On page 194 of his “Damn your Body” bundle of live transcription pages, Edward Bunting wrote live sketches of two song airs, perhaps from the singing of harper and tradition-bearer Charles Byrne in the 1790s. Because I think these are transcribed from songs and not from harp performances, I am going to look at both quickly so we can move on.
You can see that Bunting has scribbled titles and information above each tune. At the top of the page he writes the title of the first tune. He first tries to write it in Irish phonetics, but he scribbles this out and writes an English translation or paraphrase: “my dear stay with me till mo[r]” (I looked to see if the rest of this word “…ning” was on a facing page but I don’t see it). Then he tries again to catch the phonetical sound of the Irish title: “Ruan fon Ogham agus Wheregala”. He also writes a note at top left, “With Words”.
For the second tune he writes the Irish title first, in his usual phonetics (Bunting doesn’t seem to have had any Irish): “Breagh [n]a K[uilie] Creav” and then an English translation or paraphrase: brink of shade”.
Finally we have a bit of the usual mystery doodling: “Market”, and then we have a four bar fragment from the tune on the next page, Maidin bhog aoibhinn.
I think you can see that both of these notations are based on underlying live transcription dots which have been corrected and expanded out with note stems, beams and barlines. In a rún fan agam, Bunting has struggled a little to bar the second half, but other than that the tunes seems simple and clearly noted, which I think is more characteristic of Bunting’s work to transcribe song performances.
A Rún fan agam is noted in A major, and so my machine audio and PDF supplies sharps in the key signature. Bruach is noted in F major and so my mp3 and PDF supply a flat key signature. Neither of these seems particularly plausible for harp transcriptions, but both are fine if we think they were from a singer.
Bunting’s piano developments
A Rún Fan Agam is no. 39 in Bunting’s 1797 published piano book. It is titled “A rún fan agam is furrid go ló – My Dear stay with me”, and is set in A major with 3 sharps. In the early 1830s Annotated copy (BL Add ms 41508) Bunting has written “Harp Oneil” beside this tune, and “wants 7th” under it.
Bruach na coille craobhaí was not published by Bunting , but he did make a piano arrangement which is in his 1798 unpublished Ancient and Modern collection, now QUB SC Ms33.2 p30. It is titled “Bruac na Coillidh craobhuide – or brink of the &c.” and is set in A major with three sharps. At the end of the tune Bunting has written “From Charles Byrne”.
I suppose it is possible that Bunting met the harper Arthur O’Neill, and inserted the notation of A Rún Fan Agam into an empty space. But Arthur O’Neill wouldn’t be expected to provide a performance in a sharp key. Also this attribution was written in retrospectively in the early 1840s, almost 50 years after the collecting sessions. so to be honest I think we can ignore it.
I think that the 1798 attribution of Bruach to harper and singer Charles Byrne is much more plausible.
The tag “with words” at the top of the transcription page implies strongly to me that this is all from Charles Byrne singing.
Check my Old Irish Harp Transcription Project Tune List and my MS4.29 index PDF if you want to see how this page and its two tunes fits into the wider context of the manuscript and the nearby notations.
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.
2 thoughts on “A rún, fan agam is fuirigh go ló, ⁊ Bruach na coille craobhaí”
About A Rún Fan Agam:
An air called “Bhearfaidh mé gruth agus méadhg ar maidin duit” was taken down by a Mrs O’Neill of Dundalk from Philip “Piper” Goodman and published in tonic solfa in The Cuchulainn Módh Díreach Readers 3 in 1917 (as a new song for learners of Irish, but set to this air). We also have three verses for same from Goodman, taken down by Henry Morris; they include the refrain, “A rún, fan agam go lá, lá, lá, a rún fan agam go lá is go brách.” The verses cannot be fit perfectly to the Bunting tune, but the first and last bars here and in Goodman are very similar.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chiara