“John (George) Riley (II)”


A stranger urges a girl to marry him; she replies that, having lost her chance to marry Riley, she intends to live single. He tries again, asking her to come to (Pennsylvania); she refuses. At last he reveals that he is Riley, and offers to marry her


The characteristic first verse of this particular Riley ballad runs something like

As I walked out one summer's morning

To take the fine and pleasant air,

There I spied a most beautiful damsel,

She appeared to me like lilies fair. - RBW

The first two Seeger recordings have distinctly different tunes. - PJS

Cross references

  • cf. esp. "John (George) Riley (I)" [Laws N36] and references there


  • Pete Seeger, "John Riley" (on PeteSeeger02, PeteSeegerCD01) (on PeteSeeger29); "Johnny Riley" (on PeteSeeger40)


  1. Laws N37, "John (George) Riley II"
  2. Randolph 56, "John Riley" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  3. BrownII 93, "John Reilly" (1 text, presumably this song though Laws does not list it under any Riley ballad)
  4. Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 267-270, "Fair Phoebe and her Dark-Eyed Sailor" (3 texts; the second, "The Sailor," with tune on p. 427, is this song; the first, "Young Willie's Return, or The Token," with tune on pp. 426-427, is "The Dark-Eyed Sailor (Fair Phoebe and her Dark-Eyed Sailor)" [Laws N35]; the third, "Billy Ma Hone," with tune on p. 427, seems to be its own song)
  5. Flanders/Brown, pp. 135-136, "John Reilly" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Wyman-Brockway I, p. 34, "John Riley" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Cambiaire, p. 95, "John RIley" (1 text)
  8. McNeil-SFB1, pp. 82-83, "Young John Riley" (1 text, 1 tune)
  9. Lomax-FSNA 79, "John Riley" (1 text, 1 tune)
  10. Ritchie-SingFam, pp. 210-211, "[John Riley]" (1 text, 1 tune, sufficiently abbreviated that the plot does not allow us to say which Riley ballad it is, but the first verse implies it goes here)
  11. JHCox 95, "George Reilly" (1 text plus mention of 2 more; Laws is difficult to interpret on this point, but it appears he means one of Cox's un-printed texts to go here while the printed text in N36)
  12. SHenry H826, p. 309, "James Reilly" (1 text, 1 tune)
  13. Silber-FSWB, p. 149, "John Riley" (1 text)
  14. DT, JREILLY2
  15. Roud #267
  16. BI, LN37


Alternate titles: “George Riley”; “John Riley”; “Johnnie Riley”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1817 (The New American Songster)
Found in: US(Ap,MW,NE,SE,So) Ireland Britain(England)