|Part of Article MT057|
Interview transcript - parts 1 to 4
EWAN MacCOLL: What kind of travelling men?
JH: Well, every kind of travelling people, maybe well-to-do people who were put out of their homes by landlords, by the troubles. They had to travel the road. They took to the road. They probably died on the road. Now, where I was born in Carna, you walk along there and you'll see stones built up on the side of the road. People throw stones over where somebody died and was buried where he was … where he died.
EM: What do they call that, when …?
JH: 'The Croppy's Grave they call them'. The Gaelic word they use for them (travelling men) is bacaigh. They didn't call them beggars, they didn't call them anything but bacaigh, which means a man that's lowered in the standard of life and he's doing that, you know, for his living - somebody with a bag on his shoulder, they call a bacaigh.
EM: The people who emigrated, where did they emigrate to?
JH: Mostly America, because America was the only country that ever offered them anything that time. In fact, they had funds in America to help them emigrate to there at the time. 1
EM: But there were many hundreds of thousands of Irish came to England too during this period to … for instance, they built the railways didn't they and the canals?
JH: They did, but they got no … they had … they came to England because it was nearer home and some of them didn't want to be too far away from home because they had families and wives to come home to. But the people who hadn't went to America and they took their families with them. And people who were put out of their homes now, for instance that song Skibbereen is one of the best examples any man can get of somebody having to leave home and his young son asking him why did he leave home. He was often talking about Erin's Isle, but why did he leave it. His young son was only five years old, asked him why did he leave Erin's Isle.
EM: Let's hear that song now.
Skibbereen (Roud 2312)EM: It's a wonderful song. Skibbereen means what, Joe, again?
And Oh, father dear, I often hear you speak of Erin's isle;
Her lofty scenes and her valleys green, her mountains rude and wild.
They say it is a lovely land wherein a prince might dwell.
Oh why did you abandon it, the reason to me tell?
And Oh son I loved my native land with energy and pride,
'Til a blight came over all my crops, my sheep and cattle died.
My rent and taxes were so high, I could not them redeem.
And that's the cruel reason I left old Skibbereen.
It's well I do remember the year of '98,
When I arose a Fenian to battle against our fate.
I was hunted through the mountains as a traitor to the Queen,
And that's another reason I left old Skibbereen.
It's well I do remember the cold November's day,
When the landlord and the sheriff came to drive us all away.
They set our roof ablaze afire with their dimly (demon?) yellow spleen.
And that's another reason I left old Skibbereen.
Your mother too, God rest her soul, fell on the snowy ground.
She fainted in her anguish, seeing the desolation round.
She never rose, but passed away from life to mortal dream.
She found her grave in place of rest in dear old Skibbereen.
You were only two months old and feeble was your frame.
I could not leave you with my friends, you bore your father's name.
I wrapped you in a cóta mór at the dead of night unseen.
Then we heaved a sigh and bid goodbye to dear old Skibbereen.
But oh Father dear, the day will come when our vengeance we will call.
When Irishmen both stout and stern will rally one and all.
I'll be the man to lead a van beneath a flag of green
And loud and high we'll raise the cry "Revenge for Skibbereen".
JH: Skibbereen is a song about a man who was thrown out by the landlord.
EM: Yes, I know that, but what does the word Skibbereen mean?
JH: Skibbereen is the name of a place in Kerry.
EM: I see. Not just the name of his farm?
JH: Oh, no. Skibbereen.
EM: Now there's a verse in that which refers to the year of '98.
JH: That means 1798.
EM: 1798. And the Queen that was referred to in there, which Queen would that be?
JH: I think it was …
EM: Was it Queen Anne or Queen Victoria? Which?
EM: This was before the potato famine?
JH: Before the potato famine, but leading up to it.
EM: This is the period of the land wars, isn't it?
JH: That's right. This is when - you didn't have the rent, you were thrown out. This is the same period as that song was composed about the tenant farmer. If the landlord had nobody else to do his dirty work he sent his own son, if he had one, round, you see, to collect the rent. If you didn't have it, you were thrown out, burned out. 2
EM: So presumably, the emigration was going on long, long before the potato famine.
JH: It was going on long before the potato famine.
EM: From the land wars on, or possibly even before then?
JH: From the sixteenth century.
EM: Really? From the time of Cromwell …?
JH: From the time Cromwell told them 'to Hell or Connaught'. That was 1649. That was his slogan 'to Hell or Connaught'. And only for his subjects (subjugations?) I suppose they wouldn't be born in Connaught but at the time Connaught was just barren rocks and mountain and nothing else. The people went and built their house near the sea, which was the only hope of survival they had - to get the fishing and that was his slogan. 3
EM: How did they fish, Joe, do you know? Pretty much the same way they do on the West today, yes?
JH: Yes, the same way as they do today. A currach, six oars or four oars, whatever the case may be - if there is three people to go in a currach, they have six oars and if there is one man, he has only the currach with two oars.
EM: If there are four oars, this will be for four members of a family, yes?
JH: No, four oars means two members of a family.
EM: Two members of a family, and six oars is three members of a family?
JH: Three members of a family or, if there isn't three members of the family, they'll probably get two people from different houses to help one another and divide the cast between them.
EM: What did they fish for?
JH: Lobster and what we call ballach or rockfish.
EM: This is inshore fishing?
JH: Yes, inshore fishing. They'd go out and maybe they'd have thirty or forty lobster pots in a boat, bait them with eel bait if you have it, which is the best bait they can use and leave them overnight, but they have to be out before the sun rises in the morning and lift them. Or else probably the lobsters will make their way out from the pot, if there's any in the pot. I did it myself when I was nine year old - before I went to school I used to do it.
EM: It must be hard work.
JH: I didn't mind, I liked it.
EM: Ah, yes, at nine years old, you would like it. You're not concerned with hard work of course.
JH: I did it afterwards too, but I did it then, I did it before I went to school. I had to do it.
EM: Now, could you sing us a Gaelic song now about the emigration?
JH: I can. I can sing you a lament, a Gaelic song about three fellows who was doing what I said I was doing, the fishing and the three brothers got drowned in the currach. And the sister went to America and she composed the song in America. The Trá Báine Currach is the name of the song in English.
EM: Trá Bhán, that is the name of the place is it?
JH: Trá Bhán. That's where the people came from. And she called it the Currachaí na Trá Báine
EM: Now, when was this, do you know?
JH: This happened now about 1910.
EM: Where is Trá Bhán by the way?
JH: Trá Bhán is about eight miles from where I was born, by sea and about forty miles from Galway.
EM: So these were three brothers who were drowned?
JH: Three brothers who went to Galway.
EM: And their sister went to America, but through poverty, presumably.
JH: Through poverty …?… she composed the song in America. 4
EM: Let's hear it.
Amhrán an Bhá (Currachaí na Trá Báine) 5EM: A beautiful song. Joe, what was the girl's name who made that song up?
Mo mhíle slán leat a Éirinn bhocht, is breá an rud é an t-earrach fhéin;
Níl caint ar obair bosannaí, ná rud ar bith mar é;
Seal ag tarraingt fheamainne, a' cur fhataí 's a' baint fhéir.
Níl fear ar bith, dhá bhoichte, nach bhfuil feilm aige fhéin.
Mo mhallacht ar na currachaí 's mo bheannacht ar na báid;
Mo mhallacht ar na currachaí atá thall insa Trá Bháin
A bhain mo cheathrar deartháir díom a raibh an fheilm acu ann.
Nach cuma leis an gCeallach é ó 'sé fhéin atá ina n-áit.
'S faraor géar nár cailleadh mé lá a baisteadh mé go hóg,
Nuair a fágadh i mo chadhain aonraic mé gan feithide an bhéil bheo
Níl deartháir a'am 's níl deirfiúir a'am 's níl mo mháithrín beo;
Tá m'athair bocht lag goilliúnach 's a Chríost, cé hionadh dhó.
Agus shoraidh dhíbhse, a dheartháireachaí, nach dtagann sibh i dtír;
Chaoinfeadh mná an bhaile sibh a gcleamhnaithe 's a ngaol;
Chuirfí cónraí geal' oraibh amach ó láimh an tsaoir;
Ní bheadh sibh dhá bpocáil idir farraigí ná dhá gcur ó thaobh go taobh.
Agus d'fhágadar an caladh againn ar maidin leis an lá.
Dia linn agus Muire! 'siad an triúr a chuaigh sa ngábh;
Níl blas ar bith dár cheannaíodar nach dtáinig dhon Trá Bháin;
Tháinig na maidí ar an duirling 's an curach ar an trá.
'S báitheadh Seán 's Peadar orm, bhí cathú agam ina ndiaidh,
Báitheadh deartháir eile orm, ó, Máirtín fadó ariamh.
'Sé Micil bocht ba mheasa liom dhá bhfaca mé ariamh
Ach mo mhallacht don tonn bháite, 'sé a d'fhága mé ina ndiaidh.
Nach é an Ceallach a bhí náireach nach labhródh sé le Bríd;
Chaith sí seacht seachtaine i stór na ragannaí
Níor chleachtas mhór é sin uirthi dhá mbeadh a muintir cruinn;
Ó bheadh sí ag baint na carraigín 's á triomú leis an ngaoth.
A thousand farewells to you, poor Ireland, fine indeed is the spring,
There is no talk of work, bosses or anything like that
Awhile drawing seaweed, planting potatoes or cutting hay
And there is not a man however poor, who doesn't have his own farm. 6
My curse on the currachs and my blessing on the boats,
My curse on the currachs that are over in Trá Bhán
That took my four brothers from me who had a farm there
And little Kelly cares, for he is in their place now.
My bitter sorrow that I didn't die the day I was baptised as a child,
Since I have been left all alone
I have no brother, I have no sister and my mother is not alive
My poor father is weak and distressed and, Oh Christ, it's no wonder!
And bad cess to you brothers that won't come ashore;
The women of the village would keen you, their in-laws and relations;
A bright coffin would be out on you from the craftsman's hand
And you would not be tossed on the seas and driven from shore to shore.
They left our jetty in the morning at dawn
God and Mary be with us! The three of them that went to their doom;
There wasn't a thing that they had bought that didn't come up at Trá Bhán;
The oars came up on the pebbles and the currach on the strand.
Seán and Peadar were drowned on me and I pined after them 7
Another brother was drowned on me, Máirtín long ago
Poor Micil who I preferred above of anybody I have ever seen yet
And my curse on the drowning wave, it has left me after them.
Wasn't it Kelly who was too ashamed to speak to Bríd;
She spent seven weeks in the rag-store
She would not have minded that if her family were all right;
She would have been gathering carraigín (edible seaweed) and drying it in the wind 8
JH: Bríd Flaherty was the girl's name.
JH: Well now, there's an English emigration song about a widow seeing her daughter off at the station, because they were put out of their house in County Mayo. They call it The Widow from Mayo. She went to the local railway station to see her daughter off. They were thrown out of their house by the landlord. That was the time of Captain Boycott in County Mayo.
EM: What period was that?
JH: That was, er … after the 1798 rising. And she went to see her daughter off and the conversation that went on between them before she went away is told in this song. 9
The Widow From Mayo (Roud 5334)EM: I've not heard you sing that one before, Joe.
One sunny summer's evening, in the merry month of May,
To a local railway station I carelessly did stray.
There I saw a widow wailing, down her cheeks the tears did flow.
Her only daughter was going away, far, far from sweet Mayo.
Musha grá mo chroí, you're parting me, she mournfully did mourn.
You're going away across the sea and leaving me alone.
To face the breeze of the stormy seas, you're bound for Mexico.
You could not stand the tyrant's hand in flowery sweet Mayo.
And my curse on these oppressors that send you to a foreign shore.
No more you'll travel the green old sod outside the cabin door.
It's English laws have been the cause of all our grief and woe.
For tyrants cruel do now misrule the people of Mayo.
And forgive those cruel oppressors now, before I bid goodbye,
For they have yet one judge to meet, the lord who rules on high.
If it was death sentence that parted us, God's will we must obey.
For it's poverty that now sends me to the lands of Americay.
Croagh Patrick high up in the sky this year I cannot climb,
Nor around Clew Bay I cannot sail in this good old summertime.
With the lovely sheen of the shamrock green, I often trampled down.
With the boys so neat and the girls so sweet in my own native town.
And when you're on the ocean blue, for you I will always pray,
In hopes that God will bring you safe to the lands of Americay.
And his blessed mother may guide you, I fervently implore,
Until you do return again to your home in sweet Mayo.
And it breaks my heart that I must part from all I love so dear.
My comrades all both great and small o'er the ocean I must steer.
I have to sigh as I bid goodbye, to my mother who's old and grey,
So farewell awhile green Erin's Isle I am bound for Americay.
JH: I don't often sing that one, I don't.
EM: Why don't you sing it?
JH: I don't know. I couldn't tell you. I don't know.
EM: It's a good song, isn't it?
JH: It's a popular song at home, anyway.
EM: What - popular where? In Carna?
JH: Everywhere around the West coast.
EM: Marvellous. I know the tune, of course, but I've never heard those words before. (pause). Right, can you do [a song in Gaelic]?
JH: I think Ned of the Hill, Éamonn an Chnoic they call it in Gaelic. Well, he came to his sweetheart's door and of course he thought whatever happened that she would stand up for him, but when he came to the door she was more afraid of the, shall I say, the English than she was fond of him. So she told him that she couldn't let him in and the final word he said, that if he couldn't get a friend, if she let him down, he'd emigrate somewhere else - and that's what he did.
EM: And is Ned of the Hill an exact translation of the Gaelic title?
JH: Ned of the Hill definitely is an exact translation because Ned of the Hill in Gaelic, Éamonn an Chnoic is the origin of it. I think there's a translation but I was never a man for the translations myself so I never learned it. But she started off by asking - he knocked on the door - Cé hé sin amuigh a bhfuil faobhar ar a ghuth Ag réabadh mo dhorais dúnta?, who is that there that's knocking on my door.
Éamonn an Chnoic (Ned of the Hill) 10EM: Anything else, any other song or …?
"Cé hé sin amuigh a bhfuil faobhar ar a ghuth
Ag réabadh mo dhorais dúnta?"
"Mise Éamonn an Chnoic atá báite fuar fliuch
Ó shíorshiúl sléibhte 's gleannta".
"A lao ghil 's a chuid, céard a dhéanfainnse dhuit
Mara gcuirfinn ort binn dhe mo ghúna;
Tá púdar go tiubh á shíorshéideadh leat,
Ó beidh muid araon múchta!"
Is fada mise amuigh faoi shneachta 's faoi shioc,
Ní raibh dánacht agam ar aon neach.
Mo sheisreach gan scor, mo bhranar gan cur,
Gan iad agam ar aon chor.
Níl caraid agam 's danaid liom sin,
A ghlacfadh mé moch nó déanach
'S caithfidh mé dhul thar farraigí soir,
Ós ann nach bhfuil aon dhe mo ghaolta.
Ó a chumainn 's a shearc,ó rachaidh mé seal
Fó choilltí ag spealadh na drúchta
Mara a bhfaighidh mé an bheach nó an lon ar a nead,
An fia 's an broc (poc) ag búireach.
Na héiníní binne ar ghéagíní ag seinm
'S an c(h)uaichín ar bharr an iúir ghlais,
Go brách brách ní thiocfaidh an bás inár ngaire
Ó, cois na coille cumhra.
"Who is that outside, whose voice is so urgent
Pounding my closed door?"
"I am Éamonn an Chnoic, drenched, cold and wet
from constantly travelling the mountains and glens."
"Dearest love! My treasure! what can I do for you
Unless I were to put the lap of my dress on you.
Gunpowder blows thickly in your direction
And we will both perish!"
Long am I outside in snow and frost
Not daring to approach anyone;
My horse team still tied, my fallow field not sown
And I no longer have them at all.
I have no friends, alas!
Who would harbour me early or late
And I must go East across the sea
For it's there I have no kindred.
My dear and my love, I will go awhile
To the woods scattering the dew
Where I will find the bee and the blackbird on its nest, 11
The doe and badger (stag) bellowing; 12
The little birds singing on the twigs
And the cuckoo on the top of the green yew
And for ever and ever death will never
Come near us in beside the fragrant wood.
JH: No, that is the only song I ever heard that tune put to.
EM: You've never heard it played as a slow air on the pipes or the fiddle?
JH: Yes, it's often played as a slow air on the pipes.
EM: By the same title?
JH: The same title - Éamonn an Chnoic.
EM: So presumably the song came first.
JH: Oh, the song was first. Definitely the song was first, definitely before it was played on the pipes or anything.
EM: Now, Joe, how about a Fenian song in English.
JH: There's a lot of them, but my favourite one is John Mitchel. He was a journalist on the United Irishman and incidentally he was a minister's son and his father and mother wanted him to follow in his father's footsteps and become a minister. But no, the call of Ireland went to his blood and, er, I don't like people, there's some people say that only Catholics died for Ireland, but that's all wrong. So anybody who says that all the men who died for Ireland were Catholics is all wrong. Every creed and religion died for love of Ireland.
EM: So this wasn't a religious thing, this was a national thing?
JH: It wasn't a religious thing because the first president of the Republic of Ireland was a Protestant. So that killed that slogan and I don't like people to say that. You can be a good Irishman whatever you are. A man dies for his country whatever belief he has. You can love your country before you love anything else.
EM: Okay, then, let's have John Mitchel.
JH: And that was one of the men who was sent to Van Diemen's Land, of course. And Van Diemen's Land was - sure if you only stole a sheep you were sent to Van Diemen's Land, at that time in Ireland. And if you loved your country, no persecution was good enough for you. So he was one man who defied them - he was a journalist at the United Irishman, that paper that was printed under the counter. And he gave it all up for the love of Ireland.
John Mitchel (Roud 5163)EM: Joe, it says Newry Town, where is Newry Town?
I am a true born Irishman, John Mitchel is my name,
And for to join my country, boys, from Newry town I came.
I struggled hard both day and night to free my native land.
And then I was transported unto Van Diemen's Land.
When first to join my country boys it was in forty two,
And what did follow after I now will tell to you.
I raised the standard of Repeal I gloried in the deed.
I vowed to heaven I ne'er would rest 'til old Ireland would be freed.
While in my prison cell I lay before my trial began,
My darling wife came up to me. She said to me 'Dear John,
Oh husband dear, cheer up your heart undaunted never be.
It's better to die for Ireland than live in slavery'.
Says I 'My darling girl, it grieves me to part from you.
Likewise my young and tender babes, alas what will they do,
Likewise my friends and relatives, who will mourn my sad downfall,
But to part from you my native land it grieves me more than all'.
I was placed aboard of a convict ship without the least delay.
From Erin's Isle our bark was steered I'll ne'er forget the day.
And as I stood upon the deck, to take a farewell view,
I shed a tear but not through fear 'twas my native land for you.
JH: County Derry. That's where John Mitchel was born, in County Derry.
EM: And it says the Standard of repeal - the repeal of what?
JH: Repeal. You see, he raised the Standard - he repealed against what he thought was wrong.
EM: It wasn't of any special law?
JH: It was the …?… imposed. What he saw was the …?… imposed on Ireland
EM: Now the United Irishmen was, again, 1798, wasn't it?
EM: 1842, as late as that!
JH: 1842 - that was three years before the famine. And that was when the United Irishmen started, you know. And John Mitchel took up sides with them he came out of college where his father and mother had sent him. He came out and he started this paper sticking up for the United Irishmen. Of course, right away he was …
EM: How long was he sent for, Joe
JH: Penal servitude for life.
EM: Life? He never came back?
JH: He did. He left the penal colony and he went to America and he tried to come back, but he died on the way back. He died in New Zealand. 13
Part 2: Údarás Ámhran - the knowledge of the songs 14
EM: Joe, how is it you know all these facts about the songs?
JH: Well, I'll tell you the truth - when I get to learn a song I want to find out something about it, just in case, well just in case, anybody would ask me the history of the song. I don't think … a song is no good to me unless I know the story about it.
EM: Where do you get the stories from? Do you read them up or what?
JH: No. I'll be quite frank with you, I didn't read it. I got it from the people I got the song from, because I never got them songs out of a book or anything.
EM: So they all knew all the facts about them too?
JH: They did. Because, as I told you before, before they ask you to sing - they never ask you at home to sing a song, they say 'say a song' - and you tell the story first and then you sing the song. But without a story, the song is useless.
EM: When you tell the story of a song, you never tell any of the lines from the song, you never repeat the actual lines, you just tell the story in another way, don't you?
JH: Just tell the story and maybe the story hasn't one line of the song in it. The story is another thing - the song is different.
(Break, leading into the song Úna Bhán)
EM: Tell us about this song first, Joe.
JH: Well, Úna Bhán, her real name was Úna Mac Diarmada or McDermott. She was a well-to-do rich man's daughter and she fell in love with a man called Thomas Costello and he was otherwise known as Strong Thomas Costello, and she lived in Mayo and he lived about eight miles away from her. But this time she fell sick for the love of Thomas Costello and her father would have nothing to do with him, but she was so ill that they sent for him to come to her bedside. And while he was there, she got better and better, and as she got better, her father saw no more reason to keep him in the house, so he sent him away, still refusing to let him marry her. And he swore if he would cross a certain river called the Donouge river, that he would never come back to the house no matter how ill or anything she got after he left.
Well, he left the house and he crossed - he went into the river and he put the horse he was riding back and forth in the river for a couple of hours and still there was no call from the house for him to come back. So eventually, he crossed over to the other bank and the minute he was on the other bank the father ran after him calling him back, but he had given his oath that he wouldn't come after he had crossed the river. So he went on his way home, and two days after she died, and he came to the graveyard where she was buried and he sang the lament over her grave every night for a week. Eventually they found him dead on top of the grave.
EM: Is this a true story?
JH: Oh, it's a true story, yes.
EM: When did it happen?
JH: That happened about - I couldn't tell you the exact date - in the eighteenth century it happened.
EM: Seventeen hundred and odd.
JH: Seventeen hundred and something - I couldn't tell you the exact date now. But he was called Strong Thomas and she was called Úna McDermott, and this is the lament he sang over her grave.
Úna Bhán 15
A Úna Bhán, a bhláth na ndlaoi ómra,
Tar éis do bháis de bharr droch-chomhairle,
Féach, a ghrá, cé acu a b'fhearr den dá chomhairle-
An aon ghlaoch amháin 's mé in Áth na Donóige.
A Úna Bhán, ba rós i ngairdín thú;
Ba choinnleoir óir ar bhord na banríona thú;
Ba chéiliúir 's ba cheolmhar a'dhul an bhealaigh seo romham thú.
'Sé mo chreach mhaidhne b(h)rónach nár posadh liom thú.
A Úna Bhán, is tú a mhearaigh mo chiall:
A Úna, is tú a chuaigh go dlúth idir mé 's Dia.
A Úna, a chraobh chumhra, a lúibín chasta na gciabh,
B'fhearr liomsa gan súile ná thú a fheiceáil riamh.
A Úna Bhán, nach gránna an luí atá ort
I do leaba chláir i measc na ndáinte corp
Mar a dtige le fóir orm, a ghrá a bhí ariamh gan locht 16
Ní thiocfaidh mé chun t'árais go brách ach anocht.
Fair Úna, flower with amber locks
Who has died from bad advice.
Look love! which was the better of the two advices-
One call and I in the ford of Donogue
Fair Úna, you were a rose in a garden
You were a golden candelabrum on the queen's table
Melodious and musical were you going on this road before me
It is my utter ruin that you were not married to me.
Fair Úna, you have deranged my senses
Oh Úna that went hard between me and God
Úna, fragrant branch, twisted curl of tresses,
Better for me if I never had eyes than ever to have seen you.
Fair Úna, ugly do you lie there
In your bed of planks among a host of corpses
If you don't come and give me succour, oh love that was ever without fault
I will not come to your residence again save tonight.
(Break and discussion of An Droighneán Donn - The Brown Thorn Bush)
JH: …a verse in Gaelic, and the story behind it. It's called The Droighneán Donn or The Brown Thorn Bush. Donn means brown. The English is Brown Thorn Bush. The Droighneán Donn is a brown thorn bush. This story of a well-to-do farmer's son who went to the fair to buy cattle. And he met this dark-haired lassie at the fair and 'twas love at first sight. So they spent the rest of the day under a brown thorn bush, and before he left, he gave her a ring as a keepsake. So he promised to meet her again and they'd get married. But they drifted apart and he was getting married the following year. And when she heard he was getting married, she dressed herself up as an old woman of the roads and she came to the house where the wedding was celebrated. She walked in and the custom was, there now as was then, when somebody walks in, especially if it's a stranger, the bridegroom gives them a drink out of his own hand. And he offered her a glass of wine. She took the glass, but before she handed the glass back she dropped the ring he had given her into the glass and when he saw the ring in the glass he knew then who she was, but up to then he didn't. And then she started singing the song -"I got a fairing on a fair day from a handsome young man". Well, the original is Gaelic which starts: "Fuair mé féirín lá aonaigh ó bhuachaill deas".Well, I'll start with the original, the Gaelic and then verse for verse. [The actual translations are indented]
An Droighneán Donn (Roud 2363) 17EM: What's the relationship between the Gaelic verses and the English?
Fuair mé féirín lá aonaigh ó bhuachaill deas,
Agus céad póg ina dhiaidh sin ó phlúr na bhfear
Lá léin ar an té a déarfadh nach tú mo ghean,
Agus an lá ina dhiaidh sin, nach deas mar a d'éalóinn faoi na coillte leat.
(I got a gift on a fair-day from a nice boy
And a hundred kisses after that from the best of all men.
A day of woe on him who would say that you are not my love
And the following day it is nicely I would steal away to the woods with you.)
I got a féirín on a fair-day from a handsome young man;
And a hundred sweet kisses from my own darling John;
I'll go roving all day 'til the evening comes on,
I'll be shaded by the blossoms early of the droigheán donn.
Síleann céad ban gur leo féin mé nuair a ólaim leann;
Téann dhá dtrian síos díom nuair a smaoiním ar a gcomhrá liom.
Sneachta séidte a bheith dhá shíorchur ó Shliabh Uí Fhloinn
'S go bhfuil mo ghrá mar bhláth na n-airní ag gabháil an droigheán donn.
(A hundred women imagine I am theirs when I drink ale:
but two thirds of my spirit leaves me when I think of their conversation with me.
Blown snow perpetually falling from Sliabh Uí Fhloinn.
And my love is like the blossom of the sloe on the brown blackthorn.)
Of late I'm captivated by a handsome young man
And I'm daily complaining for my own darling John.
Confuse them, consume them who says you're not true;
For through lonesome glens and valleys I will wander with you.
Dhá mbeinn i mo bhádóir nach deas a shnámhfainn an fharraige anonn;
Dhá mbeinn im' fhaoileán is deas a d'éireoinn ar bharr na dtonn
Bheinn ag éalú le mo chéadsearc 's ag fáisceadh a coim
Ach an lá nach bhféadfainn bean a bhréagadh níl an báire liom.
(If I was a boatman it's well I would sail over the sea.
If I was a seagull it's well I would rise up over the tops of the waves.
I would be eloping with my true love and squeezing her waist.
But the day I can't coax a woman, I will have lost the game.)
I wish I had a small boat on the ocean to roam,
I would follow my true love where e'er he would go;
I would rather have my true love to roll, sport and play
Than all the gold and silver by land or by sea.
And, come all you pretty fair maids, get married in time
To some handsome young man that will keep up your pride;
Beware of winter's evenings, cold breezes come on
That will shake the blossoms early of the Droigheán Donn.
JH: It tells in English what the Gaelic verse says.
EM: So I noticed that, when you told the story of the song before, you started off by saying there's a rich man's son and you told it more or less from the man's point of view. But the song itself, at least the English version of it you sang is from the girl's point of view.
JH: That's right, but the man, the girl and the man, you see, in the Gaelic, the man says the bit himself, you know.
EM: Does he? When you sing the Gaelic verses, it tells the same story but from the man's point of view?
JH: That's right.
EM: Marvellous song isn't it. Do you have any special word for describing this where there's alternate verses in English [and Gaelic]?
JH: Honestly, I haven't.
EM: You don't. You've never heard of an expression? Nothing like macaronics, you know for alternate lines, for example?
JH: No, there is no one word for that.
EM: But are there many such songs, you know, in the tradition?
EM: Did you hear many such songs when you were young?
JH: I didn't. To tell you the truth, I did not. No I never heard many of them, no. There's very few of them where they sing in Gaelic and English like that.
JH: … a Gaelic lullaby, by the way
EM: What's it called?
JH: Seoithín Seo. Something like the air they have Rockin' the Cradle (Track 18, CD2). This is the air I have. This is supposed to be the one that was sung for Christ when he was on this earth, when he was rocked by St Joseph.
Suantraí (lullaby) Seoithín Seo 18
Seoithín seothó mo stór é, mo leanbh
Mo sheod gan chealg, mo chuid den tsaol mhór.
Seoithín seothó nach mór an taitneamh
Mo stóirín ina leaba ina chodladh gan brón.
A leanbh mo chléibh, go n-éirí do chodladh leat,
Séan 's sonas gach oíche i do chomhair.
Tá mise le do thaobh ag guí ort na mbeannacht.
Seoithín a leanbh, ní imeoidh tú leo.
Óho óhó óhó mo leanbh,
Óho mo leanbh is codail go fóill.
Óho, óho óhó mo leanbh
Mo stóirín ina leaba ina chodladh gan brón.
Ar mhullach an tí tá síógaí geala
Faoi chaoinré an earraigh ag imirt's ag ól
'S seo iad aniar iad chun glaoch ar mo leanbh
Le mian é a tharraing isteach sa lios mór.
A leanbh mo chléibh' go n-éirí do chodladh leat,
Séan 's sonas gach oíche i do chomhair.
Tá mise le do thaobh ag guí ort na mbeannacht.
Seoithín a leanbh, ní imeoidh tú leo.
Seoithín seothó, my treasure my child,
My guileless jewel, my all in this life
Seoithín seothó what joy to see
My treasure in his bed in a contented sleep.
Child of my heart may your sleep be successful
May you have joy and happiness every night
I am by your side praying blessings on you
Seoithín oh child, you will not go away with them.
Ohó my child
Ohó my child, sleep awhile yet
Ohó my child
My little treasure in his bed in a sleep without sorrow.
On the top of the house bright fairies are gathered
Under the gentle spring moon, playing and drinking
Here they come from the West to call to my child
To take him away into the great lios.
JH: Carna in Co Galway, Republic of Ireland.
EM: That's in the South West of Ireland, isn't it?
JH: yes, South West. 19
EM: And Carna, what do the people in Carna do for a living? What's the main occupation?
JH: The main occupation is fishing and, of course, working small farms.
EM: And this was your family occupation, was it, this is what your father did?
JH: Yes, that's what they did. Of course, the farms there, there's more rocks than land. Only for the fishing, they couldn't, never hope to make a living out of it.
EM: They were rock farmers.
JH: (laughs) Oh, well, you could call them that, rock farmers. Both ways, by the sea and the farm. Rocks, they meet rocks all the way.
EM: And you were one of how many children?
JH: Seven - living. I was what they call the black sheep of the family.
JH: Because I never did anything right, that's why. Nothing to please anybody.
EM: Now, Joe, who was it in your family that sang?
JH: Well, my father was a very good singer. In fact, he had more songs than I'll ever hope to have. They went to the grave with him. He died when I was thirteen, so I had no hope of getting the songs because I thought I'd have plenty time to get them off him. But they went to the grave with him. More songs - I heard him sing songs that I never heard since and I haven't got myself.
EM: What, songs in Gaelic and English?
JH: Gaelic and English, both.
EM: Did you learn no songs from him, then?
JH: Oh, I did. In fact, most of all the songs I have I learned from him. But I could have learned more if I knew he was going to die so young, you know.
EM: But, did any of your uncles sing or aunts as well?
JH: They did. Well, Colm, you know, Colm
EM: Colm Keane?
JH: He had an awful lot of songs. In fact, that's the man who gave Seamus Ennis two hundred and two and he probably has more left, but Seamus never went back to get the rest off him. And he was always singing, of course. They were all singing and telling stories and that was the carry on there during the winter - singing sings, playing music, step dancing, telling stories. 20
EM: Where did they do this, Joe?
JH: In the houses in the villages
EM: Like, one night they'd be in your house, would they, in your father's house?
JH: Well, most nights they were in my father's house. See, in every village there was one house that everybody seems to come to. One of those special things and our house was one of them.
EM: So it wouldn't only be members of the family who came?
JH: Oh no, no, anybody from the village or outside the village.
PS: How big was the village, Joe?
EM: How many people lived in the village?
JH: Oh, say about eighty people.
EM: Eighty. That's not many, is it?
JH: No. But, you see they're all small villages, about a hundred villages in the one parish, you know. Our village was small, say about twenty houses in the one village.
EM: So, when people would come in for a céilí in the evening - did you call it a céilí?
JH: What we called it was a Siamsa tine, around the fire, carry on, round-the-fire sport or a pastime.
EM: And was that how it would be, everybody would sit round the fire?
JH: They'd all sit around and one man would tell a story, one man would sing a song, one man would play a tune, one man would do a bit of step dancing and that's the way they'd carry on.
EM: I notice you say 'one man', didn't the women sing, or tell stories?
JH: Well, not as a rule. The women very seldom did anything, except knit, as she's doing now. 21
EM: But they didn't tell stories.
JH: No. The men usually told the stories. The women, of course, after the men had finished, the women used to gossip among themselves.
EM: This is odd, isn't it, because, among the Scottish travellers, it's the women who do most of the singing and story telling and the men just sit and listen.
JH: There's an odd woman, all her life she'll lilt a tune for somebody to dance, but the men as a rule tell the stories, mostly the stories and the old woman would sit in the corner and lilt a tune - mouth music, I should say - lilt the tune port béal 22 and somebody would dance to it if there's no musician in the house. She'd lilt the tune and they'd start step dancing to it.
EM: And it would be the men who danced?
JH: Oh the men.
EM: Not the women.
JH: Sometimes the women, but very few of the women did.
EM: When they were dancing in partners, would it be a man and a woman or two men?
JH: Oh, a man and a woman in partners. What we call a Breakdown or a Set. That's the name they had for the old step dancing, you know, Breakdown.
Part 4: The Nyahh; Characteristics of Gaelic singing style and international analogues.
EM: Joe, try and remember, when you were a boy, of all the people who sang, that used to come to your house, that you heard sing, was there much difference in the styles, in the personal styles of the singers?
JH: No, there wasn't. They more or less had the same, what we call the same nyahh, and the same style. It was nearly always the same. Of course, one person sings there; the first time I sang at the Oireachtas I found it awful hard to get up and sing on a stage because it's never done there. If you're asked to sing a song in a country house, you'll make sure or try and make sure that nobody sees you while you're singing it - don't you see anybody - you turn your back. Not through disrespect, but out of shyness - I don't know how you call it - and if you have a cap on, you pull it over your eyes, so you won't see or hear or listen to anybody else, except for the song you're singing. If you're wearing a cap, you'll pull it over your eyes, so that you're actually just living the song as you sing it, or if you haven't a cap on, you put your hand over your eyes. Then you'll see nobody while you're singing it. You're just singing the song to yourself. And that's the way you'll find it, even tomorrow if you go back there. You'll find the man what they call dhorais dúnta (closed door) in the back door, what they call the cúinneach; the man who goes into the corner and sings a song, the song is heard but he's not seen. And a cúinne of course is a Gaelic word for a corner, and the man who sits in the corner is called the cúinneach - the corner man. You'll hear the song, but you don't know where it's coming from half the time. You know, they don't stand up or face an audience at all.
And that's the way you'll find it, even tomorrow if you go back there. You'll find the man what they call cúinneach; the man who goes into the corner and sings a song, the song is heard but he's not seen." EM: Now, this style of singing that you have with massive decoration that you put into it - you decorate pretty much all the time, don't you?
JH: Well I try to.
EM: You decorate in some songs more than in others, I've noticed. Some songs you leave fairly plain and some songs you do a great deal of decoration, like a song like The Bonny Bunch of Roses for example, you know, where you decorate continuously along the line. What tells you which songs to decorate and which to leave alone?
JH: Well, it all depends on the scope left for me in the lines of the song. If there's enough scope left for me in the line of a song to decorate, I do it. But if there isn't - you see, I probably can only decorate one line or two lines, maybe the second or the last. What I'm trying to say, if the words of the line don't allow me to decorate, I've got to sing the line. And this is the way I feel it, you see, if I think a line has a lot of words, well that won't let me do any decorations on the words of the line. Because I couldn't break up the sentence too much. But if it's a short line with not many words, that will always lead me to decorate a lot of the words. That's the way I feel it anyway.
EM: Now, everybody doesn't decorate, Joe, in your part of the world, do they? Not to anything like the same extent that you do.
JH: No, I admit they don't, but honestly I just can't tell you - that's the way I always try to sing them, you see. I want to do as much of that as possible.
EM: Colm Keane, he decorates a great deal, of course, but, on the other hand, Johnny McDonagh doesn't decorate half as much as you do. 23
JH: No, Johnny doesn't, no. He's more of a straight singer.
EM: But one thing he has in common with you, and with Colm Keane, and this is something apart from the decoration …24
EM: Now, what do you call this? Do you have any word for this?
JH: No I haven't a clue. That's one thing I can't explain. It's there and that's the way it is. I don't put it in, it's just there.
EM: It's just there, but the point is it seems to be there with all the South West country singers.
JH: It does.
EM: But there are many parts of Ireland where it's not there. It seems to be something peculiar to the South West of Ireland.
JH: I suppose it's something that's naturally there, or something. I can't explain that. That's one thing I can't explain.
EM: Why do you think it's there? Have you any idea? What do you think its origin is?
JH: Honestly, if I try to say something, you see, when I can't tell you why, I might be …
EM: Have you ever thought about it, why it's there?
JH: I have often thought about it and this is one explanation I got for it from an old man. Before they start singing this they shall go through [the air in] the head first themselves, you know, humming to themselves more or less through the nose first and that could be the reason they carry it on. Because even now before I sing a song I sing it in my head first to see will I get the right pitch or …
EM: But you never seem to have any problem with pitch. I've never heard you sing a song out of pitch.
PS: He judges it in his head first, probably.
JH: I try to judge it in my head first, you know, I try to, but I suppose I'm lucky.
EM: Do you find that there are any songs that you have in your repertoire where you feel the necessity of pitching them very high and singing way up. The way, for example, McDonagh does with Morrissey 25 (Sound clip - Seán 'ac Dhonncha, Morrisey and the Russian Sailor) Because there he hardly drones at all on that song, does he? And on the other song 26 that he sings on this record he pitches it way up, I've noticed. Obviously, if you pitch it way up, you can't drone, can you?
JH: No, you can't.
EM: Well, are there any songs in your repertoire where you feel the necessity of pitching them up?
JH: (after long pause) No.
EM: In short, the drone is so much part of you, so much part of your whole personal style and of your regional style, that every song must be part and parcel of that.
JH: That's right.
EM: I see. Very interesting this. Very interesting. Now, do you know how you produce this drone. Have you ever thought about that?
JH: I haven't a clue. If you took the head off me now, I couldn't tell you.
EM: You couldn't describe …?
JH: I don't even try to do it. I don't know. If it's there, it's there. No, honestly, I couldn't tell you. I'm not able to answer that. I wish I could answer it. I can't.
EM: Because, it's very interesting - Mike Smythe for instance, who copies you, he tries to produce the drone. 27
(Break followed by unintelligible comment from Ó hÉanaí)
EM: He makes a good attempt I think though.
JH: Oh he does, he does.
PS: [You never seem to] sing a song the same way twice.
JH: You're quite right, I don't.
PS: Now, when you're trying to mix, when you're approaching a line, and you know that at a certain point you're going to decorate, do you ever see the shape of the decoration in your mind?
JH: I do. I see exactly what I am going to do with it before I reach it. I know exactly what I'm going to do and each time I try to do it better.
PS: You never make a mistake when you're decorating?
JH: Well, not in my own mind I don't. Maybe other people see it, but I don't because I think its something that you can't make a mistake at, because everybody decorates different. Everybody does their own decoration whereas I don't do the same way twice, I know that. I could sing a song for you now ten times tonight and each time I'd be different. But I'll know exactly what I'm going to do before I reach it.
EM: [Do you ever] do the first verse very simply with very few decorations and thereafter on the verses which follow …
JH: Yes. I try to introduce it as clear as I can and after that, you know, I do it my own way. But I try to introduce it first as simple as I can, especially with somebody who doesn't know the song.
EM: When you listen to another singer, what do you listen for?
JH: Well the style first of all. Not the voice almost, it's the style he has, the singer. And I compare that to my own then.
EM: Suppose you were to hear a singer singing in a completely different idiom, even in a different language. Do you think you could recognise the folk singer from the non folk singer?
JH: I could.
EM: Even in a different language.
JH: I could. Even in Russian as I saw the other day when I was talking to a Russian scientist out in Richmond. I could still feel it was there, this more or less the same thing, although I couldn't understand a word he was saying, I knew right away. I even heard the Indians in Edinburgh and I could feel a similarity between them and the songs we have at home, although I couldn't understand a word of it. The same thing, the way was there, the style was there.
PS: What is the style, is it what a person does with the tune or is it the tone of voice or what?
JH: I don't think the tone of voice has so much to do with it as the style it's sung in. I don't know what you call it here, but we call it at home the nyahh and the nyahh derived from …?…. which means the Gaelic word they have for come-all-ye …?… tagtha le céile (Rest of phrase unintelligible), come together. That's what the word derived from. 28
EM: … the meaning [of the word nyahh], oh I don't know in some places, this is the meaning that people like the McPeakes give to the word - tone of voice.
JH: Oh that's completely wrong. The nyahh means, you see, if you listen to a Gaelic song you see nearly at the start of every word nyahh. You know what I mean. It's not in the song at all, there is no such thing in the song. You just put that in yourself.
EM: This is not just true of Gaelic songs - what I mean is, it's true of other types of songs.
JH: Not alone of Gaelic songs, even of English songs.
EM: English singers like Harry Cox. When Harry Cox sings The Cruel Ship's Captain, he sings 'mmnnn; a boy to me was bound apprentice'. 29
JH: That's not even said in words - it's in the voice there between the words and the language. I don't know the hell what to call it. It's something in the voice that keeps on even though the words aren't spoken. It still keeps going. Do you know what I'm trying to explain?
PS: I know and you know but I'm looking for it in words because I want to hear it explained so that people who don't know can find out, you know.
JH: I think the best way to explain it is you'll keep the song alive, Peggy, all the time even though you're not pronouncing the words. You're keeping the song alive through humming it, through droning, whatever you like to call it. That's what I'm trying to say.
(At this point various recordings of folksongs were played, including a recording of an Azerbaijani singer and Ó hÉanaí was asked to compare them with his own tradition. He rejects the first one.) (Sound clip - Azerbaijani singer.)
EM: This is another traditional singer. (tries to play a recording - Joe interrupts).
PS: Put another one on.
JH: How can I better explain it. There's something in the tone and the way it's put over that tells you it's original, that it's very … it's the way it's sung because that is terrible like a caoineadh 30 that the old women sing at home. Its like the song you asked me to learn for this Radio Ballad. 31 There's something about it, you see, that I know it's the real genuine stuff. I wish I could explain it better, but I can't.
EM: Nobody's found a way of explaining it yet, Joe. Nobody has. I want to play you something else, just one other thing to see …
(Plays a record of Joan Baez)
JH: Well, I'll tell you one thing, she hasn't got what I'm trying to explain. I can't explain to you why, but it's not there. I mean she's singing, whether she's too serious or to my ear she's singing it so straight that nothing I've been looking for is there. Nothing like the others.
EM: Even though you can't understand the language [of the other singers].
JH: Even though I can't understand the other ones at all, I know they have. I know definitely, I heard, they have got what I would know, the person who has it, the first line is enough. In fact, the first few words, the start of a song, you know whether they have it or not.
EM: Joe, when you listen to those other singers, those Indians and Azerbaijan people, are you moved by it?
JH: Well I feel like I'm listening to something from home.
EM: So you are moved by it?
JH: I am. I really am.
EM: It makes you feel better?
JH: It makes me feel at home.
EM: And this doesn't, this last piece, the Joan Baez.
JH: No, not one bit. I might be wrong, but that's my opinion.
(Plays someone else, unidentified.)
EM: What do you make of that?
JH: You want my honest opinion? No, that one hasn't got it either.
PS/EM: Did she come any closer than the other?
JH: No, I wouldn't say so. She definitely hasn't got it. I know she's trying, but it's not it.
(Plays several records of American singers including The Carter Family (Wabash Cannonball and Little Moses) and Blind Willie Johnson (John the Revelator) (Sound clips - The Carter Family, Wabash Cannonball [left]. Blind Willie Johnson, John the Revelator [right])
PS: Honestly, what do you make of it?
JH: That's very hard. I liked the girl 32 That's very hard. Honestly, it's very hard for me to judge that now.
EM: That's a Negro called Blind Willie Johnson.
JH: I think it's nearer, much nearer that the other one.
EM: That is true Negro style - this man is a street singer, was a street singer, he's dead now. Blind Willie Johnson. 33
EM: To your knowledge, [has] any of this nyahh survived into the days of the Irish Music Hall?
JH: No, honestly. I couldn't tell you that.
EM: Well, you've heard Music Hall singers?
JH: I have.
EM: Well, have you recognised anything which is equivalent to folk style, any …?
JH: No, I haven't.
EM: You don't believe that there is any connection between the two types of music.
JH: No I don't, for one minute, I don't believe it.
EM: For instance, the kind of singing that Dominic [Behan] does, do you think that's closer to that kind of …
JH: Definitely it's within one per cent of a music hall thing. That's my honest opinion. Because, I know he tries the other thing but it would be as well to try to catch that quarter of a moment that appeared behind there now trying to catch because maybe he had it, I don't know, and he's thrown it aside.
EM: There's no folk style there?
JH: No, not a bit. That's in my opinion though. I have nothing in the world against him at all , but I'm telling you my honest opinion.
EM: Nothing except he's a lousy singer - (laughs).
JH: Well, its not for me to say.
(Break. MacColl appears to ask a question about harmony and group singing.)
JH: …tunes say, melodies, I mean there's no harmonising done or anything like that. Everybody joins the chorus as best they can but there's no sense in harmonising it.
EM: When you were a boy, and the people used to come to your house and sing round the fire, most of the singers were men who had songs like the ones you've been singing today, yes?
JH: That's right.
EM: Was there any times when people sang together?
JH: There was very few occasions I'd say. If there was, it was some song with a chorus like The Crúiscín Lán 34 or something. Anybody who knew the chorus joined in, more through drink than anything else. If they had a lot of drink taken, they would join in, but if they hadn't, they left it to the one person because their motto was 'one man one song', 'one person, one song', 'one singer, one song' and so on, you know. Silence for the singers. They wouldn't say anything until he had finished.
EM: Joe, at these sessions, did people have their own songs in the sense that one man might sing The Kerry Recruit (Roud 520) and nobody else must sing it. Did a man have his own songs and it was considered bad form to sing them?
JH: Definitely. One man was recognised as being able to sing one song and nobody else sang it until he went home or didn't sing it that night. It was left to him, nobody sang the song while he was there. He was honoured by leaving him that song to sing.
PS: Did people ever make up songs and come with them to the …round-the-fires?
JH: Oh, indeed they did. They often made up their own songs, something happened like a wedding or something, some funny wedding or something happened, made up their own songs, but they weren't classed as good songs, they were just something to make people laugh.
EM: But some of the songs that you sing, Joe, well all of the songs that you sing, must have been made up by somebody.
JH: Oh, yes.
EM: You know, the songs have got to start sometime and they were probably made up by people like you
JH: They probably were made up by people, probably some of them songs were made up by people who never went to [national?] school. But more often than not you'll find that if you want to find out who wrote or made up the songs, then that's unknown, nobody knows
JH: (still talking about newly composed songs) … you can never do it the same justice as you would an old song.
EM: Why do you think that is?
JH: I don't think - I suppose you could call it there's a lot of them made up in a hurry and there is a lot of them haven't the same feeling nowadays as they used to have when the times were bad and people put great feeling into what they were singing and handed them down to other people who put the same feeling into it.
(Break, during which a question is asked.)
JH: No they came [to the sessions] with songs they got from their fathers or grandfathers or something like that. There was never any, well there was maybe somebody composed the song for the night, but that was only passed off as a laugh. They wanted to hear the old songs and an old man - I was one night I was going to school and I sang a school song, one that was taught at school - and an old man lifted his stick and he said ' If I ever hear you saying that again, I'll break your head. Sing us a real song if you want to sing at all', he said 'or shut up'. And that's the way they're at it. Even the school songs that they learned wouldn't be any good for me to sing them at home now. They wouldn't listen to them. That's what they call the school songs. The songs you get at school. Composed and maybe good songs but they don't class them good when they are in a book . When they're put around the school they call them school songs. Don't ask me why …
PS: Do you think it's possible to learn songs from a book?
JH: I do, oh definitely, I do. And some very good songs too.
PS: And yet you've never done it.
JH: No, honestly, to tell you the truth, I haven't. Although there's probably good books with good songs I'd like to have, but maybe I've never had the opportunity to get a book like it.
EM: You know that book of Colm O Lochlainn's, that little book with the Irish street songs in it? 35
JH: I do that, but there's a lot of them songs shifted about and the airs are different. The airs are shifted about to the old airs.
EM: Have you ever learned a song and then decided that you didn't like the tune and put a new tune to it, not a tune you've made up necessarily, but a tune from another old song?
JH: No, I haven't.
EM: You've never done that?
JH: No. I always carry down the same tune as I heard on the hearth at home.
PS: So it must have been the tune that first brought you to a song, then?
JH: No, it's the song itself. The words of a song that draws me, the story and the song.
EM: But what about if you're listening, for instance to Azerbaijan singing. Marvellous, but you couldn't understand a word and neither could I.
JH: Well no, I'm talking about now at home. It's the words of a song that always drew me. If I thought a song was good, I said it's the words I listen to first. And if I thought the song was good I'd then learn it and, of course, if the tune was nice, all the better, but I wouldn't change the tune.
EM: When you are trying to remember an old song, maybe you've not sung for a long long time, what do you do to remember it? Do you think of the tune or the words?
JH: I think of the tune and the words in my head first
EM: Both at the same time?
JH: Yes. I hum the tune and the words will come then.
EM: I see. You hum the tune and the words will come. So you really think of the tune first?
JH: I do think of the tune. But when I'm learning a song, the words of the song means more to me than the tune at the time
EM: But the tunes seem to stick more?
JH: I suppose the tune sticks more than the words. The tune, I suppose you couldn't lose the tune, but you lose the words quicker than you lose the tune. I can anyway - I often forget the words of a song but I never forget the tune, once I get it.
EM: At these family round-the-fires, did people ever sing with instruments or was it always unaccompanied in your experience?
JH: Songs were always unaccompanied as far as I can remember back and my people. Now the musical instruments that they played was meant to listen to not to dance to. Even the violin was meant to listen to, sit down and listen to, not to dance to. In the olden times, I'm talking about, the violin and the flute and things, they were meant to sit down and listen to. Eventually, somebody started tapping their feet and decided it would be nice to have what they call a breakdown, make some steps to it, when in the older times, even at home where I was born, the fiddle and them tunes and the accordion was meant to sit down and listen to being played.
EM: Nobody ever sang with the flutes or pipes?
JH: Never. It was always unaccompanied.
EM: Of course, this is natural in a place where there's so much decoration, I suppose.
JH: I never saw it. No, 'twas never done there, never.
1. This presumably refers to remission systems which were common in Ireland during mass emigration. Remission systems were an informal mechanism, whereby individuals would emigrate to America and then send money home to pay for the passage of other family members. (FM)
2. History and geography are confused here. Firstly, Skibbereen is in Cork, not Kerry. Secondly, the song relates to the potato famine of 1845 - 48, rather than to the uprising of 1798. Finally, the term land war has been applied with some vagueness to many different episodes of Ireland's landlord ridden history. However, in popular usage, it is most readily associated with the period of the Land League and Tenant's Rights movements of the 1870s and '80s. The reference to the landlord's son, which crops up further on in connection with The Wife of the Bold Tenant Farmer, suggests that it is in this context that Ó hÉanaí is using the term. (FM)
3. The period of Cromwellian oppression in Ireland was the mid to late seventeenth century, rather than the sixteenth. The year 1649 refers to Cromwell's Irish invasion, which he pursued to put down an act of insurrection that had taken place several years earlier, in 1641. Upon surrender, the native landholders were divided into two groups. Those who had taken part in the insurrection were dispossessed and deprived of all lands. Those who had not were likewise dispossessed, but were reallocated lands in the six counties west of the Shannon. Since these lands consisted mainly of infertile rock and bog, Cromwell deemed them to be a suitable home for non-rebellious Catholics. He literally gave them two choices - 'To hell or Connaught'. (FM)
4. Ó hÉanaí here discloses some confidential information about the authorship of the song. It has been omitted in deference to his memory, and to the people of Trá Bhán. (FM)
5. This poignant lament was composed by a young woman, Bríd Ní Mháille (Bridget O'Malley) in the 1860's. She was a native of Trá Bhán (Lit. 'White Strand), a small village on the island of Garmna in south Connemara, but, like so many young Irish men and women in the latter half of the 19th century, she had emigrated to America and was residing in South Boston.
The sea frequently exacts a heavy price from all communities that depend on it for a livelihood, and the people of Trá Bhán were no strangers to such tragic loss. On this occasion, Bríd's three brothers were returning from Galway to Trá Bhán in a currach and the darkness of night had fallen by the time they were approaching home. Their currach was rammed by a larger boat in tragic and suspicious circumstances and all three brothers were drowned. Upon hearing the dreadful news, Bríd lamented the loss of her family and the fact that as her only surviving sibling, Neil, was married to Tomás Ó Ceallaigh, the O'Malley house and farm would pass into the hands of another family.
I have been somewhat circumspect regarding the details of their reputed murder in case the publication of such might give offence to somebody. According to one story the people in the large boat asked the crew of the currach if they were the Kellys and, as the O'Malleys were related to them by marriage they answered that they were. The people of the boat bore a grudge against the Kellys and deliberately rammed the currach drowning all three brothers.
Joe Heaney is justly famous for his fine singing of this song and it is he who brought the song to a wider audience, however, people in Trá Bhán would point out, with justification, that his version of the song was incomplete and inaccurate.
The most widely known title to the song, Currachaí na Trá Báine (The Currachs of Trá Bhán) may have originated with Joe's Gael-Linn L.P (CEF 028). It is also frequently called Amhrán an Bhá (The Song of the Drowning). I understand that in Trá Bhán itself it is most frequently called simply Amhrán Bríd Ní Mháille. (ÉÓB)
6. This verse belongs to a different song composed by Bríd Ní Mháille, an exile's praise of her native place sometimes called Amhran na Trá Báine. (ÉÓB) RTÉ CD 185, Amhráin ar an Sean Nós, includes a version of this song by Darach Ó Catháin of Ráth Cairn, Westmeath. (FM)
7. The names of these two brothers were Tom and Patch. Joe Heaney has been criticised for not having their correct names. (ÉÓB)
8. I suspect this verse is a later interpolation, if such a term has any validity in an oral song-tradition. I have not come across it before, although I am far from being an expert on the songs of this area. Carraigín is an edible red seaweed (Chondrus Crispus). (ÉÓB)
9. Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott was land agent at Lough Mask, Co Mayo. In 1880, Land League members organised a campaign of ostracism against him, which was broken only when a volunteer expedition of fifty Orange lodge members from Co Monaghan was mounted to rescue his potato crop. (FM)
10. After the defeat of the Irish Jacobite army at the Boyne, Aughrim and Limerick in 1691, many young soldiers found themselves living in the hills and woods as fugitive outlaws, preying on the Williamite and Cromwellian settlers who had taken their inheritance. These desperate men were known as rápairí or 'raparees' and Éamonn Ó Riain (Edmund Ryan) of Cnoc Maothail in the parish of Templebeg in Co Tipperary is one of the most famous of them all. Having seen his father killed by the new settlers and their lands taken from his family, Éamonn took to the hills to wreak revenge. He fought at the Siege of Limerick and with Sarsfield and 'Galloping' Hogan at the celebrated ambush of Ballyneety. After the war, he returned to the desperate existence as a rápaire and many stories of his exploits and daring adventures were related in the folklore of Tipperary.
In this beautiful song, one of the most well-known in the Irish tradition, the raparee seeks shelter at the house of his love, but she, fearing the consequences of harbouring an outlaw, turns him away and he resolves to escape to the Continent where many of his comrades in arms had gone before him. This was not to be however, as Éamonn was treacherously slain in 1724 by a neighbour and erstwhile friend, Páidí Ó Duibhir, who hoped to collect the £200 reward on Éamonn's head. This being a Munster song, it occurs to me that Joe may well have learnt it at school. (ÉÓB)
11. Joe says An bheac (the bee). More usually it is An breac (the trout). I see nothing wrong with Joe's choice/version. (ÉÓB)
12. We have a little difficulty here. It should be an fia 's an poc ag búireach (The deer [i.e. doe] and the stag bellowing). Heaney said broc (badger). 'The deer and the badger bellowing' is clearly a bit off the mark. (ÉÓB)
13. Joe is presumably talking about the newspaper, The United Irishman, rather than the similarly named insurrectionist movement of 1798. Newy is in South Armagh, not Derry. John Mitchel was born near Dungiven, Co Derry, on the 3rd May 1815, the third son of the Reverend John Mitchel, who later became the Presbyterian minister of Dromalaine, Newry. He entered Trinity College, Dublin in 1830, and subsequently became a bank clerk before becoming articled to a solicitor. In 1842, while practising at Banbridge, Co Down, he met the political songwriter and journalist, Thomas Davis, whom he subsequently described as having "filled his soul with the passion of a great ambition and lofty purpose". On the strength of their meeting he joined the Repeal Association and, in 1845, quit the law for a job on Charles Gavan Duffy's radical newspaper, 'The Nation'. The line 'I raised the standard of repeal' refers to the Repeal Association, which had been formed to reverse the Act of Union 1800.
He subsequently fell under the influence of the more radical James Fintan Lalor and, in consequence, resigned from 'The Nation' in December 1847. In February 1848 he started a weekly newspaper called 'The United Irishman' and, in March of that year was arrested for seditious libel. The charge was dropped, because the authorities were unable to assemble a jury upon whom they could rely to secure a conviction. Mitchel was however re-arrested in May under the newly passed Treason Felony Act. He was sentenced to fourteen years transportation, first to Bermuda, then to the Cape of Good Hope, before being transferred to Van Diemen's land. He escaped in the summer of 1853, making his way to San Francisco and then to New York. There he started a strongly anti-abolitionist newspaper, 'The Citizen'.
While the civil war was in progress he moved to Richmond, Virginia, to fight in the Confederate Army, but was disqualified on health grounds. On the termination of hostilities, he returned to New York and became editor of 'The Daily News', another staunchly anti-abolitionist paper. During his editorship of this journal, he was jailed once more for seditious libel, this time for publishing articles in support of the Confederate cause. On his release, he moved to Paris and became a fund raiser for the Fenian Brotherhood, before returning to New York in October 1866 to start yet another paper, 'The Irish Citizen'.
In the summer of 1872, he made a brief return to Ireland and was subsequently nominated to stand for Tipperary in the parliamentary elections of 1874 and 75. On his second attempt he was returned unopposed, but found himself barred from entering Parliament as a convicted felon. Curiously enough, no attempt was made to re-arrest him as an escaped convict. The election was re-run and this time he stood against a Conservative candidate, achieving a majority of 2368. A writ of opposition was to have been mounted, but Mitchel died before it could be moved. He is buried in the Unitarian cemetery at Newry. It is a sad irony that one so vocal in his opposition to Irish slavery, could be such a vehement supporter of its black American equivalent. (FM)
14. The expression 'údarás ámhran', which translates as 'authority for the song', is used in Gaelic Ireland to denote a knowledge of the song's background. The phrase 'Abair ámhran' - 'say a song' - is the accepted way of asking someone to sing. (FM)
15. One of many versions of the famous lamentation composed by Tomás 'Láidir' Mac Coistealbha for his beloved Uná Nic Dhiarmada in the middle of the 17th century. Úna Nic Dhiarmada was the daughter of a wealthy Gaelic family in Lisín in west Co Roscommon who, it is said, fell completely in love with the dashing young champion, Tomás Mac Coistealbha of Ceathrú Gharbh. Her family opposed any match on the grounds of MacCoistealbha's lower economic status. Such was the extent of Úna's grief that it is said that she became fatally ill and took to her bed. Her family were forced to relent and send for Tomás, who came to her bed-side and held her hand and she fell into a restful and contented sleep for the first time in many nights.
Tomás left her side and seeing nobody about, left slowly for home, all the time expecting to be called back. He gradually became convinced that he had been duped by her family and made a vow that if he was not called to return before he crossed the Donouge river, he would never again go to her house. When he reached the ford, he waited half an hour in midstream and no sooner had he reluctantly driven his horse up onto the far bank when a messenger came hurrying from Úna's beside and bade him return, but he would not break his vow. Úna died of a broken heart and was buried on Trinity Island in beautiful Loch Cé (Lough Key) and Tomás Láidir, it is said, swam to the island three nights in succession and wept over her grave. Having uttered the last verse as sung by Joe here, her spirit appeared to him and told him to let her rest in peace and to come no more. When he himself died, it is said that he was buried beside her and that a tree grew out of each grave and as they grew, they inclined towards one another until they were completely entwined. (ÉÓB)
Douglas Hyde, who printed 45 verses of this song in his Songs of Connacht, Dublin, 1893, observed, "But I do not think that there is any love song more widely spread throughout the country and more common in the mouths of the people ..." Joe mistakenly locates the story in the eighteenth century, rather than the seventeenth. Otherwise, his rendering accords with the facts of history and incidentally, tallies closely with the recording of the same story made by Maire Áine ni Dhonncha of an Spidéal, Connemara (Ossian OSS 15). (FM)
16. I am not sure that Joe actually sang locht on the recording. It is, however, the usual word. (ÉÓB)
17. The tree that blossoms is beautiful to behold and yet its thorns wound the hand that touches it. Much of the beauty and attraction of Gaelic love-song lies in the mystery of the story behind their subtle and evocative imagery. Few songs have been more consistently popular among Irish speakers in every part of Ireland than An Droighneán Donn and its origins are lost in the midst of time although we can say that the hill referred to, Sliabh Uí Fhloinn, is situated between Ballinlough and Castlrea in Co Roscommon. There are as many beautiful versions as there are singers, sometimes it's the broken-hearted maiden who speaks to the listener, other times it's the man or, as in Joe's version here, verses by both lovers.
Stories concerning the origins of songs abound (údar an amhráin) although the veracity of many of them is difficult to assess. One imagines that, given the proclivity of Irish-Speakers for story-telling, in some cases the metaphorical imagery in these songs inspired the creativity of imaginative story-tellers. According to one explanation frequently related in Connemara, a young man used to travel to a fair in a town far from his native place. He would lodge for the night in a house and fell and he fell in love with a beautiful young woman who lived in the house. After a while, the fair died out and the young man came no more and, with the passing of time, forgot the girl. She subsequently heard that he was to marry and she dressed as an old woman and appeared at the house where the wedding was to be celebrated. The young man noticed the old woman sitting by herself and thought it improper not to make her welcome. He approached her and offered her a glass of wine, but the 'old woman' insisted that he should drink from the same glass as well. She threw into the glass a ring which he had given her as a token of his love long before. He recognised his gift or feirín and immediately eloped with his first love, leaving the house and the other woman behind.
Macaronic or English-Language versions of this song are less frequently heard but have been collected in Galway and elsewhere. (ÉÓB)
Sarah and Rita Keane, from Caherlistrane, East Galway, can be heard singing an English language version of this song on Demon FIENDCD 771, At the Setting of the Sun, and on Claddagh CC4, Once I Loved. For a West Clare version, also in English, see Elizabeth Crotty, Concertina Music from West Clare, RTE 225CD. (FM)
18. An ancient Irish tradition divides music into three categories, Goltraí, music for sadness and lamentation, Geantraí, music that evokes mirth, and Suantraí music that soothes to sleep. Gaelic lullabies, more often than not, include a refrain with the vocables like 'seothín seothó' which have proven over countless generations to be very effective in lulling a child to sleep. The content of the verses would vary from one performance to the next but would often involve blessings of protection against abduction by the Sí or fairy-folk; the otherworld beings believed to inhabit the ancient tumuli (Lios) of the countryside. Possibly the frequency of inexplicable infant mortalities led to the belief that the Sí would, if given an opportunity, steal mortal children away to their underground dwellings. (ÉÓB)
19. It would be more accurate to say that Carna is in the West of Ireland, rather than the South West. It is on a similar latitude to Dublin. (FM)
20. Colm Ó Caoidheáin, Ó hÉanaí's uncle. Liam Mac Con Iomaire's biography of Ó hÉanaí, published in the CD booklet, gives the actual figure as 212 songs. (FM)
21. A reference to Peggy, presumably (FM)
22. Literally, mouth music. Port = tune. Béal = mouth. (FM)
23. Seán 'ac Dhonncha (Johnnie McDonagh) was a cousin and near contemporary of Ó hÉanaí and one of the great sean nós singers of modern times. (FM)
24. The recording becomes very unclear at this point, but MacColl appears to be trying to trace the nasal resonance in Ó hÉanaí's voice (the nyaah) and tries to determine whether this is a common trait among Gaelic singers; also how it is produced. (FM)
25. Seán 'ac Dhonncha, Morrisey and the Russian Sailor. Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, Ireland. Columbia AKL 4941. (FM)
26. Cathal Brugh. Ibid. (FM)
27. Mike Smythe was a London singer who was with the Critics Group at the time of this interview. He sings Heaney's Campbell the Rover on MacColl's radio series, The Song Carriers, in marked imitation of Heaney's style. (FM)
28. Come-all-ye is an English language term, not met with in Gaelic. It is used to denote a traditional song or street ballad. However, Ó hÉanaí seems to be referring to the round the fire sessions, or Siamsa tine discussed earlier. The phrase could possibly be 'uile taghtha le céile', 'all of them come together'. (FM)
29. BBC recording, no 21480, made by Peter Kennedy on 09/10/53. A later recording of Harry Cox singing this song can be heard on Voice of the People Volume 2; We've Received orders to Sail. TOPIC TSCD 662. Roud 835. (FM)
30. Caoineadh = Lament and refers to the practice of singing laments for the dead, which was once widespread in Ireland. (FM)
31. The Terror Time, a song used in the Radio ballad, The Travelling People, which Ó hÉanaí shares with Jane Stewart of Fetterangus, Aberdeenshire. (FM)
32. Presumably Sarah or Maybelle Carter. (FM)
33. Blind Willie Johnson was a famous Texas street evangelist who made thirty recordings for the Columbia Record Company between 1927 and 1929. They can be heard on a two CD set, Columbia COL 472190 2; The Complete Blind Willie Johnson. He died of pneumonia in 1949. (FM)
34. Roud 2309. The Crúiscín Lán is a well known drinking song found in both English and Irish. (FM)
35. Colm O'Lochlainn, Irish Street Ballads. Three Candles Press, Dublin, 1939. (FM)
Part of Article MT057
|Introduction||Interview Part 2||Interview Part 3|