The reel “Broken Pledge” is played in a number of different settings. It’s often in Ddor, a somewhat rare mode for tunes in ITM, but also shows up in Dmix, in D Ionian, as well as mixtures of these, and much more unusually in Eaeol and Amix. The cryptic title is a matter of some speculation, of course, and the way it’s interpreted probably says more about the interpreter than anything else. It’s been said to be about (1) a broken pledge of love, perhaps due to immigration or enlistment; (2) a broken temperance pledge, and so either related to the pledge of the Teetotal Abstinence Society in 1838 initiated by Fr. Theobald Mathew, or the 1898 Pioneer Total Abstinence Association pledge initiated by James Cullen; and (3) some more local type of pledge or promise. Still, such an enigmatic title has the advantage of prompting self-reflection. Just for one instance, consider whether it initially brings out a memory of one’s own or of someone else’s perfidy.
Recorded first in 1929 in the set “The Broken Pledge / Kitty In The Lane” by Galway-born accordionist Peter J. Conlon (c. 1885 – c. 1954), who moved to New York city in 1912 and became influential member of the New York Irish music scene. In 1944 the well-known Dublin piper Leo Rowsome (1903-1970) put out a 78rpm with “Broken pledge > Miss Thornton” on the B side and “Gallowglass > Maid at the spinning wheel” on the A side. Almost a decade later it’s found on the album A Tribute to Michael Coleman (1965/1994) by Joe Burke, Andy McGann, and Felix Dolan, in a set with “Paddy Lynn’s Delight.” It has been recorded very often since then, too often to list here. On another point, more recently we find Michael Simmons writing in 2002:
Frankie Gavin [founding member of De Dannan (originally Dé Danann)] was pushed into playing the fiddle at the age of ten by his older accordion-playing brother who thought the two instruments would sound good together. “One day Sean came up to me,” Gavin recalls. “He said, ‘You know, I think you should play the fiddle.’ I said, ‘I don’t know about that. Doesn’t it make a lot of squeaks when you’re learning?’ But he kept on me so I decided to give it a go. The first thing he made me learn was a tune called ‘The Broken Pledge,’ which is lovely, but really difficult to play. He said, ‘If you can get a really nasty tune off first, everything else will be plain sailing after that.’ And it turns out it’s true enough.” (Fiddler Magazine, Summer 2002, Michael Simmons)
Gavin, of course, has one foot on the platform, and so in the interview Simmons goes on to write about the divide between the “pure drop” players, or “fierce traditional” players, and players of more recent music:
Gavin came up with the title Fierce Traditional after reading an article that took him to task for supposedly ignoring the old tunes. “The writer thought that in the recent past I had strayed too far from the traditional music with De Dannan,” he says. “He thought that we were doing too many covers of ’60s pop tune and the like. He decided that my conscience must be eating me, and that I should bring out an album of traditional music because I had gone so overboard. He suggested I call the album Fierce Traditional, which is a term people in Cork use to describe the music. I thought it was a bit of a giggle title, and I like the measure of it, so I used it. Of course, if I felt like recording an album of pop tunes, I’d do it in a minute.” (Fiddler Magazine, Summer 2002, Michael Simmons)
This reel is #1178 in O’Neill’s 1850 (1903), i.e., the big yellow book; and #458 in O’Neill’s 1001 (1907), i.e., the other book. It’s in Matt Cranitch’s Irish Session Tunes: Red Book (2000), and in Phil Rubenzer’s Midwestern Irish Session Tunes (2000).
For the ABC click Broken Pledge (in Ddor)
Broken Pledge, slow tempo
Broken Pledge, med tempo
Broken Pledge, the dots