The Seven Rejoices of Mary


I try to research the traditional folk songs I choose to sing, partially because I am fascinated by history and because I feel it makes my performance better to know as much about a song as possible. I’m often quite surprised at the different versions and variants I find for many of the songs. A case in point is The Seven Rejoices of Mary which is sung to the tune of an Irish favourite Star of the County Down.
The lyrics to Star of the County Down were written by Cathal McGarvey, himself from County Donegal, probably in the late nineteenth century. The story is from the point of view of a farmer who, “one morning last July”, meets a charming lass by the name of Rosie McCann, called the “star of the County Down”. From this brief encounter the farmer’s infatuation/lust grows until, by the end of the ballad, he contemplates wedding Rosie. Here’s a nice version of Star of the County Down performed by Lizzy Hoyt.
The tune, however, is similar to that of several other songs; an old Irish folk song called My Love Nell (a definite forerunner of Star, with Nell also being from County Down),the English folk tune Kingsfold, the hymn Led By The Spirit and Dives and Lazarus, one of the songs included in Ralph Vaughn Williams English Folk Song Suite. Here's a video of Maddy Prior performing Dives and Lazarus.
Music and lyrics to The Seven Rejoices… are attributed “English Traditional Folk Carol, collected by Mrs. Milligan Fox” in the book Two Hundred Folk Carols  (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Limited, 1933), Carol #26, pp. 46-47. The lyrics are a polar opposite to the more earthy Irish song, being heavy with Christian religious symbolism, but then that’s why it’s considered a “carol”.
The most well known contemporary version of The Seven Rejoices is by Canadian musician Loreena McKinnett from her album Midwinter Night's Dream, released in 2008.

The Child Ballads

The Child Ballads are a collection of 305 folk songs from England and Scotland which were compiled by Francis James Child in the mid to late 1800’s. In researching “folk songs of the British Isles” to be included in my performing repertoire, I found that I already knew (and played) a great many of them. Not surprising, in that they are the “standards” of the genre.

I’m preparing a new album, and inquired of the friends on my Facebook page ( if any of them had suggestions for material. One friend recommended four songs – three of which were Child Ballads. My own selections for the album already included three others.

So I have now taken a slight detour from the album I had planned to make, and am in the process of recording several of the Ballads, probably to be released on their own. These are the songs I’ve selected:

Broomfield Hill, Willie’s Lady, Fair Annie, The Daemon Lover, The Wife of User’s Well, Willie of Wimsbury, Jock O’Hazeldeen, Tam Lin.

In addition, my band Celtic Mayhem, have already recorded a Child Ballad (Twa Corbies) for our new album!

Part of my research of the Child Ballads led me to a CD by the duo of Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer, who earlier this year released an album titled Child Ballads. The seven songs are simply arranged primarily with two acoustic guitars and little other instrumentation, but with wonderful two part vocal harmony. This is one of my favourite albums of the last several years.  Here’s a link if you’d like to give it a listen (while waiting for me to finish my album): Child Ballads.