is an Irish folk song, named after the town of Carrickfergus in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The origins of the song are unclear, but it has been traced to an Irish language song, “Do bhí bean uasal” (“There Was a Noblewoman”), which is attested to the poet Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna, who died in 1745 in County Clare.
The song appears on a ballad sheet in Cork City in the mid Nineteenth Century in macaronic form.
The Irish lyrics were about a man being cuckolded, a bawdy and humorous ditty. By contrast, the English lyrics are nostalgic.
With the Industrial Revolution, a linen-trade developed between Co. Antrim (where Carrickfergus is situated), and Co. Cork. It is possible the English lyrics came from snatches picked up in interactions with the Ulstermen.
Robert Gogan suggests Carrickfergus may have evolved from at least two separate songs which would explain why it doesn’t have a consistent narrative.
For example, the Ancient Music of Ireland, published by George Petrie in 1855, contained a song called The Young Lady which featured many but not all of the lyrics used in Carrickfergus.
Gogan also refers to a recording of a song called Sweet Maggie Gordon which is kept in the Music for the Nation section of the US Library of Congress. It was published by Mrs Pauline Lieder in New York in 1880. It contains verses which are similar to Carrickfergus, but the chorus is closer to another Irish/Scottish folk song called Peggy Gordon.
In modern times, “Carrickfergus” became known after actor Peter O’Toole related it to Dominic Behan, who put it in print and made a recording in the mid-1960s. The middle verse was allegedly written by Behan.
Carrickfergus – Lyrics
I wish I was in Carrickfergus, only for nights in Ballygrand
I would swim over the deepest ocean, the deepest ocean for my love to find
But the sea is wide and I cannot swim over and neither have I wings to fly
If I could find me a handsome boatman to ferry me over to my love and die
My childhood days bring back sad reflections of happy times I spent so long ago
My boyhood friends and my own relations have all passed on now like melting snow
But I’ll spend my days in endless roaming, soft is the grass, my bed is free
Ah to be back in Carrickfergus on that long road down to the sea
And in Kilkenny it is reported there are marble stones as black as ink
With gold and silver I would support her, but I’ll sing no more now till I get a drink
I’m drunk today and I’m seldom sober, a handsome rover from town to town
Ah, but I’m sick now, my days are numbered so come all ye young men and lay me down
-Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory.