20 Mar

Highland Mary

Ye banks and braes and streams around the castles of Montgomery,
Green be your woods and fair your flowers, your waters never drumlie,
There summer first unfolds her robes, and there I langest tarry,
For there I took the last farewell, of my sweet Highland Mary.

How sweetly bloomed the gay green birk, how rich the hawthorn’s blossom,
As underneath their fragrant shade, I clasped her to my bosom,
The golden hours, on angel’s wings, flew o’er me and my dearie,
For dear to me as light and life, was my sweet Highland Mary.

Wi’ many a vow and locked embrace, our parting was so tender,
And pledging oft to meet again, we tore ourselves asunder,
But oh! Fell death’s untimely froth that nipped my flower so early,
Now green’s the sod and cold’s the clay that wraps my Highland Mary.

O pale, pale now those rosy lips I oft have kissed so fondly,
And closed for aye the sparkling glance that dwelt on me so kindly,
And mouldering now in silent death that heart that lowed me dearly,
But still within my bosom’s core shall live my Highland Mary.

In honor of Burns Night coming up on January 25th we have a song found in both Ireland and the north woods that began as a poem penned by Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. The above version comes from the wonderful singing of Beaver Island, Michigan-born woodsman and singer Dominic Gallagher (1867-1954). Dominic’s father “Big Dominic” Gallagher, like most Beaver Islanders of his generation, emigrated from the island of Arranmore, Co. Donegal. After singing the above for collector Ivan Walton in 1940, Dominick said (with characteristic humility) “The first time I heard that I was only about six years of age at a party home. A fellow by the name of Paddy Hamey[?] sang it two weeks after he was married—a very fine singer—could sing it a good deal better than I sang it now.”

Twelve years after Dominic Gallagher was recorded on Beaver Island, famed Co. Fermanagh singer Paddy Tunney assisted collector Peter Kennedy in recording Paddy’s mother Brigid Tunney singing a similar version of “Highland Mary” at her home in Fermanagh. Interestingly, Brigid, like Dominic’s father, was born in Donegal and her maiden name was also Gallagher.

06 Mar

Barney Flew Over the Hills

’Twas a cold winter’s night and the tempest was snarling,
The snow like a sheet covered cabin and stile,
When Barney flew over the hills to his darling,
And tapped at the window where Katie did lie.

“Arrah jewel,” says he, “are you sleeping or waking?
The night’s bitter cold and my coat it is thin,
Oh the storm is a-brewing and the frost is a-baking,
Oh Katie avourneen you must let me in.”

“Barney,” cried she as she spoke through the window,
“How could you be taking me out of my bed,
To come at this time is a sin and a shame too,
It’s whiskey not love that’s got into your head.”

“If your heart it was true of my fame you’d be tender,
Consider the time and there’s nobody in,
Oh, what has a poor girl but her name to defend her,
No Barney avourneen I won’t let you in.”

“Acushla,” cried he, “it’s my heart is a fountain,
That weeps for the wrong it might lay at your door,
Your name is more white than the snow on the mountain,
And Barney would die to preserve it as pure.”

“I’ll go to my home though the winter wind slays me,
I’ll whistle the notes for I’m happy within,
And the words of my Kathleen will comfort and bless me,
‘Oh Barney, mavourneen I won’t let you in.’”

Canadian folk song collector Helen Creighton recorded this song in 1948 from fisherman Amos Jollimore of Terence Bay, Nova Scotia. In addition to the Canadian Maritimes, it was sung in Ireland and New England and it even travelled west where versions were collected in Ohio and Utah. Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill recorded a version with the band Relativity in the 1980s.

Though it begins like many other “night-visiting” songs, Katie’s good reputation and Barney’s threat to it play a bigger role in this story than most. His attempt at “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is met with a well-reasoned plea for restraint and, in the end, no means no and Barney proves to be a respectful suitor.

06 Mar

Roving Cunningham

When I first came to Tupper Lake, the girls all jumped with joy,
Saying one unto the other, “Here comes that roving boy!”
One treats me to the bottle, and another to a dram,
And the toasts went round the table to “that healthy young Cunningham.”

Now, I hadn’t been in Tupper Lake a day not more than three,
When Tobin’s lovely daughter, she fell in love with me,
She said she wanted to marry me, and takes me by the hand,
And she slyly told her mother, she loved young Cunningham.

It’s “Hold your tongue, you silly fool! You grieve my heart full sore?
How could you love that little bum you’d never saw before?”
“Now, hold your tongue dear mother and it’s do the best you can,
For back to Saranac I will go with that roving Cunningham.”

I wrote about a Minnesota variant of this song, “The Roving Irishman,” in the August 2012 Northwoods Songs. Known in Ireland as “The Roving Journeyman” or “The Little Beggerman,” this version comes from northern New York State where it was sung by Ted Ashlaw. You can hear Robert Bethke’s recording of Ashlaw singing it here. Ashlaw learned it from the man who composed the variant: Charlie Cunningham. Cunningham reworked “The Roving Journeyman” to reference places in the northern Adirondacks he frequented and also to make some insinuations about his relationship with a local woman (“Tobin’s lovely daughter”).

I recently had the honor of writing the foreword for a wonderful new book by folklorist Robert Bethke about singer Ted Ashlaw and his songs entitled One Rough Life, Ted Ashlaw: Adirondack Lumber Camp and Barroom Singer. The book comes with a 2 CDs of Bethke’s field recordings of Ashlaw—a great resource for northwoods songs!