Down by the Salley Gardens

Updated: Apr 17

In week one of our new online course - An Introduction to Irish Folk Song - the first song you will look at is Down by the Salley Gardens.

This is an interesting choice since it is a relatively new addition to the folk songbook, though it has firmly found its place as a popular favourite - especially amongst younger and older singers.

An Old Song Re-Sung is a poem by William Butler Yeats. It was published in the poet's 1889 book, "The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems". It first appeared as "The Salley Gardens" when reprinted in 1895.

Yeats tells us the poem was “an attempt to reconstruct an old song from three lines imperfectly remembered by an old peasant woman in the village of Ballisodare, Sligo, who often sings them to herself”.

In 1909, Yeats' poem was set by Irish composer Herbert Hughes to the traditional air The Maids of the Mourne Shore.

One of my favourite singers Cathy Jordan performs a live rendition in this video.

The “old song” Yeats refers to is most probably You Rambling Boys of Pleasure. This probability is backed up in a 1965 essay by Dr Hugh Shields.

Dr Hugh Shields was an authority on Irish traditional music and a founder member of the Folk Music Society of Ireland and the Irish Traditional Music Archive. Dr Shields was a Lecturer in Medieval French at Trinity College Dublin and collected folk songs across Ireland, especially in north Derry.

In an article in the university magazine, Hermathena, Dr Shields argued that the origins of "Down by the Salley Gardens" could be found in the traditional song You Rambling Boys of Pleasure. This is an Ulster song associated with the singing of Robert Cinnamond and Joe Holmes, amongst others. You will hear variations of Yeats' lines in Andy Irvine's live recording:

she bad me take love easy / just as the leaves fall on the tree

but i being young and foolish / with my own true love I did not agree

To find out more about the history of "Down by the Salley Gardens", the very best renditions, as well as its stylistic features, sign up for our course at this link and keep reading below.


Dates: 6th, 13th, 20th, 27th April 2020 Time: 5:30pm - 6:30pm UTC

Who is this course for?
  • Anyone who wants to learn more about the Irish singing tradition

  • Beginner singers who don’t read music yet

  • Anyone who wants to learn a party piece

  • Singers from other cultures who may want to diversify their repertoire

What you’ll learn:

During this 4-week course, you will learn a selection of popular traditional songs from Ireland. As well as learning how to sing them - including a few in the Irish language, you will study each song’s history and its lyrical themes in order to better understand the cultural depth of the folk song tradition.

About the facilitator:

Dónal Kearney is a singer and songwriter. He has toured the world performing with Irish ensemble ANÚNA in North America, Asia and Europe. He writes, records and tours with critically-acclaimed folk trio TRÚ. Dónal is joint Founding Director of the Irish Institute of Music and Song.



©2019 Irish Institute of Music and Song.