STORIES OF TUNES WITH A HISTORY
“There is a song, a simple song,
I’ve heard in early youth,
When life to me seemed but to be
All innocence and truth;
Nor wrong, nor guile, nor falsehood’s wile,
My merry heart had wrung,
When first I heard that simple strain─
The song my Mother sung.
Oh, I have been through many a scene
Of happiness and mirth,
In bower, and hall, and festival;
But never upon earth
Such music sweet did ever greet
Me yet where’er I roam,
As the song I heard, long years ago,
My Mother sang at home.”
To accord a full measure of appreciation and acknowledgment to everyone who contributed tunes to our collections had been our constant aim, and with that object in view, the name of the contributor was printed with each tune so obtained. Where no names were appended their absence indicated that such tunes did not come into our possession from individuals.
This plan, while seemingly just, did not prove entirely satisfactory for several reasons. Many tunes credited to those from whom we obtained them were known to others, and had been memorized from the playing of some of our best musicians. A few of the latter quite naturally considered themselves entitled to recognition. For instance quite a few of the tunes which the writer had dictated to Sergt. O’Neill had been picked up in years gone by from such noted players as Hieks, O’Brien and Delaneylong before the idea of compiling a collection of Irish Folk Music had been thought of.
It might be well to keep in mind that choice and rare tunes were regarded by not a few pipers and tiddlers as personal property and zealously guarded accordingly. Such musicians seldom or never played their “pet,” tunes in the hearing of any one known to possess the happy faculty of a grasping ear and tenacious memory, but in spite of their utmost secretiveness the favorites leaked out, eventually, and were promptly committed to musical notation for preservation and publicity.
Recording the sources from which tunes were derived as practiced generally by Bunting, Petrie, and Joyce, in Ireland could not fail to be of more historical and comparative value to the musical antiquary than similar notation made in England and America.
Irishmen from all parts of Ireland intermingle promiscuously in all countries to which they migrate and the man from Ulster soon learns the Munster man’s music, and so on until the fact of obtaining an air or tune from a native of a certain county or province carries with it no assurance that the music was not learned from a stranger or chance acquaintance. Such firstclass players as Delaney, Touhey, Early, McFadden, O’Neill, Kennedy, Cronin and Carbray, picked up considerable of their repertory in different parts of the country and from people hailing from various locations. It can therefore be seen from the foregoing that printing contributors, names with their tunes served no useful purpose. On the contrary it not infrequently served to provoke jealousies and illwill instead. Full acknowledgement is made in the introduction to the Dance Music of Ireland—the names and nativities of all who in any way aided in the enterprise being given in a manner which leaves no room for criticism.
What might be written concerning the incidental history of the large number of stray and rare melodies collected and published through our efforts would “fill a volume” but as time, space and patience must be respected, only a few can be mentioned at all, and those will be discussed briefly in the order in which they are published, commencing with
During the last week of a mission given at Bantry during my school days, the man who presided at a stall erected against the end of the schoolhouse for the sale of church wares, attracted trade by singing a rather depressing song to a fine melody which I memorized unconsciously and never forgot. Following is all I remember of the song,—
“Where sinful souls do mourn from whence they can’t return
But there to weep and mourn bound in fiery chains.”
No doubt this direful picture of perdition was intended to call attention to the impending departure of the missioners and the need of prompt repentance, so I named the Air “Fare you Well” or the “Sinners’ Lament.” This melody was unknown in that part of the country and no trace of it had ever been discovered in our experience until recently a version was found in the Complete Petrie Collection, under the title “An garbh Cnoicin Fraoigh” (“The rough little Heathy Hill”).
“Cailin beag mo Chroidhe” or “The little Girl of my Heart” was a characteristic Folk Song which I frequently heard my parents sing in boyhood days near Bantry in W. Cork. It recited in Irish the appeals of an infatuated maiden to her unresponsive swain, and his evasive replies in alternate verses. Then as now it appears excuses to avoid incurring distasteful obligations were never wanting.
“Colleen beg machree, how can I marry you without a coat to my back?,” the diplomatic deluder would say. To remove this obstacle the young woman supplied the deficiency only to be met with another shortage in wardrobe, and so on indefinitely. Nothing resembling this melody or song has been encountered in our researches. A previously unpublished air of great beauty which we named “The Fun at Donnybrook” was given us by Sergt. Mich’l Hartnett, a native of W. Cork. It consists of but one strain of ten bars. A lyric in five line verse was sung to this air. It recited the wonders witnessed at the fair by a stranger, on his return home. Nothing in O’NeiIl’s Music of Ireland so captivated the fancy of Rev’d Dr. Henebry as this simple traditional strain
“Bean Dubh an Gleanna” (pronounced “Ban dhuv an glannav”), or “The Dark Woman of the Glen,” came to us through Patrick Touhey, the celebrated Irish piper from Daniel Sullivan, of Boston, a native of Millstreet, County Cork. In the florid execution of Irish airs, Mr. Sullivan had no superiors on the violin. Even now in his advanced old age his tones, trills and graces breathe the very soul of tradition and it is cheering to know that his son and namesake is already famous as the composer of the music of the opera, Pocahontas. The airs called “The Maiden,” and “The Dark Maiden of the Valley” in O’Neil1’s Music of Ireland are but simpler versions of Sullivan’s melody.
Among the many
unpublished airs which I learned at the old homestead were "The
Friars' Hill," "My Love is a Bandboy", "The
Colleen Rue", "My Darling, I am Fond of you", and
"Teige Maire's Daughter." The latter is an exceptionally
fine traditional melody to which was sung a song beginning
"Johnny bought a beaver hat,
Then Johnny bought a new cravat;
Johnny bought more things than that,
To coax Teige Maire's daughter."
A rollicking chorus ending in the phrase "I wish you were my darling" followed each verse. The song remembered only in a fragmentary way was not very edifying in sentiment. The subject dealt with ordinary escapades of merely local interest.
"Farmer Hayes" and "Raking Paudheen Rue" are plainly derived from a common origin. Those airs known in South Munster at least, combined with typical Folk Songs, seem to have been overlooked by Bunting, Petrie, and other collectors. The airs were also known by other names such as "The Bold Undaunted Fox," "Raking Red-haired Pat," and "McKenna's Dream." In his recent work, "Old Irish Folk Music and Songs", Dr. Joyce prints a version under the latter name.
"The Woods of Kilkenny" is a restoration of an ancient air partly forgotten, which my mother sang. How far we have been successful in reproducing it is left to the reader to judge.
One of the best remembered airs memorized from my father's singing is "Rodney's Glory." The song dates from the naval success of an English admiral of that name, who died in 1792, but the air is doubtless much older. Other names by which it was known are "My Name is Moll Mackey" and "The Praises of Limerick." The tune "Rodney’s Glory,” is also a favorite Long-Dance and is included in a list of such tunes printed in O’Keeffe and O’Brien’s Handbook of Irish Dance.
“Fair Mary Mulholland” is the air of a Folk song in the County Down, which Sergt. James O’Neill learned from his mother. It had not been previously published and the original title being unknown it was named for the woman who sang it.
Versions of “Seaghan O Duibhir an Gleanna” or “John O’Dwyer of the Glen,” are almost as numerous as the singers of that fine old air. Sergt. O’Neill endeavoured to note down the melody as played on the violin with trills and graces by Mich’l G. Enright, a native of County Limerick.
It would be difficult, indeed, to do justice in musical notation to his inimitable execution of that ancient strain, which differs considerably from the setting in John O’Daly’s Poets and Poetry of Munster.
The great popularity of the air in the southern province was well illustrated at the Munster Feis which I attended in 1906. Variants of it could be easily recognized in the airs to which different songs were sung by half a dozen at least of the local competitors.
One of the numbers in Bunting’s third collection entitled “A Little Hour before Day” is unquestionably version of the original melody. It was obtained from Byrne, the harper, in 1806, and in his remarks Bunting says that it is “Ancient author and date unknown.” In O’Keefe and O’Brien’s Handbook of Irish Dance “Seaghan O’ Duibhir an Gleanna” is listed among the Long-Dances. A setting of it obtained from Edw. Cronin, who alone knew it in this style, is printed in the Dance Music of Ireland. It is peculiar in having but six bars in each strain.
An extremely plaintive Lamentation air was sent us by mail from Sault Ste. Marie, Northern Michigan. The sender, whose name I believe was Dwyer, stated that his grandmother, from whom he learned it, used to tell of a Gen’1 Munroe in the rebellion of ‘98 in connection with the song. Reference to a volume of Irish biography verifies the story. The martyr was Gen’l Henry Munroe of the County Down, who was betrayed, tried by court martial, hung, and beheaded, within a few hours.
We are indebted to a gentleman of wide musical knowledge, I. S. Dunning, former city engineer of Aurora, Illinois, for “Rory Dall’s Sister’s Lament,” a decidedly ancient strain. The great harper and composer was known in his native Ireland as Rory Dall O’Cahan or “Blind Rory.” Like many others of his class he wandered into Scotland, where, in time, his “ports” or compositions, as well as himself, were claimed as belonging to that country. Four of the ten specimens of ancient socalled Seotch melodies for the harp, printed in a modern publication, entitled Irish and Scots Harps, are Rory Dall’s compositions. How he came to be known as Rory Dell Morison in that country is not explained even in Brown and Stratton’s British Musical Biography. The harper and poet is mentioned by both names but his birthplace is given as the Island of Lewis, Scotland.
To Sergt. James O’Neill’s elaboration of an old Irish strain we are indebted for “Thanksgiving.” As one of the grandest airs in the whole range of Irish melody it certainly deserves the wide popularity which it has already gained.
There was an industrious weaver and poetaster in Bantry named John Sullivan in the sixties whose prolific muse was never at a loss for a theme. Margaret Sheehan, a likely young girl, who attracted his fancy, was done into verse as follows, attuned to an unpublished local melody, which my memory preserved.
“M-a was placed the first, with an r before the rest,
G-a-r is the next, and e-t has it proved;
S-h then follows after, with double e in right good order,
And h-a-n is the latter of my Darling Colleen Fune.”
Johnny Sullivan, “the poet,” as he was best known, has long since ceased to sing, and what is worse, was remembered only by a few of the oldest inhabitants when I visited Bantry in 1906. Such is fame.
“Hugh O’Neill’s Lament,” is another of those fine melodies from the North of Ireland contributed by Sergt. 0’Neill. Judging by the inquiries concerning its origin it has attracted much attention.
A good illustration of the many versions and variants developed in the course of time from a popular composition transmitted by ear throughout the country from one generation to another is An Seanduine, or “The Old Man.” The first setting in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland is that learned from my mother as she sung the song in the Irish language. The second and third settings are those printed in O’Daly’s Poets and Poetry of Munster. All three may be played in regular order as one piece, so varied are they, while yet preserving the fundamental melody. “The Campbells are Coming,” better known than either, is the Scotch version of this ancient air.
In my boyhood days I heard my sisters chant a song commencing “Holland is a fine place where many a fine thing grows,” and ending with “The low, low lands of Holland between my love and me.” This air, characteristically Irish, bears little resemblance to the “Lowlands of Holland,” printed in Dr. Joyce’s Ancient Irish Music. The Scotch also have an air, or rather airs of that name for which many claimants contend, according to the editor of Wood’s Songs of Scotland. Our melody appears to be unknown beyond a limited district in W. Cork, where I’m sorry to say, as a result of the suppression of the “Patrons” and farmhouse dances, most of the music and melodies of half a century ago, are now forgotten.
An unpublished old Irish air of quaint cadences, to which was sung some verses reciting the adventures and heroism of the “Cumberland’s Crew,” was known as “Cahireiveen” around Northwest Cork, according to Sergt. Mich’l Hartnett. The setting printed in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland was mine, but when or where it was acquired has escaped my memory.
“The Barley Grain,” as sung in W. Cork in my youth, is an entirely different air from that published in the Petrie and Joyce collections─both the latter being obtained from the same source. The song as I heard it commenced,─
“There were three farmers from the North;
As they were passing by
They swore an oath─and a mighty oath─
The barley grain would die.
“With my right faladidy idy O, etc., etc.”
The cereal did not have any too easy a time of it, the song goes on to explain, but finally fortune favored it and
“The barley grain stuck out its nose
And then belied them all,”
which to show that even the wisest are sometimes mistaken.
A delightful, though simple air, was that of a song in common circulation among the peasantry of W. Cork, fifty years ago. Each verse began with the hypothetical phrase ─“If all the Young Maidens”─ varying the situation ad finitum until the singer’s muse was exhausted. In songs of this character every singer was privileged to extemporize, and no end of fun was possible under such unrestrained freedom. A few samples of the verses may not be found uninteresting to the general reader, ─
“If all the young maidens were blackbirds and thrushes,
If all the young maidens were blackbirds and thrushes;
How soon the young men would get sticks and beat bushes,
Fal the daw, fal the day, fal the didy o-dee.
If all the young maidens were swans on the water,
If all the young maidens were swans on the water;
How soon the young men would strip off and swim after,
Fal the daw, fal the day─etc., etc.
If all the young maidens were birds on the mountain,
If all the young maidens were birds on the mountain;
How soon the young men would get guns and go fowling,
Fal the daw, fal the day─etc., etc.”
Bunting says this peculiar species of chant having a frequently recurring chorus or catchword is called a Loobeen. It is sung at merrymakings, and assemblages of young women, when they meet at spinnings or quiltings, and is accompanied by extemporaneous verses of which each singer successively furnishes a line. In Scotland, particularly in the Highlands, and the Isles oil the west coast, tunes of this class were known by the name of Luinigs or Luinniochs, signifying cheerful chorus music.
Some years ago a letter from a resident of British Columbia making inquiry for an old Irish air entitled “The County Mayo” plunged me into many a fit of thinking. This air bore no relationship except in name to the modern favorite called the “Lass from the County Mayo?” Many indexes were consulted in vain, yet memory assured me I had seen that name among my books. But where? After a tiresome search a song named “The County of Mayo,” was found in Alfred Perceval Graves’ Irish Song Book, commencing “On the deck of Patrick Lynch’s boat I sit in woeful plight.” It was to be sung to the beautiful air “Billy Byrne of Ballymanus.” This information readily solved our problem, for an excellent setting of this melody was printed in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland.
“When a Man’s in Love he Feels no Cold,” is a melody from the province of Ulster heretofore unpublished and so is “The old Plaid Shawl.” To Sergt. James O’Neill we are indebted for both, which he learned from his mother in the County Down. “The old Plaid Shawl,” a fine traditional strain, is much superior to the music of the modern song of that name, which owes its popularity chiefly to its catchy title.
“The Proposal,” or “He asked me name the Day,” is an air of much beauty When sung or played with expression. Forgotten since early youth, it came to me like a flash one afternoon. For fear of again losing it I grasped Sergt. 0’Neill’s bow-hand, lest his strains unhinge my memory. This unpublished melody, which possesses marked individuality, came dangerously near passing into oblivion.
An air so universally known as the “Blackbird” would find no mention in a cursory sketch of this kind except that we desire to invite attention to Sergt. O’Neill’s unique traditional version which he learned from his father. It has been often remarked and I believe not without justice, that the song could not very well be sung to the music of it as commonly printed. A setting of the “Blackbird” appropriate for a Long-Dance is printed in the Dance Music of Ireland.
Of the various old melodies which my father soothingly sang after the daily routine of farm work was over, non is better remembered than “Mo Muirnin na gruaige baine” (Mavoureen na gruiga bauna), or “My Fairhaired Darling.” I do not recollect having found this grand old air in any collection of Irish music except as “Dobbin’s Flowery Vale” in Joyce’s Ancient Irish Music.
It is mentioned frequently by its Irish name in Hardiman’s Irish Minstrely. The song in full in the Irish language is printed in the first volume of that rare work. The words of John Bernard Trotter in his Walks through Ireland─1812 to 1817, are particularly applicable to this fine strain. “I heard an old Irish air sung with Irish words by an Irish woman,” he says; “it was mournfully and remarkably melodious, sung very slow, and with astonishing and true pathos. It appealed powerful to the heart.”
A correspondent who evidently was familiar with old airs, especially those found in Scottish collections, informed us that our fine melody entitled “There’s an End to my Sorrow” was the Scotch air called “There’ll never be peace ‘till Jamie comes hame.” True enough a song of that name was written by Robert Burns to a modification of the tune, “There are few good fellows when Jamie’s awa.” The Scotch air is quite simple and resembles but slightly the florid setting full of Irish tonality, printed in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland. Notwithstanding the superiority of the melody to which we gave publicity as Irish, a feeling of having trespassed on the preserves of our Caledonian kin lingered in my mind. To our great relief and joy, we find the air included in Dr. Joyce’s Old Irish Music and Songs, just fresh from the press, under the name “My sorrow is greater than I can tell.” The learned editor tells us that it was noted down from James Keane, an old man in his 83rd year, living in Kilkee on the Atlantic coast of the County of Glare. Thus were we vindicated unexpectedly. No doubt the tune had been learned in Scotland from the wandering Irish harpers.
It is a strange coincidence that two versions of an unpublished air─one from County Antrim and the other from W. Cork─should be krown only to Sergt. O‘Neill and myself.
As “The Croppy Tailor” in Ulster, the song told of the humiliating adventures of a tailor whose domestic relations had been invaded by a dragoon. The Munster song, “White Bread and Butter,” recites the not altogether pleasant experiences of a “spalpeen,” or laborer among the farmers in harvest time.
A violinist of the old school─I. S. Dunning, before mentioned─took a keen interest in our work since its inception; and besides contributing rare unpublished airs and dance tunes his critical but kindly comment served a useful purpose. In reviewing the Music of Ireland he tells us that the melody which captivated his fancy and that of his family above all others in the collection is “Tralibane Bridge.” The fact that its haunting plaintive nose had made it also my choice is more than a mere coincidence. When affliction beyond the power of pen to describe cast its withering blight on our home, this weird and fascinating air obsessed my waking hours for days unnumbered. To me no other strains in the whole range of wailing dirges so deeply touches the heart or so feelingly voices the language of sadness and despair.
Two versions of this air─one from Mayo and the other from Armagh─are to be found in the Complete Petrie Collection lately issued in London. They are named “The Little Red Lark of the Mountain.”
Trailbane Bridge, ivyclad and ancient, spans a rocky, brawling river named on the mops Owennashingaun, in West Cork. Three townlands meet at this bridge, a significant circumstance to at least one disciple of the “black art,” who one May morning at sunrise stood knee deep in the rushing current and performed certain mystic ceremonies. One consisted in dividing the waters with a scissors along the imaginary lines of the townland boundaries under the centre of the main arch. Whatever songs may have been sung to this touching air are lost as far as the writer has been able to ascertain.
While visiting at Mr. Cronin’s house in Lake View one evening there came to mind a verse of a song called “An Peacadh ‘sa Bas,” which I had often heard my father sing. It was a dialogue between “Death and the Sinner,” of which I remember a quatrain from the latter’s statement:
“The night of my wake there will be pipes and tobacco,
With snuff on a plate on a table for fashion’s sake;
Mold candles in rows like torches watching me,
And I cold in my coffin by the dawn of the day.”
To what I could recall of the air Mr. Cronin supplied additional bars from his memory, but we were not at all sanguine of over recovering the full measure. To our great delight Mrs. Cronin had a better recollection of the air than either of us, so with her assistance we succeeded beyond our expectations. Mr. Cronin’s style of playing it, which differs from Sergt. O’Neill’s arrangement, is a revelation as an example of the traditional, which some doubting Thomases pretend to believe does not exist. Comparatively few of the Irish musicians of this generation can produce the traditional expression, which baffles my powers of description, but when heard is easily recognized.
As in other instances, this elusive air was no sooner committed to notation than another setting of it was obtained from Sergt. Mich’l Hartnett, whose mind was a storehouse of rare tunes. The constant intercourse among our musical people in those years stimulated their dormant memories. Strains heard after the lapse of years brought to mind tunes long forgotten, that, had they not been promptly noted down, may never again be recalled.
Another of my father’s favorite songs was “Beidmaoid ag ol,” or “Let us. Be drinking,” song to a very spirited air of that name. The burden of the song described the accomplishments of a so-called “classical teacher” in his own words. In the first line he introduces himself with confidence:
“My name is O’Sullivan; I’m an eminent teacher.”
What follows this egotistical announcement I have forgotten, but in listing his questionable accomplishments, he says, ─
“I can write a fine letter on paper or parchment,
Construe an author and give the due sense;
I court the fair maidens unknown to their parents
And thresh in their barns without evidence.”
Then follows a chorus in Irish after each verse, ─
“Beidmaoid ag ol,” etc., etc.
Our setting of this rare air is much superior to Petrie’s, which he obtained in County Kerry. It is not to be found in other collections.
In the year 1874, official duties brought me in contact with George Gubbins, one of the superannuated officers detailed as lookup keeper at the famous Harrison Street Police Station. He was a native of County Limerick and amused himself during the night-watches in playing the fiddle. Contrary to the almost universal practice of his countrymen, he played all his tunes, including jigs and reels, in slow or singing time. One quaint air, new to me, I contrived to memorize, but as he was inclined to be unsociable on such occasions I failed to learn the name of it. For identification I christened it “Geo. Gubbins’ Delight,” and nothing even suggestive of its strains was since discovered until we found a version of it named “The Wedding Ring” in Dr. Joyce’s Old Irish Folk Music and Songs, just out of press.
Only a few miles intervened between Hospital, Gubbins’ birthplace, and Coolfree, where Dr, Joyce obtained his air. The melody, evidently of local origin, had not penetrated beyond a limited district.
At an auction sale of an English library held at Chicago, after fierce competition I fortunately succeeded in getting possession of Cock’s and Co.’s Encyclopedia of Melody, arranged by William Forde and commonly called Forde’s Encyclopedia, dating from the first half of the 19th century. Finding therein at number of Balfe’s Compositions, I was much pleased with the discovery and selected five of them, including “Killarney,” for reprinting in the Music of Ireland. The fact that Balfe was a native born Irishman did not save me from the petulant criticism of some of my best friends for being so deficient in musical discernment. Balfe’s music, they contended, was not Irish at all, even if he was.
Few born in Ireland who have not heard of the song named “Rocking the Cradle” or, as it is sometimes called, “Rocking a Baby that’s none of my Own.” Both song and air are now almost entirely forgotten, and it was a matter of no little difficulty to get a setting of the music.
In preference to an unsatisfactory version of my own, we selected a setting found in an American publication of over fifty years ago. A fair version was also printed in Smith’s Irish Minstrel, published in 1825 at Edinburgh.
It was quite a trick to play this piece to suit the old Irish standard of excellence, in which the baby’s crying had to be imitated on the fiddle. To bring out the tones approaching human expression, the fiddle was lowered much below concert pitch. The performer held firmly between the teeth one end of a long old-fashioned door key with which at appropriate passages the fiddle bridge was touched. This contact of the key produced tones closely imitating a baby’s wailing. Miss Ellen Kennedy, who learned the art from her father, a famous fiddler of Ballinamore, County Leitrim, was very expert in the execution of this difficult performance.
An air remembered from my boyhood days to which my father sung a song entitled “Castle Hyde” was printed in good faith under that name in O’NeiIl’s Music of Ireland. As the “Groves of Blarney” and “Castle Hyde” are in the same metre, the former being a parody on the latter, a growing belief that I must have been in error became a settled conviction when I found the strains of the “Groves of Blarney” printed under the name “Castle Hyde” in Fitzsimon’s Irish Minstrelsy, published in 1814.
From the sense of humiliation resulting from this discovery there has come eventually welcome relief. In the descriptive text relating to “Castle Hyde” in Dr. Joyce’s “Old Irish Folk Music and Songs,” he says, “I find by an entry in the Forde MSS. that it was also sometimes sung ‘Youghal Harbor.’”
This information vindicates my memory, for the air we printed is a version of “Youghal Harbor,” of which there are quite a few.
So many of the great bard Turlough O’Carolan’s compositions were met with in both ancient and modern publications that they were given separate classification. Most of them were designated Planxty─a name which is not easily defined. The term cannot be very old, as the word in any form does not appear in O’Reilly’s Irish-English Dictionary or in others which have been consulted. That it signifies lively music is the generally accepted opinion. Dr. Hudson, musical editor of The Citizen, and The Dublin Monthly Magazine, 1841-42, says it is hard to assign an exact origin or meaning to either name Pleid raca or Plaing stigh, which seem to be interchangeable. Dr. Douglas Hyde is authority for the statement that 0’Carolan composed over 200 airs, many of them lively and full of curious turns and twists of metre. Many of his airs and nearly all his poetry, with the exception of about thirty pieces, are lost.
Certain peculiar cadences identify most of O’Carolan’s compositions, and from internal evidence, in the absence of any claim to the contrary, we have ventured to include under this classification a few airs believed to be his. On that theory the “Lamentation of Owen Roe O’Neill,” was printed as the first number. When I read in Grattan Flood’s History of Irish Music that “Owen Roe O’Neill’s Lament” was composed soon after his death, which occurred in 1649─twenty-one years before O’Carolan was born─you can imagine my embarrassment.
From that state of mind partial relief, at least, has come through finding it listed by Hardiman in Irish Minstrelsy as one of O’Carolan’s compositions and discovering the affecting air in Bunting’s General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music, published in 1796, and also in Clinton’s Gems of Ireland, published in 1841─and in both credited to O’Carolan. If we are in error, then, we may derive some satisfaction from being in such distinguished company. As an instance of fugitive pieces not listed by Irish writers among the bard’s compositions, we mention “Blind Mary,” attributed to him in the Encyclopedia of Melody before referred to.
Very naturally we were elated on getting an unlisted tune called “Planxty Dobbins” from John McFadden, whose store of gems was well nigh inexhaustible. The first strain consisted of eight bars, the second sixteen, and a third twenty-four bars in three-four time, a truly novel arrangement. Our delight was somewhat modified, however, in ending a version of it as “Planxty Reilly” in Bunting’s first and second collections, published in 1796 and 1809 respectively. Bunting’s settings consisted of twelve bars repeated in each of only two strains and they were not as pleasing to the ear in three sharps as McFadden’s version with one. I may add that he learned the tune from David Quinn, the famous Mayo piper.
The stimulation of Edward Cronin’s memory yielded up time to time many a forgotten gem, among them being an air known to him as “Tom Judge.” A limp in the metre caused by a missing bar was easily supplied, but the air which to me was fascinating excited nothing but dislike in my Ulster namesake, our talented scribe. Like “Planxty Dobbins” it proved not to be a new one entirely, for a version of it named “Thomas McJudge” was later discovered in Bunting’s second collection.
Besides the version of the airs just discussed, a better example of the mutations which time and tradition have effected in old strains can be studied in the ease of “Planxty Toby Peyton,” the first setting in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland was taken from Bunting’s third collection. Our second setting was a nameless vagrant air from County Clare, easily identified as a version of “Planxty Toby Peyton,” while our third setting, as played by James O’Neill of County Down and John McFadden of County Mayo, is a striking instance of what skilful violinists can accomplish in the embellishment and modernization of old Irish strains. Both learned the air from their fathers, and, considering the distance between their native homes, it is evident the florid modern version gained immediate popularity. It is worthy of notice that the first and third settings have twelve bars to each strain, while the County Clare version has but ten.
“O’Carolan’s Farewell” and “O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music,” end our collections of the renowned compositions. Those plaintive strains expressive of the aged and dying composers sorrow deserve to be better known. Of all the players of traditional Irish music who over happened into Chicago, Turlough McSwiney, the Donegal piper who came to play at Lady Aberdeen’s Irish Village at the World’s Fair in 1893, was the only one who had any knowledge of those laments. Unexpectedly both were found printed in Mooney’s History of Ireland. “O’Carolan’s Farewell,” I faintly remember having seen elsewhere, but not in the Bunting or Petrie collections. This Lament commemorated the bard’s departure from the hospitable home of his great friend Robert Maguire, of Tempo, County Fermanagh. Realizing that his life was drawing to a close, O’Carolan paid hasty visits to several cherished friends in Leitrim and Roscommon, on his way to Alderford House, the residence of Mrs. McDermott, his lifelong friend. After he had rested a little on reaching his destination, he called for his harp, and with feeble fingers wandering among the strings, produced his last composition, the weirdly plaintive “Farewell to Music” his dying wail.
To obtain a copy of a rare book requires zeal, patience and persistence, not to speak of the cost of indulging in such expensive antiquarian hobbies. To criticise those who through honorable motives trace and reprint Irish airs and dance tunes found in such works for the benefit of this and future generations, betrays a narrowness of spirit, which too often discourages commendable effort. Such strains, even if previously printed in volumes long out of print and obtainable only through special research, are practically lost to the public; and there is every reason for asserting that if such old traditional airs or tunes are found to possess merit, they should be given publicity, instead of being embalmed in museums for the exclusive benefit of musical archaeologists.
“Oh, surely melody from heaven was sent
To cheer the sad when tired of human strife;
To soothe the wayward heart by sorrow rent,
And soften down the rugged road of life.”