Cailín Donn

In Edward Bunting’s 2-volume manuscript book of piano arrangements from 1798, titled Ancient and modern Irish music (not published) (now Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections MS4.33.3&2), there is an interesting little tune called “Callin Don”. Bunting has written two pieces of information around this piano arrangement. Above he has written “In the 1st vol. to another air” and below the tune he has written “This air Arthur O Neil says is the same as the Rocks of Pleasure but it is in my oppinion totally different”

Queen’s University, Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.33.2 p.43

Now as usual, I think there is very little we can usefully get from the music notation of Bunting’s piano arrangement, because of the way that he freely adjusts or changes the melody so as to make it work better with his newly composed chordal piano accompaniment. But, if we can find the live transcription that he made from a tradition-bearer, then we can use that to understand how the tune goes, and we can use his tags and metadata from the piano arrangement to inform our understanding of the transcription.

The transcription

Bunting made a live transcription of this tune into one of his collecting pamphlets; it is in QUB SC MS4.29 pages 222/220/229/f109v and 223/221/230/f110r. This is a two-page spread of the manuscript and the transcription seems to be spread out over both pages. (the online facsimile makes it harder to see this because each page is displayed separately, so I have pasted them together for you here).

The left page, 222, is headed with the title “Callin Don” and also a doodled name “Ma Bau[ttler] /Ma Bautter”. The right hand page has the title again, “Callin Don”, and other titles and doodling: “{Carrick an Evenis / Clone vig mattena} / Rosha veg voarer / the Drowning at the Shannon / Wednesday Nancy na Gra[v]e / words to Molly St George / Molly Magr Major / Major Key”

I would say there are five different “goes” at the tune on these two pages. On p. 222 system 1, Bunting starts with dots, but gives up after 9 notes. I think he might then go across to p. 223 system 1, and starts doing heavier dots which he has added stems to. He gets just over half way through the tune, and he has pretty much got the notes but not the rhythm. Then there is another false start in a different key on p. 223 system 2. THen I think he goes back to p. 222 system 2, and starts again, and this time he manages a full transcription, adding bars, stems, and beams to his dots. Finally, he makes a neat “improved” copy of the tune starting in the middle of p.222 system 3.

Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 p. 222223
You can download my PDF typeset version of the transcription melody, which I used to generate this machine audio

I think we should be focussing our attention on the notation on p. 222 system 2 and the first half of system 3. This is his complete live transcription, with the addition of beams and bars to indicate his understanding of the rhythm. This is what my PDF typeset version and machine audio is based on.

Even then there are two “problem areas”. In bar 1, there is a note A which appears to have been crossed out. There is an ambiguity about this note. In bar 3, the similar phrase does include that A; the dots in p.222 system 1 include it. But the notes on p.223 do not include it in either place. In the transcription version (p.222 system 2) the A also seems to have a downwards stem as well as an upwards stem. Perhaps it was a bass note? I don’t know. In my machine audio I omit it.

In bar 7, the last but one bar of the tune, Bunting has struggled to get the melody. He tries at first at the very end of p.222 system 2, writing a beamed group A-G-F, but he draws a bold line through the note heads which is his usual way of deleting transcription dots. Then at the beginning of system 3, he tries again, writing a sequence of three dots, A-G-F, but he has again deleted them with bold lines struck through the dots. Then he tries a third time, writing the beamed sequence A-G-E and he seems happy with this. I can imagine the traditional informant playing or singing A-G-E but Bunting’s piano mind expecting the sequence A-G-F-E-D-C.

Notice how Bunting cannot help himself; in the neat improved copy of the tune (p.222 system 5) he reverts to the A-G-F sequence and even marks a natural (♮) sign beside the F just to be sure. This F is carried through into the 1798 piano arrangement, and an F is also inserted into bar 5 to make the whole tune sound just that little bit more classical and less traditional.

Other tunes with this title

On QUB SC MS4.29 p.127, in section 2 which I understand may have been collected mostly from singers by Bunting on his tour of Mayo with Kirwan in summer 1792, there is a tune titled “Coopear e Fena / he would rather play with her on a board as on a bed”. Underneath is a note “this tune / Callin Don / and the Long White pipe / the same tune”. You can see that the tune given there is not the same as ours, but a piano arrangement of it was included under the title “Cailin Dón” in Edward Bunting’s 1796 proof sheets (page 2), and subsequently published as “Cailin Dón – The brown maid” in his 1797 collection, as no.32. There is the title “Peepa whadde gael / Long white pipe” on MS4.29 p.125 but the title has been deleted and the tune on that page is different again. (you can check all these tags and tune identifications on my ms4.29 index and transcript)

In his 1798 piano manuscript (QUB SC MS33.2 p.67), Bunting writes a tag under his piano arrangement of “Banks of Claudy”, saying “this is the same air as Callin Donn in the First Volume…” At the end of this book, there are scribbled drafts and possibly transcription notations, and on p.82 there is a 2-bar fragment of tune that is reminiscent of Banks of Claudy, titled “Molly McNally / Calin Don in the first volume”. I presume the “first volume” refers to Bunting’s 1797 printed collection, and I think there is a certain similarity between some versions of the tune of Banks of Claudy, and the 1797 printed tune of Cailin Dón (that’s the other one, not our one).

On QUB SC MS4.29 p.243, in section 4 which is also from the 1792 Mayo song-collecting trip, there is a title “Callin Don Deas” but Bunting has not inserted any notation onto the blank staves. There is a piano arrangement in the 1798 Ancient and modern piano manuscript (QUB SC MS33.2 p.53) titled “Callin deas don or pretty brown maid” and tagged “from Charles Byrne / also called Bobby in bed”. This same tune is titled “Pretty brown maid” as no. 53 in Bunting’s 1840 collection, where it is tagged in the index as being collected at Deel Castle, Ballina, in 1792, which is a much more likely provenance for a transcription in section 2 or 4 of QUB SC MS4.29, or it would be if the stave on page 243 wasn’t blank! As with the previous tune discussed above, this one has no connection to ours I don’t think.

James Cody, the piper and collector, wrote a tune titled “Cailín dón” into his neat presentation tune-book which he presented to Edward Bunting around 1805-1810 (now QUB SC MS4.33.4 page 34), but it doesn’t seem to be related to any of these other tunes.

I haven’t gone looking much further afield though it is a kind of generic title and there seems to be a lot more different tunes with this title out there in the tradition and in old collections.

Attribution to a harper

As far as I can see, we only have these two different versions of our tune: Bunting’s live transcription and neat adjusted copy on QUB SC MS4.29 pages 222 and 223, and his manuscript piano arrangement on MS4.33.2 p.43. (you can see the facsimiles at the beginning of this post).

Does the “Arthur O’Neil says…” tag on the piano manuscript suggest that he was the source for the transcription notation? Perhaps not; I get the impression that Bunting may have travelled with his notebooks, and added second opinions or related information about tunes from different people at different dates.

Against the (different) tune “Cailin Dón – The brown maid” in his 1797 collection, no.32, Bunting wrote in the late 1830s or early 1840s “Harp Higgins Perfect”. Apart from the fact that the tune as printed is not perfect – we can see how Bunting has de-traditionalised it with his piano arrangement – I do wonder where Bunting got these attribution tags from. Whether he was working from tune lists, or from his memory, there is a 45 or 50 year gap between the making of the transcription notation on pages 222 and 223 in the summer of 1792, and the writing of the tags into the printed book in the late 1830s or early 1840s. Do you think that he might have had a note to himself, or a vague memory, of Hugh Higgins playing a tune called Cailín Donn, 45 or 50 years before? And do you think (given the guddle of tunes and titles listed just above) that Bunting was, at that late stage in his life, 100% confident that it was this particular tune called Cailín Donn that Higgins had played him? Could Higgins have been the source of our Cailín Donn instead? Was the transcription on MS4.29 pages 222 and 223 from Higgins? This would fit with the evidence discussed above, suggesting that the other Cailín Donn (1797 no.32) looks like it was transcribed from a singer or traditional musician in Mayo, not from a harper.

Song words

Donal O’Sullivan (Bunting part 1, 1925-6) says “the only song words entitled An Cailín Donn in these MSS are in MS 10 no.82 – a quatrain which will not go to any of our tunes and which is not suitable for printing”. However, the internet trumps prudish redactions, and so we can read the words by looking at the manuscript facsimile online at Queen’s University Belfast.

Patrick Lynch’s neat presentation copy is in QUB SC MS4.10.104. He must have collected these song words in 1802 but I don’t know where or who from.

Cailin Donn
Dar an leabhar bán-da mbeadh se ndán domh
i sidhneadh sios air leabaidh liom
is lughmhur laidir a bhuailin báire
go mbuainin gáir as mo Chailin donn

There is a different copy in a different handwriting, which is part of a letter that someone wrote to Edward Bunting, in QUB SC MS4.26.40. However I am not familiar with this handwriting style and so I am not going to try and transcribe it for you! It is similar to Lynch’s but there are some different words in it.

There is a translation in QUB SC MS14.1.102, which was written by Thomas Hughes – the first part of this book is the neat copy of Arthur O’Neill’s Memoirs, and our translation is in the next part of the manuscript:

the Brown Girl
By the white book if it were not my fate
That she should be stretched on a bed with me
Smart and tight I would strike the goal
and make my brown girl laugh

It seems to me that these words would match our tune very well. I don’t know what an leabhar bán / the white book is referring to.

The Rocks of Pleasure

Bunting’s tag on our tune in QUB SC MS4.33.2 p.43 (see above) reads “This air Arthur O Neil says is the same as the Rocks of Pleasure…” Bunting had printed a different tune under the title “Carruic an Aoibnis – The pleasant rocks” as no.22 in his 1797 collection. I would agree with Bunting when he says “it is in my oppinion totally different” but of course it is quite possible that Arthur O’Neill knew a different tune or song called “Carraige an Aoibhnis”. Also I don’t think we have words for Carraige an Aoibhnis so we don’t know what the song is about. Bunting was thinking of two tunes being “the same” tune, but what did Arthur O’Neill mean by saying one thing is “the same” as another?

Did Bunting go back to his transcription pamphlet (I think they had not yet been bound up together into the book we see today by this stage), and write “Carrick an Evenis” as a note to himself, at the top of the transcription page of Cailín Donn, in the little cartouche? What about the other titles he wrote there on page 223?

Do you think Arthur O’Neill might have been having a wee joke at Bunting’s expense? Arthur O’Neill mentions in his Memoirs (QUB SC MS4.14 p.71) an episode perhaps in 1800, when “I met Mr. Ed. Bunting as I was going towards Newry, where he brought me; with whom I spent as agreeable a fortnight as I ever spent in my life. He took some tunes from me, and one evening at his lodgings he played the tune of ‘Speak Oyeough’ and I sung with him”.

Bunting had published a classical piano arrangement of Spéic Seóigheach as no.3 in 1797. So let us speculate freely and imagine a possible scene in Bunting’s lodgings in Newry in 1800. I imagine the young Edward Bunting playing this arrangement from the 1797 book on the piano, and the old blind harper recognising the tune, recalling the Irish song words, and bursting into song. So it is then all too easy to imagine Bunting taking up the 1798 piano manuscript, and playing the p.43 piano arrangement of Cailín donn. You can imagine Arthur O’Neill recognising the melody, recalling the Irish words – what could he say to Bunting?


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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