The Spanish Lady is a very old and unusual song that seems to have originated in Ireland, although there are similar versions in England.
It tells the story of an old man remembering how he happened across a beautiful young woman many years before when he was young and travelling through Dublin.
The first time he sees the Spanish Lady it is midnight and she is washing her feet by candlelight.She dries them over a fire of amber coal, which may also serve as a metaphor for the heat of the young man’s passion.
Brushing her hair outside the gate
The next time he sees her it is half past eight in the morning and this time the Spanish Lady is combing and brushing her hair outside her gate.
She has a silver comb which would suggest that she is well to do, which might explain why the young man never approaches her even though he obviously finds her attractive.
He may feel that there is too much of a social gap between them.
I threw a kiss to the Spanish Lady
Nevertheless, he wants to stay and watch her but he is challenged by a watchman who threatens to wrestle him into the Bridewell (jail) if he doesn’t move on.
The young man complies but not before throwing “a kiss to the Spanish Lady, hot as a fire of angry coal”. His passion seems to be rising.
Lifting her petticoat over the knee
The young man sees the Spanish Lady for the final time when he chances upon her “catching a moth in a golden net”. This time she also sees him and runs away immediately, “lifting her petticoat over her knee” for a quick getaway.
Some commentators have suggested that this may suggest she may have been a woman of dubious character but there is little to back this up and it seems a little fanciful. In any case, the young man interprets her sudden departure as indicating shyness.
Where oh where is the Spanish Lady
Many years then pass but the young man never sees the Spanish Lady again, although not for the want of trying. We hear that he wanders all across Dublin, passing various landmarks such as Stoneybatter and the Gloucester Diamond, but always without success.
Then we hear that old age has laid her hand on the young man and he is now “cold as a fire of ashy coals”. The passion may have dimmed but it is still there. Even though it is a whole lifetime since he last saw her, he still wonders “where oh where is the Spanish Lady”.