Singers
The three young women were Mary Doran (21), Winnie Ryan (19) and Lal Smith (23). Of these I’m afraid to say that Lal Smith is the only one who appears to feature in my record collection (a stunning ‘Bold English Navvy’ on Songs of Seduction). Pretty sure I have heard Mary Doran singing as well, but don’t think I’ve ever heard Winnie Ryan.
Kennedy notes in the Folksongs of Britain & Ireland that he’s completed the words from versions of the song from English singers Tom Willett and Charlie Wills.
The Little Ball of Yarn