Nancy FitzGerald

On Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 224, Edward Bunting has made what looks like a transcription of a tune, titled “Nancy na Gráve”.

Pages 224 and 225 make a double page opening with three tunes on. I am going to do a blog post about each tune in turn. We will start with Nancy na gCraobh which is the first two staves of page 224, on the left of the double page opening.

Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 pages 224 and 225

You can download my PDF typeset version which I used to generate this machine audio.

Nancy na gCraobh is notated in dots, which have been partially deleted and overwritten with note stems, beams and bars. The barring switches from 4 time in the first half to 2 time in the second, but it is pretty unproblematic. I am following the over-writing here, because I think the deleted dots look more like corrected transcription errors, rather than accurate but abandoned transcription notation.

There is no hint on this transcription notation as to where it may have been taken from. It is in C major, with no Fs, which means it would fit well on the harp; but it could equally have been transcribed from a singer or other traditional musician. We see from my tune list spreadsheet that adjacent pages contain transcriptions that could have been done from a harper, either Hugh Higgins or Arthur O’Neill. It is possible that one of them is also the source for these transcriptions on p.244-5. If I had to put money on it I would choose Higgins, but I don’t think there is a way to prove it either way. The adjacent pages all seem to be Summer 1792 transcriptions and so that is also a possible date for these pages. And the melody seems kind of harp-style to me.

Other versions of the tune

In 1802, Edward Bunting went out to Westport to meet up with the song collector Patrick Lynch. Bunting transcribed song tunes from traditional singers and pipers, and his notebook from that trip is now QUB SC MS4.33.1. There is a version of our tune in that notebook, with a slightly different title “Nancy jesh na gcuach” (Nancy dheas na gCuach):

Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.33.1 page 29

You can download my PDF typeset version which I used to generate this machine audio.

This tune is numbered 12; the initials “D.M.” stand for the key of D major, 2 sharps. Bunting has written a time signature of 2/4 but has barred the tune in 4/4. This seems a very clear transcription, I assume from a vocal performance by a singer. It is not clear to me why this one has a different title from the other, with “cuach” instead of “craobh”. Bunting also writes “set in red book”. He writes the same “red book” tag against another tune in this notebook (Ciste no stór) and I don’t know which piano manuscript he might have been referring to. He did publish a very classical piano arrangement in his 1809 book, p.45, titled “Anna na Geraoib / Anna na Geraoibh – Nancy of the branching tresses”. There is no attribution given in the annotated copy.

John Lynch took down words for the song of Nancy na gCraobh on the same trip in 1802. His neat copy of the words is in QUB SC MS4.7.019 and 020:

Nansi na ccraobh

Nansi na ccraobh nar faga me an saogul
go feice me sean sa tagh ort
gur milse liom do bheul no mil agus subh craobh
sno fion na greige gan amhras

baite liomsa fein a bheith ccomhradh leis a speir
an leabaidh agis i bheith lum nocht
no bean eile dhfaghail reidh fa na caraid sfa na sprei
sno a bfuil o locha rae go luimneach

Is guth bioma guth mna da gairm amsna hardaibh
edir a bheirth thall & a neirin
a corcaigh na cuan sa mbreatain a bfad uainn
sgur bi Nansaigh thug buaidh ar a mead sin

da bhfaghains mo mhian nachar bhaoibhin a saoghul
I & me fein bheith a neanacht
ar leabuidh ansa bhfuacht sine ga teannadh liom suas
go ccuirin mo chluain a cceill di

Is fada me a sa tírse dhiris air mo dhaoine
& do shamhail a mnaoi nir leir dhamh
do chum seang mín is do leaca mar an ael
sdo mhalaigh ta déanta da réir sin

Oineach agus feile a ccroidh glan a reightigh
si Nansaigh na bpearla bána
mac tiarna Bhin eadair ar iris fa cheille
a chonaire se radharc ar a staid mhnaoi

Airis don staidmhnaoi bfuilim faghail bhais
le hiomudaigh gradh air a béilin
airis di a rist nach ccollaim an oidhche
ach amaing gabhail frid mo thaoíbhse

airis da suil ghlas is airis da cul cas
& airis da gruaidhe mur na rosaigh caoruibh
airis da cionn sda beilin binn
gur ghiorraigh si go cinte an mo laethibh

Lynch also made an English translation for Edward Bunting, which you can see in QUB SC MS4.32.110:

nansi na ccraebh

Nancy of the flowing tresses may I not leave the world
Till I see you happy and prospering
your mouth is sweeter to me than honey and raspberries
and more delicious than the wines of Greece

I would rather by far be conversing with my fair
and take her to my bed without portion
than to get another spouse rich in friends and in cows
if she had all that is from Loughrea to Limerick

Manny females have been famed and proclaim’d by many voices
abroad and in different parts of Erin
in Cork and on the coasts and in Bittain far off
But Nancy bears the [sway] of them all

If I had my desire how happy would my life be
if she and I were together alone
having her in bed close press’d to my breast
Till I would let my disembling be known to her

I have been long in this country absent from my friends
and I never saw the match of this maid
her slender waist so neat and her cheeks white and red
and her eyebrows made in proportion

Noble and generous heart pure and bountiful
Nancy of the fair curled locks
Lord of Hoaths son is become bereft of reason
since he saw a sight of this fair maid

Tell this stately fair that I am going die
with too much love for her sweet delicate mouth
and tell her again that I can not sleep at night
with the pangs of love in my breast

Tell it to her bright eyes and tell it to her curled hair
and tell it to her cheeks red as berries
tell it to her fair head and tell it to her sweet lips
that she has certainly shortened my days

Lynch’s version of this song is very interesting. His translation is a bit quirky, but I think there is a lot of value in having the same person transcribing an oral performance of the song-poem, and also making a translation of it – it gives us an insight into his understanding of the lyrics.

I have not collated Lynch’s song collecting dates and items, but I note the overlap between the items in the index of MS4.7 and in the index in his Journal (ms4.24), where he indicates that Nancy na gCraob was collected from Mary Carney. The index implies that this could have been at Killarga, county Leitrim, maybe in May 1802. I don’t really understand this index yet. If it were done that early in the trip, then it is unlikely that Lynch’s text and Bunting’s MS4.33.1 tune transcription were taken from the same singer. Also, the titles being slightly different might point to them not deriving from the same source.

The piper James Cody wrote a more florid version of this tune into a tune book that he had compiled for Edward Bunting between 1805 and 1810. Cody’s title is “Nancy na ccraoibh”:

Queen’s University, Belfast, MS4.33.4 p.1

You can download my PDF typeset version which I used to generate this machine audio.

Cody also wrote a set of the words into his rough notebook which is now QUB SC MS4.6 page 95-6. I have only seen the p.96 and I will not transcribe it here for you – that will do for another day. Cody’s words are a variant of Lynch’s. Sometimes in MS4.6 Cody writes tune and words together, and sometimes he then copies the tune across into the neat tune book, like we see for Eleanor Plunkett. More research is needed on Cody’s working method as well. This could be a vocal set.

There is a third independent version of our song words, titled “Nancy Fitzgarreld” in RIA 23E21, “a paper manuscript, contains a considerable number of Carolan’s poems”, signed at the end by the scribe, “Michl. Killeen, Keadue”. Tomás Ó Máille includes an edited version of the text in his Amhráin Chearbhalláin, 1916, page 269270. Ó Máille includes this poem though he does not indicate that it is attributed to Carolan except from by inclusion in Killeen’s manuscript. There is no tune associated with this version.

We also have a printed version of the tune in Holden, A collection of favourite Irish airs arranged for the harp or piano forte, page 19. The date of this book is often given as 1810. Holden’s title is “Nancy of the pleasing Tresses”

Donal O’Sullivan prints the three different tunes that Bunting and Cody give us, and references Holden, and prints a kind of combined edited text with selections from Lynch and Cody, in his Bunting part V, 1936, p.82-6. I have relied on his work for a lot of this post.


I don’t really have any conclusion. I suppose this song and tune are not really connected to Carolan. It’s also worth pointing out that there is no direct connection between any of the variants of the words, and any of the variants of the tune – we are just assuming that there is some match between them because of the similar or identical title, and the metrical fit.

Is the “Nancy FitzGerald” title genuine, or could it be a scribal corruption of “na gCraobh”? Could we try to work out who the “son of Lord Howth” was who might have had a dalliance with Anna FitzGerald? Probably not.

Many thanks to Queen’s University Belfast Special Collections for the digitised pages from MS4 (the Bunting Collection), and for letting me use them here.

Some of the equipment used to create this blog post was funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

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