Fiddle Tunes

Ballydehob Session regular Robin Lewando has sent in two great fiddle tunes for us to learn – excellent playing! Thank you, Robin – keep those tunes coming…

First up is Stonecutter’s Jig:

Robin tells us that this tune is taken from a 1909 collection by Patrick Weston Joyce (1827 – 1914):

Joyce was descended from Seán Mór Seoighe, a 17th century stonemason from Connemara, County Galway, so this tune is an appropriate choice! Seán Mór Seoighe was also an ancestor of the writer James Joyce. PW was born and brought up in the Ballyhoura Mountains, on the borders of counties Limerick and Cork. Described as a ‘key cultural figure of his time’ Joyce was one of the reorganisers of the national school system in Ireland in 1856, but also known for his 3 volume collection The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places, and his studies in Irish language, folklore and traditional music.

I wasn’t intending to put music scores on this site, as there are comprehensive resources elsewhere (eg, but in this case the only example of this tune appears to be the one above, from the Joyce Collection, so I have included it. Robin’s rendition is faithful to this original. Here is the only photograph I could find of PW:

Next up from Robin is a reel, Cottage in the Grove:

This tune is included by Joyce, but also appears in a collection from Francis Roche (1866–1961): Irish Airs, Marches & Dance Tunes, 1912.

Roche was a violinist, pianist and dancer, and a teacher of music and dance. He, his father and two brothers ran a family academy in Limerick city. From about 1890, Francis was engaged in compiling and arranging a collection of Irish music for publication. This first appeared in January 1912. The contents were noted down from oral tradition and from manuscripts of his father and others.

Francis Roche

Many thanks for these, Robin: they are seldom heard tunes that certainly deserve a place in our sessions, both real and virtual! It’s also great to get away from the squeezeboxes for a while… How about some contributions now from flute, banjo or whistle – I know you are out there!!

Old Favourites

A session in full swing, Levis’ Corner Bar, Ballydehob. Photo by Finola Finlay

The Ballydehob Session has been on the go for many years, so I asked Dick Miles to look out some of his older repertoire to load into this site, so we can all learn (or re-learn) the tunes to play together the next time we meet.

First up is Valentia Harbour – a beautiful slow air which is titled in Irish Amhrán Na Leabhar, meaning ‘Song of the Books’, although sometimes called ‘Song of the Lost Books’.

. . . The song to this air was written by Tomás Rua Ó Súilleabháin (1785-1848), a poet and musician from Iveragh (Uibh Ráitheach) or Derrynane, County Kerry. Ó Suilleabhain had been acting-schoolmaster at Caherdaniel and was forced to transfer to Portmagee when another schoolmaster was appointed to the permanent position. As he was leaving he placed his treasured and huge (for the times!) library of leather-bound books for transport on a boat going from Derrynane to Goleen (Goilin, Valentia Harbor), while he himself travelled by road. The boat struck a rock and was lost, tragically along with the priceless collection of books, prompting Ó Súlleabháin to seek solace in song. The air is known in modern times as a slow tempo piper’s tune . . .

Dick’s next track features two hornpipes: Belfast Hornpipe and Madam Bonaparte. These are good ‘standards’, but are not frequently played nowadays. The latter was supposedly written by James Gandsey (1767-1857), piper to the Barons Headley, whose estate was near Killarney.

Lastly, I have added a track from one of Dick’s early CDs. This is the Impudence Schottische: a fabulous and quirky tune. Schottisches in Ireland closely resemble Barn Dances in phrase and timing. I’d love to hear this tune played in our session, although I fear it might be hard work on the melodeon – especially as Dick plays it in B flat! Would you mind if we transposed it, Dick?



A Couple of Waltzes

I’m bringing this post over from Roaringwater Journal, where I first suggested the idea of a virtual music exchange, resulting in the launching of this site. It’s edited to exclude information you will find elsewhere, but it could be useful to have these tunes – and their stories – loaded here.

Dancing at the Crossroads, Tralibane 2014

You know that I’m always trying to encourage our session to play more waltzes? They are usually good tunes which are quite well received in between the jigs and reels – and there are plenty of them in the Irish tradition. Here’s a video of me playing a waltz I have just learnt. It’s an easy enough tune, which you can all join in with: a waltz with a story attached. Here’s the tune – Rock All Our Babies To Sleep – I start it off in G and then play it in C, as I like the jump, which gives the music a lift:

Now, here’s the story . . . The tune was originally a cowboy yodelling song! ‘Cowboy songs’ were popular in the States in the 1920s and 30s. One of the earliest ‘cowboys’ to make his name was Jimmie Rodgers (James Charles Rodgers, 1897 – 1933).

Rodgers fused hillbilly country, gospel, jazz, blues, pop, cowboy, and folk, and many of his best songs were his compositions, including “Blue Yodel”, which sold over a million records and established Rodgers as the premier singer of early country music . . .

Sometimes known as “The Father of Country Music”, Rodgers was particularly remembered for his distinctive rhythmic yodelling style. Unusually for a music star, Rodgers was known best for his  extensive recordings rather than for his live performances. Rock All Our Babies to Sleep was recorded by Rodgers in 1932. He had been diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1924, at the age of 27, and died from the affects of the illness at the age of 35 on May 26 1933. We are fortunate to have this recording available on YouTube:

So how did the Cowboy song from 1932 get to a traditional music session in Ballydehob? By a process of evolution! And via Scotland, as it happens . . . I am a great fan of two traditional Scottish musicians: Phil Cunningham from Edinburgh and Aly Bain from Lerwick on the Shetland Islands. I heard them playing a waltz which they called  Rocking the Baby to Sleep and immediately decided I had to learn it. My method of learning is listening, and then playing until I think I have the tune – most of the time the method works; sometimes, I find that I have made up my own version of the tune. Here are Cunningham and Bain playing their rendering (which has moved on a fair bit from Jimmie Rodgers!) and you can compare this yourself to my aural interpretation of their playing, above. It’s a little different, certainly, but what’s important (I think) is that a good tune comes out of the fluid process. Incidentally, I have left in the second tune on the Cunningham/Bain track: Frank McConnell’s Three Steps – it’s something we could introduce to our session later.

So that’s the story of  the new tune I’m bringing into our session. I usually play it through once in G, once in C, then the third time back in G (it creates a good bit of variation) – then I launch straight into two rounds of my own take on a French Canadian tune that the session must have got used to by now: Louis’ Waltz.

I’m hoping to soon add a ‘Tune Index’ button to the site, which will enable sorting and finding as we build up the collection. In the meantime I’m waiting expectantly for more contributions!