Fair Helen of Kirkconnel
Date January 1952
Track ID 17782
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The singer mourns for his Helen, who was shot, and died in his arms on Kirkconnel Lea. He finds the killer and hacks him to pieces. He promises to make a garland of her hair to wrap round himself until his death and wishes for his own death so that he can lie with her in the grave.

Willie Mathieson heard the song from James Jaffray.

Item Notes

Text and music transcribed in School of Scottish Studies. 10 verses. Text is close to that in 'Legendary Ballads' (J. S. Roberts, Chandos Press). Jimmy Jaffray was third horseman at Drakemyre when Willie Mathieson was in his teens.

This old ballad tells the story of Helen Irvine of Kirkconnel. Kirkconnel Lee was a small hamlet close to the village of Eaglesfield in Dumfriesshire. The bower in which Helen lived was within the grounds of Springkell Estate. She had two suitors, one of whom shot at his rival, but Helen, thrusting herself in front of her lover, Adam Fleming, received the fatal wound instead. Fleming killed the assailant on the spot, but fled the country to avoid the legal process, and enlisted in the Spanish Army. Years later, he returned to Kirkconnel and died by Helen's grave. He was interred alongside her. This tragic event took place in the 16th century. Burns extensively reworked the ballad for both Johnson and Thomson, writing to the latter in 1798 that the original is "silly, to contemptibility".

Also known as 'Fair Helen', 'Helen of Kirkconnel' and '(I Wish I were) where Helen Lies'.

Willie Mathieson's MSS II:163

Item Subject/Person

Irvine, Helen

Recording Location

County - Aberdeenshire

Parish - Ellon

Village - Ellon

Item Location

County - Dumfriesshire

Parish - Kirkconnell

Village - Kirkconnel Lee