The Butcher Boy is an old traditional song that tells the tragic story of a girl who falls in love with a young butcher boy, only to find that he runs off with someone else after she has become pregnant.
Unable to bear the heartache of being abandoned, she takes her own life and leaves a note so that the world will know that she died for love.
The song also goes under the title of Died For Love. Its origins are uncertain.
Heartache and shame of pregnancy
The young woman doesn’t only have to endure the loss of her lover. She also knows she must bear the shame of becoming pregnant before getting married.
That carried a stigma, not just in the 19th century but right up to the 1960s in Ireland, the UK and America. It would have been very difficult for a young woman to bring up a baby on her own, and she would risk being a social outcast.
I wish I was a maid again
It’s no wonder then that the young woman wishes she could be a maid again. She also wishes the baby were born and sitting on its daddy’s knee.
She knows both things are impossible and she also knows that her lover is in a tavern somewhere with another girl on his knee and that “he tells her what he wouldn’t tell me”.
She is so distraught that she wishes she were “dead and gone with the long green grass growing over me”.
Oh what a foolish girl was I
The girl goes upstairs telling her mother that she is going to bed. When her mother asks her what’s wrong with her, she asks for a pen so she can explain in a letter.
Later, her father returns and asks to see his daughter, his “heart’s delight”.
He eventually he has to break down her bedroom door and suffer the horror of seeing her hanging from a rope. In her note she berates herself for her folly: “Oh what a foolish girl was I, to give my heart to a butcher boy.”