An chraoibhín aoibhin alainn óg

The next tune on Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 224 and 225 is more mysterious than Nancy na gCraobh.

Firstly, it is not actually clear what its title is. Bunting has written “Creveen Evin aulin ogh” above our tune, but he has squashed this title in onto the third stave, at the end of the previous tune. So, it is possible that this is not the title of the next tune, but a line or alternative title for the previous tune. We saw this kind of under-writing previously with the Steeple of Antrim. However, I am not finding this phrase as part of the song associated with Nancy na gCraobh, and so we can perhaps tentatively assume that it is a title or heading for this second tune.

It is also not 100% clear that this is actually a separate tune. It seems somehow slightly related to Nancy na gCraobh. Could it be a variant, or an extension, or something? But for the purposes of this post I will continue by assuming it is a different tune. Nonetheless the “craobh” theme and the melodic form suggest that the tradition-bearer informant may have seen a connection between these two songs, and so perhaps that is why they may have been given to Bunting together.

The transcription

This transcription runs from the 4th stave on the left page 224, and finishes on the first stave on the right, on page 225. As well as the melodic connection, Bunting also repeats a word of the title above the right hand stave: “Even / Eveen”.

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.

This transcription looks to me like it is a harp transcription; the motifs on the last line (top of p.225) look like harp idiom to me. The transcription is in C major, and it has both B natural and F natural in it, though I think there is only one weak passing F. Bunting has done it first as a dots transcription, and has then added note stems. He has beamed some of the notes together in rhythmic groupings, and he has added one bar line (which may or may not be in a sensible place). This means that we struggle to understand the rhythmic structure of the tune.

There are a couple of deletions; we can assume that this was Bunting notating it wrong and correcting himself as the performance progressed. The fourth note has been deleted by a strong vertical line through it; and the run of notes at the beginning of the top stave on p.225 has been deleted as well. It is not entirely clear what is happening at the end of that final stave. The note heads are written much heavier, typical of Bunting’s editorial over-writing, and they have double stems up and down. I am not sure if the diagonal heavy line above the notes is a deleted beam, or is an attempt to strike through and delete a run of notes written too high on the stave. Either way, this is a problem section and Bunting is obviously struggling to notate what he heard.

Tune list

There is an entry on one of Edward Bunting’s tune lists, in QUB SC MS4.29 p.84. You can check my transcription of all these lists on my MS29 text transcript PDF.

I am reading the relevant entry as being in the big curly-bracket cartouche. There are two titles in this cartouche, each marked with a + or X sign before it:

+{su[v]erneen Delleeas}
{Ileen ogh}
+{Creeveen eveen}
{aulin ogh}
{Blossom }

I have a note in my tune list spreadsheet that there is overlap between this tune list, and another one a few pages earlier on p.79, headed “From Hugh Higgins”. In fact, every one of the 4 tune titles on the p.79 “Hugh Higgins” list is also on p.84:

p.79 1st title “John Jones Carolan” = p.84 1st title “John Jones”
p. 79 2nd title “Grah ga miste very old” = p.84 3rd title “Grah niste” (i.e. Grádh gan fhios)
p.79 3rd title “Cathleen ne Oullahan” = p.84 music notation and titles “Cathlleen ne Oullaghan / Cath[l]ine Nolan”
p.79 4th title “Slumber Maggenis Carolan” = p.84 2nd title “Slumber Magenis”

Does that mean that the other tunes on the p.84 tune list also have a connection to Higgins? I don’t know. This tune list is also relevant for the third tune on page 225, which I will deal with next.


“Chraoibhín aoibhin alainn óg” is a kind of stock poetic phrase. Bunting’s translation “Beautiful blossom” is not literal; but I don;t know what these tune lists represent. Is he writing them as live transcription dictations from a tradition bearer? Or is he compiling them later based on his own notations? I wonder if their ad-hoc phonetical nature might point towards them being dictated to him by an “insider”.

Anyway as I understand it, Craobh is literally a branch, and so craoibhín is like a young branch, perhaps with the implication of a desendant. Both aoibhin and alainn are to do with beauty or loveliness; óg is young. So we have the lovely, pretty, young little “branch”. We find this phrase in songs and poems and so presumably the title as written by Bunting refers to such a phrase in a song lyric that goes to this tune.

Other tunes with this title

I have not found any other version of this tune. However, I notice that there is a different tune with this title in Francis Roche, Collection of Irish Airs, Marches and Dance Tunes, Vol. 3, p. 3. I have not seen this book but there is a typeset version of the tune online at ITMA. You can see that this is quite a different tune, in E minor.


I don’t think it will be possible for us to match a song to our p.224-5 tune unless we can find another version of the tune elsewhere.

Perhaps the best known song today which includes this phrase is “Crann úll” as recorded by Clannad in 1980. You can read about at Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh‘s website how this song was collected around 1900 by Séamus Clandillon in Gaoth Dobhair, Donegal, c.1900. I think the tune is very different from ours. The chorus of this song goes:

Nuair a bhogfas tusa, bogfaidh mise
Is bogfaimid le chéile
Is a chraoibhín aoibhin álainn ó

There is a political poem from the other end of the country, by the early 18th century Munster poet, Seaghan Ó Cuinneagain, in The poets and poetry of Munster (1860) p.70, which ends each verse with the phrase “chraoibhin aoibhinn aluinn óg”; the poem is headed with the unhelpful tag “Fonn: An Chraoibhin aoibhinn aluinn óg”, because we are meant to know the tune.


As with the last tune, I don’t really have a conclusion. I do think that this is a harp transcription, and it must have words associated with it. I’m just putting this out there as I have it so far, in the hope that these notes will be useful to someone else who will make better connections than I have managed so far.

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.

Many thanks to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for helping to provide the equipment used for these posts, and also for supporting the writing of these blog posts.

7 thoughts on “An chraoibhín aoibhin alainn óg”

    1. I checked in Canfar an Dán. It gives three mid-18th century poems written to the tune of An Craoibhín Aoibhinn Álainn Óg. The second is the one I mention above, by Seán Ó Cuinneagáin. The first is by Uilleam English; the third by Éadbhard de Nólga. The first one, by English, is included on the accompanying CD (track 7).

      The melody which Pádraig Ó Cearbhaill sings William English’s song to, is definitely a version of ours. His one is more minor – most noticeably at the line ends, ours goes A-B-C whereas he would (transposed to our pitch) be finishing on the A. Our tune also rests on the low middle C note which he avoids.

      Thank you again Ted for pointing out this reference! I should give the full reference: Úna Nic Éinrí, Canfar an dán : Uilliam English agus a chairde. An Sagart, 2003.

  1. There is a classical piano or pedal harp arrangement of this tune in TCD MS 10615 p.28, which was copied out in December 1816 by Anna-Jane Maclean-Clephane, in the section of tunes “taken from the playing of O’Kain by Mr Macdonald”. It has been suggested that this repertory derives from the harper Echlin Ó Catháin (though it is all heavily adapted in the classical arrangements we have), and if so it is an important “independent witness” to compare to Bunting’s versions.

    Anna-Jane’s title is “Righin aluin aoibhinn og By Carolan” though she seems to attribute all kinds of crazy stuff to Carolan.

    Here’s a PDF typeset version of the manuscript classical pedal harp or keyboard arrangement, and machine audio.

  2. Sylvia Crawford has suggested that all three tunes on this page (Nancy na gCraobh, An chraoibhín aoibhin alainn óg, and Mhuirnin Dilis), are all variants of the tune of Savourneen Deelish (‘S a Mhuirnin Dilis).

    I haven’t dealt with the tune of Savourneen Deelish very well. You can see on my tune list spreadsheet that Bunting got a version of the tune from a singer in Westport or Castlebar in the summer of 1802 (QUB SC MS4.33.1 p18) under the title of “Turry Vree or the heather bushes”. He made two piano arrangements of this version, first in his Ancient and Modern manuscript (QUB SC MS4.33 p76) and then (under a spurious title) in 1809 p.64. Donal O’Sullivan discusses these version at length in his Bunting part VI p.53, and he references many other printed versions of the tune, but he missed the three transcription versions in MS4.29 which I discussed on these three pages.

    It is all very complicated and hopefully in time Sylvia will do a study of the tune of Savourneen Deelish and come up with a plausible harp version.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.