The Black Shawl

The Black Shawl also know as Do You Love An Apple, is a traditional song that was found and recorded all over the British Isles and Ireland by the early victorian collectors, with many variations.

I don’t sing many love songs, usually preferring those about the darker side of life, and The Black Shawl is not the usual declaration of love found in traditional folk songs; it describes a young woman devotion to her man despite his rather obnoxious and unpleasant flaws. I first heard this song on a cassette at eighteen (back in the day!) by the Bothy band, when I lived in Galway, and a few months later it was suggested to me that I learnt to sing it at the Irish Music course I was attending in County Donegal.

I loved the sweet melody but at the time felt that the song itself was about a disempowered girl who stuck with her man perhaps because she didn’t have a choice or because she was a bit wet! I have always enjoyed a bit of humour in music and I particularly liked the lines:

 

“Before I got married I wore a black shawl

And now that I’m married I wear bugger all”

 

mostly for the guffaw that it usually inspires,  but in general I didn’t think it was a song that I would sing very often.

How wrong I was! At the music course there was an evening about once a week when the whole small town of Ballybofey, or so it seemed, would come up to the hostel, and cram into the room where the course was held, and listen to a great big session and performance, all compered by the man who ran the course.

This gentleman had a hankering, or perhaps an obsession with making me sing the Black Shawl. Much to my annoyance and oblivious to my protests he would announce me to sing it at some point in the evening every week, and then he would stand as if in some dream, misty eyed watching me while I rather furiously sang it feeling cornered and embarrassed! Despite my unhappiness the song always went down well with the audience, whose amusement was probably on many levels.

Needless to say I didn’t sing that song again for twenty-five years! I returned to Ireland and visited a couple who had been on the course with me, they said I had to sing it for old times sake, and so I did, somehow it felt different without the duress of a misty eyed Irishman, and I loved it, and I have sung it quite often ever since.

To me now the meaning of the song is quite different, I think the girl loves her man regardless of his flaws, perhaps she accepts that nobody is perfect…..

 

Do you love an apple? Do you love a pear?
Do you love a laddie with curly brown hair?
And still I love him, I can’t deny him.
I will be with him wherever he goes.
 
He stands at the corner, a fag in his mouth.
Two hands in his pockets, his shirts hanging out.
And still I love him, I can’t deny him.
I will be with him wherever he goes.
 
Brought me to an alehouse, and ordered some stout,
Before I could drink it he ordered me out.
And still I love him, I can’t deny him.
I will be with him wherever he goes.
 
Before I got married I’d sport and I’d play
But now that there cradle it gets in my way
And still I love him, I can’t deny him.
I will be with him wherever he goes.
 
He borrowed some money, to buy me a ring,
Then he and the jeweler went off on a fling
And still I love him, I can’t deny him.
I will be with him wherever he goes.
 
Before I got married I wore a black shawl,
And now that I’m married I wear bugger all
And still I love him, I can’t deny him.
I will be with him wherever he goes.
 
Do you love an apple? Do you love a pear?
Do you love a laddie with curly brown hair?
And still I love him, I can’t deny him.
I will be with him wherever he goes.

 

 

 

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