Scarlet Ribbons

A friend gave us tickets to see Celtic Woman (link ) recently.

It was a very pleasant experience. Beautiful young women, clearly classically trained, sang a selection of traditional Irish and Scottish songs mixed with a few “modern classics”, which were not so much to our taste.  The voices, musicianship and dancing were all excellent.

My favourite song was a beautiful rendition of Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair) (link ) sung by the newest member of the group, Mairéad Carlin (link ).

The story the song tells is enchanting.  A mother hears her little girl make a request.

“I peeked in to say goodnight

And then I heard my child in prayer

Send for me some scarlet ribbons

Scarlet ribbons for my hair.”

The mother knows that, despite her best efforts, they cannot be obtained.

“All the stores were locked and shuttered

All the streets were dark and bare

In our town no scarlet ribbons

No scarlet ribbons for her hair.”

How times have changed.  In this modern world it might be an iPad Air, or an iTunes card.  But in that Irish village in the first part of the 20th century it was scarlet ribbons.

The mother, let’s call her Marie, was devastated that she could not grant this wish for her beautiful daughter.

“Through the night my heart was aching”.

And she shared her grief with her husband.

But, when she went to look in at the child early in the morning she could not believe her eyes.

“Just before the dawn was breaking

I peeked in and on her bed

In gay profusion laying there

Scarlet ribbons, scarlet ribbons

Pretty scarlet ribbons for her hair.”

As I listened to the beautifully sad lyrics, enunciated perfectly by the clear sweet voice of Mairéad, who learnt the song from her grandmother, my mind turned to the practicalities of how this magic was achieved.  A picture started forming in my mind.

Come back with me to an Irish country home before the 1940s.  Marie has cleared up after dinner, and put her daughter to bed.  Tom is resting in his dad’s old armchair by the fire, enjoying a quiet pipe after a long day hoeing in the new potato crop.  The sounds of his daughter’s prayers drift down to him from the room above.

A dim memory slowly forms in his mind, and he stands, knocking out his briar pipe on the hearth.

“I’m just going for another scuttle of coal to tide us through the night”, he calls up to Marie.  She has forgotten that he filled the scuttle before dinner, and does not question him.

Quickly putting on his coat, he hurries out to the byre in the yard.  He goes in quietly, not wanting to disturb the two old milking cows resting inside.  He climbs up to the loft, and starts poking through the boxes of odds and ends carried from his mother’s house when she passed away some years ago.  Towards the bottom of the pile he finds the old sewing chest he is looking for, opens it, and his memory springs into reality.

He hurries back to the house, knocking the snow from his boots at the back door.  And, after his wife has fallen into a fitful and disappointed sleep, he creeps into his daughter’s room and distributes his prize.

He doesn’t need to tell Marie – the joy on the faces of his wife and daughter the next morning are all the reward he needs.

“If I live to be a hundred

I will never know from where

Came those lovely scarlet ribbons

Scarlet ribbons for her hair…”

Graeme Innes is an advocate for social justice, and a dad who is often gratified by the pleasure he can bring to the women in his life.

You can follow him on Twitter at @Graemeinnes (link )

One thought on “Scarlet Ribbons

  1. G’day mate just read your entire blog. An enjoyable read so keep up the running commentaries. All the very best to you and the family. MJE

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