The Lakes of Pontchartrain is an Irish ballad about an unfortunate immigrant from Ireland who is given shelter by a beautiful Louisiana Creole woman. He falls in love with her and asks her to marry him, but she is already promised to a sailor and declines the offer.
The song is named for and set on the shores of Louisiana's "lakes" of Pontchartrain, which actually are only a single lake, Lake Pontchartrain. Pontchartrain does, however, connect to two other lakes, Lake Borgne to the east and Lake Maurepas to the west, which most likely explains the plural reference.
Among the best known versions of the song are those recorded by the Irish traditional musical group Planxty on Cold Blow and the Rainy Night in 1974 and by the Irish musician and songwriter Paul Brady on Welcome Here Kind Stranger in 1978. The 2002 release of a live recording of the songs from the aforementioned album, entitled The Missing Liberty Tapes, preserves a solo rendition of The Lakes of Pontchartrain from Paul's 1978 concert at Liberty Hall in Dublin. A new recording of The Lakes of Pontchartrain appears on his 1999 album Nobody Knows: The Best of Paul Brady. Other renditions include those by Peter Case, by the Be Good Tanyas, and by Mark Knopfler performing with the Chieftains. The band Tangerine Dream recorded a version of the song for their 2007 album Madcap's Flaming Duty. Shona Kipling & Damien O'Kane played it on their "Pure Chance" CD. Bob Dylan performed the song frequently in 1988-1989. Paul Brady has recorded an Irish-language version of the song, as "Bruach Loch Pontchartrain", which was translated by Francie Mooney.
The exact origin of the song is unknown, though it is commonly held to have originated in the southern United States in the 19th century. In the liner notes of Déanta's album Ready for the Storm, which includes the song, it is described as a "traditional Creole love song." The liner notes accompanying Planxty's version state that the tune was probably brought back by soldiers fighting for the British or French armies in Louisiana and Canada in the War of 1812.
An alternate verse can be found in the Digital Tradition Folk Song Search.
The song was included on Swedish rock artist/songwriter Svante Karlsson’s debut album "American songs" in 1999.
The tune, or a slight variation of it, is to be found in the Scots tradition accompanying the Border ballad "Jock O'Hazeldean".
Winston-Salem formed, Charleston-based band Jump, Little Children who is notorious for performing traditional Irish songs and folk-jams during their shows, performed a live version of the song at the Dock Street Theatre on Dec. 29th, 2002.