Step It Out Mary

words and tune by Sean McCarthy (1923-1990) c. 1955


This example of "Step It Out Mary" is sung by Tullamore on their CD Timber & Stream.
Please refer to Cantaria's Copyright information

Background notes

Sean McCarthy, born in Listowel, Co Kerry, was a prolific songwriter, singer and colorful character who for his many years hosted programs on RTE Radio 1.  His more well-known songs include Shanagolden, Red Haired Mary, Highland Paddy, Murphy's Volunteers, Step it out Mary, Mountain Tae (The Hills of Connemara) and In Shame Love, In Shame. He also wrote several volumes of poetry.  The Sean McCarthy Weekend festival, held at the beginning of August in Linuge, Co. Kerry celebrates his life and songs and includes concert, ceili and ballad competition.

In  the songbook titled: The Road to Song: Sean McCarthy, His Songs, Their Music and Story, (pub Clo Duanaire, Cork Ireland, 1983) Sean wrote the following notes:

Step It Out Mary is based on a children's skipping-song:/font>

Step it out Mary, my fine daughter / Step it out Mary, if you can / Step it out Mary, my fine daughter / Cock your legs for the country man.

The children in the swaying circle took their game very seriously. All along the Kanturk streets, farmers and shopkeepers traded and argued, but the children paid no heed to them, they were too intent in their skipping game. The rules of the skipping game were fairly simple. Each skipper took it in turn to use the skipping rope, while the others changed the above ditty. When it came to the last line, the skipper stopped with the left leg cocked as high as he or she could manage and stayed still until the next skipper took his or her place. If the skipper failed to keep their left leg cocked or it if touched the ground, then with many jeers and catcalls they were banished from the game. It is only a slightly mad, or a childish Kerryman who would have watched the children atall. I watched them for a whole hour.

Kanturk in the County of Cork is a town of numerous pubs, friendly people and plenty of craic. I started my search that night, but could find no man or woman who had ever heard extra verses to the childrens' skipping song. Indeed my own Kerry, home of strange songs and poems, failed to supply any more than the four lines. In desperation then, in a London building site, when again times were hard on folksingers, I composed the story of the soldier and Mary, and added it to the Kanturk childrens' skipping ditty.

I did it while I was hiding from the foreman under a concrete stairway, and I used the inside of a cement bag for note paper. I took it home to my modest flat, stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it. Eighteen months later, when fortune was again smiling in my direction, I found myself, along with two others, running a folk singing club in the Clapham area of London.

The folk club was called "The Crubeen" and I suppose if you are a folk buff, you will remember that it started a lot of the present day trend. If you were a folk singer, then the Crubeen was the place to sing. Most of your present day singers, Irish, English and American, dropped in there to try out their material. A young Dublin ex-army rifleman named Danny Doyle wandered in there one night, I sung Step It Out Mary and later gave him the words, no longer written on the cement bag, but neatly typed on shop paper.

The rest is folk History.

In the village of Kilgory, there's a maiden young and fair
Her eyes they shine like diamonds, she has long and golden hair
But the countryman comes riding, rides up to her father's gates
Riding on a milk-white stallion, he comes at the strike of eight.

Step it out, Mary, my fine daughter
Step it out, mary, if you can
Step it out, Mary, my fine daughter
Show your legs to the countryman

I have come to court your daughter, Mary of the golden hair
I have gold and I have silver, I have goods beyond compare
I will buy her silks and satin and a gold ring for her hand
I will buy for her a mansion, she'll have servants to command

I don't want your gold and silver, I don't want your house and land
I am going with a soldier, I have promised him my hand
But the father spoke up sharply: You will do as you are told,
You'll get married on the Sunday and you'll wear that ring of gold

In the village of Kilgory there's a deep stream flowing by
On her marriage day at midnight she drowned with her soldier boy
In the cottage there is music, you can hear her father say:
Step it out, Mary, my fine daughter, Sunday is your wedding day.