Introduced by Joel Mabus

For the CDSS Song of the Month, I offer “The Bonny Bunch of Roses,” as performed on Irish television in 1965 by a young Colm Walsh of County Clare. Here is the video of his performance.

I have transcribed his melody and also the lyric he uses, which is not what is posted beneath the video. I have never heard this exact version anywhere else — there are many, many variants. The song is in the “Bonaparte Canon,” as it were. In this ballad, the young out-of-favor Napoleon II is speaking with his mother, Archduchess Marie Louise, after daddy is dead and buried at St. Helena. He tells he will do what his father failed to do — give her the “bonny bunch of roses” — being England, Ireland and Scotland. And she says, “Don’t try it, kid!”

A version of this tune is sometimes called “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (one of the several) and exists as an Appalachian fiddle & banjo tune called “The Bunch of Roses.”

The Bonny Bunch of Roses
Click here for a downloadable PDF


By the borders of the ocean,
One pleasant morning in the month of June,
To hear those warlike songsters
Their cheerful notes did sweetly tune,
I o’erheard a female talkin’
Who seemed to be in grief and woe,
Conversing with Napoleon
Concerning the bonny Bunch of Roses, O.

Up stepped brave young Bonaparte,
And took his mother by the hand,
Sayin’ “Mother dear have patience,
Until I am able to command;
When I’ll raise a mighty army,
And through tremendous dangers I will go,
And in spite of all the universe,
I’ll win for you the bonny Bunch of Roses, O.”

Oh, son, don’t speak so venturesome;
For England is the heart of oak;
And Ireland, England and Scotland, ,
Their unity was never broke.
O think upon thy father,
In the Isle Saint Helena his body lies low,
And you must follow after
So beware of the bonny Bunch of Roses, O.

He took three hundred thousand men
And kings likewise to bear his train;
He was so well provided for
That he could sweep this old world for gain.
Until he came to Moscow,
He was overpower’d by the sleet and the snow;
And Moscow being a-blazing
Twas there he lost the bonny Bunch of Roses, O.

Joel Mabus is a songwriter, folksinger, instrumentalist and music teacher living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. By genealogical records he is the scion of William Brewster of Scrooby, England & Plymouth, Massachusetts. He is also the scion of thousands of anonymous potato farmers and barrel makers from the Germanic lowlands. Joel has recorded 27 albums since 1978; his latest is titled Time & Truth.