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.
This reel is named for the Sligo piper Michael J. Anderson (1865-1947), who would eventually be called “Piper Anderson.” He was a flute player until he emigrated to the States as a teenager, where he learned to play and make the uilleann pipes. His home, at 1459 Amsterdam Ave., New York City, became a popular gathering place for Irish musicians in the city. Anderson also ran a pub on the island where traditional Irish music was often played, so he quickly became well-established in the traditional Irish music community, and himself played the Hippodrome (O’Neill, Irish Minstrels and Musicians, 1913). He traveled back to Ireland in 1904 with five sets of pipes and the intention of reviving the piping tradition there, as the practice was a rare one in Ireland at that time. However, he decided to move back to the New York in 1905, having met with too little success. A contemporary of the renowned fiddlers Michael Coleman (1891-1945) and James Morrison (1891 – 1947), both also originally from County Sligo, he apparently taught them both some of the tunes they became well-known for playing. He traveled back to Sligo in the 1930s and in addition to teaching Tommy Hunt (1908-1994) to play the pipes, he also performed with Killavil, co. Sligo fiddler John Brennan. He again moved back to New York, and stayed until 1946, when he returned to Ireland for the last time.
Those who learned this reel from the playing of Seamus Tansey play high part first, while everyone else plays it with the high part second. Apparently, the Seamus Tansey version works best “when coming from a tune in ‘G'” (Tommy Walsh, Irish Tin Whistle Legends, 1989). Noel Hill & Tony Linnane play the other way in the set “Anderson’s Reel / Carthy’s / Sweeney’s Dream” on their eponymous album Noel Hill & Tony Linnane (1979/2006).
This reel is one of many that were named for young women. The practice was common in the nineteenth century when all the music that was played, and all the music that had ever been played, was played by living breathing human beings. Though there was the occasional concert, music was most commonly heard in parlors, in pubs, and on porches. Everyday music had to be played in these more intimate settings, as the only way to increase volume was to either hoist them above the fray or add additional players. The sense of privacy back then had more expansive aspects than today, though admittedly it was in other aspects more truncated. The lack of first names was a way to protect her, though it was also a way for her to pretend not to know it was named for her. Naming a tune after a young woman was an indication of your intention, and it was a good intention if she was pleased, and a bad one if she wasn’t.
Jenny Lind, prior to her U.S. debut.
Still, you didn’t want to do it too often, nor would she want many tunes named after her, as both had untoward implications. You’d also have to know her well enough as for some young women having a tune named after you was itself objectionable as it meant all sorts of people would be talking about you in parlors, in pubs, and on porches. And note that it wasn’t until 1850 that a woman’s face was used in advertising, and it was by Phineas T. Barnum advertising Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale” — and she was met by 30,000 spectators when her ship arrived in the States. The resultant association with circus acts made it objectionable for a woman to have her likeness used, so that advertisers had to create fictitious young women to advertise their goods for quite some time afterward.
This is a lively reel at sessions when it’s played, but you might find that it’s thought to be somewhat threadbare at some sessions. Sometimes it’s good to shelve a tune for a while to give it time to re-germinate. Anyway our tune here bears no relation to the William Butler Yeats poem, or to the song “Down by the Sally Gardens,” except for the phrase “sally gardens.” That phrase refers to a willow garden — i.e., Lat. -Salix; Gaelic – Sailleach. A person, group, or town might keep a sally copse for medicinal purposes, as acetylsalicylic acid is a pain reliever, it would also be kept as a source for sallows and osiers for making wicker baskets, furniture, and other household items. Due to density, making for many places of seclusion, it provided spaces away from social observation, the sort of space that Nathaniel Hawthorne elevated to a character in his works. It became a very convenient place for lovers to meet, as the excuse of a headache — which would later play the opposite role in popular culture in the 1950s and 60s — provided an unassailable reason to slip off to a tryst. The idea of a “sally silva” or “willow bosk,” and later of what came to be called “public gardens” eventually became a metaphor for any object of desire. There are many romantic depictions that call on these ideas, such as Édouard Manet’s 1863 “The Luncheon on the Grass” (i.e., “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe”). In addition, the name “Sally” is derived from the same source, and so was once thought of as a pretty sexy name. Today we’re so used to it that there are almost no traces of this social history to be found.
The tune “Planxty Irwin” was composed by Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738), a blind harper often called “the last of the Irish Bards” even though there were traditional Irish harpers living as late as 1792. Carolan is considered a national treasure — his compositions are still often played during a session and are also highly regarded. Focusing on Carolan’s works first will bring you high rewards as a player. By the way, though it is correct to say “Turlough O’Carolan” when giving the full name, when no first name is given one should simply refer to him as “Carolan.”
The recording below starts at 10sec in, so be patient.
Planxty Irwin, slow tempo (whistle, Turlach Boylan)
I learned this slide as “The Brosna,” as have many others. However, many years ago I learned another slide called “The Brosna,” and then came to find still other slides called “The Brosna.” The fact that there are many tunes by this name is probably due to the playing of the Brosna Céili Band from North Kerry in the Sliabh Luachra region where slides are very popular — the band was named after the town of Brosna (Brahs-nach) founded in 1837. Then there are the three slides called simply “The Brosna Slides” and associated with Dónal O’Connor’s recording on Rushy Mountain (2004). They are “The Brosna Slide #1 > Scartaglen Slide > Padraig O’Keeffe’s Favourite” — at least this is what they are sometimes called — and each of them has been called “The Brosna Slide.” In short, there is just no telling what someone might mean when calling a tune “The Brosna Slide,” at least not until you hear it. As our tune here is also known as “The Lonesome Road to Dingle” I have recently been calling it that, but this is also confusing as there is a polka with this name too! Still, I am posting this as “Brosna Slide #1” since plenty of people know it by the name I first learned. It is a Sliabh Luachra (schleave lewkra) slide, which is a popular place for slides and polkas to habitate. Sliabh Luachra, meaning “Mountain of Rushes,” is a mountainous region which was once an uninhabited marshy area of the old Kingdom of Luachra. The boarders are not clearly defined, but it is at the intersection of three counties (Cork, Kerry, and Limerick) though often more simply described as along the Cork/Kerry border. It is renowned for its musical style and for producing some of the great (southern) Irish players.
Often called “The Wexford” by pipers, the hornpipe “Plains of Boyle” used to often be played in the set “Plains of Boyle > Leitrim Fancy” at the beginning of the twentieth century. You can hear a snippet of a 78rpm recording from 1924 of the piper Michael J. Gallagher playing the tune in that set. The mp3 is posted on Internet Archive, which is an amazing resource for many things, and also hosts the Wayback Machine. Anyway, and just so you know, Gallagher was a Leitrim flute player, but moved to the States where he met Patsy Touhey (1865-1923) — who Capt. Francis O’Neill (1848-1936) describes as a “wizard” on the pipes — and as a result of their meeting Gallagher picked up the pipes. Unsurprisingly, Gallagher plays in the Touhey style. He apparently developed quickly, as O’Neill comments that Gallagher was “a clever performer on the Irish or Union pipes, recently from Ireland” (Waifs and Strays, 1922). Gallagher was first a stage performer, and only started recording in the mid-1920s. This same “Gallagher-set” is played by Willie Clancy (1918-1973) and can be found on Youtube, but Clancy’s setting of “Plains of Boyle” is in A. It has remained a popular tune on both sides of the pond, and was also recorded by James Morrison (1891-1947) in 1929, and Leo Rowsome (1903-1970) in 1933. More recently it was recorded by John McGreevy and Séamus Cooley on the album McGreevey & Cooley (1974), by Kieran Hanrahan on banjo on Kieran Hanrahan Plays the Irish Tenor Banjo (1998), by Paddy Keenan and Paddy Glackin on their CD Doublin’ (2000), by James Kelly on his CD Capel Street (2004), by Lehto and Wright on guitar on their CD A Game of Chess (2004). Most recently it can be found on our own Turlach Boylan’s CD Lift (2011).
Turlach Boylan, Lift (2011)
Today the tune is most commonly played in D, with a c natural in the fourth measure, as it was played by Gallagher. Though it is sometimes asserted to be in Dmix with a c sharp in the third measure, and though there is admittedly a small bit of chordal ambiguity, I think it is pretty clearly in D rather than Dmix. As the actual plains of Boyle are in the northern part of co. Roscommon, the tune is sometimes called “North Roscommon Airport,” or even “Pains and Boils.” The folks at Dusty Banjos, run by Mary Lovett in Galway, have a slow version on the page for their Beginner’s Class (just scroll down for a close version played on Concertina). Though it can be played with any other tune you like, you might try it in a set with any of the following: “Eamonn McGivney’s Hornpipe” (Eaeol), “Home Ruler” (D), “Chief O’Neill’s Favorite” (D), “Dinny O’Brian’s” (Dmix), “The Wonder” (G), or “Murphy’s Hornpipe” (G) — this last is in fact what follows “Plains of Boyle” on Turlach Boylan’s Lift (2011).
There is a view that the title of this reel was originally something like “The Jenny Damned the Weavers,” and that it concerns the way technology (i.e., a Jenny = an engine = machines) undermines traditional activity (e.g., weaving). However, on Arty McGlynn’s CD McGynn’s Fancy (1994) Benedict Kiely writes that there are several tunes named after a certain “fair lady,” one Jenny. Though I think it highly unlikely, it is possible, of course, that all the Jenny tunes are named after the same person, as they could have been renamed around the same time and in the same area. If so, then it would have had to have been a good while back. Rev. Alexander Garden (1688-1778), a minister of Birse, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, is the supposed composer of this tune (according to Fiddler’s Companion). It was known in the States as far back as American colonies, probably as early as the mid-eighteenth century. Sir Alexander Boswell (1775-1822) put lyrics to the tune:
A’ Willie’s wedding on the green / The lassies, bonnie winches
Were a’ dress’d oot in aprons clean / And braw white Sundee mutches
Auld Maggie bade the lads tak’ tent / But Jock would no believe her
But soon the fool his folly kent / For Jenny dang the weaver
Jenny dang, Jenny dang / Jenny dang the weaver
But soon the fool his folly kent / For Jenny dang the weaver
Patsy Touhey (1865-1923) plays it in a jig-reel set: “Fasten the leg in her (jig) > Jenny dang the weaver (reel).” It has been observed that there is some similarity between this tune and the Irish three-part setting called the “Longford Tinker.” It is popular among Cape Breton players, and is often heard at sessions.
This reel was composed by West Cork accordionist Finbar Dwyer, but is sometimes claimed to be the work of Paddy Fahy. It is on the Kevin Burke and Mícheál Ó Domhnaill album Portland (1982), as well as Mick Conneely’s Selkie (1999). It’s a two-part reel played AABB, with the A-part in Emix and the B-part in Edor. The name comes from an scenic island in Bantry Bay, in the western part of co. Cork, Ireland. It’s off the Beara Peninsula, and known as “Oiléan Béarra” in Irish, and in English “Beare Island” or “Bere Island,” which sounds close to Beer Island to me. In fact, the Irish word “Béarra” means Bear, and the island acquired this name in the second century when the King of Munster named it after his wife, from the O’Sullivan-Beara clan, daughter of Heber Mór, King of Castile. Still, today it is officially called “An tOileán Mór” meaning “The Big Island.” With a population of about two hundred, it has two ferries and its highest point is Knockanallig. The main harbor of the island is Lawrence Cove, near the main village of Rerrin, or Raerainn in Irish, which is toward its eastern end. In August of 2014 they held the first Bere Island Music and Silence Festival.