“Dever the Dancer” is a common session slip jig, and has been recorded many times. It appears in O’Neill’s 1850, tune #1147, and O’Neill’s 1001, tune #431, so it is at least as old as the late nineteenth century. It has long been a popular slip jig in Ireland. As was all too common in the first few decades of the twentieth century, musicians from Ireland would come to the States and make recordings, some of which would make it back to Ireland and influence local players there. This is true of John McKenna (1880-1947) and his friend and banjo player Michael Gaffney (d. 1972). Both came from County Leitrim and made many recordings in the 1920s and ’30s released on 78s. They made a recording of this tune along with “Connie the Soldier” in 1934 for Decca. This recording illustrates a favorite practice of McKenna’s, something also apparently favored by uilleann piper Patsy Touhey (1865-1923), the practice of mixing double jigs (in 6/8) with slip jigs (in 9/8) — I say “apparently” because Touhey made only one jig recording, but in it he combines a double jig and slip jig. McKenna did this also on his 1928 recording, for Columbia, of “Clancy’s Dream/Leitrim Town” (the first a double jig, and the second a slip jig). John McKenna was a consummate duetist, and in addition to his flute/banjo duet with Gaffney, he also had a flute/fiddle duet with James Morrison – and when these two would practice all the neighbors would open their windows. A few McKenna/Morrison recordings are available on youtube, and their recording of “The Tailor’s Thimble/Red Haired Lass” is well worth a listen – not least because McKenna taught “Tailor’s Thimble” to Morrison only a couple of days prior to the recording! McKenna is a very important figure in Irish traditional music for other reasons too: not just because he was a master player of the Leitrim style, and not just because he introduced many now-common Leitrim tunes into the global repertoire, and not just because there is a yearly music festival in Tarmon (his birthplace) in early June run by the John McKenna Traditional Society, but also because through his recordings he established the flute as a major instrument in Irish music. There is even another reason, though, for thinking him remarkable. His daughter, Catherine McKenna, reported that McKenna and Gaffney played together once or twice a week for as long as she could remember. So, in addition to his other achievements, McKenna was, on a weekly basis and throughout his life, able to withstand the temptation to wallop a banjo player.
As for the title “Dever the Dancer,” it’s curious. The word “dever” is a Latin root regarding altering someone’s course, from which we get the word “divert”: deverbare means “to thrash thoroughly,” while deverio means “to force into lodging.” It is possible, of course, that “Dever” is just the name of a dancer. So, either the tune title refers to someone who’s a dancer or it’s a command to either trounce the trotter or to provide the dancer with digs. However, in Portuguese the word dever means “ought” or “must” (depending on context), and that clearly makes absolutely no sense here at all. So anyway, this tune is also called “The Humours of Whiskey,” “The Peeler’s Return,” “Deel of the Dance” (another curious title), “The Bridge of Athlone,” “Dillon’s Fancy,” “The Crossroads Frolic,” “Humours of Derry,” “Plearaca an Fuisce,” and in Connemara it’s called “Barranna móra Chlann Donncha.” As “Dever the Dancer” it is also in Phil Rubenzer’s Midwestern Irish Session Tunes, so it’s been played around the Midwest since at least the 1980s. It changes key/mode between parts. The first part of the tune is in Edor and the second part is in D. It is typically played AABB, but is sometimes played ABB.
For the ABC click
Dever the Dancer, slow tempo
Dever the Dancer, med tempo
Dever the Dancer, the dots