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The Ashplant (Edor)

a teacher with a switch

a teacher with a switch

the way it used to be in school

the way it used to be in school

The term “ash plant” or “ashplant” was once a very common term, and still is in some places.  It is a euphemism used by the young and the old.  For the young it is a teacher’s stick which would be used to point out important locations on a map, to remind students of something written on the blackboard, or to whack you so hard it would leave a long red welt. So, a phrase like “quit your fidgeting or you’ll get the ashplant!” was once a well-understood admonition.  A similar implement, but usually more improvised, has also been used to likewise motivate cows, horses, and sheep. Its use was, I’m sure, as much an endearment to the one group as to the others. By my day the nuns were more civilized, and used a nice heavy ruler, usually focusing on the palm of the hand or the knuckles, but that was in the States, Michigan to be more precise.

Now, for those long out of school the term “ashplant” will refer to something just a bit more hefty than a switch, a walking stick.  Ash was the preferred wood because just a few inches below the surface the main root often takes a near right-angle bend for several inches, which then becomes a natural handle when the stick is inverted.  So, making one began with simply digging around an Ashplant sapling and cutting it off below the surface of the soil.  The rest was just a matter of aesthetics.  Seamus Heaney wrote a poem entitled “The Ash Plant” for his father,  Patrick Heaney (d. 1982), which has as its penultimate stanza

ashplant walking stick

ashplant walking stick

“As his head goes light with light, his wasting hand
Gropes desperately and finds the phantom limb
Of an ash plant in his grasp, which steadies him.
Now he has found his touch he can stand his ground”

In Ulysses, James Joyce writes of the Aquaphobic and Cynophobic Stephen Dedalus, “. . . taking his ashplant from its leaning place, [he] followed them out and, as they went down the ladder, pulled to the slow iron door and locked it.” And then toward the end of that tome, just after the play, we find this: “Preparatory to anything else Mr. Bloom brushed off the greater bulk of the shavings and handed Stephen the hat and ashplant and bucked him up generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion which he very badly needed.” More recently, in an epic epilogue to Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, we find this: “Grimly, I leaned on my ashplant and said it wasn’t easy; LeVol replied that nothing worthwhile ever was.” (The Heat of the Sun, by David Rain, 2012).

Of course, the names of tunes are not the tunes, and with few exceptions have almost nothing at all to do with the melody. The names are simply tags, at best mere mnemonics. Yet, as mnemonics they only unlock the appropriate part of a memory palace when there’s a practiced path between tune and title.  Alternatively, well-worn associates may help.  So, one name might have a very functional association for one group of people, but little to none for another. When the key no longer works, the simplest thing is to find something that does. That is just one reason why new names become attached to old tunes, and it is a perfectly legitimate reason. So, don’t be shy if you need to call it something else.

Dervish, Playing with Fire (1996)

Dervish, Playing with Fire (1996)

Anyway, this reel “The Ashplant” is called “An Maide Fuinnseoige” in Irish and is usually played in Edor, unless you come across someone who learned it either from the old Dervish cassette Playing with Fire (1996) or from Altan’s CD Blue Idol (2002), where it’s played in F#dor.

Importantly, there is another tune, a very different reel most often played in D, that is sometimes done  under the title “The Ashplant” or “The Ash Plant.” At least that is what it is titled on the eponymous Lúnasa CD (1998/2001), though there played in A, and also in Nigel Gatherer’s Tune of the Week, vol. 2 (2012).  Though I first learned that one as “Sean McGuire’s,” from John Doonan’s Flute For The Feis (1972), it is much better known as either “A Night In Ennis” or “Jim Kelly’s.”

For the ABC click Ashplant

The Ash Plant, slow tempo

The Ash Plant, med tempo

The Ash Plant, the dots

Ashplant, Reel in Edor

Ashplant, Reel in Edor

Carraroe (D)

Irish Dance Music (1933/1973/1995)

Irish Dance Music (1933/1973/1995)

This light-hearted jig is a member of a large family which includes “The Blue Bonnets Over the Border,” “The Scotsman Over the Border,” “Mist on the Meadow,” and “The Mist in the Glen,” among many others.  The co. Limerick fiddler Martin Mulvihill (1919-1987) called this “The Portrowe Jig” in his First Collection of Traditional Irish Music (1986).  The tune seems to have been first recorded in the set “Carraroe > Lambert’s Jig” on Irish Dance Music (1933) by the Ballinakill Traditional Dance Players. It can be found on the 1973 Folkways anthology (taken from 78rpm records made between 1922 and 1948) entitled Irish Dance Music, with notes by Reg Hall of Smithsonian Folkways and reissued on CD in 1995 — by the way, “Lambert’s Jig” is another name for “Rambling Pitchfork.” Reg Hall writes that Fr. Tom Larkin created the group in 1922 in order to play “for local public ceilidh dances, bringing together fiddle and flute players, all men, small-farmers and ear players, from the tradition of country-house dancing.” Though not stated by Hall, the creation of the Ballinakill Traditional Dance Players was also part of a larger movement to displace jazz music in Ireland, which was very sucsessful. Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin, in his O’Brien Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music, writes that “[b]y far the most dynamic ensemble to play on 2RN [the first radio broadcasting station in the Irish Free State, on air from 1926 to 1933] in its early years was the Ballinakill Traditional Dance Players from east Galway.”  Lastly, though the band usually gathered at the home of Anna Rafferty (piano), which was Carraroe House, in Ballinakill, east Co. Galway, the tune predates them by decades.

For the ABC click Carraroe

Carraroe, slow tempo

Carraroe, med tempo

Carraroe, the dots

The Carraroe Jig, in D

The Carraroe Jig, in D

Last Night’s Fun (D)

Joe Cooley (1924-1973)

Joe Cooley (1924-1973)

While there are a handful of tunes known by this name, one being the slip jig better known as “Wink and She’ll Follow,” this reel is the one best known as “Last Night’s Fun,” though it will sometimes be called “Joe Cooley’s No. 1” since it was popularized by the great co. Galway accordion player Joe Cooley (1924-1973), who spent the last twenty years of his life in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. The set “Last Night’s Fun / Abbey Reel” is still a standard in many placed, and comes from the Tulla Ceili Band, of which Joe Cooley was a member from 1948 to 1954.  Mike Rafferty recorded this set on his CD Speed 78 (2004). It is, of course, paired with other tunes as well, e.g., by Dervish, Cherish the Ladies, John Carty, and others.

Carson, Last Nights Fun

Carson, Last Nights Fun

The Belfast flute player Ciaran Carson (b. 1948), born into an Irish-speaking family, recalls in his book Last Night’s Fun (1996), that this tune was the first one he could name, but goes on to ask “Do we ever fully know a tune, or only versions of it, temporary delineations of the possible?”  He also offers a nice description of listening to the album simply entitled Cooley (1975), produced by Tony MacMahon, and recorded “in-the-field” in mono.  It was, in fact, recorded just a month before Cooley’s death (R.I.P.) — his illness being known to many — and in the liner notes MacMahon describes the scene:

In an atmosphere charged with excitement, and the sorrow just under the surface, Cooley played for his friends, while those who couldn’t get in pressed their faces to the dripping November window panes.  His brother Jack played the bodhran with him, and Des Mulkere the banjo.

Cairan Carson, by the way, in addition to being the author of Last Night’s Fun, which I would describe as a wonderful ITM memoire (with tune titles as chapter titles), just happens to also be a poet, translator, and Professor of Poetry at Queen’s University Belfast.

For the ABC click Last Night’s Fun

Last Night’s Fun, slow tempo

Last Night’s Fun, med tempo

Last Night’s Fun, the dots

Last Night's Fun

Last Night’s Fun

Broken Pledge (Ddor)

Leo Rowsome, Broken Pledge (1944)

Leo Rowsome, Broken Pledge (1944)

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.

Peter J. Conlon (c. 1885 - c. 1954)

Peter J. Conlon (c. 1885 – c. 1954)

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)

Frankie Gavin

Frankie Gavin

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)

The Red Book

Matt Cranitch, The Red Book (2000)

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

Broken Pledge, The

Broken Pledge, The

Paddy’s Return (Dmix)

This jig, “Paddy’s Return (from Scotland),” is in a large tune-family.  Some members have been extremely popular for more than 400 years.  The members of the family go by many names, and will go by each other’s names as well.  We play this jig pretty close to the way it’s played by the Foinn Seisiún and found on the Comhaltas site. As you learn more tunes you’ll notice some other members of this family, as other tunes that will have (nearly) the same A-part or B-part.  If you go to different sessions in other parts of the world, then you’ll notice that tune names and melodies are associated differently by different folk, and that disputation and dissension will arise if you challenge their accustomed practice.  Similar tunes with different names are: “The American Dwarf,” “Kitty Lie Over,” “Frost is All Over,” “The Mist Of Clonmel,” “The Praties Are Dug,” “What Would You Do If You Married A Soldier?,” and “What Would I Do If The Kettle Boiled Over?”  It has similarities to parts of a jig played by the Kilfenora Céilí Band, which is given the exciting eponymous title “Kilfenora Jig #1.”  You can listen to an old 1930s recording of “Frost is All Over” at ITMA, track 3. It is also in Ryan’s Mammoth Collection (1883), as “Praties are Dug, and the Frost is All Over.”

For the ABC click

Paddy’s Return (to Scotland), med

Tenpenny Bit (Ador)

British ten pence coin

British ten pence coin, old design

This jig has been around a long while, and has a number of titles. It’s tune tune #969 with the title “Three Little Drummers” in O’Neill’s 1850 (1903) — i.e., O’Neill’s Music of Ireland — and tune #189 and with the same title in O’Neill’s 1001 (1907) – i.e., Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems.  It is also called “Cock in the Heath” which is sometimes mistakenly rendered “Cock of the North,” which is a name for a very different tune.

British ten pence coin, new design

British ten pence coin, new design

The version of “Tenpenny Bit” here is closest to that found on the 1974 album Irish Traditional Fiddle Music by John and James Kelly (with Michael Crehan and Michael Gavin), though they call it “Up Sligo.” Our title here refers to coinage, tenpenny bit, a British ten pence coin (pronounced “ten pee”) and equal to ten one-hundredths of a pound sterling. The new design is certainly different. 

For the ABC click Tenpenny Bit

Tenpenny Bit, med tempo

 

Tenpenny Bit, the dots

Tenpenny Bit,, Jig in Ador

Tenpenny Bit,, Jig in Ador

Dusty Windowsills (Ador)

Though common in Irish sessions, this three-part jig was actually composed by Johnny Harling (b. early 1960s), a flute player from Chicago.  Two somewhat conflicting stories have been put forth about the title. According to the least plausible one, this jig was inspired by the Kansas song “Dust in the Wind” and originally titled “Dust on the Windows.” According to the other, which came from his daughter, the tune came to him while he was in a basement, and having nothing to write it out on, he used a dusty windowsill as his comp book. Though it has acquired many other names for the usual reasons — various versions of “I picked his tune up from so-and-so, but never learned (or forgot) the title.”  In that vein it is called “Austin Barrett’s,” “Mulvihill’s,” and “Blasket Sound Jig” — named for the place where it was acquired, rather than than the person from whom it was acquired — by the way, Blasket Sound is on the Dingle coast, co. Kerry, near the Blasket Islands, of course.  In other parts of Ireland it is usually called “Harding’s Jig” which is a corruption of the composers name.  It was originally carried to Ireland by Liz Carroll and played during a radio interview.  Sometimes it is played as just a two-part tune.  

For the ABC click

Dusty Windowsills (two part version), med tempo

Dusty Windowsills (two part version), the dots

 

Jackie Coleman’s (D)

Seanus Tansey 1970

Seanus Tansey’s eponymous album (1970)

It is pretty common for tunes that carry a person’s name to simply be an homage, merely indicating that that person liked the tune and played it often.  Yet, it is sometimes also actually accurately a possessive-indicator, as it is in this case. Jackie Coleman (1928-2001), may he rest in peace, composed this tune around 1954. He passed it on to the eccentric Sligo flute player Séamus Tansey (b. 1943), who in 1965 won all-Ireland and Seán Ó Riada’s special radio Fleadh Cheoil.  Tansey released the tune on the album Seamus Tansey (1970), and is the author of the two volume work The Bardic Apostles of Innisfree (1999, 2009) — the latter sponsored by Michael Flatley. Though often ranked in the top three or four most influential flute players, he is also called “Shameless Tansey” by some in reference to his notorious interactions, such as his infamous 2004 letter to Sharon Langston (read out-loud on the 21 October 2004 RTÉ phone-in radio show Liveline by her father, Paul, concerning a concert held three weeks prior, on the night of the All Ireland football final in Dublin). Anyway, our tune here is also on the Arty McGlynn & Matt Molloy album Music at Matt Molloy’s (1992) in the set “Jackie Coleman’s > Pigtown Fling.” It is also on the Le Ceoltóiri Cultúrlainne CD Foinn Seisiún 1: Traditional Irish Session Tunes (2006), and on the Corner House CD The Friendly Visit (2006) — Corner House is Davey Mathias (guitar) and Andi Hearn (fiddle, vocals) who run the Redbird School of Irish Music and also do Skype lessons. Our tune here is in Phil Rubenzer’s Midwestern Irish Session Tunes (2000) as well.

Corner House, Friendly Visit (2006)

Corner House, Friendly Visit (2006)

This is a fairly simple reel which can easily get more intricate as you develop your skills. It has one tricky bit, and you will encounter similar challenges in many tunes.  Here, you need to bounce between a B and an E, which on fiddle, mandolin, tenor banjo, and bouzouki will work best if you hold down two strings with one finger.  As this is something you’ll need to do in many tunes, you might as well get started on it as soon as you can.

Further, one way of putting more Nyah in a tune is to hold the notes and let them ring as long as you can (legato), rather playing with a more staccato style.  Also, there are lots of ways to chord this tune, and what I have here is a basic progression, and probably is the most common simple chord progression used.  One of the simplest alternative things to do, of course, is to substitute relative minor and relative major chords:  Em for G and vice versa, Bm for D and vice versa, and F#m for A and vice versa.  Doing so will alter the flavor of the tune a bit, and so is worth working through with a friend or two.  You will also want to listen carefully to the melody players at your own session to determine which chords will work best — in that endeavor you will, of course, need to be able to distinguish between some of the basic looks of approval and the well-know fiddler’s scowl!

For the ABC click Jackie Coleman’s

Jackie Coleman’s, slow tempo (fiddle)

Jackie Coleman’s, slow tempo (Eddie, tenor guitar)

Jackie Coleman’s, med tempo (Eddie, six-string guitar)

Jackie Coleman’s, the dots

Jackie Coleman's

Jackie Coleman’s, Reel in D

Humours of Bahrain (G)

Paddy OBrien (1922-1991)

Paddy OBrien (1922-1991)

This is a polka written by the prolific tune-composer and accordion player Paddy O’Brien (1922-1991) of Nenagh, co. Tipperary (pictured right).  The name is common enough, and so don’t confuse our man here with others, such as the other Paddy O’Brien (b. 1945) from Castlebarnagh, co. Offaly, who also plays a two-row button accordion.

The polka here is in The Compositions of Paddy O’Brien (1992), by Eileen O’Brien.  Eileen O’Brien and Willie Fogarty then recorded it, along with many of Paddy O’Brien’s other tunes, on the CD The Compositions of Paddy O’Brien (1993) where it’s played in the set “Amir’s Delight/Humours of Bahrain/Sheik’s Fancy.”  Paddy O’Brien, the first cousin of the well-known composer and fiddler Sean Ryan (d. 1985), began composing in the 1940s and continued until near the time of his death, may he rest in peace.  Some of his better known tunes include “Dinny O’Brien’s,” “Cooley’s Hornpipe,” “The Boys of Lough Gowna,” “The Coming of Spring,” “The Nervous Man,” “Ormond Sound,” “The Foggy Morning,” “Hanly’s Tweed,” “The New House,” “The Banks of the Shannon,” and “The Ormond Sound Reel” — the latter refers to his own Ormond Céilí Band. Eileen O’Brien writes “Paddy Ryan from Coolbawn in Co. Tipperary won the All-Ireland in 1965 playing [Paddy O’Brien] tunes. Paddy [Ryan] refers to a visit he paid to Paddy O’Brien prior to competing in the competition. During this visit Paddy gave these new compositions to Paddy Ryan and the end result was that Paddy Ryan was successful in achieving first place in the competition.”  Our tune here then appeared on The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra’s CD Highland Cathedral (2007), in the set “Dancing In The Streets/Dan Larkin’s Polka/Humours Of Bahrain/Sheik’s Fancy/Amir’s Delight” (track 12), and on the Liam Farrell & Joe Whelan CD They Sailed Away From Dublin Bay (2008), but oddly titled “Taylor’s Cross.” It was again published in The Definitive Collection of the Music of Paddy O’Brien 1922 – 1991 (2009), with an introduction by Eileen O’Brien.

For the ABC click

Humours of Bahrain, med tempo

Humours of Bahrain, the dots

 

Shoe the Donkey (G)

This polka is played in G and in D, and is known by lots of different names.  Here are some of them: Andy Boyle’s, Ballydesmond, Cathy’s Favourite, Dan Macks, The Dargin, The Evening, Glenside #1, The Hen Dance, Kerry Polka #1, Kevin’s Polka, The Mist On The Glen, Pat Horgan’s #1, Shoe the Donkey, The Varsouviana, and The Waterford.

 

Shoe the Donkey, med tempo (Glen Pekin, fiddle)