Ann Heymann was probably the first person to spot the lyrics “Here lies Lappin” associated with Burns’s March, including them in her book Secrets of the Gaelic Harp (1988).
Alasdair Codona took the idea further in his online articles Gaelic Harmony (c.2006), giving the lyrics “with emendations which would make it fit the general metrical structure of Hampsey’s harp setting”, and he also notes that the metre of the lyric suits the fiddle versions of the tune preserved in Scottish books.
I followed Alasdair in my book Progressive Lessons,(1st ed 2009, 2nd ed 2014), singing the song on the accompanying CD to the tune in Patrick MacDonald’s collection of Highland vocal airs (1784), no.141. For the 3rd edition (2017), I re-recorded the song in a different key, but kept Alasdair’s version of the text, and the Patrick MacDonald tune.
A recent discussion with Pádraigín Ní Úallacháin reminded me of some half-formed thoughts I had had, as part of the work of revising the book for the 3rd edition. I had been paying closer attention to the manuscript sources for the three beginners’ tunes, but I had concentrated on the music rather than these words.
There are two primary sources for the lyrics that are associated with Burns’s March. Edward Bunting’s unpublished piano book of 1798, Ancient & Modern Irish Music, (Bunting ms33(3)&(2)) gives us a piano arrangement of four variations and also the text of lyrics, both collected from Denis O’Hampsey. Here are the words from this manuscript:
Here lies Lappin harpers King
Who’s fingers deserve a Golden string
This body lies here his soul flies high
serenading David in the sky
Siombo agus uambo
here we spend our days
giveing Kate & Lappin praise
Now we quit and bid adieu
To Royal Kate and Lappin too
A facsimile of this page is published in my book Progressive Lessons (2017), p.27, and I transcribed the words from this manuscript on p.23 of my book. Here, I’ll sing this text to Patrick MacDonald’s tune:
You’ll notice at once that there is only one line in the refrain, instead of the two that Alasdair gives, and you’ll also notice that there is no refrain at the beginning, only at the end of each verse. After I had published the book earlier this year, started to wonder if I should sing it this way instead.
There is, however, a second and earlier source for the lyrics, in Bunting’s first field notebook, ms29, p.51 (f24r). This is on the same page as a tune, Cad é sin don té sin nach mbaineann sin dó (What is that to them that has nothing to say to it), which is later said to have been collected from O’Hampsey. Tunes on the pages immediately before and after are also O’Hampsey’s versions of tunes, though this text is written 20 pages later than O’Hampsey’s harp set of Burns’s March. The text is presented as follows:
AB (title & notation of tune, Cad é sin don té sin…)
Aim bagus umbo
A:B: here lies Lappin harper’s king
his finger Deserves a Golden string A:B
his Body lies here his soul flies high
Serenading David in the sky A B
here we spend our Days
Giveing Kate and Lappin a Praise AB
now we quit and bid a Dieu
to royal Kate and Lappin too A:B:
I had always assumed that the A.B. signs were just doodles, since one is at the head of the page apparently unconnected to the lyrics, and Bunting did often doodle initials or names in his notebook – his brother was Anthony Bunting.
But is the A.B. the sign to repeat the refrain after every two lines? I’ll sing this text to the same melody, from Patrick McDonald’s book. It needs chopped around to fit the more compressed structure:
Pádraigín’s suggestion was that the Imbo & umbo vocables would be most likely to appear at the end of every two lines, and that they might well fit better the other way round, i.e. that the “ground” of the harp instrumental set might fit the verses of the song, and the “variations” of the harp set might fit the vocables chorus. So here’s me trying to sing the ms29 text, to the melody of the harp version. Again I have compressed the tune a bit to fit the lyrics:
Edward Bunting does tell us in Ancient and Modern that the verse “was translated by” O’Hampsey; i.e. that the lyrics are actually in Irish, but that this metrical translation was done by O’Hampsey. Was the translation done extempore, to give the Anglophone Bunting something he could write down? Or was this translation something that O’Hampsey had worked on at an earlier stage in his life? Should we imagine O’Hampsey seriously singing it like this as a tradition-bearer, or is it a bit of “tourist kitsch” produced for the colonial collector?
Am I reading ms29 correctly? Has Bunting regularised and tidied up the lyric to match the meter and structure of the harp version, in his Ancient and Modern version?
Despite the apparent loss of the Irish lyrics, I am interested in this song because of its role in the didactic process of learning the early Irish harp traditions, and also because of the nature of Burns’s March as a possible example of harp ceòl mór, and the lyric as an Irish harper’s “pibroch song”. I make no claims for the artistic quality of this lyric, or of my singing of it.