“The Lover's Curse (Kellswater)”


The girl tells how she will curse any woman who courts Willie. Her father gives her two choices: Send Willie away or see him die. When she scorns the choices, he imprisons her. Willie promises he will not leave Ireland without her. The father relents


The first few versions I met of this all seemed to start with the line, "Here's a health unto bonnie Kellswater," which seems to be the Irish form of the song. By far the larger fraction of the collections, however, seem to be from Canada, mostly from Fowke. Paul Stamler gives this description of the songs of this type:

A lady of [Bristol/London] is courted by sailor Jimmy, but her father opposes the match. She promises her father that, should she marry, it would be to an equal; he tells her that he's pleased, for he's found her a good match. She confesses that she loves Jimmy, and writes him a letter. They sneak up the stairs, but her father confronts them, holding a "fusee." He tells the daughter to choose between Jimmy's leaving or being shot; she tells him she'd rather see him sail than have innocent blood shed. The father relents and allows the marriage. - RBW/PJS

Edith Fowke notes that she was unable to find this ballad in any British or North American collection; neither was I. Plenty of father-opposes-match, of course, but none with precisely this story, never mind this ending. Fowke notes, "The reference to a 'loaded fusee' suggests a 17th-century origin, for according to the Oxford Dictionary, the term 'fusee' was used for a light musket or firelock between 1661 and 1680." Jim Heffernan, of Peterborough, Ont., learned the ballad from Jim Doherty, an older man who learned it from his mother. Her parents came from Ireland in the 1830s; therefore Fowke suspects an Irish origin for the song. - PJS

The Sam Henry version of this is very confused in viewpoint, with parts spoken by an outside observer and (seemingly) both the girl and the boy. One suspects some imported material. The plot seems undamaged by this. - RBW

Cross references


  • Jimmy Heffernan, "In Bristol There Lived a Fair Maiden" (on Ontario1)


  1. SHenry H695, pp. 442-443, "Kellswater" (1 text, 1 tune); also at least portions of H112, p. 288, "A Sweetheart's Appeal to Her Lover/Oh, It's down Where the Water Runs Muddy" (1 text, 1 tune, compiled from three different versions. I rather doubt the three versions were the same song, but at least part of it appears to go here)
  2. Karpeles-Newfoundland 70, "On Board the Gallee" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Creighton-Maritime, p. 45, "Jimmy and I Will Get Married" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Roud #916
  6. BI, HHH442


Alternate titles: “Bonnie Kellswater”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1907 (JIFSS)
Found in: Ireland Canada(Mar,Newf,Ont)