In 1939 Donagh MacDonagh, my father was a rather impoverished barrister. T.J. Kiernan, then controller of programmes on. Radio Eireann, asked him why he didn't try broadcasting to supplement his income. So he took a voice test, duly passed it, and was left with the problem of what to do. Here Mr. Kiernan's wife, Delia Murphy, came in and suggested a ballad programme.
"But I don't know any ballads".
"Of course you know ballads, just think."
It turned out that he knew enough ballads for two or three programmes, so he got his singers together, and he was off. At the end of the first programme, he told his listeners:
"Those are the sort of songs that we will be singing on this series. If you know any like them, send them into us, and we will sing them for you."
The response was so great that the programme ran, with a few short breaks, for five years. In that time Donagh MacDonagh collected around six hundred ballads, eighty-nine of which are published here. Another effect of this programme, which was called "Ireland is Singing", was that his own creative writing took a new turn, and not only were his poetry and his plays infused with the ballad idiom, but he wrote a few songs which could quite easily have been passed off as traditional. Some of these are also included in this book.
The one great problem that my father faced was that few of the listeners who sent in songs were able to write down music.
Here Dr. Arthur Darley, whose father had made a great collection of traditional Irish airs, came to the rescue - wherever an air was lacking for a song, he fitted one from his father's collect.ion. For this book, (name deleted to protect the guilty) has done something similar - where we have been unable to find the traditional air for a song, he has tried to find one which will fit it. And so this book is divided into three sections:
1) Traditional songs with their traditional airs.
2) Traditional songs, with airs fitted by (name deleted to protect the guilty).
3) Songs written to traditional airs by Donagh MacDonagh.
This book is presented as a singing book - a book for singers to learn songs from, not a scholarly exercise. Though I have written notes to most of the songs in the book, no great research has gone into them, and often they contain more comment then information. Over the coming years I hope to do a lot of research into the background of the songs in my father's collection and to do another book based on that research. In the meantime, please accept this bouquet of songs of the loves and hates, the joys and sorrows of the Irish people.
1. AGHADOE, This is a common enough type of Land League/emigration song. In this the cattle were scattered by women waving their shawls and the eviction had to be temporarily abandoned. But only temporarily The air is best known as the tune to another emigrant's song, Skibereen.
2. ANNIE MOORE. Religion may have split Ireland 1n two, but the songs of the two Irelands differ little. This well known orange song differs from any good Fenian song only in it's heroes.
3. THE ANGLER. I always wonder how matches so quickly made can survive.
4. ARTHUR MACBRIDE. A vivid illustration of the attitude of at least some of the Irish people to the recruitlng sergeant There is a very fine recording of this song by the Exiles on a Topic L.P, Freedom Come All Ye 12T143.
5. AS I ROVED OUT or DOWN THE MOOR
The words and music of this song were sent to my father by J.Reld, Clare Road, Ennis, He said :"It is popular around my native place in West Tyrone and was sung there at least as early as 1884. A great many Scottish words are in use there as well as Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic, so that the idiom in this song is not very foreign to the locality." Delia Murphy has recorded this song on her XTRA L,p, The Queen of Connemara", and it can also be heard on Dick Cameron's L.P. "Irish Folk Songs and Ballads".
6. THE ATHLONE LANDLADY. This sounds as if it came out of a music hall, but I like it sufficiently to include it. The tune is the same as for the chorus of "The Low Back Car".
7. THE AULD MAN AND THE CHURNSTAFF. This is the only version of "The Old Woman From Wexford" that I have heard in which, instead of being left to drown, the wife is pulled out by the husband when he thought she'd got enough. Recordings of the normal version are so numerous that there is no need for me to detail them, and this version has never, to my knowledge, been recorded.
8. THE BAULKEY MARE. The traveling people (though in this song only a jobber' is mentioned) are famous for their ability to "doctor" a horse for a fair, and make a discrepit auld yoke look like a racer you'd see upon the track. It must have taken a real artist, though, to fool the man who sold her twenty minutes earlier. The only recording that I have heard of this song was a field recording by the BBC, of a traveling woman, 'Lal' Smith. This recording, unfortunately, is not available for sale to the public.
9. BEGORRA SAYS MICK I DON'T MIND IF I DO. The political parody of a popular song is a time-honoured device, and this one is as scurrilous as any of them.
10. THE BONNY LIGHT HORSEMAN. This is one of the songs my mother used to sing for me as a child when I sat myself on her knee and asked her to sing a song. Verses two and three are "traveling" folk song verses - that is they are to be found in many songs and to many airs. However, the air together with the first verse and chorus give the song a distinctiveness and a beauty that is all its own.
11.THE CAILIN DEAS. Lit. The nice girl. This is a very brief song for it's type. One would expect two or three verses describing the girl, another two, at least , of an address and a few more of reply. Its brevity does the song no harm in the world, however.
12. THE CAILIN RUADH. Much the same can be said of this song as of the Cailin Deas. I like the juxta - positioning of Arabia and Pennsylvania.
13. THE CAPTAIN WITH THE WHISKERS. This is a wonderful lilting song of a girl's attraction for a soldier. This another of the songs that my mother used to sing for me as a child, and I still love to hear it. Delia Murphy recorded it on a 78rpm disc many years ago, but I do not think that it is available on any currently available record.
14.THE COMBER BALLAD. The symbolism here ought to be fairly obvious. This song, also known as "The Next Market Day" is on Dick Cameron's Folkway's LP, Irish Folk Songs and Ballads.
15. THE CONSTANT CAILIN RUADH. There is never a soldier goes to war, nor a sailor to sea, but he leaves a girl behind him; and it is just as well, for if he didn't an awful lot of good songs would never have been written.
16. THE CRIMEA. If there is no sweetheart to complain, then there is a mother. This song comes from Irishtown, Co.Wexford, just outside Enniscorthy, and I got the air from Tom Connors, a traveler (and a very fine singer) from Kilmore Quay, County Wexford.
17. THE DEAR IRISH BOY. Yet another lament for a soldier overseas. The air is to be found played on the uillean pipes by Willie Clancy on his Topic L.P., the Minstrel from Clare.
18. THE SKINFLINT OF BALLYFAKE This piece of invective in the true tradition of the Galbally Farmer was written by one PJ. Gaynor of Balieborough to the tune of "Sitting on the Bridge Below the Town."
19. DUMB. DUMB. DUMB. The opponents of contraception could use this as an effective warning against interfering with nature.
20. DUNMORE and GOING TO MASS LAST SUNDAY. These are two versions of the same song, which is to be fount mostly in the North. There are no recording, that I know of, of an Irish version of this song, but American variants (with different tunes) have been recorded by Frank Proffitt on his Topic L.P., "Ballads and Songs of North Carolina" snd by Peggy Seeger on her Argo L.P. "Peggy Alone". Actually, this song provides a good indication of the effect of the ballad idioms on my fathers writing, for it inspired him to write this poem:
GOING to Mass last Sunday my true love passed me by,
I knew her mind was altered by the rolling of her eye;
And when I stood in God's dark light my tongue could word no prayer
Knowing my saint had fled and left her reliquary bare.
Sweet faces smiled from holy glass, demure in saintly love,
Sweet voices ripe with Latin grace rolled from the choir above;
But brown eyes under Sunday wear were all my liturgy;
How can she hope for heaven who has so deluded me ?
When daffodils were altar gold her lips were light on mine
And when the hawthorn blame was bright we drank the year's new wine;
The nights seemed stained-glass windows lit with love that paled the sky,
But love's last ember perishes in the winter of her eye.
Drape every downcast day now in purple cloth of Lent,
Smudge every forehead now with ash, that she may yet repent,
Who going to Mass last Sunday could pass so proudly by
And show her mind was altered by the rolling of an eye.
21. ERIN'S GREEN LINNET. Today Dan O'Connell is renowned as the man who said that Ireland's freedom was not worth one drop of blood, but in his own time he was.the darling of the people, as this lament shows.
22, - FAIR MAID'S BEAUTY. I pity some people - the writer of this song thinks of decay, even when in his true-love's arms.
23.GALWAY CITY First popularized by Delia Murphy, this song has been a firm favourite in Ireland ever since. When Delia was recording it she found it too short and asked my father, who was at the studio, to write a few extra ones. The last two verses of this version are the result. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem have recorded it on their L.P. "Isn't It Grand Boys?
24. THE GARDENER'S SON. "Time waits for no man, but thyme waits for one man." This is a beauty of a song, versions of which are to be found all over the English speaking World.
25. GOODBYE MIKE, GOODBYE PAT. It is many a sorrowful song has a lilting air, and this is one. The air is the one my father
used for "Drinking Song", printed in the last section of this book.
26. THE GREEN FIELDS OF AMERICAY. A heart broken and heart breaking song of exile, this is only one of thousands of it's type. It
is included on Dick Cameron's Folkways L.P. "Irish Folk Songs and Ballads".
27. GREEN GROWS THE LAUREL. This is a song that has been spread all over the World - the Mexican name for North Americans , "Gringos" comes from the first two words of the chorus. Jeannie Robertson sings a Scottish version on the Brilliant Topic L.P. "Folk songs of Britain, Vol. 1, Songs of Seduction."
28. The GREEN LINNET. To the Irish Napoleon was a hoped for deliverer, and dozens of songs celebrate his victories and mourn
his defeats. This one has been recorded by Dolly MacMahon on her Claddagh L.P., "Dolly".
29. THE GROWLING OLD WOMAN'. Here is a song which is peculiar to Ireland, but which has a theme familiar to the whole World.
Dick Cameron has recorded it on his Folkways L.P. "Irish Folk Songs and Ballads". The tune is also known as a jig "When the Cock Crows it is Day", which is to be found played on the uileann pipes by Seamus Ennis on his L.P. "The Bonnie Bunch of Roses", released on both the Tradition and the Ember labels.
30. HIGH GERMANY. This song was originally English, but, having a universal theme, it has spread far. Shirley Collins has recorded it on two L.P.s "The Sweet Primroses (Topic) and "A Jug of Punch" (EMI).
31. JEM LARKIN IS A FIGHTING MAN. This song obviously predates Larkin's arrival in Dublin and it might be a worthwhile effort for someone to continue the song through his career in Dublin.
32. JOHNNY FROM THE WEST. This is a rather cruel song about a village fool. Dick Cameron has recorded this song on his Folkways L.P. "Irish Folk Songs and Ballads". In case any readers wondering how it came about that so many of the songs in this book are on that record, all but two of the twenty songs on the record were learned by Dick from my father's collection, and most of the songs on the record are printed here. Obviously, therefore, for a reader who cannot read music, this would be a useful record.
33. JOHNNY'S THE LAD I LOVE. This is a variant of the well known "Verdant Braes of Screen". There are many recordings
of the latter version, probably the best of them being that by the Fureys and Paddie Bell on their Waverly L.P.
34. JOHNNY THE DAISY-0. Once it was commonplace for a girl to be forced to throw up the lad she loved to marry an old man who could drive a few cows before him. There are many songs about this situation, usually far more dour then this. This song, also, is on Dick Cameron's Folkways L.P.
35. THE KERRY MOONLIGHTERS. The moonlighters were one of many secret organizations harrying landlords in the nineteenth century - others were The Ribbonmen and The Molly Maguires. This defiant song has been recorded by Dick Cameron on his Folkways L.P. "Irish Folk Songs and Ballads".
36. THE LADY FROM HOLLAND. This song is known in England as "The Sheffield Apprentice, and Henry Fielding used it's
plot for his novel "Joseph Andrews". An American variant can be heard being sung by Hedy West on her Topic L.P. "Ballads"
37. THE LAST LOVELY LASSIE. Everybody knows The Three Lovely Lassies", but I don't know where this epilogue comes from
though I strongly suspect that it was written by my father, perhaps with some help from Delia Murphy.
38. THE LITTLE BALL OF YARN. This was originally an English song, but some pure minded Irishman seems to have put a slightly purer ending to it - in any English version I have heard, the girl is left nursing a fatherless baby. An English variant can be heard on Martin Carthy/Second Album (Fontana)
39. THE LOVELY SAILOR BOY. This is a very common, internationally known song. The nearest version to this to be found on record is on Davy Hammond's Tradition L.P. "I Am The Wee Falorie Man. Other songs to this air are "The Croppy Boy", "MacCafferty" and
"Lady Franklin's Lament".
40. THE LOVE SICK. First published, in a much shorter version, by P.W. Joyce in his great book "Old Irish Folk Music and Song", this song , under the title "The Curragh of Kildare", has become a great favourite with the Irish public in the last few years. This is the longest version that I have come across The best recording of it that I have ever heard, or that I am ever likely to hear, is by Eddie and Finbar Furey on their Transatlantic L.P. TRA 1 68. The same recording is also on the Transatlantic sampler L.P. "Here's to the Irish" .
41. THE PRETTY DRUMMER BOY. There are dozens of songs about girls who join the army in disguise, and the odd thing is
that this is not just fantasy - it has happened. This song is to be found on record on Topic L.P. by the Watersons - A Yorkshire Garland". (Note from the year 2000 - this song seems to be missing from my files).
42. MORELAND SHORE. My father got the words and music from Martin Sheridan of Adelaide Road, who took them down from
his grandfather, which is about all I know of this song.
43. THE MOUNTAIN STREAMS WHERE THE MOORCOCKS CROW. The words of this song were sent to my father by P:Maguire of the Garda Siochana. The tune is from Pat Tunny's recording of it on his Folk-Legacy L.P. Man of Songs and on the Topic L.P. "Folk Songs of Courtship".
44. NORA DALY. Just goes to disprove the notion "Out of sight, out of mind.
45. NOTHING TO DO. The imagery of mowing and planting suggests something rather less innocent then appears on the surface
of this song. The only recording of this song that.I know of is by Dick Cameron on his Fokkways L.P. "Irish Folk Songs and Ballads."
46. OUT OF THE WINDOW. This is the traditional matrix of Padraig Colum's famous song "She Moved Through the Fair". Paddy Tunny has recorded a version of it on his Topic L.P. "The Irish Edge".
47. PADDY MACASSERIE. There can hardly be a soldier in the British,army who doesn't know this song. Recordings include
one by Ewan MacColl on his Topic L.P. "Bundook Ballads" and The Dubliners on "A Drop of the Hard Stuff" (Major Minor)
48. THE ROCKS OF BAWN. Everybody knows the other song with the same title and tune, but this one is a complete mystery to me. It's
a great song,though.
49. THE SEVEN EXILES. Not all Irish exiles found what they expected when they left Ireland, and some were dismayed to find that the press gang was as prevalent in Boston as in Dublin.
52. SHE'S A DEAR MAID TO ME. "Dear" here has a double connotation - "dear to the singer's heart" and "expensive".