The young man never actually met and spoke to the Spanish Lady but she obviously made a huge impression on him because he still thinks of her after all those years.
It also seems he’s spent much of his life going back though Dublin in the hope of seeing her again. That is quite an obsession and there is no suggestion that he ever married or loved anyone else.
The Spanish Lady is an unusual song because despite the fact that the young man finds the woman attractive and despite the fact that he fails to make any connection with her, there isn’t really much sense of loss.
There is no heartache and although he is still thinking of her several decades later, it’s more with a sense of curiosity that anything more deep.
The reason may well be to do with the Spanish Lady’s social status. He would feel unable to approach her and she may even be frightened by someone outside of her class, which might explain why she runs off when she sees him.
The young man can admire her from afar but he knows he has no hope of having a future with her.
For that reason, she may be no more than a fantasy figure to him, rather like a pop star may be to a young man today. He may wish to see her but the emotion is kept at bay, even if he never quite forgets her.
This sense of resignation is reinforced by the up-tempo melody which is bright and cheerful, running contrary to what might otherwise be a feeling of love and loss.
It’s not known who wrote the words but they probably date from the late 18th century. There is a reference to the young man passing by Napper Tandy’s house while searching for the Spanish Lady. Tandy was an Irish rebel leader who died in 1803.
The Dubliners were one of the first bands to bring the Spanish Lady to a wider audience during the folk revival of the 1960s. Other performers such as the Irish Rovers and Johnny McEvoy have also recorded successful versions.
The Irish Tenors have also recorded the song giving it a new twist with a light operatic version featuring a full orchestra.