Seabhac na hÉirne, or the Hawk of Ballyshannon

I was very pleased to discover what seems to be a traditional sung version of a Carolan song.

I first read about the singer Máire Ní Arbhasaigh (Mary Harvey or Harvessy) (1856–1947), from Clonalig, near Crossmaglen, County Armagh, in Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin’s book, A Hidden Ulster (2003), p.391-2. Pádraigín explains there how Mary had made audio recordings in 1931. I first heard one of the recordings on Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin’s web research article, Carolan in Oriel, where Pádraigín includes the audio of Mary speaking or reciting 10 lines of Carolan’s song-poem in praise of Caitríona ní Mhórdha (Catherine O’Moore). I subsequently followed Pádraigín’s references and found more information about the recording, and a number of slightly varying transcriptions of the song words, in Róise Ní Bhaoill, Ulster Gaelic voices: bailiúchán Doegen 1931 (Belfast, 2010), p.332-3, and on the Royal Irish Academy’s Doegen Records Web Project, and also on Ciarán Ó Duibhín’s web pages.

In September 1931, Karl Tempel was in Belfast making audio recordings of Irish-speakers. Tempel was working as an assistant for Dr Wilhelm Doegen (1877-1967), Director of the Lautabteilung, Preussische Staatsbibliothek (the Sound Department at the Prussian State Library), Berlin. The project was organised by the Irish state, to gather samples of spoken Irish from different regional dialects. The Belfast sessions brought speakers from counties Antrim, Derry, East Tyrone, Armagh, Cavan and Louth up to Queen’s University, where they spoke into recording machines. The wax originals were sent back to Berlin, where they were transferred on to shellac discs, which were lodged with different institutions in Ireland.

Máire Ní Arbhasaigh was the only person from County Armagh to go to Queen’s to be recorded. She made two single-sided records on 25th September 1931; each record was accompanied by a sheet of personal information. Record LA 1224 was made at 5:30pm, and record LA 1225 was made at 6pm. The indexes list the contents of each record by the first line of the poem or words spoken. It’s not clear to me how or why the tracks are separated on the discs. Were the three tracks made as a single take, and separated by Tempel? Were they separated in Berlin? Or were they done as three separate takes one after the other?

LA 1224 contains three tracks; the first two are two sung extracts from the famous song Úirchill an Chreagáin (part 2), and the third track is a spoken version of the words of another song, Aige bruach Dhún Réimhe. Both these songs were composed by Art Mac Cumhaigh (1738-1773), who Mary claimed to have been related to.

The second disk, LA 1225, contains four tracks. They are listed in the online archive as the sung version of an otherwise unknown song, Tá mé buartha, the spoken words of the Carolan song (Seabhac na hÉirne), Caitríona Ní Mhóra, an óigbhean mhaiseach, the spoken words of another song sometimes associated with Carolan, (Kitty Tyrrell) Sé mo léan go bhfacha mé (although she starts to sing this one, but switches to monotone speaking after the first line), and then the sequence of numbers from 1 to 20.

Pádraigín explains that Doegen and Tempel were “generally more interested in recording the spoken word, and did not usually encourage singers to sing, but rather to recite the song” (Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, Carolan in Oriel)

I was listening to the first track on LA 1225, the song “Tá mé buartha…” and I kept thinking I should recognise the tune. It took me a wee while to realise it is the tune of Seabhac na hÉirne, or the Hawk of Ballyshannon, Carolan’s praise song for Catherine O’Moore (DOSC 134).

The first and second track of LA 1225 are not independent song texts. They follow straight on from one another, and form a sung part and a spoken part of the same song. The original handwritten record sheets confirm this, listing disk LA 1225 as containing “(1) Tríona ní Mhórdha, an óigbhean mhaiseach; (2) Tríona ní Mhórdha (fortgesetzt); (3) ‘sé mo léan, etc.” (fortgesetzt means continued)


[sung]

  1. Tá mé buartha tréanlag claoite
    I am perturbed, thoroughly weak
  2. fá rún mo chléib, Is níl mo leigheas insa tír
    and subdued by my dearest love, And nothing in the land will cure me
  3. amar bhfaighidh mé do póg Rachaidh mé faoi fhód,
    if I don’t receive your kiss, I will go to the grave;
  4. chuala mé, a stór, gur chlaon tú,
    I heard, my dear, that you refused,
  5. A Dhia gan tú agam in mo líontaí,
    Oh God, without you in my clutches,
  6. is mé a fháil bás de do ghrá (…) (sínte),
    and I am dying of your love (…) lying down (?),
  7. Dar a labhraim le mo bhéal is tabhair leigheas ar mo chéill,
    By all I say, and cure me of my disease (?),
  8. Ó, is cha déanfainn do mhalairt achoíche.
    Oh, and I would never replace you.”

[spoken]

  1. Ó, a Chaitríona Ní Mhórdha an óigbhean maiseach
    Oh, Catherine O’Moore, the lovely young woman,
  2. a thug barr deise ar Venus
    who surpassed Venus in beauty,
  3. ‘s í seo an cúilfhionn mhúinte bhéasach,
    she is the fair one of good grace and deportment,
  4. a gile gan smúid a fuair clú ban Éireann,
    bright without stain, famed above women of Ireland
  5. an fhaoileann óg is milse póg.
    The fair maiden whose kisses are sweetest
  6. Is gur Caitríona Ní Mhórdha a tráchtfaí,
    It is to Catherine O’Moore they would refer
  7. in ainm na mbruigh-bhan láidir,
    in the name of the strong fairy-fort women
  8. is minic a thug cíos ins an áit seo;
    who have often paid their due in this place
  9. ó, an lon dubh an t-éan atá gnaíúil daite,
    Oh the blackbird is a pretty coloured bird
  10. is é siúd atá mé a ráitigh.
    It knows that it’s to her I’m referring

Image, audio, text and translation © 2009 Royal Irish Academy, used under Creative Commons BY-NC License.

Carolan’s song

Carolan composed his song-poem on the occasion of the wedding of Catherine O’Moore, to Charles O’Donnell. The poem names her, as O’Moore’s fair daughter, and names him as son of Manus, and Hawk of Erne and of Ballyshannon.

I have been assured by an old Fin-Scealuighe that “O’More’s fair daughter” or “The Hawk of Ballyshannon” was composed for Charles O’Donnell the brother of “Nanny” … This information I find corroborated by accounts derived from the McDermott Roe family

Hardiman Irish Minstrelsy 1831 (vol I p. li)

I have been collating different texts of the song to try and understand how Mary Harvessy’s text fits in here.

Donal O’Sullivan includes Seabhac na hÉirne in his Carolan as no. 134, and he lists sources for the text. I have also tried to find other sources.

The earliest text I have found was collected from a traditional singer in County Mayo in 1802, by Patrick Lynch. You can see Lynch’s three verses in his manuscript copy book at Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.10.115-116.

In 1829, Thady Connellan published two independent texts of the song in his Duanaire Fonna Seanma. On pages 11-12 is a long version of the song, with 9 verses. Donal O’Sullivan printed the text and his own translation of the first two of these verses in his Bunting 1983.

On page 44 of Duanaire Fonna Seanma, Connellan prints two verses of the song along with a metrical English translation written in Irish orthography.

There is a version with three stanzas printed along with a melody, in Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, vol. VII p.21. The caption says “collected by Capt. Ricky of Mount Hall, Killygordon, Donegal.” However the text seems to be the same as Lynch’s , and Charlotte Milligan Fox who was editor had Lynch’s manuscript at that time, so it seems likely that only the melody was collected by Ricky. Fox also gives an English translation.

Tomás Ó Máille prints a version of 8 verses in Amhráin Chearbhalláin (1916), p.135-8, no.23, Seabhac bhéal átha seanaidh, assembled from different 19th century manuscripts. Two of the verses he gives seem to be variants of each other.

We can see that lines 13 to 18 of Mary Harvessey’s text match lines 3 to 8 of the first verse given by both Lynch and Connellan; Ó Máille also has this verse later in his edition. Here is Lynch’s text, with Milligan Fox’s translation:

  1. Ag so feairin deagh mna aílle
    Behold here a gift of female beauty
  2. O Chonchubhuir O Reighlligh go sleibhte I mhaille
    From Connor O’Reilly to the mountains of O’Maily
  3. An rioghuin og is milsi póg
    A young lady of the sweetest kiss
  4. Sar inghin I mhordha a tractaim
    I speak of O’Moore’s fair daughter
  5. Siur na righ bfear laidir
    Sprung from princely heroes
  6. as minic chuir ciosa ar naimhde
    who often laid their enemies under tribute
  7. Phlanda an tseain sna ceraobh folt taite
    You prospering plant with delightful branches
  8. Is tusa ta me raidhte
    it is thyself I speak of

The beginning of Mary Harvessey’s spoken section (lines 9-12 of her text) is harder to place. There is a couplet in Connellan’s and O’Máille’s texts which refer to Venus or Deirdre. Connellan has

  1. Súil mar dhruacht an tsamhraidh,
  2. Cosamhuil le Deirdridhe a dealradh,

O’Maille has this verse in two different forms,

  1. A súil mar dhrúcht ré dealradh,
  2. Cosmhail í lé naomh as Párthar

and

  1. Thug rí bárr sgéim air mhnáibh na cruinne
  2. Ó Venus as ó Dhéirdre

Mary’s sung text is the hardest to reconcile with any of the other versions though. It seems to be slightly different in tone, directly addressed to the woman by a rejected lover. Mary’s lines 3 and 4 are vaguely reminiscent of lines in a verse given by Lynch and Ó Máille. Again, here is Lynch’s text and Fox’s (slightly corrupt) translation:

  1. Racha me san uaidh
    I shall descend into the grave,
  2. Se is dual dom aicid
    It is due to my comp
  3. Ma ngluaiser seal mbiomsa.
    If you do not hasten shortly to where I am

Lynch’s text seems defective here, with 14 and 15 appearing to be one line broken over two. Ó Máillie has

  1. Rachad insa n-uaigh mar budh dúal do m’aicme,
  2. mur dtige tú seal go dtí mé.

Not very similar at all really! And this is the closest couplet I can see.

However, I don’t think this is necessarily a problem. In the two hundred plus years of oral transmission from the wedding of Catherine and Charles, we might expect words to be swapped out, verses to change order, and entire couplets or verses from metrically similar songs to be inserted. That is part of the living song tradition. Of course Mary was not singing the exact same words which Carolan sang at the wedding two centuries earlier, but no-one would expect her to be.

Incidentally, I find it interesting that Mary’s text is the only one which names Catherine. Everywhere else she is only referred to as the daughter of O’Moore.

Carolan’s tune

We can check my Carolan Tune Collation spreadsheet to see how the melody has been transmitted. There are a number of printed and manuscript settings of the tune from 18th century classical musicians.

Perhaps the earliest version of the tune was published in Burk Thumoth’s Twelve Scots and Twelve Irish Airs (no. IX, p.42-43) in c.1742-5. The tune is titled “Mr. Creagh’s Irish Tune” and is in Thumoth’s usual format, of an arrangement for harpsichord, or for violin or flute with figured bass. Thumoth also gives his usual over-elaborate variation on the facing page.

in this recording, Anna Besson plays Burk Thumoth’s setting, but she omits the variation and substitutes a “traditional” setting of the tune for her second half.

I don’t know who Mr. Creagh was. Burk Thumoth’s titles are often way off beam, like he heard them third hand and didn’t understand them and wrote them all wrong.

Our tune appears a little later in the Caledonian Pocket Companion (book 8 p.45). John Purser in the introduction to his CD-ROM edition (p.4) implies that Book 8 may have been published c. 1757-60.

As is usual with Oswald’s editions, this is a baroque violin or flute re-working of the basic tune. The title, Port Atholl, is very interesting, and links in with the tradition reported from the old Irish harpers in the 1790s, that the tune was not originally composed by Carolan, but is Ruaidrí Dall Ó Catháin‘s Port Atholl. We can also check my Rory Dall Tune List PDF to see other appearances of the tune. This is not the place to go into the question of whether this tune actually goes back to Rory Dall. There are two tunes called Port Atholl, and this is one of them. I mention this question on my page about the other one.

In Lee, our tune is called Mrs. O’Donnell, clearly referring to Carolan’s wedding song. I don’t know Lee’s source for the tune; he gathers tunes from all kinds of previous written sources including from John Carolan’s book of his father’s compositions. Anyway, Lee’s harpsichord setting of Mrs O’Donnell looks, frankly, corrupt.

This is Hime’s c.1798 reprint, A Favourite Collection of the much Admired Old Irish Tunes, the original and genuine compositions of Carolan the celebrated Irish bard, set for the Harpsichord, Piano Forte, Violin and German Flute.

Edward Bunting has a version of our tune in his 1798 unpublished piano book, Ancient and Modern Irish Music (not published)… where it is titled “Seabhac na hEirne or hawk of Lough Erne or Miss Moore / from Arthur O Neill with words English and Irish / By Carolan”.

© Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.33.3 p.10-11, used with permission

Unfortunately I have not yet found a live transcription from a harper or singer in Bunting’s field notebooks, so all we have are his piano arrangements. It is an open question as to how much of this 1798 piano arrangement represents Arthur O’Neill’s playing on the harp, or indeed his singing, or how much is Bunting’s piano invention. It is even possible that Bunting made this piano version primarily by reference to the earlier published scores, and merely added the “Arthur O’Neill” tag to indicate that O’Neill had played it or given lore about it.

When Bunting came to publish the tune in 1840, he did give some traditionary information about the tune, perhaps from Arthur O’Neill. Bunting tells us

(No. 13 in the Collection) Seabhac na h-Eirnè. “The Hawk of Ballyshannon”, or “O’Moore’s Daughter”; an altered composition of Rory Dall, being his “Port Atholl” somewhat varied by Carolan, who composed words to it for Miss Moore. It was uniformly attributed to its proper composer by the harpers at Belfast.

Bunting, The Ancient Music of Ireland, 1840 introduction p.91

After that we get more and more notated versions, not all of which I have seen. Many of these are derived from Bunting’s published piano arrangement.

All of the tunes we have looked at so far have the same form, with two eight-line halves. If we were to try and sing Carolan’s lyrics to any of these tunes, we would need two verses to fill the tune. However, some of these classical settings (including Bunting’s 1798 piano arrangement) put repeat marks in between the two halves.

in this video, Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin sings Thady Connelan’s first two verses, to her own Irish harp arrangement based on Edward Bunting’s manuscript piano version of the tune.

Traditional versions of the tune

In my Carolan Tune Collation spreadsheet I have not paid much attention to 19th and 20th century traditional instrumental versions of Carolan’s tunes, since I was there focussing on trying to identify and collate traditional old Irish harp settings where they survive. But we don’t have a traditional harp setting of this tune – we don’t have a live transcription from an old harper in Bunting’s manuscripts. So perhaps we should look at some of the traditional instrumental versions of the tune. Below is the version “taken down by Forde, in 1846, from the playing of Hugh O’Beirne, a professional fiddler of Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim” (Joyce p.296), and published by Joyce in Old Irish Folk Music and Song, (1909), p.298

O’Beirne’s traditional fiddle setting follows the same general pattern as the classical instrumental arrangements discussed before, having two halves each of 16 lines (though without a repeat mark in the middle). There are other traditional settings listed by Donal O’Sullivan (Carolan vol 2 p.83) which I have not tracked down yet. O’Sullivan mentions a setting taken down by Forde from a piper, Patrick Carey of County Cork, which is titled “Port Atholl”.

Song-air versions of the tune

There is one printed tune I know of which derives from traditional sung performance, and interestingly, just like Mary Harvessey’s recording, it only gives the first half of the tune. This is the same page in the Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, vol. VII p.21 which gives Patrick Lynch’s text and Charlotte Milligan Fox’s translation which I referred to above.

This version was collected by Capt. Ricky, of Mount Hall, Killygordon, Donegal. He states the air was known and sung by different members of his family. The air was composed by the great harper, Rory dall O’Cahan. Carolan wrote an ode to Miss Moore, and it was set to O’Cahan’s air, and known as “O’Moore’s Fair Daughter”. For other versions see Dr. Joyce’s “Old Irish Folk Music and Songs”, page 298, and Edward Bunting’s 3rd Vol. Bunting took down his version from the harper, O’Neill, in 1792. C.M.F

Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, vol. VII p.21

In comparison to Mary Harvessy’s tune, this version shows classical touches – the sharp 7th at the end of bar 2 especially, but also the way it fills in the gaps in the pentatonic scale. Mary’s tune, by contrast, is perfectly in the pentatonic minor mode, in that she studiously avoids the gaps in the scale (2nd and 6th). Her intonation is very wayward though – she starts with almost a major 3rd which shrinks each time she sings it towards the minor 3rd.

Future work

My Catherine O Moore Song Text Collation spreadsheet tries to line up matching verses from different versions of the text, including Mary Harvessey’s. There are more texts we could consult, to try and get a clearer picture.

I need to listen more to the recording, to understand how the tune curls. I should learn the words. We need to consider the implications of this for giving us an insight into a potential style to look towards in playing Carolan tunes and song airs on old Irish harp.

Most of the versions of this tune which we pay attention to, have come through the classical tradition. I assume the present day oral tradition versions of this tune mostly derive from Donal O’Sullivan’s 1958 edition, which is “slightly altered” from Edward Bunting’s 1798 piano arrangement. I think a proper study of non-classical sources of this tune as represented in the 19th century collections from fiddlers and pipers, would be a very useful contrast to the study of the 18th century classical settings.

We need to look for more relevant traditional music and song performances and recordings of other old Irish harp tunes, which could usefully inform our understanding of the old Irish harp repertory and traditions. My Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project has been seeking out notated traditional old Irish harp performance versions of tunes, but there are many tunes which we don’t have these live transcriptions for, like with this one; and even when we do have a live field transcription, it could be useful to be able to compare it to other traditional performances of the same tune.

We need to think hard about the old Irish harp tradition, style, and idiom. Where do we want to situate old Irish harp performance? Do we want to be closer to Burk Thumoth on the harpsichord? Edward Bunting on the piano? To Hugh O’Beirne on the fiddle? To Máire Ní Arbhasaigh singing? These are political questions about the worlds we want our music to live in.

Header image: Creggan River above the Liscalgot Road bridge, cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Eric Jonesgeograph.org.uk/p/5920147

Edward Dodwell

Edward Dodwell is another of the tunes in the “difficult” section of Edward Bunting’s field notebook between pages 14-40. You can see in my tune list spreadsheet that Ned Dodwell, on p.40, is at the very end of that section. In fact, since the next facing page from p.40 is p.43, I think we are missing a page here, and I think the missing page had a neat copy of Ned Dodwell.

Often when Bunting does a dots and bars transcription, he makes a neat copy on the next page. I think it is quite likely that the neat copy of Edward Dodwell was on page 41, which is missing from the manuscript.

Edward Bunting wrote down the tune of Ned Dodwell “live” at speed from the performance of a tradition-bearer. Later tags in 5 different piano arrangements credit this tune to Charles Byrne, and four of them give the date of collection as 1792.

The live transcription of Edward Dodwell on QUB SC MS4.29 p.40/38/47/f18r is written just as dots and bar-lines. There is one trill mark, and there is some crossing out towards the end, and there are some doodly little dots after the end of the tune. The entire page does not tell us that this tune is Edward Dodwell; we know it is by recognising the tune from elsewhere. The title written at the top of the page, “Plangsty Reynolds Lough Skur”, refers to a completely different tune that appears in the manuscript on p.201/199/208/f99r.

Although it seems pretty clear and straightforward, there are problems with this transcription towards the end. From bar 27 Bunting seems to lose his way; he re-writes the bar line between 26 and 27, he writes two different versions of bar 28, and he completely deletes bar 29, and writes it again afterwards, and he finishes one bar short, on 31. Then after the final double bar line he tries to re-notate the end of the tune. First he re-writes it a bit wrongly, with too many notes. Then on the next blank stave he writes it out more clearly, but he has transposed this last little section of the tune a 4th higher. It is not entirely clear what he heard, because there are so many reworkings of this part of the tune in the transcription. In the different piano arrangements he seems to let his composing creativity free reign and comes up with all kinds of interesting conclusions to the tune.

Bunting made a piano arrangement of Edward Dodwell in about 1798, in his unpublished “Ancient and Modern” piano manuscript (QUB SC MS4.33.3 p.21, where it is titled “Emon Dabhal or Ned Dodwel by Carolan / from Charles Byrne”. Bunting also made piano arrangements much later, in QUB SC ms4/13, and ms4/27, though I don’t have copies of these pages and haven’t studied them. The tune was finally published in a piano arrangement as no.104 in Bunting’s 1840 book.

The transcription of Edward Dodwell is notated in C. We can see from the notes of the tune that it is a neutral mode tune; C neutral has as as its main notes C, D, F, G, B♭. Ned Dodwell includes the other two “out of mode” notes, E and A, except I think it is obvious that it needs E♭. We can check this with the piano arrangements; both the “Ancient and Modern” and the 1840 piano arrangements put the tune one note higher, in D neutral; both of them show one flat in the key signature, but both of them systematically cancel every single B♭ in the tune with natural accidental signs (Bunting’s piano world did not recognise neutral pentatonic modes, and minor is the nearest classical equivalent).

Bunting’s live transcriptions are usually notated at pitch, although there are groups notated one note higher than they would have been performed. This tune cannot work at pitch on old Irish harp, since tuning two flats on the harp is not part of the old tradition; putting the tune one note down to B neutral or B♭ neutral only makes matters worse. There are only two places we could position this tune on an old Irish harp using the traditional tunings, either one note up in D neutral (with the harp tuned all naturals), or a 6th higher in A neutral (with the harp tuned with F♯). We can’t drop the tune two notes down since that would make it run below na comhluighe on the harp.

In five different piano arrangements, the tune is tagged as being collected from Charles Byrne, and four of them give the date of collection as 1792. Byrne was a harper and also a singer, but we know that he was not a very good harper and had not been formally trained in the old Irish harp tradition, but had taught himself. I suppose it is possible that Byrne was so unlearned and incompetent that he tuned his harp in non-standard tunings, and played this tune in C neutral on the harp; but perhaps it is more likely that Bunting collected this tune from Byrne’s singing.

If we check my Carolan tune collation spreadsheet, we can see that Donal O’Sullivan gave this tune the number 40, and he suggested that the song lyrics beginning “Slán linn siar go bruach an chuain” go with this tune. He prints (vol 2 p.26-7) the text from Thady Connelann’s Duanaire Fonna Seanma (1829), where the words are headed “Eadbhaird Dodbhaill. Edward Dodwell, Esq., County Sligo: By Carolan”. There is a slightly different text in Tomás Ó Máille, Amhráin Chearbhalláin (1916) p.141 titled “Éamonn Doduel. Edward Dodwell – Carolan cct” and beginning “Go mbu slán duit fá bhruach an chuain”, though I don’t know the source for Ó Máille’s text of the song. We also have the song lyrics collected by Patrick Lynch in Mayo in 1802, in QUB SC ms4/10 p.10 titled “Planxty Dodwell” and beginning “go ma slan beo buan / an thaoibh a chuain”. All of the texts have the same length, 16 lines, which would fit the tune once through pretty well.

One of my aims in my Old Irish Harp Transcriptions project is to identify notations that are not transcribed live from old Irish harp performance. By ruling certain notations out, it narrows down the field of what notations are significant for the study of old Irish harp repertory, style and technique. For that reason alone, I am not going to make a Youtube demonstration of Ned Dodwell. This would be a good one for a singer to tackle, to try setting the different song lyrics onto Bunting’s dots-and-bars transcription.

Margaret 1281 concert at Northern Streams

On Friday 24th April is the first big public outing of the replica Queen Mary harp after it has been seriously reworked inside by Natalie Surina of Ériú Harps. I am going to present my “Margaret 1281” programme of storytelling, song, harp music and bowed-lyre tunes, as part of the annual Northern Streams festival in Edinburgh.

Continue reading Margaret 1281 concert at Northern Streams

Rory Dall Morrison tunes

On Saturday in the Wighton Centre, we were talking about Rory Dall Morrison, the blind harper of Dunvegan in the 1690s. So today I went back to my PDF Rory Dall tune list, and added in all the tunes for his songs. I was also bolder in moving more of the tunes and one of the song airs into the ‘misattribution’ section.

Continue reading Rory Dall Morrison tunes

Fíor mo mholadh ar Mhac Dhomhnaill – medieval bardic poetry performance

This is the final set at the Ceòl Rígh Innse Gall concert in the museum at Armadale, Isle of Skye, last month: medieval Gaelic ‘bardic’ poetry, sung with accompaniment played on the replica of the medieval Scottish ‘Queen Mary’ harp.

Fíor mo mholadh    ar Mhac Dhomnaill
Cur la gceanglaim    cur gach comhlainn
True my praising of MacDonald, hero I am tied to, hero of every fight

Croidhe leómhain   láimh nár tugadh
Guaire Gaoidheal   aoinfhear Uladh
Lion’s heart, hand that did not reproach, Guaire of the Gael, sole champion of Ulster

Aoinfhear Uladh   táth na bpobal
Rosg le rugadh   cosg na cgogadh
Champion of Ulster, welder of people, eye which caused the ceasing of warfare

Grian na nGaoidheal   gnúis í Cholla
Fa bhruach Banna   luath a longa
Sun of the Gael, face of the sons of Coll, around the Bann his galleys were swift

Cuiléan confaidh   choisgeas foghla
Croide connla    bile Banbha
Furious hound, stopping raiders, steadfast heart, tree of Ireland

Tír ‘na teannail   deirg ‘na dheaghaidh
A bheart bunaidh   teacht go Teamhair
The land is a blazing beacon behind, his ancestral duty to go to Tara

Measgadh Midhe   onchú Íle
Fréimh na féile   tréan gach tíre
The confuser of Meath, the wolf of Islay, the root of bounty, the defender of each land

Níor éar aoinfhear   no dáimh doiligh
Craobh fhial oinigh    ó fhiadh n-Oiligh
Refusing no-one, no pleading poets, generous honourable branch from the land of Oileach

Níor fhás uime    acht ríoghna is ríogha
Fuighle fíora   fíor mo mholadh
No-one raised with him but kings and queens. True these judgements; true my praising

Poet: anonymous MacMhuirich c.1500
Singer: Gillebrìde MacMillan
harpist: Simon Chadwick

After the music finishes we hear Godfrey, Lord MacDonald, speaking with the ‘vote of thanks’.

Concert at Armadale

Here’s the first photo I have seen so far from the Ceòl Rígh Innse Gall concert at the Museum of the Isles, Armadale, on the Isle of Skye a couple of weeks ago.

Left to right: Concert organiser Ian MacDonnell, harpist Simon Chadwick and singer Gillebrìde MacMillan in front of the reproduction of the medieval Iona grave slab of Aonghus Og, Lord of the Isles. Photo: Judith Parks

The Lark in the Morning

Last week and this week and next week the theme for my Saturday afternoon harp class in Dundee is Christmas music. Early this morning I suddenly decided that the wren song tradition would be a fun thing to do today – I have worked on Bunting’s 1809 setting of the Wren song before with a student, so I knew it was a great tune to give the class. But I also wanted to work on the traditions behind the wren hunt and so I had a quick look round to remind myself.

Fintan Vallely’s Companion to Irish Traditional Music has a nice little article on the wren, with a lovely photo of wren boys in Dingle – I would guess the photo was pre-WW2, one of the boys has a fife and two have bodhrans (which gave me a chance to talk about that!). The article also included one verse of the wren song, which fits Bunting’s tune pretty well.

I checked in Donal O’Sullivan’s notes on the Bunting tunes, and he does go into a lot of detail on the wren hunt but I did not spend too much time following up his references this morning.

Looking online I got a couple of excellent references. I got the pointer of the cutty wren song in Herd’s Scots Songs of 1776 – google books provided me with facsimile pages and all of a sudden I remembered that I knew this song from 20 years back, so I walked round the house trying to remember how it went. Every so often a whole new section of the question and answer would pop back into my head. In the class I managed to sing it and some of them even joined in with the answer sections – great fun, and not often that I sing an old song dragged up out of the back of my mind like that.

But the most fun was seeing a reference to Liam Clancy’s 1953 recording of the wren song on the LP, The Lark in the Morning. I have a copy of this LP which I had for some reason never got round to playing much so I had the fun of finding the record, setting up the equipment and listening to his lively version of the wren. This is another song I know from way back (I have it on an old cassette tape of traditional British and Irish midwinter songs), and I was amused to hear him mentioning the town where he lived and also his mother by name in the song.

Of course this evening as the gear was out and the record propped up against the bookcase I sat down on the floor and listened to both sides. What a beautiful and moving set of performances. At times I laughed out loud, and at other times there was a tear in my eye.

Grant of Sheuglie’s Contest betwixt his Violin, Pipe and Harp

I was contacted recently by a descendent of Alexander Grant of Shewglie, the early 18th century poet, piper, harper and fiddler. Alex Grant was a very interesting character, heavily involved in the Jacobite risings. He is said to have been a good poet or songwriter, but as far as I can see none of his poems survive. We know some details about two of them, but we dont have the text of either.

Grant composed a song in welcome to Charles Edward Stewart; it begins

Do bheatha Thearlaich Stiubhart,
Do bheatha do ar duthaich

which means basically, “welcome, Charles Stuart, welcome to our place”. Keith Sanger  (West Highland Notes & Queries 20, March 1983) suggests it may be in a manuscript belonging the National Library of Scotland (no. 6 of the MacNicol collection, MS Acc2152), but this manuscript appears to be missing from the library.

Grant also composed a song, a “contest betwixt his Violin, Pipe and Harp”. The tune of this, and also an English paraphrase of the words, was published in Simon Fraser’s book in 1816. We are told that the fiddle is addressed as “Mairi nighean Dheorsa” (Mary the daughter of George), and this seems to have been also a title of the tune.

I think the tune is an older traditional song air; Allan MacDonald in his Thesis connects it to the pipe “March for a Beginner” in Joseph MacDonald’s Complete Theory. Perhaps more intriguingly, the tune is said to have been used for other songs in the 18th century, a poem by Ardnabi in praise of a fiddle, Mairi nighean Dheorsa, and another famous poem in praise of MacCrimmon’s bagpipes. What is the connection between this tune and the name Mairi nighean Dheorsa given to a fiddle? The later Ardnabi poem not only uses the name for the fiddle but also says that the air to be used when singing the poem is “Mairi nighean Dheorsa”. Did both Ardnabi and Grant pick up an older tune called Mairi nighean Dheorsa and use it to praise their fiddles, or did Grant pick up an older generic song air and attach it to the Mairi nighean Dheorsa name and theme?

Here’s my version of it. I decided to pick up on the themes of Fraser’s paraphrase of Grant’s song, so the first and fourth of my verses are fairly straight from Fraser’s fiddle score; for verses two and three I have improvised a pipe-style and a harp-style interpretation of the melody.

It’s also interesting to think that Alexander Grant, of Shewglie in Glen Urquhart, was a contemporary of Raghnall Mac Ailein Óig, of Morar; both are said to have played pipes, fiddle and clarsach.

Flowers of the Forest

At the harp class in Dundee yesterday we looked at the old song, the Flowers of the Forest.

The main focus of the class was playing the oldest setting, from the Skene mandore manuscript.

But we also looked at some later versions including the one in the Scots Musical Museum, and we sang through the version written by Jean Elliot, using Ritson’s 1794 print:

You can get Ritson’s book here on Google Books.

Here’s a mp3 of me singing it through:
simonchadwick.net/music/Flowers.mp3

Here’s a PDF of the Skene manuscript version with transcription:
earlygaelicharp.info/sources/flowers.pdf

Here’s a Youtube of it on the harp:
youtube.com/watch?v=contsP6oXTs