01 Mar

At the Close of an Irish Day

Oh, tonight in fancy come and take a trip across the sea,
And we’ll meet our old companions in the place we long to be,
For stamped upon our memory are the friends we used to know,
So just tonight lets revel in the thoughts of long ago.

Through little lanes and meadows we will take a stroll once more,
For to meet the laughing boys and girls we met in days of yore,
The rivers, woods and moonlit night have the same old charm still,
And the whistler on a summer’s eve comes rambling o’er the hill.

It’s oft we rove through yon green groves with our young hearts light and gay,
‘Mid the golden ray of the setting sun at the close of an Irish day,
The music from the hills around re-echoed clear and true,
As down the path we wandered ’mid the fragrance and the dew.

Oh, don’t you recall, sweetheart of mine, the place where I met you,
‘Mid the rosy bower of happiness where love’s young dream came true?
The air was full of love’s sweet song as I promised to be thine,
And you forever pledged your word that you would be always mine.

Oh I’ll ne’er forget when I set sail across the ocean blue,
We stood on deck and watched the mountains slowly fade from view,
At the last glimpse of old Erin sure our hearts went up in prayer,
Oh, God forbid we’d e’er forget that dear little isle so fair.

We return this month to a song recorded by Tom Dahill and Barbara Dahill in 1976 from Mayo-born singer Dominic Caulfield who lived in St. Paul. Caulfield was a skilled singer with a deep repertoire of songs. On the tape recording, Dominic, Tom and Barb chat and read through a list of song titles between Dominic’s singing. They also refer to lyrics on a page so he was likely consulting a song book of his own at the time.

“At the Close of an Irish Day” is thought to be a composition of the early 20th century even though no known composer or early published text is known. The earliest appearance I can find is a recording by the McNulty Family made for Decca in New York City in 1940. Melodeon player Annie Burke McNulty was from Roscommon and she performed with her American-born children Eileen and Peter who sang and danced. The song was released at the height of their popularity when they were the most well-known Irish act in the US.

The song was taken up by traditional singers on both sides of the ocean. Eddie Butcher and others sang it in Derry and it appears in Hugh Shields’ book Shamrock, Rose and Thistle: Folk Singing in North Derry. In the late 50s, it was recorded by international superstar Bridie Gallagher and from there became associated with Irish stage singers—perhaps causing it to be passed over by folk revival song collectors who thought it too modern to be a “real” folk song.