Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

Walter Jones ? Yellow Stockings 1713

There is a reference to Beggars Bush in a version of the popular melody “Yellow Stockings” printed in a dubious Irish anthology. It isn’t possible to be certain about the author of the verse, which is almost certainly a literary creation rather than a collected “folk song”, although one reviewer rather cruelly suggested it was “neither Irish nor literature”. All that can be said is that the author and printers assumed that readers would understand the phrase, which is consistent with the standard literary usage.

Meanwhile the harp conjoin’d with voice,
Throughout the house made charming noise,
Of such effect that it did make
Most of the guests their heels to shake;
Nay, trump itself, there seldom fails
To make old women bob their tails.
To dancing they are so inclin’d,
That even the very lame or blind,
If trump or bagpipe they do hear,
In dancing posture do appear.
As strange their steps, their shape, their mein,
As e’re in beggars bush was seen;
Baldoyle, or Yellow Stockings play’d,
Gives nimble feet to every maid
The longest dancer dances best.



It seems doubtful that this was a genuine “folk song”, and this is not the place to raise the question of what that means. It appears to be a pastoral song written to, but also referring to, an older tune called Yellow Stockings. It may not be intended to be taken seriously; the poems have been described as “virulent satires”.

The wearing of yellow stockings was a sign of loose morals in the early modern period, though that may not have been intended here.


Yellow Stockings belongs to a cycle of tunes found all over Ireland, England and Scotland from the seventeenth century onward, and the tune has left numerous descendants.

Sir John Hawkins mentioned the tune as tavern entertainment from his A General History of the Science and Practice of Music (1776):

“Fidlers and others, hired by the master of the house; such as in the night season were wont to parade the city and suburbs under the title of Waits…Half a dozen of fidlers would scrape “Sellenger’s Round”, or “John Come Kiss Me”, or “Old Simon the King” with divisions, till themselves and their audience were tired, after which as many players on the hautboy would in the most harsh and discordant tones grate forth “Greensleeves,” “Yellow Stockings,” “Gillean of Croydon,” or some such common dance tune, and the people thought it fine music.”

The tune dates from the 16th century and was first printed by Playford in his English Dancing Master (1698) under the title “Mad Moll”, and later in his 1703 edition under the title “Virgin Queen.” The title “Yellow Stockings” for the tune appear in Wright’s North Country Frisks (1713), Charles Coffee’s ballad opera Boarding School (1733), The Cobler of Preston (1732), and it was published in a folio of songs from Henry Brooke’s Jack the Gyantqueller (London, 1749). John and William Neal printed it in their Choice Collection of Country Dances (Dublin, 1726).


The printing history is complex. The text appears in Hesperi-neso-graphia, or A Description of the Western Isle (London, 1716), reprinted (Dublin, 1724, 1725), and again reprinted as The History of Ireland in Verse, or a description of the Western Isle by “J.K.” (Dublin, 1750). It then appeared as The Irish Hudibras (London, 1755; Dublin. 1791) and then reverted to Hesperi-Neso-Graphia by “W.M.” (1814). There were other editions, inc. one signed ‘J. Keenan’.

The author is often given as William Moffatt, a schoolmaster, based on the initials “W.M.”. However D. J. O’Donoghue, Poets of Ireland (Dublin, 1912) and others consider that the real author was Walter Jones, the son of an Irish landowner and MP, who graduated from Trinity College, Dublin in 1715.

On the quality and authenticity of the verse Russell Alspach, Irish Poetry from the Engish Invasion to 1789 (Pennsyvlania UP, 1959), cites the London printing of 1724, and remarks: ‘Why Sir Samuel Ferguson called Moffet’s poem Irish literature is hard to say: it is neither Irish nor literature. (referring to Ferguson, ‘Curiosities of Irish Literature: The Mere Irish’, Dublin Univ. Magazine, Vol. IX, 1837, 546-58).


Text from J.K., The history of Ireland in verse, or, a description of the Western Isle. Being the customs and manners of the ancient Irish. Dublin, c. 1750, in Irish Dance – Miscellaneous notes Compiled by Seán Donnelly

Giese, L., Malvolio’s Yellow Stockings: Coding Illicit Sexuality in Early Modern London, Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 19 (2006): 235-46.

Walter Jones

William Moffat

Posted: April 25th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

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