This version of As I Roved Out is the one made famous by Planxty with Andy Irvine providing the lead vocals.
It has since been recorded by other top artists including the English folk singers, Kate Rusby and June Tabor.
There is another song called As I Roved Out which was also recorded by Planxty but with Christy Moore on vocals.
To add to the confusion, the two songs appear on the same album, The Well Below the Valley.
We feature the Christy Moore version of As I Roved Out on a separate page on Irish Music Daily.
There are many songs with titles like As I Roved Out which feature chance encounters between a man and a young girl which quickly lead on to relationships which usually end in tears.
This version is different from most because it features two lovers whose relationship is already over. In this case, the chance encounter opens up old wounds and leads to bitter regrets on both sides.
The man sees his former lover sitting beneath a willow tree. He greets her but when she turns around he sees that she has tears in her eyes.
She berates him for having “deluded” or deceived her. The young man replies with the line “a diamond ring I own I gave you”. The word ‘own’ here means admit rather than possess.
The man is admitting that he gave her a ring to wear on her right hand but before he can explain himself, she interrupts him by reminding him that he broke his vow to her. Instead of marrying her, he “married the lassie that had the land”.
The man makes no denial but instead he expresses his regret for having married for land. It’s a decision he’ll regret until the day he dies.
He is constantly haunted by the thought of his true love whom he deserted. At night, when he turns to embrace his darling, “instead of gold it is brass I find”.
In other words, he finds himself embracing his wife who is mere “brass” when compared to the true love he jilted. Only his true love can be seen as pure gold.
Marrying for land would not have been uncommon in Ireland, or indeed in any country in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In many cases, marrying into a wealthy family with land might be the only career opportunity open to some people, both men and women.
There would also have been the issue of arranged marriages in rural areas with families eager to preserve and develop smallholdings by combining them to make a bigger more efficient unit.
Parents would often arrange marriages for their children to achieve such unifications – a theme explored to great comic effect by Percy French in McBreen’s Heifer.