“James MacDonald”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1930 (Ord); c.1867 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 19(109))
Keywords: homicide execution pregnancy betrayal
Found in: US(MA,NE) Canada(Mar,Newf) Ireland


James promises his pregnant sweetheart Annie that he will marry her, and bids her meet him secretly. When he has her alone he attacks her and flees. She is found the next day and lives just long enough to tell what happened. James is sentenced to death


Yet another John T Williams gallows-confession type: Peacock includes a fragment "My name is James MacDonald, from life I must now part, For murdering of young Ann O'Brien I'm sorry to the heart; I hope the Lord will pardon me all on the Judgement Day, And when I'm on the gallows, good Christians for me pray."

The Peacock fragment is the last verse of the Murray broadside. It is also the fragment quoted in SHenry from the Houston collection [see SHenry, p. 485], the only significant difference being that the murderer's name is [mis]stated as Pat O'Brien; the note to "Henry, the Sailor Boy," referring to the tune printed for that song, is that "almost all the [Irish] murder ballads [including 'Pat O'Brien'] were composed to it." [In so far as they can be read, the Bodleian broadsides have the last verse but omit the last line.]

Leach (notes to NFMLeach) believes "that the murder took place in Longford Co. Ireland, and that, as was customary, a broadside was published at the time." - BS

Cross references




  1. Laws P38, "James MacDonald"
  2. Peacock, pp. 622-623, "The Murder of Ann O'Brien" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  3. SHenry H37, pp. 485-486, "[Pat O'Brien]" (1 fragment in the notes, tune referenced)
  4. Creighton-NovaScotia 21, "James McDonald" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Warner 6, "The St. Albans Murder" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Ord, pp. 477-479, "The Longford Murder" (1 text)
  7. DT 515, JIMMACD*
  8. Roud #1412
  9. BI, LP38