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.

20 Nov

The Dublin Lasses Reel

Between 1910s and 1970s, folk song scholars, collectors and singers transcribed or recorded abundant examples of Irish-influenced traditional singing held over in the Great Lakes region from the days of live-in logging camps and fresh water schooners. The presence of instrumental music in old time Great Lakes logging camps is also well documented in photos and first-hand accounts but, sadly, very few transcribers or recorders bothered to capture any of the tunes!

I decided to take a month off from the songs and share an interesting version of an Irish reel (usually called “The Five Mile Chase”) from Beaver Island, Michigan fiddler Patrick Bonner (1882-1973). Bonner’s fascinating fiddle playing was recorded. Alan Lomax recorded a dozen or so tunes from him in 1938 and Ivan Walton a dozen more in 1940. Bonner’s setting of “The Dublin Lasses” was one of some 80 or more tunes recorded between 1950 and the mid-60s by Edward “Edgar” O’Donnell. O’Donnell’s (low fi) recordings of Bonner are available online here.

Patrick Bonner was the son of Black John Bonner, believed to be the first Irishman to arrive on Beaver Island after the fall of the island’s Mormon kingdom in 1856. Black John was born on Rutland Island (=Inis Mhic an Doirn), County Donegal not far from Arranmore (the birthplace of most first generation Irish-Beaver Islanders). His song Patrick was born on Beaver Island and lived there his entire life working as a farmer, logger and sailor and entertaining on his fiddle at “dances, picnics, weddings, and house parties.”[1] Patrick Bonner’s playing is an intriguing blend of Irish fiddle style and a looser, simpler, more “American” approach. I highly recommend looking him up online to hear him for yourself!

[1] Sommers, Laurie Kay, Beaver Island House Party, (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1996) 45.

31 Oct

Three Nations

PrintMusic! 2004 - [Three Nations]

In the year of eighteen hundred, I believe, and twenty-five,
A story true I’ll tell to you as sure as I’m alive,
It was of three jolly heroes bold who happened to meet by chance,
For the sake of fun each man begun his country to advance.

Refrain (use first two lines of melody):
With your shamrock green, the thistle keen, together with the rose,
Your abundant sons with their swords and guns have oft times faced their foes.

Says George “We are a nation that’s proper neat and tall,
There is no one that can us resist, or break our wooden wall,
Oh, our ships can beat all nations no odds would come again’ ’em,”
“Arrah faith” says Pat “you may well say that when the Irish lads are in ’em.” (refrain)

Says Pat “we are a nation that ramble up and down,
And on the fields of battle we are in thousands found.
Give me the Fág an Bealach boys and the Connaught Rangers too,
And we’ll stand our ground ’gin all the French who fought at Waterloo. (refrain)

Says Andrew “We are a nation and that I’ll not deny,
We’ve never lost a battle, nor from our colors fly.
We have often proved good soldiers true where the bullets like hailstones flew,”
“Oh yes” says Pat “I remember that that day at Waterloo.” (refrain)

So Andrew drank to St. Andrew, for to cause another duel,
And George drank to St. George, who did the dragon kill,
And Pat drank to St. Patrick, and he mentioned Wallace too,
And they all shook hands and blessed the land that’s far from Waterloo.
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This rare song harkens back to Napoleon and the English, Scottish and Irish men that fought against him under the English flag. Helene Stratman-Thomas collected it in 1941 from second-generation Scotsman Thomas Hunter [b. 1868] of Galesville, Wisconsin. Hunter learned it on a log drive on the Prairie River north of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, from Ross Byers of Michigan who got it from his own Scottish immigrant father. You can hear Stratman-Thomas’ recording of Hunter online via the wonderful Wisconsin Folksong Collection made available by the University of Wisconsin.

Unsatisfied with Hunter’s melody for the song, I borrowed another popular Great Lakes melody when I recorded “The Three Nations” for my CD Minnesota Lumberjack Songs. Since then, I came across a version sung by Beaver Island, Michigan singer Mike J. O’Donnell (recorded in 1938 by Ivan Walton). O’Donnell uses the above air which I think works quite well. O’Donnell (a source for last month’s song as well) learned it from Hughie Boyle of Harbor Springs, Michigan.

The Napoleonic Wars actually had a hand in spurring the northwoods song tradition itself. Napoleon’s blockade British shipping routes to Baltic timber suppliers helped open up Canadian forests as a source for replenishing the British fleet. Timber ships heading from Liverpool to St. John, New Brunswick or Quebec City for Canadian timber brought thousands of war-weary Irish settlers to Canada where they worked in the woods, sang songs and made new lives “far from Waterloo.”