MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada
Ann O'Brien
Theresa White NFLD 1 Tape 15A Track 8
Port au Port Audio:
Ballad / murder

Come all ye young both great and small I hope you will draw near
I'll tell you the truest story that ever you did hear
I courted a handsome young comely girl her age was scarce sixteen
Her beauty bright would me delight till I brought her to shame

I courted her in private till I with her a child
She's being a farmer's daughter and I his servant man
And how to gain her innocent life I screamed a plan in time
All in the country of Longford confined all in her room

It being on a Sunday's evening as you may plainly see
To her I wrote a letter and soon she came to me
I said, "Dear Ann if you will come back to Longford we will go
It's there that we will get married I am sure that no one will know."

The night being dark they both set out to cross the country
Twould bring the tears down from your eyes what she had said to me
And just before I murdered her I made her this reply
Saying, "Ann you will go no further for it's here that you must die."

"Oh James think on your innocent young and spare to me my life
And don't you commit a murder this dark and dreary night
I'll promise to God here on my knees I'll never let no one know
Or ever came to trouble you or ask to be your wife."

But all she said had proved in vain till I had stab her sore
Twas with a loaded weapon I laid her in her gore
Her blood and brains did stain the ground her mourns would pierce your heart
And when I thought I murdered her all from her I did part

She was alive the next morning just at the break of day
When a shepherds only daughter by chance she strolled that way
She saw her lying in her gore she then asked for relief
And told her of her guilty wounds and then asked for the priest

Both priests and doctors were sent for, they found her there likewise
When they got information they dressed all in disguise
They quickly then surrounded him and put him through a drill
A prisoner he was taken and put in Longford jail

The judge he passed his sentence and this to him did say
"For the murdering of young Ann O'Brien your country boy shall see
On the fourteenth day of April he'll be hung on the Gallows tree."

Oh James McDonald it is my name now from life I must part
For the murdering of young Ann O'Brien I am sorry to my heart
But I hope that God will pardon me all on my judgement day
And when I'm standing on this trap good Christians for me pray


Sources: Laws P38, alternative title is "James MacDonald"; Mercer 157; Peacock 622 ("The Murder of Ann O'Brien"); Recorded on Songs of the Newfoundland Outports and Labrador (2003); Roud 1412.

History: This song appeared on MacEdward Leach's album Songs From the Out-Ports of Newfoundland (1966, Folkways FE 4075), as track A4, with the name "The Murder of Ann O'Brien." His notes are as follows:

This is an example of a local murder story; such songs follow a conventional pattern, here exemplified. Famous examples are "Pretty Polly" and "The Jealous Lover." This one is a bit more original in that the girl does not die until doctors and priests can minister to her. It has been collected in full only once before ([Peacock 622]). Mrs. H.H. Flanders collected a fragment in Maine under the title "James MacDonald." It is my belief that the murder took place in Longford Co. Ireland, and that, as was customary, a broadside was published at the time, and that from the broadside the song went into oral tradition, and so was brought by the Irish immigrants to Newfoundland. The garbled lines and the rather radical difference in texts suggest a considerable period in oral tradition.

Text notes: James MacDonald loves a farmer's daughter. She becomes pregnant and he takes her to a quiet place and murders her. She lives long enough to tell about the crime and he is sentenced to death.

Tune notes: This beautiful triple-metre tune, in a major key, has an abba phrase pattern. A different melody was recorded by Peacock.

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