Friday, 21 February 2020

Dónal Óg

A song about an untrustworthy man called Donald (no, not that one).

If you are one of those people who says that the old songs are the best, well, this is almost certainly one of the oldest you're likely to hear, dating from the 8th century AD. The original was in Gaelic but there have been many translations into English including one by Lady Augusta Gregory. But this one  by Frank O'Connor is the one most often heard as a song today.

I've known the song for about forty years but it was this version by Cathy Jordan, with her band Dervish, that re-awakened my love of this old ballad when I attended one of their concerts a few months ago. It's a simple story of a young girl who is deserted by her lover, a story familiar enough in folk songs of these islands, though seldom told from the young woman's point of view and never so poetically and poignantly as here.

Dónal Óg

O Dónal Óg when you cross the ocean
Take me with you when you are going
At fair or market you'll be well looked after
And you shall sleep with the Greek king's daughter

My mother ordered me to shun you
Today tomorrow, and on Sunday
Too late, in vain o'er spilt milk grieving
Closing the door on a bygone thieving

If you come at all, come when stars are peeping
Rap on the door that makes no squeaking
My mother will ask you to name your people
And all I'll say t’was the night wind weeping

The first kiss came and from no craven
The second kiss came on top the stairway
The third kiss came as down you lay me
But for that one night, I’d be still a maiden

O Dónal Óg you’ll not find me lazy.
Not like some high-born expensive lady
I’ll do you’re milking, and I’ll nurse your baby
And if you're beset on I’ll defend you bravely

You said you’d meet me, but you were lying
Beside the sheep shed as the day was dying
I whistled and called you, twelve times repeating
But all I heard was the young lambs bleating

You took what's before me and what's behind me
Took east and west when you wouldn't mind me
Sun, moon and stars you have taken
And God Himself if I'm not mistaken.

If you're as in love with the song as I am you might like to hear a stripped back version by Cathy on her own

Take care.


  1. Truly beautiful.
    Thank you for expanding my world.

  2. That was lovely, it took me back to when we used to go to see 'The spinners' years ago.

  3. That is so beautiful. I've never heard it before, and I love it. I had no idea a song like this, these lyrics, this betrayal could be written and then sung for the past 13 centuries. Beauty knows no time. Thank you so much for this.

  4. I really enjoyed this song! Thank you!

  5. I love that it is so old...some stories never change, do they? It's beautiful, poetic, and lush. Thank you!

  6. I enjoyed both versions very much John.. she held her audience spellbound when she sang on her own though ✨

  7. I am sure that when people read Donald and untrustworthy in the same sentence they jumped to one conclusion!

  8. Oh, my! This is just beautiful. I cannot pick which version I like best.

  9. Thank you for sharing this ballad, and the wonderful singing.

  10. It’s truly amazing !!! I’ve never heard this before, I loved the lyrics. After hearing the video I went back and was able to recall it when I heard the same lyrics my grandma used to hear 😊. Such a lovely and peaceful voice. Thank you so much, John, for sharing such an amazing piece of music. Blessings !!!.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'll try to answer any questions via a comment or e-mail within the next day or two (no hard questions, please!).