A lady Fair tells the story of a young woman who chances upon a well dressed gentleman while walking in her garden.
He asks if she could fancy him but she immediately says no. She already has a true love and will remain constant to him even though he has been away at sea for seven years.
The man pushes her a bit further suggesting her lover must be dead but still she insists that she will wait for him and will never marry anyone else. The man then reveals that he is in fact her long lost lover and produces a ring they had broken between them to prove it.
The young woman falls down with delight and amazement that her true love has returned to marry her.
A familiar theme with a moral for women
In A Lady Fair, the song ends with a shortened four line verse providing an explicit moral. Women are encouraged to be true to their lovers and husbands while they are away at sea or in the army.
If they remain constant, their men will return to make them happy and may even take them to a new life in America.
These sentiments may seem patronising by today’s standards but they were common in 19th century Ireland, particularly at times when thousands of Irishmen were abroad fighting for the British Army in long campaigns.
A Lady Fair lyrics in full
A lady fair in a garden walking
When a well dressed gentleman came riding by
He stepped up to her, all for to view her
And he said “Fair lady, would you fancy I?”
“I am no lady but a poor maiden
And a poor girl of low degree,
Therefore young man seek another sweetheart
I am not fitting your serving maid to be.
And oh, kind sir, I have a lover,
Tho’ ’tis seven long years since I did him see.
And seven years more I will wait upon him
For if he’s living he’ll return to me.”
“Perhaps your lover is dead or drowned
Or maybe sailing all on the sea.
Or maybe he is another’s husband
And he will never return to thee.”
“Oh, if he’s married, I wish him happy,
And if he’s dead, sure, I wish him rest;
No other young man will e’er enjoy me
For he’s the one that I love the best.”
He put his hand into his bosom
His lily white fingers they were long and small;
He took out the ring that was broke between them
And when she saw that she down did fall.
He took her up all in his arms,
He gave her kisses most tenderly;
Saying “You’re my jewel and I’m your single sailor
And now at last I’ve won home to thee.
I am you true and your single sailor
You thought was drownded all in the sea.
But I’ve passed over all my toil and trouble
And I’ve come home, love, to wed with thee.”
Come all young maidens, now heed my story
Don’t slight your true love and he on the sea;
And he’ll come home and make you his own,
And he’ll take you over to America.