“The Banks of Dunmore”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1862 (broadside, Bodleian 2806 c.16(159))
Keywords: courting marriage England Ireland religious Bible
Found in: Ireland


An Englishman falls in love with a poor farmer's daughter of Dunmore. She will not marry a non-Catholic. She convinces him, by reference to the Testament, of transubstantiation and the authority of Rome. He converts. They marry and settle in Dunmore.


Broadside Bodleian 2806 c.16(159) is the basis for the description.

Dunmore is in County Galway.

See "Garvagh Town" for a song in which a Roman Catholic suitor fails to convert the Protestant "star of Garvagh Town"; at the end they discuss their differences over a drink, shake hands, and part without either converting. - BS

The Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation holds that the bread and wine of the communion service are transformed into the body and blood of Christ -- admittedly not in appearance or in demonstrable chemical contest but in some sort of unmeasurable reality called "substance" or "essence" or something like that. (Apologies for sounding scornful; the concept of something that is "real" but *by definition* unverifiable by science is beyond my feeble capacity to take seriously.)

This is based primarily on the gospel language (Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-20) saying that the disciples ate Jesus's body and blood, which is very loosely linked to later practice of the Lord's Supper by 1 Cornthians 11:24-26. Some see incidental support in chapter 6 of John, in which Jesus said that the bread of God comes down from heaven, and adds (6:35) that he is the Bread of Life.

It should be noted that this doctrine was not found in the early church; Radbertus propounded it in 831, and it did not become official Catholic doctrine until the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 (see David Christie-Murray, _A History of Heresy_, Oxford, 1976, p. 99).

It is my experience that *no one* has ever been convinced of Transubstantiation by references to the Bible. It is also my experience that attempts to do so lead to bitter fights, with non-Catholics going as far as to call the Catholics cannibals. (Observe the sarcastic Protestant response in "The Protestant Maid.") If the guy went along in this case, it was out of infatuation, not Biblical logic.

Setting all that aside, though, there are interesting political undercurrents, depending heavily on the date of the song and where it originated. Obviously it must date before 1862. The feeling on the Ballad-L mailing list, in the absence of a more detailed analysis of the data, was that it was probably post-1798. This was an interesting period in both the Church of England and in the Irish church.

Chris Brennan, whose observations are based on Paddy Tunney's version and O'Boyle's notes to Tunney's recording, thinks it an Ulster song, and places it in the context of the evangelical upsurge among Ulster protestants in the first half of the nineteenth century. In that version, it appear to be an Ulster Catholic and Protestant who meet.

On the other hand, the H. Such broadside, which predates Tunney's version by a century, makes the Protestant half of the duo a presumed Englishman. This is interesting because the Church of England at this time was going in the exact opposite direction from the evangelical Dissenters of Ulster. This was the period of the "Oxford Movement," a time when many members of the Church of England were being attracted back to Catholic tradition and ritual. The single strongest example came in 1845, when John Henry Newman converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism. An Oxfordite might well be so pro-Catholic as to be open to arguments about Transubstantiation; a genuine Reformed churchman would see that as the same sort of bunk that it appears to be to me.

This opens up the interesting (though unlikely) possibility that this song could have originated in England as a sort of allegory on the Oxford Movement, with Ireland standing for Catholicism and England standing for Anglicanism (referred to loosely as Protestantism, though technically Anglicans are not Protestants; Protestant is a technical term for a different branch of non-Catholic non-Orthodox Christianity).

Even if we allow that that was its original form, though, it seems clear that that was not how it was understood. The song appears to be extinct in England -- but is preserved in Ireland. There, it seems clear, the song is seen as a demonstration of the superiority of Catholicism, and Catholic doctrine, to Protestantism. This would also explain why the theological argument, so nonsensical to a true member of a Reformed denomination, is allowed to pass essentially without comment. - RBW

Cross references



  1. Tunney-StoneFiddle, pp. 43-44, "The Banks of Dunmore" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Roud #3109
  3. BI, TSF043