“Handsome Molly”


The singer sings the praises of handsome Molly, noting that "Sailing round the ocean, sailing round the sea, I'll think of handsome Molly wherever she may be." She proves less than faithful, but he loves her still


It is my firm belief that this is a version of the "Farewell Ballymoney/Loving Hannah" family of songs (with which it shares several verses and the whole plot, as well as melodic similarities). In this I actually agree with Roud.

Paul Stamler, however, observes that "The plotline is similar, but I'd be inclined to split off 'Molly' and class the 'went to church on Sunday' verse as a floater. Look at it this way -- if you ask old-time musicians to play 'Handsome Molly' about 95% can do so, but if you ask them to play 'Farewell Ballymoney' at least 95% will go, 'Hah?'"

I still think I'm right, but it is certainly true that "Molly" has achieved independent circulation (though all the versions I hear seem to come ultimately from the Grayson & Whitter recording), and so we list it as a separate song. - RBW

The SharpAp version shows that the song, with lyrics very close to those sung by Whitter, was circulating some nine years before he made his very-influential recording. Whitter, it should be noted, came from the same area in Virginia where the SharpAp version was collected. - PJS

Cross references


  • [G. B.] Grayson & [Henry] Whitter, "Handsome Molly" (Gennett 6304/Champion 15629, 1927) (Victor 21189, 1928; rec. 1927; on GraysonWhitter01, LostProv1)
  • Mike Seeger, "Handsome Molly" (on MSeeger01)
  • Glenn Neaves, "Handsome Molly" (on GraysonCarroll1)
  • Doc Watson & Gaither Carlton, "Handsome Molly" (on Ashley02, WatsonAshley01)


  1. BrownII 82, "The Lover's Lament" (4 texts plus a fragment, "E," that is probably "Handsome Molly"; the others are true "Farewell Ballymoney (Loving Hannah; Lovely Molly)" texts)
  2. SharpAp 180, "The Irish Girl" (1 text plus 2 fragments, 3 tunes, with the "A" text going here and the "B" and "C" fragments tentatively filed under "The Irish Girl")
  3. Silber-FSWB, p. 148, "Handsome Molly" (1 text)
  5. Roud #454
  6. BI, FSWB148


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1918 (Cecil Sharp collection)
Found in: US