Aird Uí Chuain

This song was one of my first introductions to the sean-nós tradition. It was from the singing of the fabulous Lillis Ó Laoire on the amazing album Celtic Tales and Tongues. If you don’t own the recording, do yourself a favor and pick it up – tradition songs in Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and Breton. I’d also recommend the version by Mary Dillon on her 2013 release North.  The song is another of the thousands of sorrowful emigrant songs. Here’s a new take on it from Ciara McCrickard of At First Light.

*Aird Uí Chuain/Ardicoan is County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Aird Uí Chuain

Dá mbeinn féin in Aird Uí Chuain
In aice an tsléibhe atá i bhfad uaim
B’annamh liom gan dul ar cuairt
Go gleann na gcuach Dé Domhnaigh

Is iomaí Nollaig a bhí mé féin
I mBun Abhann Doinne is mé gan chéill
Ag iomáin ar an trá bháin
‘Is mo chamán bán ins mo dhorn liom

Agus och och Éire ‘lig is ó,
Éire lionn dubh (melancholy) agus ó,
‘Sé mo chroí ‘tá trom ‘s bronach.

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Paddy’s Lamentation/By the Hush, Me Boys

An emigrant song with an even sadder outcome than most – conscription in the Irish Brigade during the Civil War which, as one individual put it “saw fierce action at such battles as Malvern Hill and Antietam…practically annihilated in the suicide charge at Fredericksburg.”  As a side note, Frank McGrath of the Nenagh Singers Circle explains “The title of the song is a corruption of an Irish phrase Bí i do thost or be quietwhich in fact is translated in the first line of the song……Well, it’s by the hush, me boys and that’s to make no noise.”

Niamh Ni Charra performs live with Matt Griffin, and this song is recorded on her CD Súgach Sámh/Happy Out.

Paddy’s Lamentation/By the Hush, Me Boys

And its by the hush, me boys
And be sure to hold your noise
And listen to poor Paddy’s sad narration
I was by hunger pressed
And by poverty distressed
So I took an oath to leave the Irish nation

So I sold me horse and plow
Sold me sheep, me pigs and sow
Me little farm of land and I we parted
And me sweetheart Beth Magee
I’m afeared I’ll never see
For I left her on that mornin’ broken hearted

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Spancil Hill

This song was written by an Irish emigrant to the United States in the 1870s, Michael Considine of Spancilhill in County Clare.  Spancil Hill sung here by Jim McCann of The Dubliners. It’s one of many songs by emigrants longing for the home, family, and friends they left behind in search of a better life. According to Frank McGrath on the mudcat café discussions:

In the late 1930s or early ’40s, Robbie McMahon, a local folk singer and composer, during an Irish traditional music session in Spancilhill, was going to sing “Spancilhill”, when the woman of the house, Moira Keane, a relative of Michael Considine, handed Robbie McMahon the original text of the song. According to Raymond Daly[3] and Derek Warfield, she said:”If ye are going to sing that song ye might as well sing it right.”

This text was confirmed some time later, around 1953, at another session in the parish, when Robbie McMahon was asked to sing “Spancilhill”, and a local, old man first resisted him, saying: “Don’t sing that song.” When asked why not, the old man replied “because ye don’t know it”. According to Daly and Warfield, McMahon sang the song anyway using the version given to him by Moira Keane. As McMahon got into the song, he noticed the old man paying more attention, fiddling with his cap and looking a little flustered.

When the song was finished the old man asked: “Where did ya get that song?” McMahon told him and the old man seemed both perturbed and pleased at the same time. The old man was John Considine, the nephew of the songs’s composer Michael Considine. John was 76 at that time and had kept his uncle’s song safe for 70 years. He gave his approval to McMahon’s performance after hearing that he had sung the original version.

Spancil Hill

Last night as I lay dreamin’
Of pleasant days gone by
Me mind bein’ bent on travelin’
To Ireland I did fly
I stepped aboard a vision
and followed with my will
‘Til next I came to anchor
At the cross near Spancil Hill

Delighted by the novelty
Enchanted with the scene
Where in my early boyhood
Where often I had been
I thought I heard a murmur
And think I hear it still
It’s the little stream of water
That flows down Spancil Hill

It being the 23rd of June
The day before the fair
Where Ireland’s sons and daughters
In crowds assembled there
The young, the old, the brave and the bold
They came for sport and kill
There were jovial conversations
At the cross near Spancil Hill

I went to see my neighbours
To hear what they might say
The old ones were all dead and gone
The others turning grey
I met with tailor Quigley
He’s as bold as ever still
Sure he used to make my britches
When I lived in Spancil Hill

I paid a flying visit
To my first and only love
She’s white as any lily
And gentle as a dove
She threw her arms around me
Saying Johnny I love you still
She’s Meg the farmers daughter
And the pride of Spancil Hill

I dreamt I stooped and kissed her
As in the day of ‘ore
She said Johnny you’re only joking
As many the times before
The cock crew in the morn’
He crew both loud and shrill
And I woke in California
Many miles from Spancil Hill