The three Ballydesmond Polkas can be found on a number of recordings and websites. The order and numbering given here is from the album entitled The Star Above the Garter, by Denis Murphy (1910-1974) and Julia Clifford (1914–1997), siblings from Sliabh Luachra. The area called Sliabh Luachra (pronounced Schleeav-lokhra, with the ‘kh” as that middle-of-the-mouth growly bit) is a region at the intersection of three counties, Cork, Kerry, and Limerick; and is famous for its musical style and for producing some outstanding Irish players. The order given here is common around Kansas City, Missouri, and a few other places — I believe it’s the same order in some Colorado and Minnesota sessions, for instance — but it may be different at other sessions. I know that on the CD entitled “Foinn Seisiún 1,” produced by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann based on the sessions at Comhaltas headquarters in Monkstown, Co. Dublin, the first and third listed here are inverted there — so by my numbering they would be playing them 3 2 1. There are some places, apparently Southern England, where they start with what I am calling the second one. Pádraig O’Keeffe (1887 – 1963), another Sliabh Luachra fiddler, calls the third one “Tom Billy’s,” as does the recently passed Kerry fiddler Paddy Cronin (1925-March 14, 2014). So, just to be perfecrly clear, two is sometimes called one, and three is sometimes called one, and one is sometimes called three, and three is called “Tom Billy’s Polka” by some. If you bring all this up in a local session, expect to be stared at.
Anyway, the title “Ballydesmond” is from the Irish Baile Deasumhan, which just means “town of the Desmond.” The town now known as Ballydesmond (pop. 967) is a rural village in County Cork, Province of Munster, on the Cork-Kerry border beside the Blackwater River. It was known as Tooreenkeogh until the1830s when it was renamed Kingwilliamstown (after England’s King William IV). It was given its current name in 1951, referring to the 15th Earl of Desmond, Gerald FitzGerald (c. 1533–1583). As legend has it, he took refuge in some nearby hills during the Desmond Rebellion of 1579 against Queen Elizabeth I. He was killed by Elizabethan forces on 11 November 1583 and all his lands confiscated. Interestingly, the first Barons of Desmond (changed to “Earls of Desmond” in 1329) were the descendants of Maurice FitzGerald, a Welsh-Norman nobleman taking part in the 1169 Norman invasion of Ireland. His son Thomas FitzMaurice FitzGerald continued the Norman expansion. Thomas’s son, John FitzThomas FitzGerald followed in his father’s and grandfather’s foot-steps, and received a grant in 1259 of the lands of Deciecs and Desmond from Prince Edward of England, and hence became the first Baron Desmond. Two years later, John FitzThomas FitzGerald and his eldest son were killed in the Battle of Callann, fighting against the Irish King of Desmond, Fínghin Mac Carthaigh, of the ancient Mac Cárthaigh Riabhach (MacCarthy Reagh) dynasty. As the Normans (i.e., “the foreigners”) had typically been better armed and better organized than the Irish (i.e., “the race of Tara”), this battle was a grievous blow to the Normans, and also resulted in a serious loss of prestige. Still, the Norman’s kept at it as usual, and eventually were almost wholly absorbed into Irish culture. In fact, as generations passed many of them turned against the crown, which made King Henry VIII really, really mad. He passed that on to his daughter.
In short, the Desmond Earldom was first granted lands by an English monarch and then killed off and the lands confiscated by an English monarch. This just goes to show what a difference three hundred years can make, doesn’t it? Or does it show something more about monarchs?
To get the ABC for these click Ballydesmond Polkas
Ballydesmond Polka #1, slow tempo (Jim Wendels, flute)
Ballydesmond Polka #1, med tempo (Jim Wendels, flute)
Ballydesmond Polka #2 (Emmanuel Delahaye, whistle)
Ballydesmond Polka #2 (Glen Pekin, fiddle)
Ballydesmond Polka #3 (Sylvain Surcin, bouzouki)
The Ballydesmond Polkas, dots for all three