I Know My Love is an Irish traditional song about the jealousy and insecurity of a woman involved with an “errant rover”.
The best known version is probably the one recorded and released as a single by The Corrs with The Chieftains in 1999.
The song focuses on the dilemma of a woman who knows that her lover is wayward and likely to leave her but she, in spite of herself, still can’t help loving him.
In the opening verse she tells us that she knows him so well that she can identify him just by his way of walking or talking, or just his blue suit.
Then straightaway we get her insecurity in the line “if my love leaves me what will I do”.
The chorus seems to bring a change of narrator: it’s no longer the anxious lover telling us of her cares. Instead, an outside observer seems to take over, passing comments such as “a troubled mind can know no rest”.
Alternatively, it might be the girl stepping outside herself and acknowledging that although she sees her man’s faults, she can’t help herself and still wants him.
The second verse refers to a dance house in The Mardyke. This is an area in the city Cork in Ireland. It’s usually pronounced as Marr-a-dyke in the song to make it scan. The dances referred to could be the ones held at St Francis’ Hall in the The Mardyke. It was a favourite haunt of young lovers for many years in the first half of the 20th century. According to the popular Cork singer, Jimmy Crowley, it was where “everyone’s mother met everyone’s father”.
The reference to The Mardyke suggests the song may have originated in Cork, although this is by no means certain.
The third verse sees the girl thinking that her lover might be more attracted to her if only he knew of her skills. She can “wash and wring, weave and spin”. These would have been important qualities in a wife in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
She would make him “a suit of the finest kind” but she doesn’t have any money to buy the materials. Her poverty suggests she may not have the glamour of the girls her man takes “upon his knee” at the dances – much to her distress.
In the fourth verse, the girl seems to accept that her lover is an “errant rover” and will probably leave Ireland and marry an American girl. In some versions the American girl is replaced by an English damsel. Hope springs eternal, however, with the chorus reaffirming that “bonny boys are few” and despite her insecurities, the jealous girl still loves “him the best”.
The origin of the song is uncertain but it probably dates back to the 19th century. The first known published version was in Irish Country Songs collated by Herbert Hughes and published in 1909. Hughes noted that in some western counties of Ireland such as Clare and Galway, the song was sung with the verses alternating between English and Irish.
The Hughes version doesn’t contain the fourth verse about the “errant lover”. It’s uncertain whether Hughes had missed that verse or it was added later.