Folk songs and ballads


Sir, – I completely agree with Declan Collinge (Letters, June 12th) that to change Patrick Kavanagh’s line “I saw the danger yet I walked along the enchanted way”, by replacing the word “yet” with the word “and”, damages the verse by ruining its meaning.

However, his letter raises another point. In what sense can the song Raglan Road be considered a folk song? An indispensable factor in the process of a composed song becoming a folk song is the accumulation of changes just like the one your correspondent decries. Such changes may be deliberate (a singer believes they can improve the text) or unintentional – the most likely reason in this case – when a singer carelessly substitutes one word for another, or forgets a phrase and improvises a replacement.

The point is that no-one can write a folk song, but a song, once circulated, may become a folk song. It is the process of change that works this transformation and not some perceived aesthetic characteristics, nor the fact that it is usually accompanied by a plucked string instrument. If it is always performed in its original text then it is still in the departure lounge, awaiting the sprinkling of the “folk dust”. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 12.

Sir, – With reference to Declan Collinge’s letter regarding incorrect words in ballads, the best I heard was for a line in the Rose of Mooncoin. “Where the thrush and the robin their sweet notes combine” was delivered as “Where the thrush ate the robin and three balls of twine”! – Yours, etc,



Co Galway.