tunes and lyrics

From time to time we will feature one or two tracks here and talk about where they figure in the panoply of Celtic music and what makes them special for us. If they have lyrics we’ll put them up too.

An Spailpin Fanach

Shkayla track 9

Irish peasants or tenant farmers had no security and were often turned off their land. This song tells how one such person became an itinerant labourer or ‘Spailpin’. The word became a term of abuse as many land-owners treated such migrant workers with contempt. The song describes the physical hardships and humiliation of the Spaipin Fanach.

Go deo deo aris ni raghad go Caiseal
Ag diol na ag reic mo shláinte
Na ar mharagadh na saoire im shui cois falla
Im scaoinse ar leataoibh stráide.

Bodairí na tire ag teacht ar a gcapaill
Á fhiafra an bhfuilim hirálta
“O teanam chun siúil ta an cursa fada”
Seo ar siúl an Spailpin Fanach

Im Spailpin Fanach fágadg mise,
Ag seasamh ar mo shláinte,
Ag siul an drúchta go moch ar maidin
‘S ag bailiu galair ráithe.

Go Callaimn nuair a téim ‘s mo hook im glic
Bim ansúo drosac gearrta
‘S nuair a téim go Dulaimn ‘se an liú binn acu
“Call here you Spailpin Fanach”.

Translation

Never again will I go to Cashel
Selling and trading my health.
Nor to the hiring-fair, sitting by the wall,
A lounger on the roadside.

The bucks of the county coming on their horses
Asking if I’m hired:
“Oh lets go, the journey is long”
Off goes the Spailpin Fanach

I was left as a Spailpin Fanach
Depending on my health
Walking the dew early in the morning
Catching all the illnesses going around.

When I go to Caillaimn with my hook* in my fist
I’m there for the cutting**
And when I go to Dulaimn the disdainful cry is
“Call here you Spailpin Fanach”.

* hook = billhook
** cutting = harvest

 

Sullivan’s John
Celtic Cargo track 2

This song was written by John Sullivan of County Cork who actually left his inheritance to live as a tinker, a travelling mender of pots and kettles. The song was a hit on Irish radio in about the late 1950s, which is where I first heard it. It was sung by a real tinker, Pecker Dunne, who later went on to appear in a film with Richard Harris.

Sullivan’s John, to the road you’ve gone
Far away from your native home.
You’ve gone with the tinker’s daughter
Far along the road to roam.
Sullivan’s John, you won’t stick it long
Till your belly will soon get slack
You’ll be goin’ the road with a mighty load
And your toolbox on your back.

I met Kitty Caffy with her neat baby
‘Twas behind on her back strapped on.
She’d an old blackthorn in her hand
For to drive the donkey on.
Enquiring at every farmer’s house
As along the road she passed,
It was where would she get an awld pot to mend
And where would she feed the ass?

I heard of a fair in the County Clare
In a place called Spancil Hill
Where my brother James got a rap of the hames*
And poor Paddy they tried to kill.
They loaded him up on a north-bound car
While Kate and Big Mary looked on.
So bad luck to the day that I went away
For to join with the tinker band.

* hames – a cudgel.