As I Roved Out ends with a verse that has puzzled listeners for many years. A wish is expressed that the Queen would recall her army from their posts abroad so absentee husbands would be reunited with their wives.
It’s not clear if it’s the man or the woman who expresses this wish but the hope seems to be that if the absentee husbands return, the two lovers might yet be reunited. But how is this supposed to happen and what does the verse actually mean?
Did single men marry wives of absent soldiers?
One theory put forward is that single Irish men would be called upon to marry the wives of soldiers called abroad so that there would be a man to maintain the land.
The wish expressed in the final verse therefore would be that if the real husband of the lassie with the land returned, her new “husband” would be turned out and so would be free to marry his true love.
While this is an intriguing thought, there is no reliable evidence that it ever happened and indeed, it seems highly unlikely.
Few Irishmen would leave land to fight for Britain
Most Irishmen who were lucky enough to have land were unlikely to leave it for the life of a soldier in the British Army.
Even if they did, it seems unthinkable that a religion dominated society would allow such “marriages”. It any case, such marriages would not be necessary as men could work the land without having to marry the owner’s wife.
Did soldiers serving abroad take second wives?
It has also been suggested that soldiers fighting abroad might take on new wives so it is the Queen who recalled them, they would have to return to their first wives – this would mean that the lover would be displaced and could return to the girl he had promised to marry.
This too seems unlikely for the same reasons as those already given and in any case, although soldiers may have taken up with other women while serving abroad, a second marriage wasn’t really an option.
Final verse remains a mystery
The final verse remains something of a mystery. One possible explanation is that some verses or lines from the song have been lost over time.
It could be that such lines may have put the final verse into context and given it a more certain meaning.
We can’t be sure at present, but if new information emerges, we shall add it here. In the meantime, please contact us if you can shed any light on the issue.