The Curragh of Kildare - Eddie Reader
Eibhlín a Rún - Séamus Ó Beaglaoich and Méabh Ní Bheaglaoich
Whiskey in the Jar - Seamie O' Dowd with Cathy Jordan and Rick Epping
This song detective wanders through the midlands of Ireland in search of the story behind 'Whiskey in the Jar', and we discover that, like so many of our great Irish ballads, it was based on an older song, called 'Patrick Fleming he was a Valiant Soldier'. Patrick was a famous highwayman who worked around the Bog of Allen. This song may have been on sale as a ballad sheet at his hanging in Dublin. Large crowds gathered for a hanging and there was a good market for songs at them.
In Bunclody in the north of Wexford we learn the story of Eileen A Rún, granddaughter of the king of Leinster, Dónal Spáinneach Caomhánach. This is one of the richest and lovliest of these song stories. The harper and poet Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh received his magical gift of music and poetry from drinking the beestings or first milk of a cow, in the same way that Fionn Mac Cumhaill received the gift of foresight through the first taste of the Salmon of Knowledge. The princess Eibhlín was getting married to a member of the nobility when Cearbhall appeared at the wedding and lured her away with this beautiful song, which he composed on the spot. It was a great honour for me to be present for this wonderful version by Séamus Begley and his daughter Méabh.
'The Curragh of Kildare' has sometimes been credited to Robbie Burns, but we discover here on Na Bailéid that that great folk poet in fact only composed one new verse to an older Irish ballad. This song can also be traced back to an earlier song called 'The Love Sick Maid'. This recyling of older material seems to be a constant theme in these great ballads. We touch base with many wise and learned scholars in this series and it was Lillis Ó Laoire who described to me that the Irish tradition moves forward in a circular rather than linear pattern, but the circle is a spiral, do you get it, gentle reader of this song blog - do you dig? An dtuigeann tú a léitheoir shéimh? For more exciting revelations and brilliant brand new versions of Ireland's classic ballads, tiúnálaigí isteach Dé Domhnaigh ar a deich a chloig do TG4. GRMA, John.
Published on 20th October 2016