Down in the Willow Garden – History & Variations

Down in the Willow Garden is an old traditional Appalachian “Killin’ song”. Many folks know it as, Rose Connelly.

Down in the Willow Garden tells the story of a man who gave his lover wine that was drugged. Once she lost her senses to the drug he stabbed her then tossed the body and the blade into the river. His father knew about the plan and promised that he would save him with money. However, instead of saving his son the man had to watch him be hanged.

The song is believed to have come from Ireland and is likely to be more than 200 years old. The first professional recording was made by Charlie Monroe in 1927. I have seen Charlie Monroe cited as the author of this song on some websites but the song is much older than Charlie.

Down in the willow garden
Where me and my true love did meet
It was there we went a courting
My love fell off to sleep
I had a bottle of burgundy wine
My true love she did not know
It was there I poisoned that dear little girl
Down on the banks below

I drew my saber through her
It was a bloody knife
I threw her into the river
It was an awful sight
My father often told me
That money would set me free
If I’d but murder that dear little girl
Who’s name was Rose Connely

Now he stands at his cabin door
Wiping his tear dimmed eye
Gazing on his own dear son
Upon the scaffold high
My race is run beneath the sun
The devil is waiting for me
For I did murder that dear little girl
Who’s name was Rose Connely

“…The lyrics are sung in the first person by the murderer. His motivations might have been to avoid marriage, gain money, or feeling compelled into the crime by his father, but now that he is facing the scaffold he is overcome by the realization that he has killed the girl and caused pain to his family.  Murder ballads often feature a stabbing or beating followed by burying the body or disposing of it in a river; this song is unusual in featuring both poisoning and stabbing the victim before she is thrown into the river…” ~ Wikipedia

Technically the girl was not poisoned. She was drugged so that she would be easier to stab and kill. A lot of folks will say the song is unusual in that it is the only one where the girl is both poisoned and stabbed. A double killing. This idea comes from the misunderstanding involving the wine.

When Charlie Monroe learned this song he used “Burgundy Wine” instead of “Burglars Wine”. Perhaps he misunderstood the words when he heard someone else singing it. Perhaps the word was changed before Charlie learned his version. Either way his version was one of the first to be recorded and was probably the one that most people learned from.

Rafe Stefanini has informed me that, “Charlie Monroe did record “Willow Garden” but in 1947, 20 years after G B Grayson recorded it under the name “Rose Conley.” Thanks, Rafe!

“As for the term “burglars wine”; she told me that in the olden days, travelers would stay at roadside inns at night. Crooked inn keepers would dope wine to give to them so that when they went to sleep it would be easy to steal their valuables…” Bob Moore http://www.lizlyle.lofgrens.org/RmOlSngs/RTOS-RoseConn.html

The key and even the actual lyrics you hear folks use with Down In The Willow Garden, as many other old traditional tunes, can vary. Here is a video to show you how this beautiful song should sound:

Dave Evans with Down In The Willow Garden at the Kentucky Ridge Runner Bluegrass Festival & Clarence Kelly Homecoming.

Here is another version of the lyrics:

Down in the willow garden, where me and my love did meet,
Oh, there we sit a-courting, my love dropped off to sleep.
I had a bottle of the burg(a)lar’s wine, which my true love did not know,
And there I poisoned my own true love down under the banks below.

I drew my sabre through her, which was a bloody knife,
I threw her in the river, which was a dreadful sight.
My father always told me that money would set me free
If I’d murder that pretty little miss whose name is Rose Connoley.

He’s sitting now in his own cottage door, a-wiping his weeping eyes,
A-looking at his own dear son upon the scaffold high.
My race is run beneath the sun, low hell is now waiting for me,
I did murder that pretty little miss whose name is Rose Connoley.

Now, listen to Charlie Monroe:

Another Version Of Down In The Willow Garden

Down in the willow garden, where me and my true love did meet
There we went a courtin’, my love fell off to sleep
I had a bottle of burgundy wine, my love she did not know

It was there I poisoned that dear little girl, down on the banks below
I drew a saber through her, it was a bloody knife
I threw her into the river, which was a dreadful sight

My father oft had told me, that money would set me free
If I would murder that dear little girl, whose name was Rose Connelly
My father sits at his cabin door, wiping his tear dimmed eyes

For his only son soon shall walk, to yonder scaffold high
My race is run beneath the sun, the scaffold now waits for me
For I did murder that dear little girl, whose name was Rose Connelly

No more, we’ll sit in the garden, no more will lie beneath the stay
A dreamin’ on a future which never will be ours
I loved that girl with all my heart, I loved her as my life

Whatever was I thinking, when I layed her down to die

Frank Proffitt version of the old ballad in 1961

The Lyrics Frank Used:

Down in the willow garden,
where me and my love did meet;
O there we sit a courting,
my love dropped off to sleep.

I had a bottle of burgundy wine
(my true love did not know)
And there I poisoned my own true love
Down under the banks below.

I drew my sabre through her
It was a bloody knife –
I threw her in the river,
Which was a dreadful sight.

My father always told me
“Money will set you free –
If you will murder that pretty little miss
whose name is Rose Connolly.”

He’s sitting now at his own cottage door,
A’ wiping his weeping eyes.
He’s looking at his own dear son
Upon the scaffold high.

My race is run beneath the sun,
Though hell is waiting for me.
For I did murder that pretty little miss
whose name was Rose Connolly.

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2 Comments

  • Rafe Stefanini 1 year ago

    There is a mistake in this article. Charlie Monroe did record “Willow Garden” but in 1947, 20 years after G B Grayson recorded it under the name ” Rose Conley”

  • Kentucky Old Time 1 year ago

    Thank you Rafe Stefanini, I will add that information to this page.