“Shule Agra (Shool Aroo[n], Buttermilk Hill, Johnny's Gone for a Soldier)”


The girl laments for her love, sent (to France) as a soldier. She says she will cry till "every tear would turn a mill." She will sell her spinning wheel to arm him. She will dye her clothes red and "round the world... beg for bread" till he returns


In its earliest forms this song seems to have been simply a girl's lament for her departed lover. In many American versions (Randolph's 107 A and C, Eddy's D) we find unrelated stanzas about the girl's "very cross" father.

Scott (following Joyce) theorizes that the song arises out of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Irish supported James II, and were defeated at the Boyne. William III, who defeated James, offered forgiveness to the rebels who would swear loyalty to him, but many preferred exile. The only evidence for this theory, at least in English versions, seems to be the lines "But now my love has gone to France, To try his fortune to advance...."

It's hard to tell how much of this song was originally Gaelic. Although there are Gaelic choruses (e.g. from Barry, in JAFL XXII 15; Connie Dover's modern recording is as close to this as makes no difference), I've never heard a truly traditional Gaelic verse, and even the chorus is usually only a mangled imitation of Gaelic. (Of course, it doesn't help that Gaelic spelling is far from standardized.) - RBW

The Thieme recording retains only the tune, chorus and two verses of "Shule Agra"; otherwise, it's humorous floaters. - PJS

For Hudson 130 the inserted rhyme is the first verse of Opie-Oxford2 482, "Snail, snail" (earliest date in Opie-Oxford2 is c.1744). [The stanza is also found in Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #471, p. 210). - RBW]

One of two broadsides for this ballad as "Shule Agra"/"Johnny Is Gone for a Soldier" at Bodleian Library site Ballads Catalogue is printed in New York c.1860, shelfmark Harding B.18(326).

See three "Shule Agra"/"Johnny Is Gone for a Soldier" broadsides [America Singing: digital id sb40500a/as201910/cw103140] at the Library of Congress American Memory site. - BS

Cross references

  • cf. "Song of the Pinewoods" (floating lyrics)


  • Anita Best and Pamela Morgan, "Suil a Gra" (on NFABestPMorgan01)
  • Pearl Jacobs Borusky, "I'll Sell My Hat, I'll Sell My Coat" (AFS, 1940; on LC55)
  • Porter Brigley, "I Died My Petticoat Red" (on MRHCreighton)
  • Robert Cinnamond, "Shule Agra" (on IRRCinnamond03)
  • Elizabeth Cronin, "Shule Aroon" (on FSB1)
  • Chubby Parker, "Bib-A-Lollie-Boo" (Gennett 6077/Silvertone 5012, 1927; Supertone 9188, 1928) (Conqueror 7891, 1931)
  • Pete Seeger, "Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier" (on PeteSeeger31)
  • Art Thieme, "Bibble-a-la-doo" (on Thieme04)


  1. Belden, pp. 281-282, "Shule Aroon" (1 text)
  2. Randolph 107, "Shule, Shule" (3 texts, 1 tune, though "A" is mixed with "Ease that Trouble in the Mind" or "The Swapping Boy" or some such, "B" is a nonsense fragment, and "C" is largely floating material); also probably the "A" fragment of 455, "When I Get on Yonder Hill" (2 texts)
  3. Eddy 40, "Putnam's Hill" (3 texts plus a fragment, 2 tunes)
  4. BrownII 127, "Shule Aroon" (1 fragment, so short that it might just be nonsense though it is probably this song)
  5. Hudson 130, pp. 275-276, "Shule Aron" (1 text, short and even more damaged than usual, to which is prefixed the rhyme "Snail, snail, come out of your hole, Or else I'll beat you as black as a coal.")
  6. SharpAp 93, "Putman's Hill" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
  7. O'Conor, p. 110, "Shule Aroon" (1 text)
  8. Lehr/Best 96, "Siul a Ghra" (1 text, 1 tune)
  9. Hugill, p. 347, "Shule Agra" (1 text, 1 tune)
  10. Creighton-Maritime, p. 131, "I Dyed My Petticoat Red" (1 text, 1 tune)
  11. Scott-BoA, pp. 32-35, "Siubhal a Gradh (Come, My Love, Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  12. Lomax-FSUSA 35, "Johnny Has Gone far a Soldier" (1 text, 1 tune)
  13. Lomax-FSNA 20, "Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier" (1 text, 1 tune)
  14. Lomax-ABFS, pp. 298-299, "Shoo, Shoo, Shoo-lye" (1 text, 1 tune)
  15. BBI, ZN199 "As from Newcastle I did pass" (listed as "Traditional? Ancestor of Scots 'Dicky Macphalion' and Irish 'Shule Aroon'")
  16. Silber-FSWB, p. 280, "Buttermilk Hill" (1 text)
  18. Roud #911
  19. BI, R107


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1892
Found in: US(Ap,MA,MW,SE,So) Britain(England,Scotland) Ireland Canada(Mar,Newf)