Maids When You’re Young Never Wed an Old Man is a bawdy song which is full of innuendo and risqué allusions.
It would have been shocking in its day. It’s also known as The Old Man Came Courting Me.
It tells the story of a young woman who has the misfortune to marry a much older man who has lost all his drive in the bedroom.
The song tells how the young woman was courted by the old man and agreed to marry him. Unfortunately for her, he turns out to be impotent, despite her efforts to encourage him. Frustrated, she sneaks away while he is asleep and runs into the arms of a virile young lover.
Much of the humour of the song comes from the fact that there is no explicit language relating to sex or impotence. The more bawdy elements are expressed through nonsense words such as “faloorum” and “ding dooram”. The meaning is clear from the context, and listeners can interpret the song as they wish.
The woman tells her story as a warning to other young maidens, and in doing so provides a novel twist on the battle of the sexes.
It seems innocent and quaint today, but when it first appeared in the 19th century it would have been quite shocking. The mere allusion to sex would have been considered bad taste, but the reference to impotence and adultery would have made it seem outrageous.
The origin of the song is unknown but it’s possible that it first appeared in music halls (vaudeville) where its bawdy content would have been more acceptable.
The song was popular in the late 19th century in Ireland and the UK and quickly spread across the English speaking world.
According to song collector Robert Gogan, the first known published version appeared in 1869 in a collection by David Herd called Ancient Scottish Songs, Heroic Ballads etc.
It appeared under the title, Scant of Love, Want of Love.
The song was made popular again by Luke Kelly and The Dubliners.
Kelly used to introduce the song as being a warning to young ladies not to associate with old men, often casting a glance at the other members of the band for comic effect as he issued the warning.