Around the Hills of Clare


Musical Traditions MTCD331-2/Góilín 005-6; 2 CDs; 156 minutes; 2005


This extremely long review was originally written for Musical Traditions. Its appearance on the MT website engendered a somewhat virulent debate characterized by a very bilious reply from Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie, the album’s compilers, and another, essentially truculent missive from Tom Munnelly.


I stand by the entire original content of the review, though I’ve amended one minor grammatical error. If you’re looking for a summary, here’s one – the CDs contain some wonderful singing, though some tracks would have been better kept on the collectors’ shelves, especially the recitation; the accompanying booklet is riddled with errors and, with the exception of the biographical component, inarguably one of the worst pieces of writing on the Irish song tradition ever to have been published.


Why did I write such a long review of the booklet? The answer is simple – to undermine its claims to authority. Irish traditional song and music is bedevilled by dogma and it really is time that critical insights were applied to the subject.



One of football’s most enduring clichés is that a match is ‘a game of two halves’, though, as one wag once added, ‘rugby’s a game of three-quarters’. The reason for the employment of these sporting references (and why not, following The Hardy Sons of Dan?) should become apparent during the course of this review in comparing the sheer quality of the singers recorded on these two CDs against the song notes in the accompanying booklet.


Situated on Ireland’s western seaboard, County Clare has long been a stomping ground for collectors of both a singing or instrumental bent. Indeed, this can be verified by a simple perusal of the discography of the Topic label available here at the MT site which will produce names such as Willie Clancy, Tom Lenihan, Vincent Griffin, The Russell Family, Bernard O’Sullivan and Tommy McMahon, and the classic song collection, The Lambs on the Green Hills[1], featuring, Ollie Conway, Nora Cleary, Mick Flynn and Siney Crotty[2].


Add to these the numerous recordings of Micho Russell, the abundance of céilí band albums (of which those by the Tulla and Kilfenora are the best known) and the renowned Paddy Canny/P.J. Hayes/Peter O’Loughlin/Bridie Lafferty album[3], together with recent releases by Ennis-based Clachán Music of Kitty Hayes, and Gerdie Commane and Joe Ryan. Then, of course, do not forget Tom Munnelly’s estimable collection of the singing of Tom Lenihan, released by Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éireann (The Folklore of Ireland Council) as The Mount Callan Garland[4], which, in many ways, should be regarded as the template for anyone wishing to compile a collection of Irish traditional singing.


It was the first of those two Toms who provided the entry on the Clare song tradition for The Companion to Irish Traditional Music, noting not only that ‘The vibrant instrumental tradition of Clare has overshadowed a robust song tradition which flourished there until very recently’, but that ‘a very extensive range of classic and broadside ballads in English, along with a broad sample of local songs, were also in the repertoire of Clare singers’[5]. Tom also reminds his readers that, like other west coast counties, ‘the poorer land of the western seaboard has been more fruitful for the song collector’ than the more productive agricultural areas further inland[6].


That last reference leads neatly to Around the Hills of Clare, for almost all of the singers recorded here by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie were born and spent their entire lives, whether to date or complete, in townlands and villages along or near Clare’s west coast. The one exception is Mikey Kelleher, who was raised in Quilty, but moved to England in the 1940s and was recorded by Jim and Pat at the time of their initiative which emerged first of all as a cassette for the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library[7] and more latterly in Musical Traditions’ own release From Puck to Appleby.


Jim and Pat met Ollie Conway during a camping holiday in Clare in 1973 during which they discovered his bar in Mullagh[8]. However, while meeting and recording Ollie remained a memorable experience, it was the following year, when Jim and Pat attended the Willie Clancy Summer School (‘Willie Week’) in Miltown Malbay, which was to prove more productive. Then they encountered Tom and Annette Munnelly at a time when the former was busy recording West Clare traditional singers for the archives of University College Dublin’s Department of Irish Folklore and was happy to introduce Jim and Pat to several local singers.


The pair returned in subsequent years and, as a result, the fruits of Around the Hills of Clare largely date from the period of 1973 to 1981. Some tracks, however, including Kitty Hayes, Vincie Boyle, Patrick Lynch’s recitation (of which more anon) and Nonie Lynch date from 2003 and 2004, but the accompanying extensive forty-page booklet offers no explanation for this more than twenty-year gap.


Perhaps that does not matter since the earlier recordings, consisting of almost forty songs, comprise an eclectic but almost ever enjoyable selection of material. The recording quality is also far better than one should expect from field recordings and thanks for that must go to Pat ‘Herring’ Ahern for converting and editing presumably reel-to-reel tapes into their current very accessible format (though no mention of the technology employed to make the recordings has been included in the booklet). Of course, the odd extraneous noise does remain (including the ringing of a telephone at one point), but nothing substantial enough to divert attention from the strengths of the singers revealed by Around the Hills of Clare.


Those strengths are both manifold and multiform and encompass the expected delights of recordings by Tom Lenihan, but also new treasures such as Martin Reidy’s eloquent rendition of The Peeler and the Goat, despite him being apparently challenged in the dental department, and the remarkably high-pitched Pat MacNamara[9] whose similar lack of teeth does not divert attention from a spirited rendition of The Banks of the Nile and the somewhat more sexually suggestive I Left My Hand.


Then there is the distinctly idiosyncratic Jamesie McCarthy who supplies a comic element via Kerry Cock and, contrastingly, a sombre version of The Titanic. Add to that the sheer eloquence of Nora Cleary’s singing of Lord Levett, the rhythmically precise Martin Howley and the now nonagenarian Nonie Lynch and the recordings do provide an extensive insight into the range of songs encompassed by the West Clare tradition.


However, a first listening to The Green Flag of Erin might lead to some puzzlement since Austin Flanagan (or is it his brother Michael, as the track listing names one and the booklet t’other?) really does initially sound like a woman, although the booklet makes no mention of this very personalized style of singing. Additionally, Jim and Pat have included Ollie Conway who could not possibly be described as a traditional singer since he apparently came to singing rather late in his life and remains very much a Comhaltas-style singer of Comhaltas-style songs.


The above comments naturally lead on to a discussion of said booklet itself. Frankly, to list its inadequacies would be akin to copying the London edition of Yellow Pages in longhand, but I will try!


Readers will have noted the above references to previous collections of the songs and music of Clare. In part, the reason why they have been included in this review is that Jim and Pat’s introduction to the booklet, entitled ‘Singing in West Clare’, does not mention them nor (and this is far more important) suggest any reason why a collection of songs from the area might be of interest to anyone. Indeed instead they tell us that:


‘Weddings, birthdays, Christmas; it seems that the people of West Clare needed little excuse to enjoy themselves.”


So how, one must ask, does this make them any different to the people of Kerry, Galway, Donegal or even the rest of Europe? Jim and Pat’s answer is to refer to the West Clare repertoire drawing material both from close to home and further afield, but that is an insufficient response as it could equally apply to other parts of Ireland. They inform the reader that another major source was ‘the ballads’ (their apostrophes, not mine) sold as broadsheets, but again such a resource was important elsewhere. In other words, they have not identified why Around the Hills of Clare is an important addition to the archives and our understanding of the Irish song tradition in the 20th century. For instance, they do not offer an explanation as to the reason why the tradition of singing narrative songs declined, other than mentioning the impact of television and other ‘diversions, coupled with an apparent shortening of the attention span’. If the contemporary ‘attention span’ is so short, how do they explain the fact that the instrumental tradition remains so strong in Clare? After all, musicians have to devote both time and their attention towards learning a new tune.


Indeed, in citing television as a diverting factor (and they are not alone in ascribing this attribute to the blessed box) Jim and Pat repeat what should be regarded as a fundamental myth about the decline of traditional singing. Of course, songs were once a valuable means of passing on, and commenting on, recent events, but the development of the printing industry, increased literacy and the widespread availability of local newspapers from the nineteenth century onwards rendered this means of oral transmission redundant much earlier than they surmise and the advent of the telephone sped up such transmission inexorably.


The point is that the imagery employed by such narrative songs and their relevance to contemporary society, other than via metaphor, had long since been diluted by the time that Jim and Pat began collecting in Clare in the 1970s. It is no coincidence that the bulk of the singers appearing on Around the Hills of Clare were recorded when they were in their seventies or eighties. The only exceptions are the aforementioned Vincie Boyle, aged in his fifties and recorded in 2003, whose inclusion raises the question why the booklet’s subsequent song notes do not include references to recordings which have been made by singers whom Jim and Pat would usually term ‘revivalist’, and a recitation of The Battle of Billingsgate by another of the same generation, Patrick Lynch, the literary merits of which strike one as owing more to a magazine such as Ireland’s Own. The recitation’s subject is Daniel O’Connell, but his brief biography in the booklet omits the rather relevant detail that he was actually elected as MP for Clare in 1828, but, as a Catholic, was prevented from taking his seat.


It is these song notes themselves that highlight the booklet’s overall failings, but, before we arrive at those, let me first commend its section entitled ‘The Singers’. Its hugely praiseworthy three pages provide short, but telling biographies of each of the singers who appear on these recordings. The authors’ tone is both engaging and empathetic and provides a real sense of the reason why their subjects provide such a rich trove of material.


Little snippets are telling. Thus we learn that Martin Reidy lived alone, save for his pets, in a house which lacked both running water and electricity and had just two inhabitable rooms since the third had been rendered inaccessible by a collapsing roof.


Pat MacNamara was not allowed to tell stories in his local because he used to save his longest for just before closing time, thus delaying the pub’s shutting for the night. Michael and Austin Flanagan used to compile their songs in a notebook from which their neighbours would rip the appropriate page whenever they wished to learn a new one. Like several of the others singers, they acquired part of their repertoire from Travellers.


In contrast, however, the song notes lack such insight and the very first two paragraphs relating to the opening song, Around the Hills of Clare by Tom Lenihan, provide a foretaste of what will ensue. The first sentence is as follows:


Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, famine, evictions, political upheaval and general poverty led to mass emigration from Ireland.


This is, of course, arrant nonsense. Certainly, the factors cited were the major causes of emigration, but not ‘throughout’ a two hundred year period! Sadly, such an apparently poor understanding of Ireland’s history permeates this booklet.


Then comes:


This gave rise to one of the largest category of songs in the traditional repertoire: those expressing love of the home place and of having to leave, often never to return. This is one such piece, obviously locally composed.


This is equally absurd, but this time from a purely grammatical point of view. Again, such poor writing is evident throughout the song notes.


Lastly, the opening paragraph’s final sentence is purely conjectural. Indeed, the absence of any local place names or geographical features might suggest the complete opposite.


The only other version was recorded by Tom Munnelly from another West Clare singer, the late Joe Mikey McMahon of Creevagh, near Doolough. Tom’s tune is the one usually associated with ‘The Magpie’s Nest’.


The second paragraph is revelatory of future textual indiscretions in three other ways. Firstly, the fact that there is only one other recorded version of Around the Hills of Clare cannot be used to claim that said taped rendition is the ‘only other version’ of the song. There might have been others which have not been recorded. Next, no reference is provided for Tom Munnelly’s recording to indicate whether it is commercially available or archived somewhere. Lastly, the meaning of the final sentence is thoroughly opaque. Does it mean that the tune of Tom Lenihan’s song is the same as the one usually associated with another song called The Magpie’s Nest or is it a reference to the tune of that name?[10]


However, all the above comments simply fade into the ether when compared to the blinding irrelevance of the notes supplied for the following song, The Little Ball of Yarn[11]. Here they are in their entirety:


Gershon Legman claimed this as a relative of the song ‘The Yellow. Yellow Yorlin’ (Yellowhammer) which is to be found in Burns’s ‘Merry Muses of Caledonia’ (1800), while sea-song expert Stan Hugill had it as a pumping shanty and suggested that balls of yarn were more likely to be associated with the sea rather than the land. Legman also linked it to a custom in the Ozarks, where a young woman who wished to find who she was to marry threw a ball of yarn into a ‘haunted’ house. Keeping hold of one end, she would call out “Who’ll wind my ball of yarn?” and a ghostly voice from within was believed to come up with the answer.


Ref: ‘Roll Me in Your Arms’, Vance Randolph, ed. Gershon Legman, Univ. of Arkansas Press, 1992


Other recordings: Walter Pardon, ‘Put a Bit of Powder on it Father’, Musical Traditions MTCD305-6


Forgive me, but isn’t this supposed to be a collection of songs from West Clare? If these ornithological, nautical and folkloric assertions have a relevance to the Irish tradition, should the readers not be informed of such instead of being presented with a list of pedantic tittle-tattle which has little relation to the song’s actual meaning? Those unfamiliar with the song should be aware that the last two verses, as reprinted in the booklet, run as follows:


In the middle of the green

Where I knew I wouldn’t be seen;

I didn’t intend to do her any harm;

I put my hands around her waist

Then I gently laid her down

And began to wind her little ball of yarn.


Nine months came to pass,

Sure, I met this lovely lass;

She was carrying little tribblets in her arms.

Says I, “My lovely miss.

Take a warning unto this,

Keep your hand upon your little ball of yarn.”


The London-based, second-generation Irish singer Kathleen O’Sullivan recounts that ‘I sang this as a child of about 8 or 9, believing it was about wool, because my mother was a keen knitter. I could not understand why she would tell me not to sing it. (And she was not about to explain.)’[12] Clearly, her confusion would have been further enhanced if she had encountered Jim and Pat’s notes.


Astute readers might be puzzled by the term ‘tribblets’, but the authors have not deemed this worthy of comment, nor have they suggested a reason why there might not be any actual Irish recordings of the song.[13]


It would also have been useful if our authors had bothered to pay more attention to the relevant chapter of Legman’s book which includes several other versions of The Little Ball of Yarn, collected from a variety of sources, including one from the Scottish sisters Jean and Lucy Stewart, collected by Kenneth Goldstein in 1959.


That previous point also applies to the third song on the first CD, The Golden Glove, but also Jim and Pat’s notes tell the reader absolutely nothing about it apart from the information that it dates back ‘to at least the beginning of the 18th century, though is said to be much older’ and ‘is reputed to be based on an incident which occurred in England during the reign of Elizabeth I’ before going on to explain the marriage practice described in verse six. No references are provided for this information, and nor do they suggest any possible reason why the song’s opening line is ‘There was a rich squire in Thomastown, Clare’. A glance at the index of the latest edition of Ordnance Survey Ireland’s The Complete Road Atlas of Ireland reveals the existence of several places called Thomastown, but none in Clare. It takes some searching elsewhere to discover that the Thomastown in question is possibly a townland in the Killimer district of southwest Clare. This information should have been included in the notes along with some evidence that the authors’ have at least made an attempt to discover whether the Clare version does relate to some local event or, alternatively, whether the allusion is simply poetic licence.


The notes to the fourth song rightly state that Patrick Sheehan was written by Charles Kickham in 1857. Indeed it was printed in the Kilkenny Journal on the 7th October of that year under the pseudonym ‘Darby Ryan, Junior’ which is, surely, a point worth noting in connection to the author of The Peeler and the Goat (see below). However, Kickham was a far more interesting character than Jim and Pat’s ascription of the mere term ‘author’ implies[14].


Of course, all of the above would have been difficult to squeeze into the space available for notes on Patrick Sheehan, but at the very least some mention of his politics and other works should have been included. Whatever the case it is puzzling that Jim and Pat do not mention that Patrick Sheehan is also known as The Glen of Aherlow and as such appears on Joe Heaney’s The Road from Connemara[15]. This absence of a reference to the Heaney album represents a serious and surprising oversight since the interview upon which the liner notes of The Road from Connemara was based has been published by Musical Traditions. Moreover, Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie are avowed admirers of Ewan MacColl and of Joe Heaney and have had a copy of that interview on tape for almost 40 years.


Song number five, The Peeler and the Goat was written by Jeremiah O’Ryan (c. 1770-1855) who used the pseudonym ‘Darby Ryan’ (not ‘Derby’ as the booklet spells it and came from Bansha, Co. Tipperary, information which would have been useful in explaining the song’s first line (A Bansha peeler went out one night ...). Interestingly, no previous recordings have been cited and the only two this reviewer has been able to find were by Dominic Behan[16] and the band Oisín[17].


The Banks of Sullane, which follows, will be familiar to any owner of The Songs of Elizabeth Cronin[18] and this does seem to be the only other recording, though there are substantial differences between the version sung here by Ollie Conway and Bess Cronin’s[19]. Tantalisingly, Jim and Pat inform their readers that Bess’s son Seán reckoned that ‘The poet Aherne from Clondruhid composed this, I think’, but do not then tell us the source of this surmisal or add anything about said poet.


This, however, is a very minor point in comparison to the notes on the seventh song, The Constant Farmer’s Son. The authors first refer to the age of its subject matter before noting that its tale of ‘social misalliance and murder’ also appears in the form of the song Bruton Town (or The Bramble Briar) ‘which F.J. Child rejected when compiling his ballad collection’.


Since Jim and Pat do not tell us the grounds for Child’s rejection it is difficult to understand why they have chosen to include the point in relation to The Constant Farmer’s Song which, considering the antiquity of the tale and its popularity around Europe, might have sprung from a completely different source. However, since they have raised the issue, let us delve a little further.


The crux is not only whether Child ‘rejected’ the ballad Bruton Town, but whether the collector was even aware of its existence. Cecil Sharp, for instance, states categorically that it was one of the few ballads which Child missed[20]. while, writing some sixty years later, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger remark that ‘it is somewhat surprising that the ballad does not appear to have been reported from tradition until the present century’[21].


Steve Roud’s Folksong and Broadsheet indexes more than one hundred references for the song Bruton Town, twenty of which do not specify a date of collection. All but one of the remainder was collected in the twentieth century and the exception (and, therefore, the only one prior to Child’s death in 1896) comes from Harold Thompson’s A Pioneer Songster[22] which was edited from the Stevens-Douglass manuscript compiled in the 1840s. However, the fact that the manuscript was not discovered until 1937 almost certainly precludes any possibility that Child was aware of its existence.


Consequently, if Jim and Pat have any evidence to support their contention, then they should have supplied it (and a supportive reference). If they have no such evidence, then they should not have included their assertion.


One striking omission is the absence of John Maguire’s singing of The Constant Farmer’s Son from the discographical references[23], seemingly the only Irish recording prior to the one from Josie Connors which is cited.


Moving onwards, The Banks of the Nile and The Shannon Scheme then follow a brief spoken interlude in which Tom Lenihan expresses his view about the need for songs to tell a story. Notes to both are elucidating. However, such a point cannot be reiterated regarding song number eleven, Kerry Cock. The notes state that the adult version of this nonsense song was seen ‘as a test of vocal dexterity and breath control’. Perhaps so, but it is difficult to resist the thought that Jamesie McCarthy, the singer here, might simply be singing it for sheer pleasure and relishing his audience’s amused response.


The twelfth song on the first CD is Lord Levett (sometimes also called Lord Lovel[24](l) or Lord Donegal). Unfortunately, one of the most intriguing aspects of this song has not been mentioned in the notes. Roud records no fewer than four hundred and seventy-five references to the song having been collected in other English-speaking countries whereas hardly any versions have been found in Ireland. Jim and Pat write that the song’s ‘popularity has been put down to the ballad’s simplicity of sentiment’ which makes it even harder to understand why it has been so rarely heard in Ireland. Was there some as yet unidentified element in the song which deterred Irish singers from learning it?


The answer is probably not, for the more one delves, the more one discovers. Jim and Pat only cite one other recording, that of Walter Pardon, forgetting that Tom Lenihan also recorded the song on The Mount Callan Garland[25]. Yet, as Tom Munnelly recounts in the accompanying book[26], he had also recorded the song from Lenihan’s friend and neighbour Tom ‘Grifty’ Griffin and from Nora Cleary who lived a couple of miles away (indeed the Lenihan version incorporates some of Nora’s). (Plus, there may be other versions in the Department of Irish Folklore, which Roud hasn’t yet accessed.)


Then, additionally, the song has been recorded by Con Greaney[27] and, perhaps most significantly of all, by Sarah and Rita Keane[28]. The latter’s seven-minute version, under the Lord Donegal title, is magnificent in its intensity and utterly negates the quotation employed by Jim and Pat at the head of their notes that the song is ‘too, too insipid’. Why our authors have chosen to ignore the Keanes’ version is incomprehensible.


The two subsequent songs, The Green Flag of Erin and de Valera Election Song, both refer to the by-election of August 1917 which was won by Eamon de Valera. For some odd reason his name is spelt as ‘DeValera’ whenever it is referenced in either the lyrics, title or notes. It is also hard to credit how said by-election could possibly be described as ‘coming as it did hard on the heels of the Easter Rebellion’ when it occurred some sixteen months later! Still, typographical accuracy seems to be of little concern, as the inhabitants of Dungarvan will discover in the notes to Lismore Turkeys.


Song sixteen highlights another failing, the inability to provide an accurate account of the Roud Index. The May Morning Dew is listed there four times, not just the two cited (two entries for Annie Jane Kelly, one for Paddy Tunney and one for Mandy Gallagher). The third Roud reference, which is the one Jim and Pat missed, refers to the singing of Mandy Gallagher of Tullagh (Roud doesn’t specify the county). At least one commercial recording of the song might have been cited[29] and it does seem odd to state that the Keane sisters have a version without mentioning whether or not it has been recorded.


In contrast, the notes to the following three songs, The Banks of Sweet Dundee, Blow the Candle Out and The Quilty Burning are most informative, especially in terms of the last-named, a little-known local song. However, only one discographical reference is provided for Blow the Candle Out (Jumbo Brightwell) when there are at least a couple of others of perhaps equal or even more interest[30]. Indeed Roud lists the following sound recordings:


·       Topic 12TS 261 (`Songs from the Eel's Foot'). Jumbo Brightwell.


·       HMV 7EG 8288 ('The Barley Mow'/BBC recording 23100/Folktracks FSA 30 040 (`The Foggy Dew')/Folktracks FSB 017 (`Blackbirds & Thrushes'). Edgar Button


·       Rounder  CD 1778/Caedmon TC 1143/Topic 12T 158 (`Songs of Seduction'). Jimmy Gilhaney


·       BBC recording 22018. Harry Baxter


·       Ulster Folk & Transport Museum collection (Holywood, Co. Down) No.7010. Eddie Butcher


·       Library of Congress recording 1844 A6, Jennie Devlin.


This takes us to song number twenty, The Croppy Boy. Jim and Pat mention only one other recording, Brigid Tunney’s, though there are others. These include Brian George’s 1947 BBC recording of the Wexford singer Neillie Walsh[31], Tom Brandon[32], not forgetting probably the most famous version by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem[33] and, more recently, Frank Harte’s rendition[34].


Song twenty-one is The Maid of the Moorlough Shore (sometimes called The Banks of the Moorlough Shore) and our booklet’s authors are right to suggest that an alternative title (The Maid of Mourne Shore) places the song in County Down, although James Foley does make out a case for Tyrone as the song’s source[35]. However, whatever its origins, perhaps they might have acknowledged the most renowned version of the song, recorded by John McGettigan in 1937 (and again referred to the Keane sisters, for it also appears on Once I Loved!). They might also have pointed out that Martin Reidy’s version includes one nonsensical lyrical interpretation (‘Baltic shore’ instead of the usual and more feasible ‘Burden’s Row’ or ‘Burden’s Grove’) and invents two other locations, ‘Sewell’s Castle’ (it is usually ‘St. Clair/Clare’ or ‘Sinclair’) and ‘College Hill’ (for ‘folly/foggy/holly’).


The penultimate song on the first CD, The North Star, refers in part to the sinking of a transatlantic vessel. All previous notes have either been written in the third person or referred to their authors by the first person plural. Suddenly, however, these notes are written in the first person singular (‘I have been unable to find ..., etc.). Is this a stylistic error or were The North Star’s notes actually penned by Tom Munnelly who is acknowledged for his contribution at the end of the booklet?


The last track on this disc is the aforementioned Battle of Billingsgate recitation.


The second CD begins with a pair of tunes lilted by Nora Cleary[36]. The notes on the subject of lilting are somewhat contentious, especially the second paragraph:


Skilled lilters provided the music for dancing when, for instance, it was considered a sin to participate in the morally dubious practice of unsupervised house dances, which were often raided by irate members of the clergy, who would break up the gatherings and, on occasion, destroy the offending instruments.


This farrago of inaccuracy and half-truths reads like a badly researched second-form essay (and I apologize to any second-formers currently logged on to this site).


Lilters were providing music for small house dances long before the historically confused events described by Jim and Pat. The Black and Tans had certainly broken up house dances in the early 1920s, but it was the importation of modern dances from Europe and the USA which drew together the government, a conservative section of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy and the Gaelic League. The last-named, of course, regarded such new ‘jazz’ dances as distinctly un-Irish. The government was concerned about the possibility of the IRA promoting dances to raise money and, to some extent, about the threat to safety caused by overcrowding. The Church was more alarmed by the numbers of commercial dance halls opening during the 1920s and the ‘indecency’ resulting from the close proximity of men and women when clinching together to trip the light fantastic. Put all this within the context of the atmosphere of repressive puritanism inherent in de Valera’s post-1932 governmental policies and it is unsurprising that legislation followed.


It is true that crossroads dances did get caught up in the affair and some priests did disrupt these, but it was the introduction of the Public Dance Halls Act in 1935 which undermined ‘unsupervised’ house dances (which, after all, required a home with a room large enough to house the dancers and musicians, often the kitchen). This entailed that anyone promoting a dancing event required a licence from a district judge and led to the building of many parish halls with the local priest as the licensee. Some obsessive priests did police the Act, but incidents of instrument destruction were relatively isolated. Reg Hall has commented that ‘Present-day mythology has it that the Act killed off house-dancing, but that is a gross overstatement and house-dancing continued in many areas into the 1950s and lingered on in others until the 1970s and eventually died for quite different reasons.’[37] One of the reasons, however, why Jim and Pat are correct to use the term ‘irate’ in their depiction of the clergy is that unlicensed dances were equivalent to a loss of Church income.


Furthermore, the notes to this first track on the second CD end with this equally debatable sentence: ‘Nowaday [sic] lilting is usually used by singers to display their vocal dexterity and is one of the categories for which prizes are awarded at Fleadhanna Cheoil.’


It would be interesting to ascertain the bizarre basis for this belief. Musicians still lilt tunes to each other, teachers lilt tunes to their students and some lilters still diddly-dumpy for dancers (e.g. Séamus Fay). Moreover, lilting has been a competitive category at CCÉ’s fleadhanna since the 1950s, partly to encourage the art and lilting is indeed a noble art.


If all that is not enough vexation, the notes to the second song, Doctor Crippen, tell the reader nothing about its source (even if its origins are unknown, we should be so informed) while those to its successor, O’Reilly to America, advise us that the song is ‘widely acknowledged to be of Irish origin’ without indicating who claims this to be the case. Jim and Pat might have noted that the song uses the same tune as The Rocks of Bawn. Instead they refer to a note by Frank Purslow on the ‘Hampshire version’ (and similarly later, in reference to Caroline of Edinburgh Town, to the ‘Dorset version’). Such county ascriptions have long been considered at best unhelpful and meaningless at worst.


Nonsense raises its head too in the notes to the fourth song, The Child in the Budget, where we learn that ‘This good natured piece, though very popular in Ireland, has not put in a public appearance very often.’ A finer example of latent popularity must be hard to imagine.


Contrastingly, Three Brave Blacksmiths, which describes a local event, is accounted for informatively. However, the notes’ last lines simply state that the song’s author, T.D. Sullivan, ‘also wrote God Save Ireland’. An extra sentence explaining that this action was in response to the execution of four members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, known as ‘The Manchester Martyrs’, in 1867 and that the song became the Fenian anthem for the next fifty years might have been helpful to readers.


The comments on the sixth song on the second CD, Caroline of Edinburgh Town, surprisingly reference no Irish recordings, yet there are at least two which are worthy of note[38]. However, Michael ‘Straighty’ Flanagan’s Sprightly Young Damsel appears to be the first and only recording of that song and the notes admirably record that the singer recalls learning it from a ballad sheet bought in Ennis in 1914.


In addition to the reference to Tom Lenihan’s singing of Mac and Shanahan, the eighth song, it is surprising that Jim and Pat have not mentioned two other local singers who have also recorded it, Mick Flynn and Tim Dennehy (though the latter, of course, originates from Kerry)[39]. However, how our authors can assert that this overtly sentimental ballad ‘appears to be an accurate account of the events’ simply beggars belief. Mac and Shanahan probably did refuse to inform on their comrades, but neither is likely to have added I ‘would rather gaze on the cold dark gloom of a mother’s tomb or seek a martyr’s grave’!  Nor can there be evidence that the two men prayed all night in the hope of dying like Pearse, Colbert or MacBride (not ‘McBride’, as the notes have it). There is absolutely no question that William Shanahan, Brigade Police Officer of the West Clare Brigade of the IRA, and Michael Mac Namara (some accounts have him as ‘McNamara’), Captain of the Doonbeg company, were captured on 13th December, 1920 and shot dead while in custody. Those are the bare facts, the rest is pure literary artifice.


However, in terms of facts, readers might have welcomed clarification of the identity of (Patrick) Pearse, (Con) Colbert and (James) MacBride who were amongst those executed by the British in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin after the 1916 Easter Rising.


I Left My Hand, the ninth song, is accounted for in some detail, so it is a pity that the notes to its successor, The Old Armchair (also known as Fair Margaret and Sweet William), are somewhat slipshod. Jim and Pat first inform us that the song was quoted in Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle, a play written (or, at least, first performed) around 1611, and then state that ‘the first full text ‘was a broadside or stall copy published in Percy’s Reliques in 1767’. Presumably, what they mean is that a printed version of the full song has not been found which dates from before 1767, for, surely, one must have existed.


They go on to add that ‘all other recordings [of the song] are American’ which is simply not the case as I believe that Tom Munnelly has a separate recording of the same singer singing the same piece. Furthermore, the song has been recorded Bert Lloyd, Shirley Collins and Nic Jones[40].


Then there is the rather odd statement that ‘The only other version to have turned up in Ireland was in the Percy manuscripts and had been written down by the mother of the Bishop of Derry in 1776.’ Bearing in mind that there were possibly several mothers of former bishops of that city still alive in 1776, it might be worth pointing out that there were actually two different clergymen of that rank in post at that time, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry, Philip McDevitt, and his Anglican counterpart, Frederick Augustus Hervey, the fourth Earl of Bristol. Such omission of a precise name occurs elsewhere in the booklet. For instance, the acknowledgments section thanks ‘The Head of the Department of Irish Folklore’ without mentioning her or his precise identity.


Whatever the case, it is puzzling that Jim and Pat do not provide a reference for the Percy collection, preferring to cite Child instead (and omitting to include the ballad’s number). More perplexing is that one of the discographical references asserts that Almeda Riddle appears on an album entitled ‘Battles and Hymns from the Ozarks’. Might the correct title be Ballads and Hymns from the Ozarks?[41]


So song number eleven takes us to The Half Crown (and back to blessed ‘DeValera’ again!). Poor old Tom Phaidín Tom’s album appears without its catalogue number for O’Reilly from the County Kerry while the notes to Daughter, Dearest Daughter state that its ‘earliest reference in English appears to be in a manuscript from Wiltshire dated 1740’, though the reader remains none the wiser as to said manuscript’s identity. Unfortunately, the claim that the song ‘seems to have survived longest in Ireland’ is palpably untrue since Roud lists twenty American versions, including one which was collected as late as 1966, and Hedy West of Georgia sings a version which comes from her own family[42]. The only Irish version listed by Roud is the one of Mary Delaney, recorded by Jim and Pat on From Puck to Appleby and cited in their notes here, alongside their own other tapes of Mikey and Tom Lenihan.


Song number fourteen is The Girl from Clahandine which is not, as our authors suggest, a rewriting of The Girl I Left Behind , but one of the several songs entitled The Home I Left Behind.


There are two strange elements in the notes to the next song, A Stór Mo Chroí. The first is that Jim and Pat rightly refer to the song’s popularity being due to the singing of Seán ‘ac Dhonncha, but they strangely omit any discographical reference to his recordings[43] or to the almost as well-known version by the Keane sisters[44]. The second puzzlement concerns the authors’ suggestion that Willie Clancy used to play the song as a slow air on the uilleann pipes. This might be the case, but it is more likely that Jim and Pat are thinking of the very similar sounding Bruach na Carraige Bháin which Willie certainly did play[45].


The sixteenth song is The Titanic, though not the same as the one Eddie Butcher used to sing[46] or any of the numerous others (seventy according to D.K. Wilgus for whom no reference is supplied) that have been collected. Again part of the notes are written in the mysterious first person.


My Good-Looking Man is ‘Described as a late nineteenth century broadside ...’ that ‘... appears only to have turned up in Canadian and American collections’. This is simply not the case. Ernest Jeffrey of Wisbech, Cambridgeshire was recorded singing a version by Peter Kennedy for the BBC in 1956[47] and James Foley collected a version from John Corry of Castlederg, Co. Tyrone in 1985[48]. The first of these recordings renders the notes’ quotation from MacEdward Leach that the song had not been collected before 1960 entirely redundant. Additionally, said notes leave the reader none the wiser as to the evidence for the song having originated as a broadside, since no appropriate reference has been provided.


The notes to Mr. Woodburren’s Courtship are enlightening, though fail to record that, amongst numerous other Irish versions, Tom Munnelly also collected the song from Tom Lenihan[49], but a significant error has crept into those for the nineteenth song, Erin’s Lovely Home. Geordie Hanna is also cited as having a version of this on his album On the Shores of Lough Neagh[50]. However, Geordie’s song is entirely different and the compilers should not only have double-checked the Roud index but verified the difference with their own ears.


Passing on via the familiar Donnelly, we arrive at An Cailín deas Crúite na mBó (that is its grammatically correct title not the version which appears in the notes) which is indeed sung to the same tune as The Banks of Sullane by Tom Lenihan[51], albeit at a somewhat quicker tempo. This is followed by Tom’s spoken account of The Blas.


The penultimate song is The Tangaloni which was once, as the reference notes, recorded by John Loughran, the Co. Tyrone fiddler and singer (as Taglioni). However, that reference is incomplete and should include the album’s full title, It’s of My Rambles ....


Finally, we reach the twenty-fourth song on the second CD, Farewell to Miltown Malbay. Jim and Pat rightly cite Tom Lenihan’s Mount Callan Garland version, but, oddly, omit to mention that there are two songs which share this title. The other is sung by Nora Cleary on The Lambs on the Green Hills[52].


Overall, ignoring all the omissions and errors, there are two strands evident in the booklet that are worth stressing. The first is that its authors have a rather exasperating tendency to undermine uncritically their own subject matter (the songs themselves) by quoting other commentators of a negative disposition. Thus the reader is informed that The Constant Farmer’s Son is ‘a doggerel version of Bruton Town’ (though the holder of this opinion is not named). Bronson’s ‘too, too insipid’ comment on Lord Levett has already been mentioned, but another (unnamed) writer has apparently remarked that ‘some collectors groan when they hear the name’ (Lord Levett’s, not Bronson’s).


Blow the Candle Out apparently so vexed Petrie that he referred to it as ‘a very objectionable street ballad’. Malcolm J. Laws (though he is shortly afterwards referred to as ‘G. Malcolm Laws Jnr.’!) regarded Caroline of Edinburgh Town and other similar songs as ‘cheap, vulgar and journalistic’ while Frank Purslow compared the song to the melodramas ‘which tatty little theatrical troupes performed in makeshift theatres at the village fairs’, adding that ‘few collectors bothered with it’.


Cecil Sharp saw I Left My Hand as too vulgar for publication and produced his own bowdlerised version. MacEdward Leach commented that the reason for nobody earlier recording My Good-Looking Man (and he was writing in 1960) was ‘good evidence that the folk are generally discriminating’.


In contrast, the booklet contains not a single comment from either an academic or a folklorist praising any of the songs! Such a cack-handed approach does strike one as odd when presumably one of the purposes of Around the Hills of Clare is to draw attention to the songs it contains.


The second strand is perhaps partly related to the above since one overriding conclusion is that the booklet’s authors lack discernment. Though the notes to some songs are enlightening, overall there is a failure to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information and an inability to apply due rigour to their material as evinced by numerous examples of poor research and historical misunderstanding.


Sadly, such failings provide a disservice both to the singers appearing on Around the Hills of Clare and to those wishing to learn more about the county’s traditions.


This review by Geoff Wallis was originally written for Musical Traditions

The package is available for £16 (including p&p) from Musical Traditions, 1 Castle St, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 2HP, UK –


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[1] Topic 12TS 369.

[2] Some tracks from these albums are also included on the Ossian Publications’ compilation Farewell to Lissycasey, OSS CD 79.

[3] All-Ireland Champions – Violin; 1959; available in its original format as Dublin Records DU 1003 CD or in amended order as Shanachie 76001.

[4] Subtitled ‘Songs from the repertoire of Tom Lenihan of Knockbrack, Miltown Malbay, County Clare’, collected and edited by Tom Munnelly, Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éireann, Dublin, 1994.

[5] Fintan Vallely (ed.), Cork University Press, 1999, p.356.

[6] A point which would have been usefully reiterated in the Around the Hills of Clare booklet.

[7] Early in the Month of  Spring, VWML 001.

[8] Sadly, Conway’s closed this year as Ollie, an octogenarian, decided to retire and other members of the family did not want to continue the business.

[9] Or is his name McNamara since he is detailed as such in the booklet’s introduction?

[10] No. 618 in O’Neill’s The Dance Music of Ireland (or O’Neill’s 1001 as it is more commonly known).

[11] The booklet refers to this as Little Ball of Yarn, ignoring the definite article. Unfortunately, this erroneous practice is applied virtually throughout, with the exceptions of The Old Armchair and The Titanic, so that many songs are wrongly titled.

[12] Taken from the liner notes to her album Born on St Patrick’s Day (own label, no catalogue number, 2003) where the song is called The Ball of Yarn.

[13] Indeed Kathleen O’Sullivan notes this fact herself and has since recorded the song again (The London Lasses and Pete Quinn, Track Across the Deep, Lo La Records LL002). However, there is one. Peter Kennedy recorded the Traveller Winnie Ryan in Belfast in 1952 for the BBC (RPL18590). The only recording Jim and Pat cite is Walter Pardon on the Musical Traditions collection (MTCD305-6), but they might also have mentioned any of the following: Charlie Wills; Bob Roberts; Chris Willett; Ben Willett; Mary Ann Haynes; Geoffrey Ling; Bill Buckingham; or, Jack Tarling.

[14] Kickham (1828-1882) was almost both blinded and deafened by a gunpowder-drying accident at the age of fourteen. He contributed to several nationalist newspapers before founding the Fenian ‘Confederate Club’ in his native Mullinahone, Co. Tipperary, going into hiding after the failure of the 1848 Rising. Subsequently, he worked for the Tenant Right League before joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1860. He became leader-writer of The Irish People and was arrested in 1865 for recruiting to the IRB. Tried the following year, he was sentenced to fourteen years gaol and served four years in prisons in England, during which time he wrote Sally Cavanagh, the story of an Irish peasant’s decline into madness after resisting the attentions of her landlord and suffering the death of her children. Kickham returned to Mullinahone after his release, wrote further stories and verse, failed in an attempt to be elected to Parliament by four votes, and joined the Supreme Council of the IRB. His death followed an accident in a jaunting car. Kickham’s other works include She Lived by the Anner (on emigration) and Knocknagow (or The Homes of Tipperary). His songs include the Fenian ballad Rory of the Hill and The Irish Peasant Girl. The source of this information is the astonishingly detailed Princess Grace Irish Library website ( which contains articles on some four thousand five hundred Irish writers.

[15] Topic TSCD518D/Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD 143.

[16] On the Topic EP Peelers and Prisoners (TOP85)

[17] The song appears on the band’s self-titled debut album (Tara 2010).

[18] The Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2000.

[19] The flute player Paul McGrattan includes the air as The Banks of Sulán on his Keelwest CD (Hare’s Ear Music Publications 002) and notes that he first heard it sung by Rachel Ní Riada of Cúil Aodha in the West Cork Gaeltacht, adding that the tune is also known as An Cailín deas Crúite na mBó in other parts of Ireland. I have not been able to find any other instrumental recordings.

[20] One Hundred English Folksongs, Oliver Ditson Co. Boston, 1916, p. xvii.

[21] Travellers’ Songs from England and Scotland, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977, p. 106).

[22] Harold Thompson A Pioneer Songster: Texts from the Stevens-Douglass Manuscript of Western New York, 1841-1856, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1958.

[23] Come Day, Go Day, God Send Sunday (Leader LEE 4062).


[25] See footnote 4 above. Lenihan’s version also appears on Early Ballads in Ireland, 1968-1985, published in cassette form by European Ethnic (based in Trinity College’s Language and Communication Centre), no catalogue number.

[26] pp. 112-113.

[27] On Traditional Singer (OIDH 002).

[28] On Once I Loved (Claddagh CC4).

[29] John Lyons, The May Morning Dew (Topic 12TS 248) or Séamus Tansey, Easter Snow (Temple Records COMD 2063).

[30] Séamus Ennis recorded Harry Baxter in Norfolk for the BBC in 1955 (RPL 22019). Peter Kennedy recorded Jimmy Gilhaney in Scrabster, Sutherland in 1955 and this appears on The Folk Songs of Britain, Volume 2 (Topic 12T 158).

[31] RPL1121

[32] Recorded by Edith Fowke in Ontario; the song appears on the Folk Legacy LP Rambling Irishman (FSC-10).

[33] On The Rising of the Moon: Irish Songs of Rebellion (Tradition TLP 1006, reissued as Tradition TCD 1066).

[34] On 1798 The First Year of Liberty (Hummingbird HBCD 0014).

[35] In the booklet accompanying Harvest Home No. 1: Songs and Crack from West Tyrone (Arts Council of Northern Ireland, p. 33) though he also notes that some versions include a last verse referring to Warren’s Point (Warrenpoint) which might strengthen Down’s claim.

[36] Coincidentally, the second of these tunes, Maggie in the Woods, is also lilted by Mairéad Ghinneá on the RTÉ collection of recordings from the archives of Raidio na Gaeltachta, Blas (RTÉ CD 161).

[37] ‘Heydays are Short-Lived: Change in Music-Making Practice in Rural Ireland, 1850-1950’ in F. Vallely et al. (eds) Crosbhealach an Cheoil/The Crossroads Conference 1966, Whinstone Music, Dublin, 1999, p. 80. Reg’s article also expresses trenchant views on the actual extent of house-dancing in rural Ireland in the second half of the nineteenth century.

[38] Packie Manus Byrne (EFDSS LP 1009) and Geordie Hanna, The Fisher’s Cot (The Hanna Family, no catalogue number).

[39] It appears on Flynn’s A Singer’s Dozen (Green Island Records GIR 001) and Dennehy’s A Thimbleful of Song (Sceilig Records SRCD 001).

[40] Of course, it is likely that Jim and Pat discounted these because they considered the singers to be ‘Revivalists’, but, if that is the case they should have emphasized that they would only be citing traditional singers at the beginning of the song notes.

[41] Indeed it is – Ballads and Hymns from the Ozarks (Rounder 0017).

[42] On Pretty Saro (Topic 12T 146).

[43] Seán recorded the song on several occasions and it features on the following albums: Traditional Music of Ireland, Volume 1: The Older Traditions of Connemara and Clare (Folkways FW 8781); An Aill Bháin (Claddagh CC9); Grand Airs of Connemara (Topic 12T 177, 1968); and, An Spailpin Fánach (Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD 006).

[44] Ibid.

[45] It appears on his Minstrel from Clare LP (Topic 12T 175). A Stór Mo Chroí does not appear on any of the commercial recordings of Willie Clancy or on Peter Kennedy’s 1956 recordings (The West Wind, Folktrax 173).

[46] The Titanic and Other Traditional Songs (Outlet OAS 3007).

[47] RTR-0075.

[48] Folktrax 178.

[49] It appears in the book accompanying The Mount Callan Garland cassettes.

[50] Topic 12TS 372. Geordie appears on one side and his sister, Sarah Anne O’Neill, on the other. The same version of the song also appears on The Fisher’s Cot (see footnote 25 above for details).

[51] See footnote 18.

[52] See footnote 1.