The Old Woman From Wexford is a very popular Irish song which tells a story that is to be found in English speaking countries across the world.
The story always involves a married woman who tries to kill her husband so she can be with her lover.
The husband, however, discovers the plan and turns the tables on his wife so that she ends up being killed instead.
Eggs and Marrowbones to make me old man blind
In the Irish version of the song, the woman goes to the doctor and asks for something to make her husband blind.
The doctor recommends making him eat eggs and marrowbones, but it’s just a ploy. The doctor then writes to the husband alerting him of the danger.
The husband duly pretends that he has been blinded but just as his wife runs forward to push him into the sea, he steps aside and she is the one who ends up being drowned.
The extra irony is that when the wife cries out for help, the husband replies that he can’t do anything for her because he is blind.
Marrow Bones or Tippin’ It Up to Nancy
There are many variations including songs like Marrow Bones, Tippin’ It Up to Nancy, Eggs and Marrowbones, and The Blind Man He Could See.
Some Irish versions of the song change Wexford to other towns like Dublin or Belfast.
There are versions in England naming Oxford or Yorkshire, and a very old version called The Old Woman from Blighter Town.
In Scotland, there are variations called The Wily Auld Carle or The Wife of Kelso.
In some versions the husband’s hands are tied
The lyrics to the different versions usually follow the same themes although there are the inevitable variations in detail.
In some versions, for example, the husband is not blinded but he has his hands tied behind his back.
This leads to the same ironic outcome when the wife screams for help. The husband replies that he cannot help her because his hands are tied.
Revived by the Clancys and Dubliners
The origins of the song are unknown. The lyrics and the theme may have originated anywhere in Ireland or the United Kingdom with each area putting their own slant on it.
It’s likely though that the tune now used for the song is Irish. The composer is unknown.
The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners played a major part in popularising the song during the folk revival of the 1960s and it is still being performed today by a new generation of traditional folk singers.