Week 88: The Tinkerman’s Daughter, by Sigerson Clifford/Michael McConnel

I first got to know this ballad through the singing of the wonderful Irish folk-singer Niamh Parsons. The main credit for its composition, it seems, has to go to the Irish poet Sigerson Clifford (1913-1985), but it was then adapted and shortened by Michael McConnel (this sort of thing tends to happen to ballads) and that is the version that Niamh sings (with some minor changes of her own); the version I give here is Niamh’s.

It’s not that long ago, it seems, that women could be bought and sold – compare the famous opening scene in ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’. At least the red-headed Ann was feisty enough to rebel.

Incidentally Niamh has recorded another stunning performance of a poem by Sigerson Clifford, ‘The Boys of Barr na Sráide’, which should not be missed.

The Tinkerman’s Daughter

The small birds were lining the bleak autumn branches
Preparing to fly to a far sunny shore
When the tinkers made camp at the bend on the river
Returning from the horse fair in Ballinsloe.

Now the harvest being over the farmer went walking
All along the Faele River that borders his land
And ’twas there he first saw her twixt firelight and water
The tinkerman’s daughter, the red-headed Ann.

Next morning he rose from a night without slumber
He went straight to the tinker and he made his case known
And at a pub in Listowell they struck out a bargain
To the tinker a pony, to the daughter a home.

Where the trees cast their shadows along the Faele River
The tinker and the farmer inspected the land
And a wild gallant pony was the price they agreed on
For the tinkerman’s daughter, the red-headed Ann.

Now the wedding soon over the tinkers departed
They were eager to travel on south down the road
But the crunch of the iron-shod wheels on the gravel
Was as bitter to her as the way she’d been sold.

But she tried hard to please him she did all his bidding
She slept in his bed and she worked on his land
But the walls of that cabin pressed tighter and tighter
Round the tinkerman’s daughter, the red-headed Ann.

Now as white as the hands of a priest or a hangman
The snow spread its blanket the next Christmas round
And the tinkerman’s daughter got out from the bedside
Turned her back to the land and her face to the town

And it’s said someone saw her at dusk that same evening
She was making her way down by Lyreacrompane
And that was the last that the settled folk saw her
The tinkerman’s daughter, the red-headed Ann.

Where the north Kerry hills cut the Faele at Listowell
At a farm on its banks lives a bitter old man
And he swears by the shotgun he keeps at his bedside
That he’ll kill any tinker that camps on his land

And yet, when he hears iron-shod wheels crunch on gravel
Or a horse in the shafts of a bright caravan
His day’s work’s tormented, his night’s sleep demented
By the tinkerman’s daughter, the red-headed Ann.