28 Jun

The Town Passage

The Town Passage is large and spacious and situated upon the say,
It is nate and dacent and quiet, adjacent to the cove of Cork on a summer day;
There you can slip in to take a dipping forninst the shipping that at anchor ride
Or in a wherry cross o’er the ferry to Caregoloe on the other side.

Mud cabins swarm in this place so charming with sailors’ garments hung out to dry,
And each abode is snug and commodious with pigs melodious in their straw-built sty;
Oh, the pigs are sleek and well contented, their odor fragrant it scents the air
Oh, the beef and biskie, the pork and whisky, it would make you frisky if you were there.

It’s there the turf is and lots of Murphies; Dead Spratts and Herring and Oyster Shells,
Nor any lack of good tobacco, but what is smuggled by far excels;
It’s there you’d see Peg Murphy’s daughter peeling praties forninst the dure,
With me aunt Delaney and Bridget Haney, all blood relations to Lord Donoughmore.

There is ships from Cadiz and from the Barbadoes, but the lading trade is in whiskey punch,
Or you can go in to where one Molly Bowen kapes a nate hotel for a quiet lunch;
But land or deck on you can safely reckon, whatever country that you came from
On an invitation to a jollification by a parish priest called Father Tom.

Of ships there is one fixed for lodging convicts, a floating stone jug of amazing bulk,
And the hake and salmon playing at back Gamon swim for diversion all around her hulk;
There English peelers keep brave repalers who soon with sailors must anchor weigh,
From the Emerald Island ne’er to see dry land until they spy land in Botany Bay.

“The Town Passage” (aka “The Town of Passage”) is one of a tight-knit family of songs, all sharing the same melody and poetic style, that came out of eastern County Cork in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The first song in the chain seems to have been one written by a forgotten poet in praise of the famous Castlehyde in Fermoy which was composed by a local poet in the late 1700s when the building was newly built. (Castlehyde was the seat of the Hyde family that would later produce Ireland’s first president Douglas Hyde. It is also currently owned by famed Irish-American dancer Michael Flatley!)

Another Cork poet, Richard Alfred Millikin (b. 1767) is believed to have taken “Castlehyde” as a model for his song “The Groves of Blarney” which he composed around 1798 in honor of that town located southwest of Castlehyde and just northwest of Cork City. Millikin’s song became a sensation among the singing classes of Ireland and crossed the ocean to North America where it was printed on song sheets. Thomas Moore (b. 1779) took the melody from “The Groves of Blarney” for his hit “The Last Rose of Summer” around 1805. Moore’s song is not related to Cork aside from taking this melody.

Father Prout

A third Cork poet, Francis Sylvester Mahony (aka Father Prout, b. 1804) used the melody and style of “The Groves of Blarney” in 1834 to create “The Bells of Shandon” – the only song in the bunch to celebrate an icon within Cork City itself. “The Bells” is also more earnest in tone with less of the tongue-in-cheek faux-praise present in “Castlehyde” and “The Groves of Blarney.”

Interestingly, poet Mahony/Father Prout returned to the more light-hearted approach when he created yet another song “The Town of Passage” to the same melody and form. Passage (now called Passage West) is just southeast of Cork City on the way to Cobh. This song was printed by Thomas Crofton Croker in 1839

“The Town of Passage” has not been found often in tradition. It does, however, turn up in Michael Dean’s 1922 songster printed here in Minnesota! Above I have married Dean’s text to the melody used for an oral tradition version of “The Groves of Blarney” collected in Newfoundland in 1975 by Aidan O’Hara from the singing of Ellen Emma Power which you can hear via the Irish Traditional Music Archive online.

01 Dec

The Apple Praties

My name is Cal O’Mannon l was born in sweet Killarney,
I can fight, dance or sing. I can plough, reap or mow,
And if I meet a pretty girl I never practice blarney,
There’s something more alluring which perhaps you’d like to know.

I am not of your mountebanks or any shabby family,
I sprung from ancient history, I’ll prove it to be so,
For I am of the Os and Macs, the darling sons of Paddy Whack,
That live and toil in Ireland where the apple praties grow,

I could tell a great deal more, if I could trace my pedigree
My mother was a Hogan and my father I don’t know,
I’ve got ninety-nine relations in a place they call Rosscarbery,
And each unto his name has a “Mac” or an “O.”

My uncle was O’Callaghan, my Aunt she was O’Brannagan,
And as to my own character sure I can plainly show,
I am a ranting roving blade that never was afraid,
For I was born in Ireland where the apple praties grow.

May the heavens still protect our hospitable counteree,
Where first I drew my living breath to hear its cocks to crow,
There fine scenes I did enjoy as a gay unthinking boy,
With the lads that lived in Ireland where the apple praties grow.

St. Patrick was our saint and a blessed man in truth was he,
Great gifts unto our counteree he freely did bestow,
He banished all the frogs and toads that sheltered in our counteree,
And unto other regions he ordered them to go.

Another fact undoubtedly that cannot contradicted be,
Just trace the Irish history and it will plainly show,
Search the universe all round, braver fellows can’t be found,
Than the boys that lived in Ireland where the apple praties grow.

This month we have a song of Irish pride from the repertoire of Cyril O’Brien of Trepassey on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula. You can hear the first verse of O’Brien’s performance on the wonderful Songs of Atlantic Canada website hosted by Memorial University in Newfoundland. O’Brien’s version is the only evidence I have found of it being sung in tradition though it was printed several times as a broadside in Scotland, England and New York City. I used the broadside versions to fill in some blanks left by Leach’s transcription of O’Brien.

A note at the top of the New York printing (by Marsan) indicates that the song was composed and performed by Belfast-born actor James “The Irish Comedian” Seymour as part of his role in “The Duke’s Motto.” This was a play by Dublin-born playwright John Brougham which had a long successful run at Niblo’s Garden theater in New York City in the 1860s. Brougham’s plays were performed on both sides of the Atlantic so it is possible that Seymour authored the song and that it was then printed (and sung) internationally though such claims of composition are not always true. In any case, the song was popular enough to be parodied in Washington, DC as the “Song of the Civil Service Man” in 1887. Other newspapers from the period even use the phrase “where the apple praties grow” as a euphemism for Ireland.

19 Nov

Our Captain Says “Away”

Our captain says “Away, all hands, tomorrow,”
Leaving you girls behind in sad grief and sorrow,
Dry up those briny tears and don’t be a-weeping,
For so happy we will be, my love, at our next meeting.

She threw her arms abroad like one a-dying,
With the wringing of her hands, and a-crying and sighing,
“What makes you roam abroad a-fighting for strangers?
Oh stay at home with me, my love, and be free from dangers.

“When I had gold in store, you seemed to like me,
But now I am growing poor, you seem for to slight me,
You courted me awhile just for to deceive me,
And now my tender heart you have won you are going for to leave me.”

“Oh, fare you well, father, and fare you well, mother,
For I am your daughter dear and you have no other,
For to weep it is all in vain, for I am a-going,
To the lad that I so dearly love, the one who has proved my ruin.”

“There is no believing men, no, not your own brother,
There is no believing men, no, not your true lover,
Your favor they will gain, then turn to some other,
So, young girls, if you can love, be sure to love one another.”

Last month, I had the honor of attending the annual Getaway weekend of the Folksong Society of Greater Washington near Washington, DC as a guest. While there, I got to talk northwoods songs with DC area singers Lisa Null and Steve Woodbury. A couple years ago, Lisa and Steve introduced me to the wonderful repertoire of Maine singer Carrie Grover and gave me a copy of Grover’s “Heritage of Songs” book. Lisa was also partly responsible for Irish singer Paul Brady’s 1973 introduction to the Grover collection from which he adapted his iconic versions of both “Arthur McBride” and “The Jolly Soldier!” (see Northwoods Songs #66). While in DC, I decided to spend some time at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress listening to their large collection of recordings of Carrie Grover singing and playing fiddle.

How wonderful and insightful to hear these recordings! Carrie Grover (1879-1959) turns out to have been a very skilled singer with a store of complex and beautiful melodies and vocal techniques to match her rich repertoire. I fell in love with her singing and transcribed as many songs as I could from her 1941 session with collector Sidney Robertson.

Grover titles the above song “The False Lover” in her book. She learned it from her mother whose grandfather William Long came from Ireland to Nova Scotia where Carrie herself was born. Other than a version collected in Newfoundland by Kenneth Peacock, the song seems to have been found primarily in England where Martin Carthy and others have sourced their renditions of it. Most other versions I found use melodies similar to Grover’s though I find the freedom of her timing and some of her notes to be especially haunting. The above is my transcription of Grover with a few lines borrowed from the Newfoundland version.