"I rode him in England, I rode him in Spain
I never did lose boys, I always did gain."
There is also another version which found its way into the American negro tradition and was widely sung in the southern work camps.
The next time I heard the song, it was sung to me by Bert Lloyd, who called the horse "Skewbald." In is version, Skewbald was owned by Arthur Marvel and ran against a grey mare called Miss Griselda. "on the Sporting plains of Kildare." In 1964 Eddie Butcher of Magilligan, Co. Derry sang for me another version of Stewball, who this time was challenged by "young Mrs. Gore" to run against Miss Griesel. I in turn passed the song on to Andy and the version which you hear now is the outcome.
The facts are that sometime around 1790 a race took place on the Curragh of Kildare between a skewbald horse owned by Sir Arthur Marvel and "Miss Portly," a grey mare owned by Sir Ralph Gore. The race seemed to take the balladmakers' fancy and must have been widely sung -- an early printed version appeared in an American song book dated 1829.
The song as sung here is a combination of Bert Lloyd's version and Eddie Butcher's version, but I think, for the future, it can only properly be called Andy Irvine's version"
- Frank Harte, 1975
Come all you bold sportsmen and listen to my story
It's about noble Stewball that gallant racing pony
Arthur Marble was the man that first brought Stewball here
For to run with Miss Griesel on the Plains of Kildare.
O the fame of his actions we've heard of before
But now he is challenged by young Mrs. Gore
For to run with Miss Griesel that handsome grey mare
For ten thousand gold guineas on the Plains of Kildare.
And the cattle they were brought out with saddle whip and bridle
And the gentlemen did shout at the sight of the gallant riders
And in viewing the cattle just as they came there
O they all laid their money on the Monaghan grey mare.
And the order it was given and away they did fly
Stewball like an arrow the grey mare passed by
And if you had've been there for to see them going round
You'd've thought to your heart their feet ne'er touched the ground.
And when at last they came to half way round the course
Stewball and his rider began to discourse
Says Stewball to the rider "Can you tell to me
How far is that grey mare this moment from me."
Says the rider to Stewball "You run in great style
You're ahead of the grey mare almost half a mile
And if you keep your running I vow and I swear
That you never will be beaten by the Monaghan grey mare."
The last winning post, Stewball passed it quite handy
Horse and rider both called for sherry wine and brandy
And they drank up a health to the noble grey mare
For she emptied their pockets on the Plains of Kildare.