A maid going to Comber her markets to larn And to sell for her mammy three hanks of fine yarn She met with a young man along the highway Which caused this young damsel to dally and stray. “O Sit down beside me I mean you no harm Come sit down beside me this new tune to larn And here is three guineas your mammy to pay So lay by your yarn till the next market day.” She sat down beside him, the grass it was green The day was the fairest that ever was seen. “The look in your eye beats a morning in May I could sit by your side till the next market day.” So they sat down together and the valleys did ring And the birds in the bushes so sweetly did sing He took out his fiddle and well he could play And he played her the tune called The Next Market Day So this sweet bonny lass she did laugh and did say I love that wee tune called The Next Market Day The Next Market Day is a great tune ‘tis plain So play that tune over again and again and again… Now as she went homeward, the words he had said And the tune that he played her still rang in her head. “I’ll search for that young man by land or by sae Till he larns me the tune called The Next Market Day.” O Sit down beside me I mean you no harm ... So she went back to Comber and searched for him long And she found this young man and it’s well they got on And now they are married in sweet Killyleagh And he plays her the tune called The Next Market Day.
Songs That Made History: Seán Laffey writes that the song The Next Market Day (aka The Maid Going to Comber) appears on CRAN's new album Dally and Stray.
The story has also been recorded by Oisin and Charlie Piggot. The theme of the story is casual romance in a rural setting, there is no doubt it has some basis in truth, if not in the exact locality. May Blair has written a well-documented account on the Fairs of Ulster in the Appletree Press Publication Hiring Fairs and Market Places (2007). During the 18th and 19th centuries Comber [in County Down] had at least four markets per year, but no market place nor market hall.
In the first half of the twentieth century the town held monthly markets. Land around was uncommonly good for flax growing, a fact reported on as early as the 1820's. The maid in the story is off to sell yarn, regular traders would sell from temporary market stall, which cost between four pence and six pence a day, the more expensive ones having a cover over them.
Comber is the Planter's spelling of the Irish Commar, meaning a confluence of rivers, in this case the Enler and Glens rivers which join to form the Comber. The name is first noted in 890, the river flows into Strangford Lough.
The song over-glamorises the often desperate plight of the Spáilpín or seasonally hired labourer, which was the back bone of Irish rural economy for centuries. In the song I Once was a Days Man, Eddie Butcher tells of a youth who having had enough of his mother's scolding and the poor quality food at home, he goes off to hire, with a fiver in his pocket he's saved up and hidden in the cow byre. The classics Spáilpín Fánach and Darby O'Leary tell of the harsh treatment served out on the hirelings.
He worked me by day and he worked me by night While he held an old candle to give me some light I wished his potatoes would die of the blight Or himself would go off with the fairies 'Twas on this old miser I looked with a frown When the straw was brought in for to make me shake down And I wished that I'd never seen him nor his town Nor the sky over Darby O'Leary
When I Once was a Days Man was printed in the Northern Constitution in the 1920's, the paper received a number of letters complaining of the hiring arrangements, citing wages as low as £6 for a six month contract. Hiring fairs in Comber were held in October.
The Maid Going to Comber was recorded by John McCormack in 1920, he had collected it with Herbert Hughes in 1905. Seán Corcoran has re-worked the old traditional song of dalliance and straying which was collected and then printed by the Belfast composer Herbert Hughes. CRAN's album title Dally and Stray is a quote from this song. Some versions have the phrase as tarry and stray, implying idleness, dally on the other hand puts an entirely different complexion on the sojourn.
First published @ Irish Music Magazine #231, August 2014 (www.irishmusicmagazine.com).
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Cran (unknown/website).