There are many Irish songs called As I Roved Out, featuring chance encounters between a beautiful young girl and a dashing young man.
This version was made famous by Tommy Makem and The Clancy Brothers. Tommy learnt it from his mother Sarah, who was a well known singer and folk song collector in Ireland.
Her recording of the song was used as the signature tune for a folk programme called As I Roved Out, which was broadcast by the BBC in the 1950s.
As I Roved Out explores a familiar theme of a young girl who is seduced by a more experienced man who turns out to be already married or betrothed to someone else.
In this version, the girl is only just turning 17 when she meets the man who will lead to her downfall.
After their chance meeting, the man goes to the girl’s house and she agrees to let him in.
In many songs about these chance encounters, the lovers sneak into the house and end up in bed together.
In this version, however, the mother hears them before they have the chance to get into any mischief.
The mother then beats the girl with a hazel twig.
The girl then turns to the soldier and asks if he will now marry her. Otherwise, as she puts it, “I’m done forever” – meaning her reputation has been tarnished and she may never be able to marry.
This concept is often found songs in which the couple have slept together, but it may seem a little strange in this version because, as far as we know from the lyric, the couple were discovered as soon as the soldier enters the house and long before they got anywhere near the bedroom.
There are few possible explanations. One is that there are simply some verses missing which may have referred to the relationship getting more intimate
Another possibility is that there were so many of these songs and scenarios that the audience would simply take it for granted that they had slept together.
There may also have been the possibility that just letting the soldier into the house without her parents’ knowledge may have been enough to destroy the girl’s reputation and mean that she was “done forever”. The stigma might make her less attractive to other potential suitors.
As so often happens in these songs, the lover says he can’t marry the girl because he already has a wife.
The song ends with the lover revealing his rakish nature by declaring he likes nothing better than drinking and enjoying the company of young women.