“Drowsy Maggie” is a very popular reel at sessions all over the world. It’s #1425 in O’Neill’s 1850 – i.e., O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (1903) – and so probably dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. However, there’s not much clear information about the tune’s origin or subsequent history. It should not be confused with a set of different tunes all called “Sleepy Maggie” and reminiscent of “Jenny’s Chicken.” Despite its name, however, “Drowsy Maggie” is actually a lively tune, not something to lull one into lethean slumber. Maybe the tune is actually meant to wake up some weary Maggie.
There are a number of versions of the tune as well, no doubt owing to its popularity. The A part is in Edor, and the B part in D. There are also two more parts that were composed separately between the 1920s and 1940s, but these are rarely played these days at sessions I’ve attended. You can hear a couple of different ways of playing this tune if you click ITMA to go to a 1930s recording, and scroll down to track 5. That recording starts out with a different A and B part and then about half-way through changes to the “Drowsy Maggie” we all know. The latter is the two part version that is most common, and given the way the tune is most often played it is what is called a “circular tune.” This means that each part of the tune flows into the next part without a clear “natural” ending. For such tunes it’s the ear of the experienced musician that determines the ending, as a note or phrase. This tune resolves on its home note of E. There are other variations of the two-part version, especially the B part.
The Kilrush concertina player Mrs. Elizabeth Crotty (1885-1960) recorded a version of this tune she called “The Reel with the Beryl” on Concertina Music from West Clare (1960), and it has since become common on the west coast of Ireland. The Donegal version of this tune has a noticeably different B part, so be careful if you’re around Donegal, or Donegal players, or people who learned the tune from Donegal players.
The version here is pretty close to the one that shows up in most sessions in the States, and it’s pretty much the last tune played at the third class céilí in Titanic (1997). It goes well with a number of tunes, such as Cooley’s (Edor), Maid Behind the Bar (D), and Mountain Road (D).
Here’s Drowsy Maggie in ABC
Drowsy Maggie, slow tempo (Bob Midden, flute)
Drowsy Maggie, slow tempo (fiddle)
Drowsy Maggie, med tempo (Bob Midden, flute)