The Maid and the Palmer

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"The Maid and the Palmer" or "The Well Below The Valley" (Roud 2335, Child ballad 21) is a murder ballad.[1] Because of its dark and sinister lyrics (implying murder and, in some versions, incest), the song was often avoided by folk singers.[2]


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 swears she has 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.[3]:228 In several foreign variants, the palmer is in fact Jesus.[3]:259

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.[3]:218


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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Francis James Child, English and Scottish Popular Ballads "The Maid and the Palmer"
  2. ^ "The Well Below the Valley Review". allmusic. Retrieved July 7, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 228, Dover Publications, New York 1965

External links[edit]