“William (Willie) Riley (Riley's Trial)”


Riley and his sweetheart flee from her father, but are overtaken. Riley is jailed; the father asks that he be executed or transported. Colleen pleads for and wins his freedom instead. (Riley leaves the country, wearing the girl's ring for remembrance)

Supplemental text

William (Willie) Riley (Riley's Trial) [Laws M10]
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

Reily's Jailed

As printed in Huntington, Songs the Whalemen Sang, pp. 224-225.
A very abbreviated version (but with most of the more recognizable
lyrics) from the journal of the ship Sharon, sailing from New
Bedford in 1845.

Come rise up William Reily and come along with me
I mean for to go with you and leave this country
I'll forsake my father's dwellings his houses and rich land
And go along with you my love my dear Colleen Bawn

Over lofty hills and mountains along the lonesome dales
Through shady groves and fountains rich meadows and sweet vales
We climbed the rugged woods and sped on the silent lawn
But I was overtaken with my dear Colleen Bawn

They hurried me to prison and my hands and feet they bound
Confined me like a murderer with chains unto the ground
But this cruel hard treatment most cheerfully I'll stand
Ten thousand deaths I'd suffer for my dearest Colleen Bawn


Meredith/Anderson states that this song is based on an incident which took place in Donegal around 1745. Reilly, a Catholic, eloped with the protestant daughter of Squire Folliard -- an illegal match at the time. See Laws, who quotes the relevant details from Joyce.

Laws, following Cox, considers the three William Riley ballads (William Riley's Courtship [Laws M9], this one, and "Reilly's Answer, Releasement, and Marriage with Coleen Bawn" -- the last not found in tradition, but published by Will Carleton in 1855) to be a set of songs about the same character. The songs overlap, however, and may be the result of separate composition, with either M9 or M10 inspiring the other two. - RBW

All of the Bodleian broadsides corrupt what O'Conor, at least, has as "Colleen Bawn." O'Conor does not explain his sources.

Charles Gavan Duffy, _The Ballad Poetry of Ireland_, 1845, pp. 244-247, has this as "Willy Reilly" and translates "Coolen Bawn" as "fair young girl." - BS

Laws considers Creighton-NovaScotia 74 to be both M9 and M10. This 78 verse version is divided by Creighton into "Riley's Courtship" (26 verses: meets Laws' description of M9), "Trial" (20 verses: meets Laws' description of M10), "Marriage" (32 verses: meets Laws' description "which has not, so far as I know," says Laws, "been recorded from tradition, Riley is sentenced to be transported and is freed through his own petition to the Lord Lieutenant in time to rescue the girl from Bedlam and marry her." What am I missing? As I've noted, Creighton-NovaScotia 74, is one of Laws' sources for M9 and M10: why didn't he consider it for the "not ... recorded" Mx?).

Sparling, 1888: "The story on which this ballad is founded happened some eighty years ago; and as the lover was a Catholic farmer, and the lady's family of high Orange principles, it got a part character, which, no doubt, contributed to its great popularity." "Carleton has made it the foundation of a novel of the same name."

Munnelly/Deasy-Lenihan: "William Carlton's novel on Willie Reilly and his Cailin Ban first appeared in 1855 and was a best seller for years." [Though the Barnhart/Halsey _New Century Handbook of English Literature_ (revised edition, Appleton.Century/Crofts, 1967) does not list it among the major works of Carleton (1794-1869). Neither is it mentioned in Patrick C. Power's _A Literary History of Ireland_, which (p. 149) instead regards his most important work as the 1830-1833 collection _Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry_. - RBW]

H. De Marsan dating per _Studying Nineteenth-Century Popular Song_ by Paul Charosh in American Music, Winter 1997, Vol 15.4, Table 1, available at FindArticles site. - BS

Cross references


  • Bodleian, 2806 b.11(51), "Riley and Colinband," T. Batchelar (London), 1817-1828; also Firth b.27(138), Harding B 16(228b), Harding B 25(1626)[many words illegible], "Riley and Colinband"; 2806 b.11(52), Johnson Ballads 2976, "William Riley and Colinband"; Harding B 11(1852), "Riley and Colinban"; Harding B 28(190)[some words illegible or lost], "Riley and Collinband"
  • LOCSinging, sb40465a, "Reily's Courtship", H. De Marsan (New York), 1861-1864) [This is part 1];, sb40464b, "Reily's Releasement and Marriage with Cooleen Bawn", H. De Marsan (New York), 1861-1864 [This is part 2]


  • Tom Lenihan, "Willie Reilly and his Cailin Ban" (on IRTLenihan01)


  1. Laws M10, "William (Willie) Riley (Riley's Trial)"
  2. Belden, pp. 289-290, "William Riley" (1 text)
  3. Randolph 115, "Willie Riley" (1 short text plus an excerpt, 1 tune)
  4. BrownII 128, "William Riley" (1 text)
  5. Brewster 50, "William Reilly" (1 text)
  6. Greenleaf/Mansfield 91, "Willy Reilly" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Leach-Labrador 137, "Willie Riley" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Creighton-NovaScotia 74, "Courtship of Willie Riley" (1 very long text, 1 tune)
  9. Leach, pp. 741-743, "Willie Riley" (2 texts)
  10. FSCatskills 53, "Fair Julian Bond" (1 text, 1 tune. The opening of this ballad clearly resembles Laws M9, but the conclusion is closer to M10. The fragmentary state of the text may indicate a conflate version)
  11. Munnelly/Deasy-Lenihan 8, "Willie Reilly and his Cailin Ban" (1 text, 1 tune)
  12. Tunney-StoneFiddle, pp. 40-42, "Willie Reilly and His Dear Colleen Ban" (1 text, 1 tune)
  13. Hayward-Ulster, pp. 99-102, "The Trial of Willy Reilly" (1 text)
  14. O'Conor, p. 86, "Willy Reilly" (1 text)
  15. Meredith/Anderson, pp. 31-32, "Willie Riley" (1 text, tune referenced)
  16. SHenry H234, pp. 436-437, "Willy Reilly" (1 text, 1 tune)
  17. JHCox 101, "William Reilly" (1 text)
  18. Huntington-Whalemen, pp. 224-225, "Reily's Jailed" (1 text, 1 tune, s very short version placed here on the basis of its first stanza)
  19. cf. Gardner/Chickering, pp. 482-483, "William Reily's Courtship," "Reily's Trial," "Reily's Answer, Releasement, and Marriage with Coolen Bawn" (sic.) (source notes only)
  20. DT 577, RILTRIAL
  21. ADDITIONAL: Charles Gavan Duffy, editor, The Ballad Poetry of Ireland (1845), pp. 244-247, "Willy Reilly"
  22. Kathleen Hoagland, editor, One Thousand Years of Irish Poetry (New York, 1947), pp. 302-304, "Willy Reilly" (1 text)
  23. H. Halliday Sparling, Irish Minstrelsy (London, 1888), pp. 382-384, 516, "Willy Reilly"
  24. ST LM10 (Full)
  25. Roud #538
  26. BI, LM10


Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1829 (broadside, Bodleian 2806 b.11(51))
Found in: US(MA,MW,SE,So) Canada(Mar,Newf) Britain(England) Ireland Jamaica Australia