Three Bonny Ships

This is our translation of the wonderful Breton sea shanty ‘A Bordeaux il Víent d’Arriver’. There are many variants of this song, each naming different ports. This particular version is taken from that recorded by Michèle Bernard, Yannick Guilloux and Gabriel Yacoub in the ‘Anthologie de la Chanson Française’. It tells of the shocking kidnap of young women – thought by some to have been the lowly sailor’s only realistic route to marriage.

Three Bonny Ships (A Bordeaux Il Vient d’Arriver)
Trad. Breton, Arr. na-mara, Translation: P McNamara

Three bonny ships to Bordeaux did come
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
Three bonny ships to Bordeaux did come
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
Three bonny ships, Lan Lire Larila
Three bonny ships all full of corn
Three bonny ships, Lan Lire Larila
Three bonny ships all full of corn

Three young girls saw the ships come in
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
Three young girls saw the ships come in
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
Sailor Boys! Lan Lire Larila
Sailors Boys! What price your corn?
Sailor Boys! Lan Lire Larila
Sailors Boys! What price your corn?

Step on board and the price we’ll tell
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
Step on board and the price we’ll tell
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
Please be sure! Lan Lire Larila
Please be sure our grain is cheap.
Please be sure! Lan Lire Larila
Please be sure our grain is cheap.

Well, the youngest girl with the lightest step,
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
Well, the youngest girl with the lightest step,
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
Onto the deck! Lan Lire Larila
Onto the deck she’s boldly gone.
Onto the deck! Lan Lire Larila
Onto the deck she’s boldly gone.

And as she did that boat set sail!
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
And as she did that boat set sail!
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
Sailor boys! Lan Lire Larila
I pray you cease, bold matelots.
Sailor boys! Lan Lire Larila
I pray you cease, bold matelots.

For I can hear my mother call,
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
For I can hear my mother call,
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
And I hear, Lan Lire Larila
And I hear my children cry.
And I hear, Lan Lire Larila
And I hear my children cry.

Lady, lady, tell no lies
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
Lady, lady, tell no lies
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
You have never, ever, ever
A mother you have never been.
You have never, ever, ever
A mother you have never been.

But, if God wills that it should be so,
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
But, if God wills that it should be so,
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
Pray let him be, Lan Lire Larila
Pray let him be a matelot!
Pray let him be, Lan Lire Larila
Pray let him be a matelot!

A-wearing a bonnet that is neatly waxed
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
A-wearing a bonnet that is neatly waxed
Ribbons all a-dancing in the autumn breeze
And a jacket, Lan Lire Larila
And a jacket smeared with tar
And a jacket, Lan Lire Larila
And a jacket smeared with tar

A Bordeaux il vient d’arriver,
Vivent les rubans qui volent au vent
A Bordeaux il vient d’arriver,
Vivent les rubans qui volent au vent
Trois beaux navires, Lan Lire Larila!
Trois beaux navives chargés de blé
Trois beaux navires, Lan Lire Larila!
Trois beaux navirves chargés de blé

Trad. Breton, Arr. na-mara
track number: 
12