“Heather Breeze” is #779 in O’Neill’s 1001 (1907), and it is related to the tune “Crossing the Fields,” in O’Neill’s Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody (1922). This tune too goes by many names: “Coppers of Brass” (in Tipperary and Kerry), “The Heather Bloom” (in county Monaghan), “The Heathery Braes of Ballyhealy” (in Leitrim), and just “Heathery Braes” (on an old London broadsheet c. 1790). I’m sure there are other names as well. In P.W. Joyce’s Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909) this tune is simply titled “An Old Reel” and identified as being from Kilkenny in the mid-19th century. The title here is certainly a corruption of “Heathery Braes,” which must have occurred early in the twentieth century, as it’s called “Heathery Breeze” on a 1930’s archive of Parlophone Irish 78s, which can now be found on the Irish Traditional Music Archive (click ITMA), track 4. The word “brae” refers to hillside slopes (as depicted below), rather than a puff of air.
One story, though based on the corrupted title, is from Micho Russell in The Road to Aran: Songs, Folklore and Music of West of Ireland (Doolin: self-published, 1988). Russell writes that a heathery breeze is a strong gust of fairy wind that can pull grasses from the ground and that its aftermath is a more fecund soil and more shamrocks.” Now, this sounds like some sort of sweet smelling micro-burst to me. Sure, no one around where I live has commented on any noticeable olfactory residue from micro-bursts. That’s explainable though, as it could be blamed on their general unfamiliarity with heather, their tendency to focus on material destruction rather than any lingering scents, or on their modern tendency to disbelieve in faeries. Still, given that his story is based on a corrupted title, it does ring of a credulous tourist’s tale. Just don’t tell the faeries.
At any rate it was a popularly recorded tune, appearing on many 78 RPM records in the 1920’s and 30’s. Donegal fiddler Tommy Peoples (b. 1948), Sligo fiddler Kathleen Morris (d. 26 June 2002), and Donegal fiddler John Doherty (1895-1980) all have included this tune in their collections.
For the ABC click Heather Breeze
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