30 Apr

The Diamond of Derry

Oh the Diamond of Derry looks dismal today,
Since my true love Jimmy has gone far away,
He has gone to old England, strange ladies to see,
May the heavens protect him, bring him safe home to me.

Oh Jimmie, lovely Jimmie, do you remember the days,
When you rapped on my window, and we rode far away,
Over hills and green mountains, together we rode,
Now you’ve gone and left me, with my heart filled with woe.

The first time we met was in yonder green wood,
Where pinks and primroses grew around where we stood,
With your arms locked around me to protect me from the wind,
It was there you first deluded this young heart of mine.

The next time that we courted, you very well know,
Twas down in your father’s garden in the county Tyrone,
You told me you loved me above all womankind,
Pray tell me the reason that you’ve changed your mind,

If I told you I loved you, it was mean and in jest,
For I never intended to make you my best,
I never intended to make you my wife,
No neither will I, all the days of my life.

So  be gone false-hearted young man, I have no more to say
But perhaps you and I may be judged the same day,
And the time it will come love, when rewarded you’ll be,
For false vows and broken promises that you made unto me

This month’s song comes from Belle Luther Richards of Colebrook, New Hampshire and was recorded by Marguerite Olney for the Flanders Ballad Collection (Middlebury, VT) in April 1942. You can listen to Richards’ singing of the song (she sings “Diamonds of Derry”) via the rich digitized Flanders Ballad Collection on archive.org. The collection includes other versions of the song, aslso known as “The False Promise,” from Cadyville, NY and Montpelier, VT. It appears also in the repertoires of “Yankee” John Galusha (Minerva, NY) and Carrie Grover (Gorham, ME). I borrowed a few lines from these other versions but the above is primarily the Richards version.

It is a variant of a song popularized in Ireland by the great Paddy Tunney and hence performed by Dolores Keane and others. Tunney called it “Johnny, Lovely Johnny” and most Irish versions begin “The high walls of Derry” which is also often given as the song’s title.

The New England versions generally begin “The diamonds of (the) Derry.” County Derry song collector Sam Henry, in his notes to another song, “Belfast Mountains,” writes that “The Belfast Mountains (Cave Hill) were supposed to contain diamonds which shone at night. They were often referred to in the ballads of the period [the 1800s].” Some have assumed that this is what is meant by “diamonds of Derry” in this song. However, Derry Town has, in addition to its 17th century high walls and gates (from which the céilí dance takes its name), a prominent central Diamond (town square) of the same vintage. One commenter on the Mudcat song forum thought this a logical origin for the song’s first line and that makes good sense to me. For that reason, I dropped the plural in the above.

Either way, it’s a fascinating variation on a well-loved song. Richards’ melody is quite different from the commonly used Tunney air and suits the song’s sad story well.

26 Apr

Doran’s Ass

One heavenly night in last November, Pat walked out for to see his love,
What night it was I don’t remember, but the moon shone brightly from above,
That day the boy got some liquor, which made his spirits brisk and gay,
Saying, “What is the use of walking any quicker for I know she’ll meet me on the way.”

              Whack fol loora loora loddy, whack fol right fol lie doe day.

He tunes his pipe and fell to humming, while gently onward he did jog,
But fatigue and whisky overcome him, so Pat lay down upon the sod,
He was not long without a comrade, and one that could kick up the hay,
For the big jackass he smelt out Paddy, lay down beside him on the way.

He hugged, he smugged this hairy old devil, and threw his hat to worldly cares,
“You’ve come at last, my Biddy darling, but, by me soul, you’re like a bear.”
He laid his hand on the donkey’s nose, just then this beast began to bray,
Pat jumped up and roared out “Murder! Who served me in such a way?”

He took two legs and homeward started, at railroad speed, as fast, I’m sure,
He never stopped his feet or halted until he came to Biddy’s door,
When he got there ’twas almost morning, down on his knees he fell to pray,
Saying, “Let me in my Biddy darling, I’ve met the Devil on the way.”

He told his story mighty civil, while she prepared the whiskey glass,
How he hugged, he smugged, this hairy old devil, “Go way” says she “that’s Doran’s ass!”
“I know it was, my Biddy darling.” And they got married the very next day,
Pat never got back the old straw hat, that the donkey ate up on the way.

We have another comic song this month that was once sung across the north woods region including here in Minnesota where a version was printed by Mike Dean in his 1922 songster The Flying Cloud. Lumberjack singer Charley Bowlen of Black River Falls, Wisconsin also sang a version for collector Helene Stratman-Thomas in 1940. In Ireland, it was printed by Colm Ó Lochlainn in his influential collection Irish Street Ballads.

The melody above is my transcription of a version recorded in the western Catskills by collector Herbert Halpert in 1941. The singer was Walter Wormuth of Peakville, New York who had himself worked in the lumber woods earlier in life. Most versions use a variant of the melody associated with the song “Spanish Lady” and Wormuth’s has a unique twist on that well-worn tune. The above text is primarily Wormuth’s but I borrowed a few lines from Dean and Bowlen here and there.

20 Aug

Darby O’Leary

I strayed far away from the old County Down,
Aiming for riches for fame and renown,
I wandered ‘til I came to Galbally town and was hired to Darby O’Leary.

When we entered his kitchen, I entered it first;
It seemed like a kennel or a ruined old church:
Says I to myself, “I am left in the lurch in the house of old Darby O’Leary.”

Two praties he gave me for supper at night,
With a cup of sour milk that would sicken a snipe,
He was stingy and heartless I ne’er saw the light; oh, a hard man was Darby O’Leary.

The silly old miser he sat with a frown,
While straw was brought in for to make my shakedown,
I wish I had never seen Galbally town or the sky over Darby O’Leary.

I worked in Tipperary, the Rag, and Rosegreen,
I worked in Knockainey and the Bridge of Aleen,
But such woeful starvation I’ve never yet seen as I got from old Darby O’Leary.

Also known as “The Galbally Farmer,” this song is a fine example of a worker’s complaint song about a bad boss and unpleasant working conditions. Oxford’s Bodleian Library has a broadside version of this (probably from the early 1800s) entitled “The Spalpeen’s Complaint of Darby O’Leary” and another version also appears in P. W. Joyce’s 1909 Old Irish Folk Music and Songs.

The version above takes its melody from New Brunswick singer Angelo Dornan. The verses are based on those sung by Dornan (verse 4), New York/New Hampshire singer Lena Bourne Fish (verses 1 and 3) and Tom Lenihan of County Clare (verses 2 and 5). Fish’s opening verse is the only one I have seen that has the protagonist hailing from County Down. Galbally, County Limerick is in the southeastern corner of the county on the border with Tipperary.