Information on Mick’s Songs

The Dewy Glens of Yarrow
Child No. 214. Recorded from Mrs. Brigid Murphy (1913-1988), of Forkhill, Co. Armagh by Tom Munnelly in the Foresters Hall, Forkhill, on October1st 1983 during a ‘singaround’ at the Slieve Gullion Singing Festival. Known as ‘The Dowy Glens of Yarrow’, recorded by many, including a wonderful version from Davy Stewart, with accordion accompaniment. Brigid had a lovely, gentle style reminiscent of Mary Anne Carolan. I met Brigid Murphy in 1987, at the Slieve Gullion Festival, Saturday afternoon session, and with Patricia Flynn’s encouragement she sang a fine version of ‘Johnny Lovely Johnny’ which I recorded from her.

The Bonny Earl of Moray
Child No. 181. From the singing of David Hammond, from Belfast; from his LP ‘The Singers House’ (1977) featuring many songs from the northern tradition. This is from the classic collection by Bishop Percy of Dromore, Co. Down, ‘Reliques of English Poetry’, used by Francis Child in collating his ‘English and Scottish Ballads’. In 1591, the Earl of Bothwell attacked the forces of King James II of Scotland. In 1592, the King sent the Earl of Huntley to capture Bothwell and his cousin the Earl of Moray. But knowing that Moray and Huntley were deadly enemies, the King knew they would not be captured alive; also, the myth was that the young Moray was the Queen’s lover.

The Holland Handkerchief
Child No. 272. From the recording of Nora Cleary in her home in 1975, by Tom Munnelly, which features on the cassette ‘Early Ballads in Ireland’. Nora got the song from her father. I met with Nora on a number of occasions at sessions in Clare, in particular in Cathy’s of Coor, and usually in the company of Peggy McMahon. Nora had a bawdy sense of humour - just hear her singing ‘The Trooper’. Though rarely printed, it is one of the most popular in the Irish oral tradition. Packy Manus Byrnes sings a fine version of it, the air of which is widely sung in the North of Ireland. Jimmy McBride from Buncrana refers to Child’s own thoughts on the song as ‘a raggedy, distasteful thing’; thank goodness it has survived, in spite of him.

Lord Randal/ also known as Henry My Son. Irish Version -Taim Breoite go Leor 
Child No. 12. This ballad is known all over the world; the first known version is from Tuscany in 1637 (called ‘L’Avvelenato - The Poisoned Man’). It has transferred to England and Scotland where it is still very popular. The dialogue pattern has remained remarkably constant throughout the mass of variants collected. Recent versions are known in Welsh, Manx, Breton, and Spanish. But interestingly it may be the only Child ballad sung in Irish, though there are two distinct versions; ‘Taim Breoite go Leor’ and ‘Amhran na hEascainne’. I sing the former, which I got from the group Scara Brae and therein the singing of the late Micheál Ó Domhnaill.

Andrew Lammie
Child No. 233. The title is ‘Andrew Lammie’, but is well known as ‘Mill of Tifty’s Annie’ or ‘The Trumpeter of Fyvie’. It was a very common ballad as other versions are to be found in the main Scottish Collections. I got it from the singing of Jane Turriff, a Scottish Traveller. I had heard versions from Lizzie Higgins and Dick Gaughan, but Jane’s bowled me over. She had fifty-two verses of the ballad, at one time; her recording has seventeen, but I have trimmed it to eleven. It is a true story; Hamish Henderson, the great collector, brought Jane to visit Annie’s grave in Fyvie some years ago.

Information on Rosie’s Songs

Leezie Lindsay
Child No. 226. ‘Leezie Lindsay’ first appears in print in Johnson's Scots Musical Museum (1803). These words are by Robert Burns. Other versions found by Child include Donald of the Isles. A young man of a good family disguises himself as a poor Highlander and, while in Edinburgh, courts Leezie Lindsay. He gives a fictitious description of his family, his home, and so on, and introduces himself, asking Leezie to go to the Highlands with him. She is loathe to leave the town and the Lowlands to go with a stranger. Her serving-maid urges her to accept the offer and, finally, she does so. During the journey to the Highlands she begins to regret her decision. At the point where she is almost ready to turn back, they either arrive at his home or he takes her up a high hill to view the lands and property which she has gained through following him.

The Gypsy Laddies 
Child No. 200. This is Jeannie Robertson’s wonderful version of a ballad that is sung in many countries, with different words and tunes. The gypsies cast a spell over the lady of the castle and she goes off with them, but they are caught and hanged. Although this ballad is known far and wide, some singers think it is about a particular Scottish woman who lived in the 1600s, Lady Jean Hamilton of Culzean Castle in Ayrshire. Her husband was the Earl of Cassillis. In England the ballad is sometimes called ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsies’, and in the USA some singers make it happen on a ranch and call the villain who tempts the woman away ‘Blackjack Davie’.

The Unquiet Grave
Child No. 78. It is possible that this is only a fragment of a once popular longer ballad. In the form we have it in today, no text has been reported earlier than the 19th century. The ballad is little known in Scotland and is quite rare in America. It is still current in England, however. Aside from its exquisite poetry and music, this ballad is notable for its exhibition of the universal popular belief that excessive grief on the part of mourners disturbs the peace of the dead. There is widespread and ancient belief that excessive grieving over the dead disturbs their rest. The Greeks and Romans thought so, and the idea is as common in the Far East as in Western Europe. In Ireland as in Romania it was thought that inordinate tears would burn a hole in the corpse, and in several ballads the dead complain that they cannot sleep because the tears of the living have wet their winding sheet.

Sheath and Knife
Child No. 16. This is surely one of the most powerful of the tragic ballads. A devastating and compelling story told in so few words. The rude intrusion of music and dancing into a mind torn with grief is heart rending. Along with ‘Lucy Wan’, ‘Edward, and The Bonny Hind’, ‘Sheath and Knife’ is one of the comparatively few ballads to deal with the rather sombre subject of incest. Apart from the obvious difficulty of being able to pin the events of these songs down to any particular date, it seems difficult too to gauge the sociological attitude of the people involved to their “crime”. In this song, as in ‘Lucy Wan’, there is no intimation that the act of incest itself is felt to be wrong or conductive to any kind of guilt. In both cases it is only after a child has been conceived that urgent action is felt to be imperative. Here the girl demands that she die at her brother's hand - a decision apparently motivated by the feeling of remorse and the wish to preserve her own and/or the family ́s honour, and of course necessitating a terrifying act of penance from her brother. This is tragedy on an epic scale, and this is reflected in the power of the song.

Mary Hamilton
Child No. 173. ‘Mary Hamilton’ is a well-known sixteenth-century ballad from Scotland based on an apparently fictional incident about a lady-in-waiting to a Queen of Scotland or, possibly, to Catherine I of Russia. In all versions of the song, Mary Hamilton is a personal attendant to the Queen of Scots, but precisely which queen is not specified. She becomes pregnant by the Queen's husband, the King of Scots, which results in the birth of a baby. Mary kills the infant – in some versions by drowning, and in others by exposure. The crime is seen and she is convicted. The ballad recounts Mary's thoughts about her life and her impending death in a first-person narrative.

True Lover John 
Child No. 248 (Mick and Rosie) Also known as ‘The Pretty little Cock’ or ‘The Grey Cock’. This is from the singing of Joe Holmes from Ballymoney, Co. Antrim. Joe learned it from his mother. Child had a shorter text, which he had taken from David Herd’s Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, published in 1769. A version collected in 1951 from Tennessee had a chicken crowing! Maud Karpeles collected a particularly poignant verse in Newfoundland: The sand is my soft bed of down, my love/ The sea is my white Holland sheet/ And long hungry worms will feed off of me/ While I’m taking my long silent sleep
Audio Recordings from the Concert 
Recorded by Shane Mooney and Steven Bracken (S+S Studios). Produced by Michael Fortune.
Video Documentation of Concert
Recorded and Produced by Michael Fortune.

Rosie Stewart and Mick Fowler

National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.

Wednesday 11th of December 2013

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