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Carrickfergus - is a Castle, a song, King Billy and some vintage postcards

Updated on March 27, 2011

Introduction - the Castle and King Billy

I wish I was in Carrickfergus
Only for nights in Ballygrand
I would swim over the deepest ocean
The deepest ocean for my love to find

The song “Carrickfergus” is popular the world over, made more so by the phenomenal success of versions by Celtic Woman and Charlotte Church.

Carrickfergus is an ancient city north-east of Belfast on Belfast Lough in the county of Antrim, with its “glens and the deep coastline looking out to Scotland” (from Ireland , by Frank Delaney) , and was the site of the landing of the Dutch-born King William III of England on 14 June 1690, on his way to take Dublin from the Catholics of King James II, who just happened to be both William's uncle and father-in-law.

In his exceptionally beautiful book simply called Ireland , Frank Delaney puts the story of the landing and the prelude to the Battle of the Boyne into the mouth of the Storyteller, the main protagonist of the novel: “the English Protestants were furious at James's conversion and they knew the Dutch had steadfast Protestant faith. So they invited William in, an invitation to which the same man responded with an alacrity that many Englishmen thought unseemly. James ran away to France, an old foe of England, where he hoped to gather an army.”

James raised an army and returned to Ireland in March 1689: “They sailed into Kinsale and all of Catholic Ireland thought James had come to liberate them. As did James.”

King Billy, as William III is often called, stayed around Belfast for some time concentrating his troops, only moving south to the River Boyne when he felt he had enough strength to take on the battle. The battle happened on 12 July 1690, with fatal results for the Jacobites, “and each year the Orangemen in the north of Ireland celebrate the Battle of the Boyne with triumphal marches in the month of July.”

But the sea is wide and I cannot swim over and neither have I wings to fly

The sea is not so wide, in modern perceptions, from England or Scotland to Carrickfergus. King Billy landed there in front of the ancient castle built by one John de Courcy, a Norman knight who arrived in Ireland in 1177, at the age of about 17, and soon set about subjugating the locals, starting in the east of Ulster, in Antrim and Donegal.

De Courcy was eventually imprisoned by King John, was freed when he agreed to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and died in 1219.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Castle and King Billy's landingThe Castle courtyardThe Chichester family vault in St Nicholas's ChurchThe North GateChichester leaving Carrickfergu
The Castle and King Billy's landing
The Castle and King Billy's landing
The Castle courtyard
The Castle courtyard
The Chichester family vault in St Nicholas's Church
The Chichester family vault in St Nicholas's Church
The North Gate
The North Gate
Chichester leaving Carrickfergu
Chichester leaving Carrickfergu

The Postcards

So the first postcard is of the castle and King Billy's landing place. The second is the courtyard of the castle.

The next postcard is labelled "Donegall Monument" but as far as I can find out in my research it is actually the Chichester family vault in St Nicholas Church, Carrickfergus. The most notable of the Chichester family was Sir Arthur, Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1605 to 1616. Sir Arthur was second of seven sons and had nine sisters, all children of Sir John, a landowner in Raleigh, England.

Sir Arthur's brother, also Sir John, like his father, was made Governor of Carrickfergus but was killed in a battle with the MacDonnells in the campaign against the earl of Tyrone in 1597. Indeed Sir Randall McDonnell said, on seeing Sir John's image on the family vault complete with his head: "how the de’il came he (Sir John) to get his heid again? – for I was sure I had once ta’en it frae him".

Sir Arthur earned a reputation as a rather bloodthirsty persecutor of Catholics, actually executing two prominent Cathoilic clergymen in February 1612: the bishop of Down and Connor, Cornelius O'Devany, who was in his eighties; and the chaplain to the Tyrones, Patrick O'Loughran.

Chichester was relieved of his post as Lord Deputy in 1616 and spent the next few years completing his mansion in Carrickfergus called Joymount, and tending his ailing wife, who died in 1620. In 1622 Chichester left Carrickfergus to undertake a diplomatic mission to the Habsburg empire, during which time he contracted what he called "my German sickness". He died in London in 1625, a very wealthy man.

A contemporary drawing shows Chichester leaving Carrickfergus through what I assume to be the "North Gate" of the fourth postcard.

The Song

In the early 60s while I was at university I was caught up in the so-called "folk revival" of the time, and was a devoted fan of Joan Baez, so much so that I bought, and still have, a copy of The Joan Baez Song Book. One of the songs that I sang from that book is called "The Water is Wide", which,according to the Song Book, was: "Originally part of a long Scottish ballad, "Lord Jamie Douglas," all that remains are these few verses which constitute the emotional core of that ballad. Most singers know it in another form as "Waly, Waly", by which title it was know as far back as the early 18th Century. It remains one of the most beautiful and evocative of all British lyric folksongs."

The melody of "The Water is Wide" and some of the words are clearly related to the song "Carrickfergus".

But the origins of the song are far more complicated than that, as I found as I began to research the song more deeply.

And maybe its not too important to go so deeply into that, but just to enjoy the beauty of the words (even if they are a bit obscure) and the melody.

The song has been recorded innumerable times by a wide variety of singers, Irish, British and US. The versions I have included here are some that appeal to me. I make no claims as to their authenticity.

In the clip by Joan Baez she claims to have learnt the song from Van Morrison's version, but she sang "The Water is Wide" many years before that.

What is interesting, and perhaps the subject of another article sometime, is the involvement of Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris and Dominic Behan in the more recent history of the song.

Just to complete the story, here are the words as sung by Orla Fallon of Celtic Woman. I'm not sure of the melding of a beautiful rendition like hers with the somewhat ambiguous words, but, hey, that's showbiz, folks!

The lyrics as sung by Orla Fallon


I wish I was in Carrickfergus
Only for nights in Ballygrand
I would swim over the deepest ocean
The deepest ocean for my love to find

But the sea is wide and I cannot swim over
Neither have I wings to fly
If I could find me a handsome boatsman
To ferry me over to my love and die

My childhood days bring back sad reflections
Of happy times spent so long ago
My childhood friends and my own relations
Have all passed on now like melting snow

But I'll spend my days in endless roaming
Soft is the grass, my bed is free
Ah, to be back now in Carrickfergus
On that long road down to the sea

I'll spend my days in endless roaming
Soft is the grass, my bed is free
But I am sick now, and my days are numbered
Come all you young men and lay me down

Copyright Notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2010


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    • mktgpostcard profile image


      9 years ago

      Nice tips, here is another one that I liked to share with Marketing with postcards - Printing Postcards that Get Noticed

    • Adrianna's Pages profile image

      Adrianna's Pages 

      9 years ago

      Tony...I'm listening to Carrickfergus while responding. How beautiful. I read Delaney's "Ireland" a couple of years ago when i startedto research my father's Lineage. I also focus on Ireland in my fiction writing. I try to build stories around factual historical eventsin history.

      Bravo! really enjoyed this hub.

      Take Care,


    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      I am humbled by all your comments - thank you so much. I love Ireland inspite of never having been there! Is that not a paradox? I guess its all the great writing and singing and music generally. I feel as though I know the place. And I have had many Irish friends in South Africa.

      Love and peace


    • Teresa McGurk profile image


      9 years ago from The Other Bangor

      I love Carrickfergus -- and the history -- and your fabulous postcards. Iwas told growing up that the song referred to another Carrick in the South, but now I see that this is wrong, and where the confusion came from. Thanks for clearing that up for me!

    • RKHenry profile image


      9 years ago from Neighborhood museum in Somewhere, USA

      I love all the history intertwined together. Great hub Tony!

    • franciaonline profile image


      9 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks for this Carrickfergus hub. I listened to all the videos here and got nostalgic over the thought of Ireland where I had the rare chance of taking a short course related to my community organizing work many years ago. The venue of our course was at County Meath. I have been to Belfast too and other places in Northern Ireland. There is no deeper enjoyment than listening to these videos here that are taking me to great heights of beauty and joy this very moment. Lovely postcards too!

      Thank you so much Tony for this hub! I'll be coming again and again to this hub to listen to Joan Baez whose songs have been one of my best sources of inspiration since the 80's until today.

      I don't know Van Morrison and Orla Fallon but now I know them because of your hub. I'm familiar with the Dubliners. What a music-treat this hub is!

    • Hawkesdream profile image


      9 years ago from Cornwall

      I wish I was in Carrickfergus, if I were, I wouldn't be here. Not so bad eh!


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