TITLE: Carrickfergus
AUTHOR: unknown
CATEGORY: public domain, traditional
KEYWORDS: love separation, drink
EARLIEST DATE: partial in 1927 (Sandburg) more fully in “The Kerry Boatman” by Dominic Behan (recorded 1960)

Richard Harris and Peter O'Toole in 1995's Shine at the Top
Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole in 1995’s Shine at the Top

The melodies for “Water is Wide” and “Carrickfergus” probably go back to an 18th century Irish air. “Carrickfergus” seems to have first appeared as a ballad usually called “The Young Sick Lover”, published in 1830 but with perhaps earlier origins. Two of the verses are recognizable but a number of additional English verses have been added over the years.

[The first recording of what we know as Carrickfergus in the 20th century was titled]  “The Kerry Boatman” by Dominic Behan on his album The Irish Rover. And Behan? The legend had it that it had been “collected” by Behan from Peter O’Toole [the actor]. Forty years later someone thought to ask O’Toole about this, and he confirmed the story. . .O’Toole’s agent reported to the inquiring music scholar that the actor had first heard the song in 1946 with the English lyrics approximating the song we know. In 1957 his mate Richard Harris [the actor] related to O’Toole a more fullsome version with which he was familiar, and it was this Harris-O’Toole hybrid version which Peter O’Toole sung from memory to Dominic Behan. (from Phnom Penh Garage Notes)

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The Dubliners, Carrickfergus

The Clancy Brothers, Carrickfergus

Joan Baez, Carrickfergus

The Chieftains, Carrickfergus

Loudon Wainwright III, Carrickfergus



BONUS YOUTUBE VIDEO: Jim McCann with the Dubliners


I wish I was in Carrickfergus,
Only for nights in Ballygrant
I would swim over the deepest ocean,
Only for nights in Ballygrant

But the sea is wide and I cannot cross over
And neither have I the wings to fly
I wish I could meet a gallant boatsman
To ferry me over, my love to find.

But in Kilkenny, it is reported,
Are marble stones as black as ink
With gold and silver I would support her,
But I’ll sing no more now ’till I get a drink.

For I’m drunk today, and I’m seldom sober
A handsome rover from town to town,
Ah, but I’m sick now, my days are numbered,
Come all you young men and lay me down.

I wish I was in Carrickfergus,
Only for nights in Ballygrant
I would swim over the deepest ocean,
Only for nights in Ballygrant


  • Folk Song Index: A Comprehensive Guide to the Florence E. Brunnings Collection, Florence E. Brunnings, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London 1981—Amazon Books
  • Sandburg, Carl. The American Songbag. 1927 Harcourt, Brace, and Company. [This volume will be indexed on this site in the weeks to come.]—Amazon Books

NOTICE: I’m not the best guitar player or vocalist, but no one loves these songs more than I do. The tune and lyrics are in the public domain unless otherwise noted. The recording © copyright 2013 by Stephen Griffith and may be used by permission of the copyright holder. The variation of the song I’m posting is the version I perform and is not exactly replicating the sources cited, but is always in the same song family. If anyone has more details about this song, or believes I’ve stated something in error, please let me know. I’m also open to suggestions to improve the site. Thanks. sgg

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