Harman Patil

The Maid and the Palmer

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"The Maid and the Palmer" or "The Well Below The Valley" is a murder ballad Roud 2335, Child ballad 21. Because of its dark and sinister lyrics (implying murder and, in some versions, incest), the song was often avoided by folk singers.



A palmer (pilgrim) begs a cup from a maid who is washing at the well, so that he could drink from. She says she has none. He says that she would have, if her lover came. She swore she had never had a lover. He says that she has borne six babies and tells her where she buried the bodies. She begs some penance from him. He tells her that she will be transformed into a stepping-stone for seven years, a bell-clapper for seven, and spends seven years in hell.

In some variants, the children were incestously conceived.


This ballad combines themes from the Biblical stories of the Samaritan woman at the well, and Mary Magdalene. In several foreign variants, the palmer is in fact Jesus.

The ballad The Cruel Mother, Child ballad 20, exists in a number of variants; one contains a number of verses that appear to stem from this one.


It is claimed that Tom Munnelly was largely responsible for popularising the song. Munnelly heard it sung by a member of the travelling community, John Reilly in County Roscommon in 1963.

  • The Irish folk band Planxty released a version on their album The Well Below the Valley (1973).
  • The Voice of the People Vol 3 (1988) includes a 1973 recording of The Clattering of the Clyde Waters sung by Stanley Robertson.
  • Steeleye Span recorded it on the album Live at Last (1978).
  • The folk-rock group Pyewackett played a version on their second album The Man in the Moon Drinks Claret (1982).
  • The folk band Brass Monkey recorded a version for their eponymous debut album (1983).
  • A version of Well Below The Valley can also be found on Christy Moore's live album At The Point Live (1994).
  • The wedding sequence that opens the film The Magdalene Sisters (2002) features a rendition of this song performed by Sean Mackin.
  • The paganfolk band Omnia released a version of the song called 'The Well', on their album PaganFolk (2006).
  • Stiff Little Fingers frontman Jake Burns recorded a version on his solo album Drinkin' Again (2006).
  • The Celtic fusion/Neofolk artist Sharon Knight recorded a version called 'Well Below the Valley' on her album Neofolk Romantique (2013).
  • References

    The Maid and the Palmer Wikipedia

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