“Willy O!”


Willy sails to the Bay of Biscay. Seven years later, he came to the girl's door. He says he is a ghost. The cock crows. He says his ghost will guard her. As he disappears he tells her "Weep no more for your Willy O"

Long description

Seven years ago Willy went "on board the tender" and sailed to the Bay of Biscay. He does not answer Mary's letters. One night he comes to her bed-chamber door. She asks why he is so pale. He says the clay has changed his blushes. They discuss their old courtship. The cock crows. He says his ghost will guard her though his body lies in the West Indies. As he disappears he tells her "Weep no more for your Willy O"


Broadside Bodleian 2806 c.15(136) is the basis for the description.

Jim Carroll's notes to Bill Cassidy's "Biscayo" on "From Puck to Appleby: Songs of Irish Travellers in England," Musical Traditions Records MTCD325-6 (2003) say that Hugh Sheilds believes the main source of the "Willy O" broadside is "Sweet William's Ghost" (Child 77). I wonder if Sheilds meant that; except for the night-visiting ghost and the bird singing in Child 77.F or the moorcock announcing day in Paddy Tunney's "Lady Margaret" ("The Voice of the People, Vol 3: O'er His Grave the Grass Grew Green," Topic TSCD 653 (1998)), I don't find a connection.

The broadside version of "Willy O!" has distinguishing lines that include

As Mary lay sleeping, her true love came creeping....

They spent that night in deep discoursing,

Concerning their courtship sometime ago....

John Reilly's "Adieu Unto All True Lovers" ("Rise Up Quickly and Let Me In") and Cecilia Costello's "The Grey Cock": Vaughan Williams/Lloyd, pp. 52-53, "The Grey Cock, or The Lover's Ghost" adds this verse from the broadside.

O Willy dear where is the blushes,

That you had some time ago,

Mary dear the clay has changed them,

For I am the ghost of your Willy O.

Ewan MacColl's version of Cecilia Costello's "The Grey Cock" on Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, "The Grey Cock" (on ENMacCollSeeger02) adds this verse from the broadside:

When she saw him disappearing,

Down her cheeks the tears did flow

Mary dear, sweetheart and darling

Weep no more for your Willy O. - BS

Cross references


  • Bodleian, 2806 c.15(136), "Willy O!" ("Come all you young maids that's fair handsome"), W. Birmingham (Dublin), c.1867; also Harding B 19(86), Firth c.12(293), "Willy O!"


  • Bill Cassidy, "Biscayo" (on IRTravellers01)
  • Robert Cinnamond, "Ghost of Willie-O" (on IRRCinnamond02)
  • Nora Cleary, "Willie-O" (on Voice03)


  1. Creighton-Maritime, pp. 113-114, "Willie O" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  2. McBride 6, "The Bay of Biscay O" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Morton-Maguire 3, pp. 5,100,155-156, "Willie's Ghost" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  4. Roud #179
  5. BI, CrMa113


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1950 (Creighton-Maritime); c.1867 (broadside, Bodleian 2806 c.15(136))
Found in: Canada(Mar) Ireland