Maidin bhog aoibhinn

During the 1790s, Edward Bunting made four different live transcriptions of the tune of Maidin bhog aoibhinn. They are in different sections of QUB SC MS4.29, and were transcribed from four different tradition-bearers. Bunting published a kind of composite or synthetic version of the tune in his Ancient Music of Ireland (1840). In this post we are going to look at the four different live transcriptions, and try to say something useful about each of them.

the Part 2 version (from a singer in Mayo?)

As far as I can tell from how the manuscript is put together, parts 2 & 4 of MS4.29 (with the distinctive 2+2 staff layout) contains song airs collected by Edward Bunting on his tour of Mayo with Richard Kirwan in the summer of 1792. In general I have been ignoring parts 2 and 4 of the manuscript, because my focus is on the live transcriptions from harpers in parts 1 and 3. But we should consider this transcription from a singer, so we can compare it with the other versions.

Our tune is in part 2, on QUB SC MS4.29 page 134. The tune has been written twice, first in pencil dots, then over-written in pen. Bunting’s title “Maudhin voge eveen” is a phonetical attempt to transcribe what the informant singer said to him:

Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 134/131/140/f65r
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This pencil transcription is very hard to make out, and so my machine audio follows the over-written pen notes. Perhaps we should consider this to be a neatened-up neat copy? In any case the tune seems very straightforward. It is in G major, with no F, and with a strong intrusive out-of-mode C. This is clearly transcribed from a singer.

The “Damn your Body” version (from Charles Byrne?)

This next transcription is on MS4.29 page 195, which is part of the 16 pages starting with the Damn your Body page. At the moment I am cautiously thinking these 16 pages (8 leaves) may have originally formed a kind of pamphlet that Bunting may have used on a collecting trip to the harper and singer Charles Byrne some time in the 1790s. Our tune is on the final two staves of the page, and is headed with Bunting’s phonetic attempt at the title, “Maudhin voge eveen”.

Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 195/193/202/f96r
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This transcription is more messy. We can see that it is built on underlying live transcription dots or notes (I am not sure if the note stems are later additions or integral to the dots). Bunting has expanded these bare notes out by adding barlines, beams, and rests. However he gets stuck at a couple of places and he inserts two neat copy fragments. The first of five bars is at the bottom right of the page, and is connected to its proper place (starting at bar 2) with a long line. The second of four bars is on the previous facing page and it is connected to its proper place (the start of bar 10) with a large cross above that bar. My machine audio and typeset version ignores these neat copy fragments and tries to play the original or underlying notes.

This version of the tune is one note higher, and requires three sharps; it is in A major, with the same strong out-of-mode 4th (D) but also with a strong passing 7th as well (G♯).

My guess is that this is most likely transcribed from Charles Byrne singing, not playing the harp. The A major key or mode is not characteristic of the traditional old Irish harp tunings, and does not fit with the key or mode of other Byrne transcriptions. The old Irish harp is constrained to only play in certain modes or tunings, but a singer can pitch their voice arbitrarily relative to absolute pitch.

The upside-down version

At the end of my tentative 16 page “Damn your Body” grouping, is a loose leaf (p.199-200) that looks like it is bound up into MS4.29 upside-down. Of course that also gives us grave doubts about whether this loose leaf belongs to the others before it. Page 200 has a tune list headed “a list of tunes in this Book” and so if we were to collate that list against sections of MS4.29 we could work out which section it was originally attached to.

Title in p.200 tune listLocation of tune in ms4.29 (B page numbering)
Allicean dubh Op.44
Bouagh buoyp.7
Berlen na Ierap.39
Brough ne shannonp.63, p.104
Caussein Tughamp.4, p.170
Calleen Tinneyp.14, p.148
Carrick an Evenisp.76
Chuilte Glassan
Callena vaccap.32, p.46
Callin de stor
Cathleen Treealep.47
Cooach Scotts L:p.58
Collin or Lady of the Desertp.52, p.98
Cathleen hourlanp.84
Coolin Finp.96
Catty Briansp.108, p.186
Castle Moonp.93

We can see that most of these tunes can be identified as being in part 1 of QUB SC MS4.29, that is from page 3/3/12/f1r through to page 110/106/115/f52v. I also notice that the cut (lower) edge of page 199-200 looks similar to the cut (upper) edge of page 109-110, and so I think it is possible that page 199 was originally next to page 110. Obviously this leaf was moved before all the loose pamphlets were bound and the B numbers added c. 1802-5.

If we check my tune list spreadsheet we see that tunes at the end of part 1 (perhaps the section on p.103 to 110) have varying attributions to Black, O’Neill, Mooney, and Fanning. There are also tune lists mixed up with the tunes. Do the three tunes on pages 199-200 belong to this group? Thugamar féin an samhradh linn on page 200 is possibly from Black in 1796. Are they perhaps al three from Black? I really don’t know.

Bunting’s title for our tune is “Maudhin voge eveen”, and the transcription notation covers the first two systems. Then there is a different tune on the lower half of the page, titled “Oyn O Neils Lamentation”. At the bottom upside–down (the right way up at the top of the page as it is now bound in MS4.29) is a different title of a different tune “Maiden Draw near me / Weadhin Drid Le um”. I don’t think that belongs to the tune transcriptions on this leaf.

Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 199/197/206/f98r (upside-down)
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My transcription and machine audio play this notation transposed down one note. As written it is in D major, requiring two sharps. This doesn’t seem to fit well into the traditional Irish harp tunings, and I also note that Owen O’Neill’s Lamentation on this page as well as Thugamar féin an samhradh linn on the back of the leaf (page 200) similarly seem to be noted one note higher than a plausible harp key.

The “Buntiglums” version (from Denis O’Hampsey?)

This final transcription is on MS4.29 page 166. You can check my MS4.29 index PDF to see that this is the fourth page of a four-page folded pair of leaves. It seems to belong with the previous and next pages to form a group of 16 pages from the “Buntiglums” title page on 156/155/164/f77r through to Eleanor “Madam Keil” Plunkett on 172/170/179/f84v or maybe even 28 pages right through to the tune list on 184/182/191/f90v. At least those first 16 pages seem to contain mostly tunes collected from Denis O’Hampsey perhaps in the summer of 1796.

There is a lot of writing on this page. At the top we have two extra titles, “O Rourke’s noble Feast” and “Scarron na Gompanach” as well as our title “Maudhin voge eveen”. The first of these, Pléaráca na Ruarcach, was transcribed by Bunting back on p.107, possibly from someone else completely, but the second, Sgaruint na gCompanach, was transcribed by Bunting from Denis O’Hampsey on the next page 167. I discuss this notation on my page about a different version of the tune, An bhfaca tú mo valentine.

Underneath the tune is some information in a different, darker ink, perhaps transcribed from the dictation of O’Hampsey or another tradition-bearer: “Paddy Linden a [???] / a Harper very poor in the County Louth” and then what seems to be some kind of opinion about our tune again: “nice Name for [???] Maidhin / Maudhin voge eveen”

Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 166/164/173/f81v
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You can see at once that this is in a G major pentatonic mode, and it does not use the out-of-mode notes C or F at all.

Bunting has struggled a bit to notate this, and has started with rather large pale dots which he has abandoned. He also gave up on trying to add rhythm marks to the middle part of the tune.

About halfway through, the tune comes to rest on G. Bunting has apparently put dots there which he has then deleted in his usual way, by drawing heavy broad ink lines at an angle through these unwanted dots. In this case he has done two heavy curved ink lines, and I wonder if he was trying to make a semibreve kind of note like this: () I am not confident enough to make my machine audio and typeset version play a long G here, but I have made the playback pause instead. It is obviously a line-ending in the tune.

I would think this transcription may well have been made live from the playing of Denis O’Hampsey on the old Irish harp, and as such I think it would be worth studying as an example of idiomatic old Irish harp style. We can note that it is a bit different from the two vocal settings we looked at just now.

Bunting’s piano developments of the tune

I think it is fair to say that Bunting was not interested in the actual performance styles of his tradition-bearer informants on their own terms; from the beginning his mission had been to transcribe and arrange the tunes, to reduce them to notation, to publish them in fashionable commercial piano arrangements like Haydn and Beethoven and other composers and arrangers were doing at that time. So, while we can look at Bunting’s later work to learn about attributions, titles and variants, we will not really learn anything more about traditional old Irish harp performance style or idiom from looking at the piano arrangements.

In his 1798 unpublished Ancient and Modern piano collection, Bunting made a nice classical piano arrangement which seems to be derived from his “Charles Byrne” live transcription notation on MS4.29 p.195. We get some very interesting information from Bunting’s text on this page, which was likely written only a few years after he made the live transcription. His title has obviously had input from an Irish speaker, as he writes “Madin bheg áoibhin – or soft pleasant Morning”. Underneath the first four bars he writes Irish lyrics: “Madin bheg aoibin aoibhin aoibin”. Then under the first system he writes “This seems to be the end rather than the beginning of a tune”. Then in the space after the tune finishes, he writes a fragment of bass clef notation with a note to himself, “from past one O’Clock this part / for the first”. This is written in a blacker ink I think. Finally at the bottom we get attribution information: “From Charles Byrne & poor old Dennis Hempson”.

Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.33.2 p.16
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Bunting obviously was preoccupied with the vague similarities between parts of the tune of Maidin bhog aoibhinn, and parts of the tune of Táim i mo chodladh. There is an undated but late piano arrangement in ms4.12.2, perhaps sheet 2 or 3 (I haven’t looked at this; see Moloney (2000) p.238) which begins with a motif similar to the sketched extra part on the MS4.33.2 page.

In the late 1730s, Bunting and his editors were preparing piano arrangements for the 1840 publication. Our tune appears in both of the big piano albums, though I have not looked at either of these notations, and I am relying on Colette Moloney’s Introduction and Catalogue (ITMA 2000). The arrangement in MS4.13 p.66 is tagged “very Ancient author and date unknown / at Magilligan / From Hempson / in 1796” (Moloney p.255), while the arrangement in MS4.27 p.44 is tagged “From Hempson the harper Maggilligan Co. Derry in 1796” (Moloney p.325). This attribution is passed through into the 1840 published book; the index page x, under “where and from whom procured”, says “Hempson, Magilligan, 1796”. The published piano arrangement is no.78 on page 57 of the 1840 book.

Edward Bunting, The Ancient Music of Ireland (1840) p.57
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We can just ignore Bunting’s piano arrangement because that tells us nothing about traditional Irish music performance practice, only about its re-invention as classical piano music.

However if we look at all the different notations, both live transcriptions and piano arrangments, we can see that we have basically three different “sections” of music represented in all these different versions.

One “section” might be represented by the simple melody, as played on the harp by Denis O’Hampsey (MS4.29 p.166) and perhaps Black (MS4.29 p.199). We also see this melody as the first half of the Mayo singer’s performance (MS4.29 p.134). However none of Bunting’s piano arrangements seem to have used any of this material.

Another “section” is what Bunting labels as the “chorus” in his 1840 print, and that seems a reasonable way to understand it. We see this “chorus” section as the second half of the Mayo singer’s performance (MS4.29 p.134), and we also see that it forms the entirety of the Charles Byrne performance (MS4.29 p195), under-written with the lyrics “Maidin bheag aoibhin, aoibhin, aoibhin”. This is the section of the tune that Edward Bunting uses for his 1798 piano arrangement.

The third “section” seems to be Bunting’s invented idea, inspired by a perceived similarity between the first melody section, and parts of the tune of táim mo chodladh. He sketches his brief idea in MS4.33.2 and then fully develops it for the first half of the 1840 published piano arrangement.

Other versions

Other titles seem to be over unrelated tunes. “Maudhin Vóg Eveen” is a piano arrangement in a book of Irish airs, and Pleyel and Haydn, but it is not our tune. It looks like it is related to “A phlúr na maighdean” (see Moloney p.291). I assume Bunting has got muddled between morning and maiden, though I think they sound very similar in Irish as we see from the lyrics (below). Another title is “Maudhin Eveen Aluine / from Mr. Conner” in Cody’s book QUB SC MS4.5 (see Moloney p.189 & p.246) but again this seems a different tune.

I note that there is a song “Táid seo sa Teannta” by William English which says it is to be sung to the tune of Maidin bhog aoibhinn (Nic Enri, Canfar an Dan p.142, 165, 269). On the accompanying CD, the tune used for singing English’s lyric has been derived from Bunting.

We also have what I think is a different song, Maidin Bhog Álainn composed by Tomás Rua Ó Súilleabháin (1785 – 1848). You can hear the beginning being sung by Cáit Bean Uí Shé in 1967. And another different song titled “Maidean bhog aoibhinn” is no.87 on page 143 of The songs of Elizabeth Cronin (ed. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 2000) though I don’t think there is a recording of her singing this, or a notation of the tune.

Song lyrics

Bunting gives us a fragment of lyrics in MS4.33.2, perhaps half remembered from Charles Byrne’s singing. He writes “Madin bheg aoibin aoibhin aoibin” under the start of the “chorus” section of the tune.

John Lynch collected a set of lyrics in Connacht in 1802, which are preserved in Bunting’s papers. You can see Lynch’s rough copy of the Irish lyrics and his English translation here at QUB SC MS4.26.19ak:

Maidin bheg aoibhin

Mo bhron is mo mhilliugh gan piopa tabac agam
Air a gleann chaorthuinn d’eirigh an la
Is cailin a tighse bheith sinte air leaba liom agam
Is air a gleann chaorthuinn deirghe an la

A mhaighdion bhig aoibhin, aoibhin, aoibhin
Air maidin bheg aoibhin uair remhe la
Maighdion bheag caoimh na codladh go caoin liom
is air a gleann chaorthuin deirghe an la

<pencil> Soft Pleasant Morning
My grief and vexation that I have not a pipe of Tobacco
It is on the valley of Rowen trees the day dawns
The lass of this house to be stretched in bed with me
It is over the glen of Rowan trees the day dawns

A fine little morning charming – charming
A fine little morning an hour before day
A fine maid to sleep with me so kindly
And o’er the glen of Rowan trees the day dawns

You can also see Lynch’s neat presentation copy of the lyrics on QUB SC MS4.10.095.

In Amhráin Chúige Chonnacht (Irish Academic Press 1985 edition, p.34-5), Douglas Hyde tells a story about Carolan composing a song under the title Maidin bhog aoibhinn, with a chorus which repeats this phrase. But Hyde never talks about the tunes to the songs he presents.

Maidin bhog aoibhinn

Maidin bhog aoibhinn, maidin bhog aoibhinn
Maidin bhog aoibhinn an mhaidin is fearr,
Maidin bhog aoibhinn, gealach is grian,
Insa gCingston na féile d’eirigh an lá.

Tá an tiarna Cing ag tíocht ‘s a thrúp leis,
Go fáilteach clúiteach inár ndáil,
Go mba fada buan beo é i dtrise ‘s i gcéim,
A chlann is a mhaoin is é féin go bráth.

Tá dealrú ón ngréin ar gach maidin dó ag éirí,
Preabaire an réidh-chroí mhaitheas gach cáin,
‘Sé scaipfeadh ar gach aon de bhochtaibh an tsaoil,
A Chingston na féile ag éirí don lá

Maidin bhog aoibhinn, maidin bhog aoibhinn
Maidin bhog aoibhinn an mhaidin is fearr,
Maidin bhog aoibhinn, gealach is grian,
Insa gCingston na féile d’eirigh an lá.

A Fine, Soft Morning

A fine, soft morning, a fine, soft morning,
A fine, soft morning is best I say;
A fine, soft morning, the sun and the moon,
And in generous Kingston rose the day.

Lord King is coming, and his troops with him,
With welcome and renown to meet us,
That he may be long alive in strength and (high) degree,
His children, his goods, and himself for ever

There is a brightness from the sun every morning when he rises
The hero of the ready heart who forgives every rent,
It is he who would scatter (gold) on each one of the world’s poor,
Oh, Kingston of the generosity, on the rising of the day.

A fine, soft morning, a fine, soft morning,
A fine, soft morning is best I say;
A fine, soft morning, the sun and the moon,
And in generous Kingston rose the day.

Hyde’s words attributed to Carolan are in praise of the generosity of the Earl of Kingston, with no hint of suggestive subtext or maidens. The story explains that Carolan composed them for a man who was deeply in debt to the Earl, and the man sung them at daybreak under the window where the Earl slept. Of course the Earl was moved by the singing and wrote off all the poor man’s debts. I note that the order seems to be a little different here than from Lynch’s text; where Lynch gives one verse followed by one chorus, Hyde gives us chorus – verse – verse – chorus.

So how do we understand the fragment that Bunting wrote under the beginning of his piano arrangement in MS4.33.2? Was he half remembering a lyric that Charles Byrne had sung? Bunting gives “Madin bheg aoibin aoibhin aoibin” which is a closer match to Lynch’s chorus than to Hyde’s, but to be honest either is a plauisble candidate for what Byrne might have sung.

Or did Bunting lift this line from Lynch’s 1802 manuscript, and insert it retrospectively? I think Bunting might have liked the suggestive sentiments of Lynch’s song. But Douglas Hyde’s story shows us that we could have any number of different songs that share a similar chorus with very different words.


I think there is a little ambiguity in the title.

Maudhin voge eveen (MS4.29 p.134) (Mayo singer 1792)
Maudhin voge eveen (MS4.29 p.195) (Byrne? 1790s)
Maudhin voge eveen (MS4.29 p.199) (upside-down 1790s)
Maudhin voge eveen (MS4.29 p.166) (O’Hampsey 1796?)
Maidhin voge eveen (MS4.29 p.166) (O’Hampsey 1796?)
Madin bheg áoibhin (MS33.2 p.16) (Bunting piano 1798)
Madin bheg aoibin (MS33.2 p.16) (Bunting piano 1798 lyrics)
Maidin bheg aoibhin (MS4.26.19ak) (Lynch 1802 title)
A mhaighdion bhig aoibhin (MS4.26.19ak) (Lynch 1802 lyric)
Maidhin Bheg Aoibhinn (MS4.12.2 via Moloney, 1830s?)
Maidhin Voge Eveen (MS4.13 & 27 via Moloney, 1830s)
Maidin bhog aoibhin (1840 index)

Soft Pleasant Morning (MS4.26.19ak) (Lynch 1802 title)
A fine little morning (MS4.26.19ak) (Lynch 1802 lyrics)
The Soft Mild Morning (MS4.12.2 via Moloney, 1830s?)
Soft Mild Morning (MS4.13 & 27 via Moloney, 1830s)
Soft Mild Morning (1840 piano arrangement)

I think we have to think about the first word. Most of these clearly represent Maidin (morning), but Lynch uses Maighdean, (maiden or virgin), confirmed by his translation, though he is not consistent. And then the second word is also ambiguous. Lynch is clearly using Beag (little or small), but the four transcription titles in MS4.29 as well as Lynch’s translation of the title may point more to Bog (soft), which seems to be confirmed by Bunting’s 1840 title and translation as well as matching Hyde’s. The only word of the title that is unambiguous is aoibhinn (pleasant, lovely).


I think this tune can be very informative for us. We don’t seem to have any versions of the tune from anyone else apart from Edward Bunting, which is a huge limitation. It would be great to find a traditional performance on a recording, but the song may not have survived in the living tradition.

In any case Bunting has made independent live transcriptions from four different tradition-bearers. I am thinking we have our anonymous Mayo singer in summer 1792, we may have the good singer (but bad harper) Charles Byrne singing it some time in the 1790s; we may have the harper and singer Daniel Black singing (or perhaps playing) it in summer 1796; and we have the elderly and perhaps declining harper Denis O’Hampsey presumably playing an instrumental version of it probably in summer 1796.

By comparing and contrasting these four live transcriptions we can understand more about how a well-known song in the tradition was handled differently by instrumentalists, solo singers, and singer-instrumentalists.

Singers looking for interesting new Irish song repertory can try to match Lynch’s 1802 Mayo text, or Hyde’s Carolan text, with Bunting’s 1792 Mayo song transcription of the verse and chorus.

Those looking for genuine old Irish harp repertory can look at the O’Hampsey and perhaps the Black transcriptions as source material for reconstructing plausible traditional harp versions of the tune.

Those who are interested in the raiding of oral traditions to feed the maw of literate commercial published classical music, can also find a lot of material here to see how Edward Bunting worked up his classical piano arrangements, shamelessly inventing new filler material and larding his arrangements up with authoritative-looking provenances.

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 “Maidin bhog aoibhinn”

  1. I went to Queen’s and checked the cut edge of p.200; it doesn’t match the end of part 1 like I had thought, it does fit with the cut edges of that section (though it also shows that p.200 was up the right way when the edge was cut). But we still have the tune titles that all relate to part 1.

    The more detail I look at the less simple the answers seem to get!

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