September 28, 2011
Irish song Iíll Tell Me Ma has become well known in folk music circles across
the world. It is such a popular song that cities all over the Ireland and even some in
England and Scotland claim it as their own. It can evoke a lot of civic pride
among folk music communities.
Most versions refer to girl at the centre of the song as the Belle of Belfast
City, but this may just be because the Ďbelle of Belfastí has a nice ring to it.
Singers from Dublin insist it should be Belle of Dublin City. Galway also stakes
The Serbian folk group the Orthodox Celts even sing Belle of Belgrade City Ė
but that perhaps is going too far.
Such civic pride is understandable but in a way it is missing the point. Folk
songs by their very nature, especially ones as good as Iíll Tell Me Ma, move from city to city and get modified along the way to
suit local needs.
A hundred years later, it is impossible to say where it originally came from
and everywhere can stake a claim.
The book, The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Wales by Alice B
Gomme published in 1984, shows there were versions of a similar song throughout
the UK in the 19th century, although it usually went under the name of The Wind.
Again, the name of the town tended to change to suit the location in
question, but there was also a version in which the belle came from the Golden
City, which also has a good ring to it and nicely dodges the question of origin.
Gommeís book was primarily concerned with childrenís games. In some areas,
the game that accompanied The Wind, or Iíll Tell Me Ma, involved children
standing in a circle while they sang the song.
At the start of the game there would be a girl in the centre of the circle.
When the chorus got to the line asking about who is being courted, the girl
gives the name of one of the boys standing in the circle.
The boy then moves into the centre of the circle and must in turn name a girl
when the question comes round in the next chorus.
I'll Tell Me Ma to be played on our broadcast using our online request
I'll Tell Me Ma
I'll tell me ma when I go home
The boys won't leave the girls alone
They pull my hair, they steal my comb
But that's all right till I get home
(chorus):She is handsome, she is pretty
She is the belle of Belfast city
She is courting one, two, three
Please, won't you tell me, who is she?
Albert Mooney says he loves her
All the boys are fighting for her
Knock at the door and ring the bell
Saying, oh my true love, are you well?
Out she comes, white as snow
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
Old Johnny Murphy says she'll die
If she doesn't get the fellow with the roving eye
Let the wind and the rain and the hail go high
Snow come tumbling from the sky
She's as sweet as apple pie
She'll get her lad by and by
When she gets a lad of her own
She won't tell her ma when she gets home
Let them all come as they will
It's Albert Mooney she loves still