View South from Slieve Gullion

Little Munster Mantle

The next tune in the group of four that I am looking at just now, is titled in the manuscript “Little Munster Mantle”. The notation consists of a line of dots, starting on B, and then two lines of notation a 3rd lower starting on G. I think this represents a live transcription notation, written here by Edward Bunting at speed from the performance of a tradition-bearer some time in the 1790s.

The notation is on Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 93/89/098/f44r. Lets look at the transcription in more detail.

I have made two PDF typeset versions and machine audios for you, one all naturals and one with one flat.

Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 93/89/098/f44r
Download PDF typeset version or mp3 machine audio
Download PDF typeset version or mp3 machine audio

The first line of dots is a bit messy; Bunting has deleted quite a few dots by drawing strong diagonal lines through them. The very last dot, the note F, has a sharp sign against it. Bunting obviously wasn’t happy with this line of dots, because he didn’t expand it out with note stems and barlines, but he seems to have abandoned it and started again on the second line, at a different pitch level. I tried making a machine audio of the dots but I can’t work out an appropriate key or mode for them.

I assume the second line started as a similar line of live transcription dots, but he has gone back and added the stems, beams and barlines and bar numbers to turn it into a more complete notation. He has marked the almost mid-point with what looks like a double repeat symbol :||: but I think this might be just a section division between bars 8 and 9.

Originally I had been listening to the modern versions of this song (see below) which are in a major mode, but after discussion with Sylvia Crawford about key and mode I have decided to make two PDF versions and machine audios, one all naturals and one with one flat. I understand this as a D minor mode tune. The strong notes of D minor are D, F, G, A, C. We can see the note C having a strong and prominent position in this notation. Both E and B are “out of mode” notes and so in principle could be up or down. The 6th (B in this case) could be up or down; and so I have shown you both possibilities. If it were played on the harp in a traditional harp tuning it would require B natural, but a singer could easily sing it with B flat.

Bunting’s development of the tune

I have looked through the indexes in Colette Moloney, Introduction and Catalogue (ITMA 2000), and in Donal O’Sullivan Bunting Collection (JIFSS 1925-39 and CUP 1983) but I am not finding any reference to “Little Munster Mantle” or “An Fallainnin Mhuimhneach” at all. At the moment I am thinking that Bunting did not do anything with this tune, but just abandoned it. I haven’t seen anyone else make any reference to his transcription notation of it.

Bunting did, however, include the title in a few of his tune-lists. I don’t yet understand what these tune lists were for. Realy we need a comprehensive statistical network analysis of these tune lists to work out how they relate to the transcription notations and the published collections and the attributions.

Anyway he writes our title on page 86, under the live transcription notation of Thugamar féin. There are three titles in that list marked with a decorative X. Two of them go over more than one line so they are bracketed:

{wér víog víre árlá / Little hour before Day}
{faulin viog meenagh / the munster mantle
Castle Moon

All three of these are in this group of four tunes on p.92-4 that we are currently looking at, and the first two also appear in a mini-list on page 92 above the notation of A bhean dubh rún dileas.

Bunting also writes our title on p.110, which is a dirty page drawn up as the cover page to his notebooks, and now forming the end of part 1 of MS4.29.

Other versions of this tune

There are some other independent versions of this tune, all different from each other but nonetheless clearly connected musically as well as by their titles.

Joyce published two versions of the tune in his Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909). Unfortunately the version is missing pages with the first of these tunes on, but you can get the ITMA version in four parts instead.

Joyce’s no.515, p.279-280 (in the 3rd section of the ITMA PDF) is titled “Falluinn air fhalluinn: Mantle on mantle”. His note on page 278 says “the following 48 airs were given to Forde by Patrick MacDowell, R.A., the distinguished sculptor: Born Belfast 1799: died 1870. He gave a great number of airs to Dr Petrie also, who has published many of them in his Ancient Music of Ireland; and many are included in the Stanford-Petrie collection. He was an ardent collector of Irish music, and drew his stores from every part of the country”.

Joyce, Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909), p.279-280
Download PDF typeset version or mp3 machine audio

Joyce also gives a somewhat different, major-mode tune with our title. On p.371 he says “The following 16 airs… copied from a M.S. collection lent to Mr Pigot by James Hardiman, the historian of Galway and editor of Hardiman’s Irish Minstrelsy“. Our tune is No.766 on p.376 and is titled “An fallainnín Mhuimhneach: The little Munster mantle”.

Joyce, Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909), p.376
Download PDF typeset version or mp3 machine audio

A major-mode version of the tune is known in the living tradition today under the title “the Munster cloak” or sometimes “the Spanish cloak”. Alan Ng lists versions with the earliest being from the Chieftains in 1963. On the sleeve notes, Seán Mac Réammoinn writes “The next tune, An Fhallaingín Mhuimhneach, is of great interest. It is traditionally believed to be of Spanish origin, having been brought, they say, to Kerry in the 16th century by some shipwrecked survivor of the Armada. Be that as it may – the title simply means the Munster Cloak – the tune certainly has a touch of the warm south in its gay rhythms. It is played by Michael Tubridy, this time on the concertina.” The version they play starts with our second half, and their second half is a bit different from our first half. As far as I can see most people who play this tune in the tradition now, follow this form. Here’s Jason Rouse on his 2021 album:


There are song lyrics that go to this tune. As well as modern English lyrics (the song “Tarry Flynn” written by Shay Healy), there are traditional Irish lyrics which vary slightly from singer to singer. Here’s a conflated text from a Mudcat discussion and from thesession:

Fallaing ar fhallaing ‘sí an fhaillingín Mhuimhneach í.
Fallaing ar fhallaing ‘sí an fhaillingín Mhuimhneach í.

Fallaing ar fhallaing ‘sí an fhaillingín Mhuimhneach í.
Fallaing chrua chasta ‘snár chasa sí choich’ orainn.

Dá mb’ agam an fhalaing ní thabharfainn don Mhuimhneach í
Ach thabharfainn don scafaire ‘chóireochadh [ ] mín uirthi.

Fográim an fhallaing, Is iomaí dath daor uirthi,
Tá dubh agus dearg, glas-uaine ‘gus buí inti.

And here’s a very nice performance by Seosaimhín Ní Bheaglaoich accompanied by her nephew Cormac Begley on concertina:


Fallaing is a kind of cloak or mantle. Nowadays the best known form is the fallaing Chionn tSáile (Kinsale cloak) which has become a kind of Irish folk costume. The Local Wisdom website has a nice photo of a Dublin woman wearing her great-great-grandmother’s “Munster cloak”; also Waterford Museum has a lovely photograph of Ali Walsh wearing a cloak.

I think we can see three slightly different forms of the title. Joyce no.515 is the first words of the chorus, Fallaing ar fhallaing, and his English version “mantle on mantle” is about right I think.

The second half of the chorus line, an fhaillingín Mhuimhneach, uses a diminutive form (-ín) and so could be understood as the little Munster mantle, or could be read as simply the Munster mantle. This is the form of title used in Joyce 766, as well as the Chieftains and other traditional musicians and singers.

Bunting gives us a slightly different form; instead of the diminutive “Faillingín” (or “an fhaillingín”), he uses the word “beag” for little, so I suppose “Fallaing bheag Mhuimhneach” would be a reasonable interpretation of his phonetic “faulin viog meenagh”, and his English form “Little Munster Mantle” is a good literal translation.

The alternative title of the Spanish Cloak seems to derive perhaps from Seán Ó Riada via the Chieftains with their story of the Spanish origin of the tune. This sounds to me like the kind of story Ó Riada might spin, and he may well have recognised phrases in common with Enrique Granados’s Danzas españolas Nº6.

Attribution of Bunting’s 1790s live transcription to a traditional informant

Because Bunting doesn’t seem to have done anything with this live transcription notation on page 93, we don’t have piano arrangements, and we don’t have any attribution tags that he later wrote onto his piano arrangements. So it seems that we cannot say who Bunting’s informant was. We can guess that the transcription was done in the 1790s, because that is when most of the notations in QUB SC MS4.29 were done. But we cannot really tell if this was done from a harper or a singer or someone else.

We can look at my Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project Tune List spreadsheet and see that this transcription on page 93 seems to sit in the group of four transcriptions on pages 92-4. I have already written up A bhean dubh rún dileas, and I will deal with the other two next. I suppose it is possible that they are a real group, all taken from the same informant. But we can’t say anything about this tune in particular. The next two do have some more contextual informantion so we’ll wait and analyse that in the next couple of posts.

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.

4 thoughts on “Little Munster Mantle”

  1. I adjusted the machine audio and added some comments about mode. Thanks to Sylvia Crawford for useful feedback on this. I think that when the transcription is a bit corrupt (like this), and when we don’t have any more clear derived versions, then we are dependent on a kind of modal anaylsis of the dots of the tune, looking for modal patterns in how the tune works. I am not so good at this!

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