Brendan Breathnach (1912–1985), the piper, avid tune collector, and lecturer, has reported that the jig “Banish Misfortune” was first published in P.W. Joyce’s Ancient Irish Music (1873) under the title “The Bag of Meal,” which would have banished some misfortune for many just a few decades earlier. In fact, the title seems to indicate that the tune may have once had an apotropaic role (as do other tunes in the Irish tradition, such as “Hag in the Churn”). As such it would be played when misfortune strikes. It is tune #776 in Francis O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (1903) – which is called “O’Neill’s 1850” because it has 1850 tunes in it — though the O’Neill version is a bit different. It is also on The Francis O’Neill Cylinders (1904) with Edward Cronin playing it on fiddle, on cylinders 25-32. Since 1904 it has be reprinted in almost every Irish tune collection, and recorded hundreds of times.
Accordingly, there are many variations. It’s on Breeze From Erin (1969), played solo by Festy Conlan on whistle. Sean Keane plays a highly ornamented version, and Paddy Moloney even turns it into a reel in the romantic-drama-comedy film Agnes Browne (1999).
It is also known as “We Banished Misfortune” by more fortunate folks, “Banish Misfortune?” by masochists, and “Gee, I’ve Never Had to Banish Misfortune” by the idle rich. There’s a more recent title referencing what was once a rite de passage for eight-day old mal