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Alabama Rick’s (A)

Mike Dugger and Turlach Boylan

Mike Dugger and Turlach Boylan at Prospero’s Books Sesh in KCMO

This Jig was penned by my friend Mike Dugger, and has been recorded by a number of different folks.  About this tune Mike writes “I wrote the tune in 1997 in my garage when I lived on 10580 Gillette Street, in Overland Park, Kansas. I don’t know where it came from but I had just met Rick Cunningham from Hoover, Alabama at the Swannanoa Gathering and we became, and still are, fast friends. I played it the following year at the Gathering on stage with Roger Landes and Zan McLeod as an opener for the teacher concert and it was a huge hit. It’s currently played a lot in Texas and I have heard from a player in Japan some years ago, that its played over there as well. It’s been recorded by myself, Ken and Peggy Fleming, with Kevin Alewine in Dallas, Texas and a band called Roarin’ Mary out of Virginia.”  Thanks for the tune, Mike!!

Alabama Rick’s, Medium

Alabama Rick’s Jig, Fast





Boys of Ballisodare (G)

This is a popular 3-part reel in G.  Ballisodare is a small town in County Sligo, with an adult (over 20) population of 1389, and about half are male.  At last count, concerning those from babies to 19 years, there are 179 girls, and 186 boys.  So, one might say there are 186 boys of Ballisodare.  Alternatively, if we take “boys” to include all males, there is in the neighborhood of 880 boys of Ballisodare.  Alternatively, if we read the title as “THE Boys of Ballisodare” (as in “that specific group of guys from Ballisodare”), then it will be some subset thereof.

As for this tune, Michael Coleman first recorded it in 1922, and it was recorded in 1959 by Paddy Canny (fiddle), P.J. Hayes (fiddle), with Peadar O’Loughlin (flute) on An Historic Recording of Irish Traditional Music from County Clare and East Galway.  Perhaps because it was popular in East Galway, it has been called “The Galway Reel,” which to me indicates that someone knew the tune but not the name.  Can you imagine? It is a pretty popular tune, and has been recorded more than 40 times, though sometimes in other keys and under other names, including “Dublin Lasses” and “The Dublin Reel.”  I have no idea how it acquired these names.

There are some nice slower takes on this tune on YOUTUBE including this concertina take by Tunes From Doolin, and this banjo take by Gerard Lord.



Wind that Shakes the Barley

In addition to this reel, there is a song, a novel, and a movie with the same title title. None bear any close relation to the tune, save the name, the concept of which is itself a deeply ensconced in Irish consciousness. There’s also many-a CD that contains the tune. The song is an Irish ballad by Robert Dwyer Joyce (1836–1883), about a young Wexford boy who is about to sacrifice his relationship with his beloved to join the 1798 Irish rebellion.  Oddly, the melody of that song is close to the tune entitled “The Battering Ram.” The novel (1946) is by James Barke, and about Robert Burns. The movie (2006) is directed by Ken Loach, set during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1922) and Irish Civil War (1922–1923), and about two County Cork brothers who joined the Irish Republican Army to fight for Irish independence from the United Kingdom. The movie takes its title, in part, from the Robert Dwyer Joyce song which is featured early in the film. More recently, the Canadian singer, songwriter, accordionist, harpist, and pianist Loreena McKennitt released her ninth album (2010) which features our tune as the sixth track.  The common thread is the name, which refers to the barley (or oats) that Irish rebels often carried in their pockets as provisions when on a march. There was a post-rebellion phenomenon of barley growing and identifying the mass unmarked graves into which slain rebels were thrown. These “croppy-holes” are iconic. The regenerative nature of Barley symbolizes Irish resistance to British rule. So the phrase “the wind that shakes the barley” carries the sense of Irish Independence and the generations of young men who have been sacrificed to the cause. The tune here is probably at least two hundred years old.  Scottish musicians claim it is originally Scottish, but there’s no evidence for the claim except that it shows up in two Scottish collections:  James Stewart Robertson, The Athole Collection (1884), and Keith Norman MacDonald, The Skye Collection (1887). Yet it is in George Petrie’s Ancient Music of Ireland (1855), collected in Clare. Later it shows up in another Irish collection: Frank Roche, The Roche Collection of Traditional Irish Music, Volume I (1911).  In Irish the title is An Ghaoth A Bhogann An Eorna.  The structure of the tune is AABB.

If you want to see the ABC for this tune, click Wind that Shakes the Barley

The Wind that Shakes the Barley, slow tempo (mandolin)

The Wind that Shakes the Barley, med tempo (flute)


Wind that Shakes the Barley

Wind that Shakes the Barley


Peeler’s Jacket

The title of this tune does not refer to the jacket worn while peeling potatoes, carrots, or cucumbers.  Rather, it is an eponym (not an aptonym!), since part of a person’s name is used to refer to a thing, specifically an occupation; but it is also a synecdoche since one man (a part) is used to refer to a group (the whole).  Last, a jacket is . . . we, you know what a jacket is.

In 1829, Robert Peel, who was Home Secretary in the British Government Cabinet of the day, set up the London Metropolitan Police Force, the first properly organized police force in the world. Henceforth, policemen were often called “bobbies”, after Robert Peel’s name, and also “peelers”, but possibly less commonly.

The tune is sometimes known as “The Flannel Jacket,” but that is not as fun.   A very nice version of this tune can be found on the album Up Close (1984), by Kevin Burke (fiddle) with Joe Burke (accordion).

A Night in Ennis (D)

Ennis is a town in co. Clare, just south of Galway, and has a resident population of around 30,000.  It can be a busy little very town in high season, easily tripling the population.  If you’re there, you’ll want to go down O’Connell Street, the heart of Ennis.  It’s a narrow, curved one-way street, lined with about seventy-seven establishments, many being period buildings, and has a distinctive commemorative pillar topped with a statue of Daniel O’Connell at one end — O’Connell was elected MP for Clare in 1828.  A drink at John O’Dea’s, is a good way to start your evening. It’s been going about half a century.  Dinner at Brogan’s Bar is worthy fare, though the younger crowd will likely opt for a bucket at Supermac’s (now open till 3am!).  On the weekends you can usually find traditional music in the Poet’s Corner bar.  You can end your night at the Old Ground Hotel, with its Town Hall restaurant, or, if you’re strapped, at the Rowan Tree Hostel

“A Night in Ennis” is most commonly played in D, and goes by quite a few other titles — what a surprise!  Yet, unlike some of these other tunes, what it’s called has some onomastic payoff.  That is, the name used gives you a glimpse of its historical trajectory. It tells you from whence the person learned it (or from whence the person who taught it to her/him/them/zem learned it).  Here’s the rub. I first learned this tune as “Sean McGuire’s” from John Doonan’s Flute For The Feis (1972).  So, that’s what I called it for a while. On Mick Moloney’s LP We Have Met Together (1973), which features the inimitable fiddler Aly Bain, it was just called “Reel on Mandolin,” but on the 1983 re-release it was entitled “Dicky Sherlock’s.” It’s also called “Sherlock’s” on Danny O’Donnell’s Ón tSean-Am Anall (1977) — which translates as “from the old times.” However, if you go to then you’ll need to look up “Jim Kelly’s” to find this tune — where you’ll find still other names for it that I’ve not yet personally encountered.

Now, there are those, who will call it “The Ash Plant,” and from that you’ll know they got it from either Lúnasa, Henrik Norbeck’s website, or from a Nigel Gatherer publication. “How’s that?” you may ask. Well, it is titled “The Ashplant” on the eponymous Lúnasa CD (1998/2001), though they played it in A, so the key is a tell as well.  It is also called “The Ash Plant” on Henrick Norbeck’s ABC Tunes website, which he compiled around 1997, and again in Nigel Gatherer’s Tune of the Week, vol. 2 (2012). However, a note of caution is in order here, as the title “The Ashplant” designates a very different reel in Edor at most of the sessions I’ve been to.  Still, it’s always good to notice possible sources of confusion before they occur.

Ennis at high season.

I now call it “A Night in Ennis” or “Night in Ennis” because someone, I don’t remember who, called it by that name at some session some years back and I wanted to avoid confusion.  Interestingly, Nigel Gatherer points out on his website that “the ‘Night in Ennis’ title comes from the 1977 album by County Clare fiddler Vincent Griffin, who, “having no name for the reel, named it after Ennis, County Clare.”  The Griffin recording is on the recently released monster 3 CD set It Was Mighty!: The Early Days of Irish Music in London (2016), a collection of recordings from 1952 to 2001. Finally, Gatherer also asserts that this tune is “perhaps best known as ‘John Brennan’s Reel,'” which is what it’s called on the Réalta CD entitled “Open the Door for Three” (2012); and after perusing Alan Ng’s website, just as expected, that looks right.  However, as another possible source of confusion, there is a very different tune also in D that I know by this name, and which is listed as “John Brennan’s” on As a result, I’m sticking to “A Night in Ennis” at my usual sessions. 

So, in consequence, these titles are a reel tell, if you’re interested in this sort of thing; but it’s a great tune regardless, and names are incidental.  Hey, I didn’t say it was a BIG onomastic payoff!

For the ABC click

A Night in Ennis, slow tempo

A Night in Ennis, med tempo

A Night in Ennis, the dots


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