FolkWorld #54 07/2014
© Seán Laffey

The Road to Clady

Songs That Made History: The Road to Clady appears on the excellent new album from Craobh Rua, I'd Understand You If I Knew What You Meant.


I am a country servant serving in Collon
In a place they call New Hamilton,
   a grand old-fashioned town
‘Twas early in the morning at the hour of three
When I set off for Clady, the old grey mare and me

In the corner of the street, a bus I chanced to pass
And in the corner of the bus I spied a country lass
Says I, My pretty fair maid, come along with me
I’m going the road to Clady, the old grey mare and me

   Cheeks as red as roses, eyes a bonny blue
   Dancing, dancing pierce me through and through
   She fairly won my fancy, stole away my heart
   Jogging along to Clady on the sour milk cart

I asked her up beside me and on the cart she sat
I slipped an arm around her waist
   and soon began to chat
The birds in the bushes sweetly they did sing
The blackbirds and the thrushes
   how they made a forest ring

Well you’ve heard of lords and ladies
   making love in shady bowers
And how they woo awhile
   among the roses and the flowers
I'll never forget that morning. Cupid shot his dart
Jogging along to Clady on the sour milk cart

 Listen to The Road to Clady from:
    Craobh Rua, Patricia Daly, Dizzy Spell

 Watch The Road to Clady from:
    Ildanach, Ruth Keggin, Deirdre Starr, 
    Adam McNaughtan

Brian Connolly from the band told us he had the song from the Claddagh album La Lugh, which featured Gerry O'Connor (fiddle) and the late Eithne Ni Uallachain (vocals, flute).[51] The tune is very catchy and it has been adapted for songs from North Wales and the Isle of Man. Ruth Keggin tells us it is also known in Mannin where it is the air to Jenny Is All the Go, Ruth has a new CD out in February 2014 which includes The Road to Clady.

Craobh Rua: I'd understand you if i knew what you meant

This broadside ballad began its life in Scotland as The Soor Mulk Cairt. It was penned by Thomas Johnstone, sometime in the 1880's. It was written for the music hall comedian J.C. MacDonald.

The author of 'The Calton Barber Poet' or 'Figaro Johnstone' established a barber's shop in Abercrombie Street, Calton, Glasgow, during the early 1870's, during this time period he became well-known as a songwriter.

Johnstone's daughter writing in 1959 told the Weekly Scotsman that he would travel on a Sunday morning on a sour-milk cart from his weekend-house in rural Eaglesham to the city of Glasgow. Sour milk was intended to be used in the baking of bread and there was no urgency in its transportation.

A slow paced horse and a warm summer's morning gave the cart driver plenty of time for flirtation and romance. It is probably through this association that the song took on folk status and became popular amongst farm workers in Scotland. The song was based on a real romance between Dan Steel, the cart driver, and Maggie Watt.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries there was a regular seasonal migration of workers from the North-Western counties of Ireland to Scotland. It is likely the Irish version printed here was an adaption by one of those returning farm-hands, it is also slightly shorter than Johnstone's original.

Craobh Rua

Artist Video Craobh Rua @ FolkWorld:
FW#2, #13, #15, #41, #50, #53

The reference to a bus would place the Irish version of the song into the twentieth century. Likewise place names have been altered to make it fit into its new location.

Whether it was learned from a ballad singer or picked up as a ballad sheet is not known. The words were originally published in a Glasgow weekly periodical 'The Professional and Authors' Journal' which printed many music-hall songs.

In Scotland, ballads were also printed by companies called Poet's Boxes. These printing houses would turn out ballad sheets and sensational accounts of the scandals, murders, trials and executions of the day. The copyright laws were loose enough to allow for the circulation of ballads and songs, some of them taken from the established entertainment industry, songs such as Cockles and Mussles, The Rocky Road to Dublin and The Soorr Milk Cairt took the leap from the stage to the songs of the people.

First published @ Irish Music Magazine #226, March 2014 (

Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Craobh Rua (unknown/website).

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