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.
_______________________________________

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.”

11 Sep

Hibernia’s Lovely Jane

(as usual, I forgot/changed a few words and notes here and there when I went to sing it)

Hibernia's Lovely Jane

 

When parting from the Scottish shore on the highland mossy banks,
To Germany we all sailed o’er to meet the hostile ranks,
Till at length in Ireland we arrived after a long campaign,
There a bonny maid my heart betrayed, she’s Hibernia’s lovely Jane.

Her cheeks were of the rosed hue; the bright glance of her een,
Just like the drops of dew bespangled o’er the meadows green,
Jane Cameron ne’er was half so fair; no, nor Jessie of Dunblane,
No princess fine could her outshine, she’s Hibernia’s lovely Jane.

My tartan plaid I will forsake, my commission I’ll resign.
I’ll make this bonnie lass my bride if the lassie will be mine.
And in Ireland where her graces are, forever I’ll remain,
In Hymen’s band join heart and hand with Hibernia’s lovely Jane.

This bonny lass of Irish braw being of a high degree,
Her parents said a soldier’s bride their daughter ne’er should be,
O’erwhelmed with care, grief and despair, no hopes do now remain,
Since this near divine cannot be mine, she’s Hibernia’s lovely Jane.

If war triumphant sounds again to call her sons to arms,
Or Neptune waft me o’er the deep far, far from Janie’s arms,
Or was I laid on honor’s bed, by a dart or a ball be slain,
Death’s pangs will cure the pains I bear for Hibernia’s lovely Jane.

_____________________________________

The text of this version of “Hibernia’s Lovely Jane” was given by Andrew Ross of Charlevoix, Michigan to collector Franz Rickaby in the early 1920s. Ross (1853-1930) was born in Quebec to Highland Scottish parents. He came to Charlevoix around 1880 and worked his way up the local lumbering industry, eventually serving as mayor of Charlevoix. Ross’s obituary says he “had a natural ear for music, and abundance of wit and humor, and his stock of Scotch songs and dances were known to many.” It continues, “As an entertainer in the early days he was in constant demand, and even in later years was frequently called upon to display his talents.”  (http://obits.charlevoixlibrary.org/articles/article30207.jpg, accessed Aug. 20, 2015)

“Hibernia’s Lovely Jane” (sometimes “Jean”) is a broadside ballad dating from the early 1800s that depicts a Scottish soldier in love with an Irish girl. In 1932, collector Sam Henry found a version sung (to a different air) in Ballycastle, County Antrim which he printed in his Songs of the People. Other than Henry’s version, I have found no other published version from tradition. However, during my research trip to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress last summer, I discovered two versions recorded by Ivan Walton during his 1940 trip to Beaver Island, Michigan. The melody above is a composite of the airs sung by Beaver Island singers John W. Green and Mike J. O’Donnnell. That the song would surface in both Charlevoix and Beaver Island makes sense. For over a century, Charlevoix has been the chief “mainland” town connected to Beaver Island by ferry. O’Donnell said he learned his version from singer Maggie Boyle of Harbor Springs, Michigan who may have learned it in Scotland.

A few words in the Ross text were misspelled or otherwise garbled and I have replaced these with words found in broadside texts held by the Bodleian Library.