“John Burke”


"Bad luck attend you Percy wherever you may be. You would not assist my Johnny for he's drownded ... in the flurry off Kerry Bay." His true love comes to the funeral "dressed in her rich robes" and they bid "adieu to Johnny as we all marched away"

Supplemental text

John Burke
  Partial text(s)

          *** A ***

From Kenneth Peacock, Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, Volume II,
pp. 467-468. Sung by Joshua Osborne, Seal Cove, June 1960.

Come all ye good people, come by and lend an ear,
It's a sad and mournful story you quickly shall hear,
It's about a young hero in the height of his  bloom
Who has lost his sweet life in a watery tomb.

Bad luck attend you, Percy, wherever you may be,
You would not assist my Johnny for he's drownded in the sea,
You would leave him for to tumble and to roll in the sea,
In that cold, cold bed of sorrow far away from me.

(4 additional stanzas)


Peacock notes "I was unable to find any reference to this lament in the Irish collections at my disposal." Burke's name and "Bad luck attend you" seem Irish enough, but maybe it's not Irish. There's a Kerry Bay near Gairloch in northwest Scotland across the Minch from the Outer Hebrides. The ballad mentions a "far field of glory on the leeward shore"; what war is this about? - BS

The prevailing winds in Britain are generally from the west (northwest in summer, southwest in winter). So the windward shore is Britain, the leeward the Hebrides, or Ireland -- or, just possibly, North America. It's hard to imagine a battle in the Hebrides that would be commemorated in an English song. And Kerry is on the southwest coast of Ireland. So "Kerry Bay" might be Dingle Bay, or just possibly Bantry Bay (which is just south of modern County Kerry, but in the same general area).

The most noteworthy battle in County Kerry proper was probably Callan (1261), but that is surely too early. So my guess (and it's just a guess) is that this refers to 1796 and the Bantry Bay landing, for which see "The Shan Van Voght." This fits on other grounds, since Hoche's Bantry Bay fleet had suffered badly from a storm (December 1796) and did not attempt to land. - RBW


  1. Peacock, pp. 467-468, "John Burke" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. ST Pea467 (Partial)
  3. Roud #9791
  4. BI, Pea467


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1960 (Peacock)
Found in: Canada(Newf)