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.

02 Nov

The Hunter’s Death


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Ye hunters brave and bold I pray attend
To this relation hear what I have seen
’Twas of a hunter bold
’Twill make your blood run cold
To hear the story told
How he suffered there.

To hunt when he was young was his delight
And when to manhood grown his favorite
To hunt the fallow deer
The roe buck and the bear
The turkey coon and hair
With smaller game.

As people settled round on hill and dale
No ven’son to be found his hunting failed
He went in forty nine
Towards the northern line
It was his hull design
To hunt the grove.

And now comes on the day that was his last
Old Boris [Boreas?] blew away an awful blast
It both rain hale and snow
The stormy winds did blow
They chilled his nature so
Poor man was lost.

All in the drifting snow laid himself down
No further could he go there he was found
His powder so complete
Was strewed from head to feet
That the vermin might not eat
His body there.

You’d wish to know his name and where he’s from
And of what stock he came and where he’s born
He’s of as noble a race
As any in the place
His name ’twas John Lomace
Born in Westfield.

—————

We stay on the hunting theme this month with a wonderfully obscure and fascinating song from the repertoire of Reuben W. Phillips of Akeley, Minnesota. “The Hunter’s Death” was one of 22 handwritten song texts Phillips sent to collector Robert W. Gordon in March 1924. Upon receiving the songs from Phillips, Gordon was drawn to “The Hunter’s Death” in particular for its “peculiar stanza form.” He published the song’s text in the August 20, 1924 edition of his pulp magazine column “Old Songs That Men Have Sung” calling it “a curious little song, particularly in its use of the short but effective line without rime at the end of each stanza.” Soon after, Gordon hauled his Edison cylinder recording machine from Berkeley, California to Akeley to record Phillips singing the song himself. Gordon remembered the song several years later when fellow song-catcher Joanna Colcord sent him another song collected in Vermont called “The Damsel’s Tragedy” with much the same form:

Indulgent parents dear I pray attend
To this relation hear which I have penned
A deeper tragedy
You never knew, for why?
A mother’s cruelty
Ruined her son.

Given that both songs can be traced to Vermont, “The Damsel’s Tragedy” may have been the template for “The Hunter’s Death.”

Phillips told Gordon that “The Hunter’s Death” was composed in northern New York around 1849 in the vicinity of Hopkinton where Phillips himself was born. It was based on an actual man, John Lomace, who lived in the area. Westfield, Vermont is about 100 miles east of Hopkinton on the other side of Lake Champlain. Both towns are quite near the “northern line” where one crosses into Canada.

Last month, I launched the Minnesota Folksong Challenge. This is your chance to get involved in reviving the folksong heritage of Minnesota! Learn a song from the Minnesota Folksong Collection and post a video on Youtube of yourself singing it. Send me the link and I’ll add you to the growing collection of videos here! St. Paul singer John Wenstrom took the Challenge and learned “The Hunter’s Death.” You can see John’s video at the Minnesota Folksong Collection site along with the new video of the Lost Forty doing our version of this song.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

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