A well-known children's song, it was collected in various parts of England in the 19th century. In Ireland the chorus usually refers to Belfast city, and is known colloquilally as The Belle of Belfast City, although it is also adapted to other Irish cities, such as Dublin. English versions refer to the Golden City, or London City.
The song accompanies a children's game. A ring is formed by the children joining hands, one player standing in the centre. When asked, "Please tell me who they be," the girl in the middle gives the name or initials of a boy in the ring (or vice versa). The ring then sings the rest of the words, and the boy who was named goes into the centre.