Red-Haired Man's Wife, The
DESCRIPTION: The singer asks his sweetheart, by letter and in person, to leave her husband. She had sworn fidelity but married the red-haired man instead. She will not "break the command" He offers a way out: "For the Patriarch David had a number of wives"
EARLIEST DATE: before 1845 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 11(2188))
KEYWORDS: courting rejection wife husband marriage hair Bible
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (5 citations):
OLochlainn 97, "The Red-Haired Man's Wife" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Bell/O Conchubhair, Traditional Songs of the North of Ireland, pp. 60-62, "Bean an Fhir Rua" ("The Red-Haired Man's Wife") [Gaelic and English] (1 text, 1 tune)
Kathleen Hoagland, editor, One Thousand Years of Irish Poetry (New York, 1947), pp. 232-233, "The Red Man's Wife" (1 text, translated by Douglas Hyde)
Donagh MacDonagh and Lennox Robinson, _The Oxford Book of Irish Verse_ (Oxford, 1958, 1979), pp. 128-129, "The Red Man's Wife" (1 text, translated by Douglas Hyde)
Bodleian, Harding B 11(2188), "The Red Haired Man's Wife," J. Pitts (London), 1819-1844; also Firth b.25(347), Harding B 26(564), Firth c.18(83), "The Red Haired Man's Wife"; 2806 c.16(206), 2806 b.9(113), Harding B 25(1603)[some words illegible], "The Red Hair'd Man's Wife"
NOTES: According to Milner and Kaplan, A Bonny Bunch of Roses, this is based on a Gaelic song, Bean An Fhir Ruaidh.
The argument that the Patriarch David was repeatedly married has its problems. There is the nitpicky one that, based on the standard definition, he was not a Patriarch; they preceded the Judges, and David was after.
More to the point, while David had many wives, and they produced many sons, the sons fought over the inheritance; eventually the oldest three died at the hands of their relatives. Solomon, the survivor, also took many wives, but they "turned away his heart after other gods" (2 Kings 11:3). Indeed, when David died, one of the wives (Bathsheeba) manipulated David to put her son Solomon on the throne (1 Kings 1:11-40), even though he was to prove unfit for the job. So multiple wives seem to have been rather bad news.
Various others in the Bible had multiple wives, but the only significant patriarch to have multiple wives *simultaneously* was Jacob, who had two wives (Rachel and Leah) and two concubines, who collectively gave birth to the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
I know of no instance whatsoever of a wife in the Bible with multiple husbands. Unless you count the Woman of Samaria, anyway (John 4:16-19); Jesus said that she had had five husbands and was apparently cohabiting with a sixth man. But this was presumably sequential marriage -- and Jesus pretty clearly disapproved.
There is one interesting sidelight: Recent research seems to indicate that women are most likely to have affairs when they are at the most fertile time of their monthly cycle. The rest of the time, they aren't interested. This is unconscious; the women themselves are not aware of when they are fertile. It just seems to be the urge (found in many apparently monogamous creatures) for the female to get the best male genes. Maybe the singer showed up at the wrong time. Or maybe he was as genetically hopeless as the song makes him sound. - RBW
The song translated from Gaelic in Bell/O Conchubhair is quite different from the "Englished" version. Further, there is a story to be told that sets the stage: "Our song is no simple tale of lust. Fair lad and red-head were apprentices to the rich tailor. His only daughter and the fair lad were in love, betrothed to be married.... The foxy boy stole some silver knives of the tailor's and hid them in his rival's baggage [cf. Genesis 44]. Discovered. Three years in gaol. Came out to find his love married to the rogue." Now the song starts in either version; in the Gaelic he has no answer from her but the outcome is likely the same.
Hoagland's version follows the story told in Bell/O Conchubhair commentary. - BS
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