The Lakes of Pontchartrain

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The Lakes of Pontchartrain is an American (US) ballad about a man who is given shelter by a beautiful Louisiana Creole woman. He falls in love with her and asks her to marry him, but she is already promised to a sailor and declines.


The song is named for and set on the shores of the major estuarine waterbodies of the Pontchartrain Basin, including Lakes Maurepas, Pontchartrain, and Borgne. Lake Pontchartrain forms the northern boundary of New Orleans, while Lake Maurepas is west of Lake Pontchartrain and connected to Lake Pontchartrain by Pass Manchac and North Pass. Lake Borgne is east of Lake Pontchartrain and connects to Lake Pontchartrain through the GIWW/IHNC, Pass Rigolets, and Chef Menteur Pass. Lake Borgne extends into Mississippi Sound and therefore is directly connected to the Gulf of Mexico.


The exact origin of the song is unknown, though it is commonly held to have originated in the southern United States in the 19th century. The liner notes accompanying Planxty's version state that the tune was probably brought back by soldiers fighting for the British or French armies in Louisiana and Canada in the War of 1812. Although the tune might date to that period, the popular lyrics undoubtedly came much later, since they tell of taking a railway train from New Orleans to Jackson Town. This was most likely to be the railway junction town of Jackson, Mississippi (named in honor of General Andrew Jackson), the capital of Mississippi. The line would have been the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railway—whose line, opened before the Civil War, included a pre-existing local line running north from downtown New Orleans along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. Most likely, the lyrics date to the Civil War, and the reference to "foreign money" being "no good" could refer to either U.S. or Confederate currency, depending upon who was in control of the area at the time. It should also be noted that thousands of banks, during the civil war, issued their own bank notes, which could be rejected in various towns, depending on how trusted were the issuing bank. Also, the Confederacy and Union issued their own bank notes—as did individual States—leading to a proliferation of currency (notes and coinage) that might not be acceptable in a particular region. The reference to alligators may be a mondegreen, in that alligators are not usually found in the woods but rather near or in water. The reference may be to the native Atakapa tribe who lived in southwestern Louisiana and were, probably incorrectly, said to be cannibals, hence the line in the song, "if it weren't for the alligators/Atakapans, I'd sleep out in the woods."

The traditional tune is a version of that also commonly used for the folk song Lily of the West.


Planxty and Paul Brady[edit]

Among the best-known versions of the song are those recorded by the Irish traditional musical group Planxty on Cold Blow and the Rainy Night in 1974 where they give Mike Waterson as their source, and by the Irish musician and songwriter (and sometime member of Planxty) Paul Brady on Welcome Here Kind Stranger in 1978. The 2002 release of a live recording of the songs from the aforementioned album, entitled The Missing Liberty Tapes, preserves a solo rendition of The Lakes of Pontchartrain from Paul's 1978 concert at Liberty Hall in Dublin. A new recording of The Lakes of Pontchartrain appears on his 1999 album Nobody Knows: The Best of Paul Brady. Brady has also recorded an Irish-language version of the song, as Bruach Loch Pontchartrain—translated by Francie Mooney.


  • The Hothouse Flowers in 1990, featured on the "Bringing it all Back Home" Irish/American Music compilation
  • Alun Rhys Jones recorded the song for his "Son No. 3" debut album in 2000
  • Hanz Araki recorded the song for his "Wind and Rain" release, 2010
  • Merrie Amsterberg recorded the song for her "Clementine and Other Stories" recording, Q-Division, 2006
  • Jonathan Day on his 2004 album A Sky Like Me
  • Peter Case
  • The Canadian all woman alt-country band, The Be Good Tanyas, recorded a popular and emphatic version on their debut album, Blue Horse.
  • Mark Knopfler performing with The Chieftains.
  • The song appears on the album Durty Wullie by the Celtic rock band Rathkeltair.
  • The band Tangerine Dream recorded a version of the song for their 2007 album Madcap's Flaming Duty.
  • Shona Kipling & Damien O'Kane played it on their Pure Chance album.
  • Bob Dylan performed the song frequently in 19881989.[1]
  • Andy M. Stewart, former lead singer for Silly Wizard covered this version on his 1994 album Man In The Moon.
  • The song was included on Swedish rock artist/songwriter Svante Karlsson’s debut album American songs in 1999.
  • The song has also been recorded in 2010 by Irish band The Coronas.
  • Trapezoid recorded a southern, jazz and Irish version on the 1980 release, Now and Then.
  • Film version by Ger Loughlin for the Irish feature film Where The Sea Used To Be.
  • Allan Ricketts performed his version of the song for the St. John's 'Take Away Show' blog [2]
  • Aoife O'Donovan performed a version for a live audience during the November 16, 2013, broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion from the Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas, Texas.
  • The song is included in the album Rich and Rare by Canadian artist Keri Lynn Zwicker.
  • Jane Siberry's 2000 album, Hush.

Oklahoma City duo "Miss Brown To You" (comprising Louise Goldberg and Mary Reynolds) recording this on their CD "Nightingale." (Lunacy Records). Christy Moore (Planxty) the album The Time Has Come Shilelagh Law- Renowned Irish Pub band from Yonkers/Bronx, NY featured on the album 1&9

  • New Orleans band The Balsa Wood Flyers recorded this song for their 2003 CD On the Back Porch - this version also appears in the Irish movie A Kiss for Jed (2011).

Alternative lyrics and tunes[edit]

An alternative verse can be found in the Digital Tradition Folk Song Search. The tune, or a slight variation of it, is to be found in the Scots tradition accompanying the Border ballad Jock O'Hazeldean.

When this song made its way west, cowboys changed the title to "On the Lake of the Poncho Plains." The Creole girl became a Cree Indian and the Pontchartrain was changed to the Poncho Plains. The cowboy version is recorded in Singing Cowboy; A Book of Western Songs collected and edited by Margaret Larkin, c1931.


External links[edit]