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. Because of its dark and sinister lyrics (implying murder and, in some versions, incest), the song was often avoided by folk singers.
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 spend seven years in hell.
In some variants, the children were incestously conceived.
The ballad "The Cruel Mother", Child ballad 20, exists in a number of variants, in some of which there are verses where the dead children tell the mother she will suffer a number of penances each lasting seven years; those verses properly belong in "The Maid and the Palmer".:218
- The Irish folk band Planxty released a version on their album The Well Below the Valley (1973).
- The Voice of the People Vol 3 (1988) includes a 1973 recording of The Clattering of the Clyde Waters sung by Stanley Robertson.
- Steeleye Span recorded it on the album Live at Last (1978).
- The folk-rock group Pyewackett played a version on their second album The Man in the Moon Drinks Claret (1982).
- The folk band Brass Monkey recorded a version for their eponymous debut album (1983).
- A version of Well Below The Valley can also be found on Christy Moore's live album At The Point Live (1994).
- The wedding sequence that opens the film The Magdalene Sisters (2002) features a rendition of this song performed by Sean Mackin.
- The paganfolk band Omnia released a version of the song called 'The Well', on their album PaganFolk (2006).
- Stiff Little Fingers frontman Jake Burns recorded a version on his solo album Drinkin' Again (2006).
- The Celtic fusion/Neofolk artist Sharon Knight recorded a version called 'Well Below the Valley' on her album Neofolk Romantique (2013).