(see A Hidden Ulster pp. 204-6 for detailed references and information)
The words and music here are from Mullaghban and Dromintee. It is a light hearted love song and was a once a very popular song in Oriel. It came under various titles, Neillí Bhán, Molaí Bhán, Máire Bhán and also A Neillí bheag a chuisle and Dá mbeadh lán na páirce báine agam. It was also in the repertoire of Oriel harper Patrick Quin, as Mailí Bhán. Versions were found in Omeath and Monaghan and in this case from a singer from Carricknagavna, Mullaghban, County Armagh.
The collector Tomás Mac Cuilleannáin (AHU pp.365-6) published a number of variants in the Dundalk Democrat (AHU pp421-26), collected in 1906, mainly from an old singer and storyteller called Michael Tierney, known locally as Michilín Mhicsí Tierney. His family still live in Mullaghban. Luke Donnellan also collected the air c.1906 in Dromintee, A Neilí bheag a chuisle, most likely from the McCrink family of musicians, which is the air sung here.
An another Omeath version, ‘Neillidh Bhán’ was collected by Lorcán Ó Muirí from Mrs Kitty McGivern, Caithtí Bean Mhic Ghuibhrín who lived in Ballinteskin and born c.1853. She was a rich source of song and was recorded for the Wilhelm Doegan project in 1931. She can be heard singing the first line and reciting the words. It gives a flavour of the beautiful dialect
The air, which was collected by Luke Donnellan in Dromintee in 1906 – most likely from the McCrink musicians, was published by him in the County Louth Arch. Journal 1909, entitled A Neilí bheag a chuisle.
It was reconnected by Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin to the lyrics collected locally in Mullaghban from Michilín Mhicsí Tierney etc. and first recorded with accompaniment on An Dealg Óir CD, Gael Linn 2003. It is recorded on Ceoltaí Oirialla – Songs of Oriel CD 2017.
It was later transmitted orally to the repertoire of Siubhán O’Connor who was recorded singing it on video in Mullaghban June 2016.
A Mháire bhán na gcarad is a Mháire bhán, a stór,
Dá rachfá thusa liomsa go coillte na gcnó,
Bhéarfainn amharc a’ bhaile mhóir duit, a thógfadh do chroí,
Agus chuirﬁnn dealg óir ort ar bhóthar a’ rí.
Dá mbeinnse ’gContae Mhuineacháin is mé ’mo cheannaí snáth’,
Mo ghrása ’bheith in aice liom charbh fhada liom an lá;
Dhíolfadh Máire an reckoning agus bhuailﬁnn féin a’ clár
Agus shiúlfainnse thríd Éirinn le mo mhaighre mhaise’ mná.
Dá mbeadh lán na páirce báine ’gam d’eallach agus de mhaoin
Is lán mo dhá lámh agam den ór atá buí,
Cha dtabharfainnse feoirling ar a ndéarfadh siad le mí,
Dá mbeadh mo stór i dtigh an óil, charbh fhada liom an oich’.
Bhí mise thiar i gConnachta ’gus bhí mé breoite tinn,
D’fhiostraigh mise dithe an dtógfadh sí mo chian;
Bhí céad fear i ngrá léithe nach dtig go brách ’un cinn
Is má thug mé gean do Mháire cha raibh náire ar bith domh ann.
Chuaigh mé amach inné a’ siúl ’e chois a’ chuain,
Cé tharla orm ach(t) Máire an ainnir is í ’na suan;
Leag mé ar a’ talamh í i ndúil go gcuirﬁnn uirthi cluain,
In áit í a mhealladh ’sé d’imigh Máire uaim.
A’ gcluin tú mise, a Mháire bhán, ná fan amuigh go mall,
Ná coinnigh thusa cuideachta le buachaillí óga ’n ghleann’,
Beidh do chóta ag éirí gairid agus pian mhór i do dhroim,
Is do choispeán a bhí spéiriúil faraoir ag éirí trom.
Bainﬁ’ mise slat chaorthainn a mbeidh casadh ar a barr,
Ceangló(cha)idh mé mo Mháire go dlúth fána lár;
Chan fheil aon snaidhm dá gcuirfí’ mé a scaoilfear go bráth,
Is a chomrádaí na mine, cuirim leat gach uile slán.
A stór, ná bíodh ort buaireamh ná brón ná briseadh croí,
Ná ní ar bith den tseort sin ach(t) aer is spórt a’ tsaoil;
Da mbeadh agam an domhan mór ’s a bhfuil i gcófraí ghlais’ a’ rí
Is duitse bhéarfainn mar fhéirín é ach(t) éalú liom mar mhnaoi.
Fair Mary, my friend and fair Mary, my love,
If you would go along with me through the nut-wood groves,
I’d give you a glimpse of the big town, would raise your spirits there,
And I’d pin on you a golden brooch upon the king’s highway.
If I were in County Monaghan and me a buyer of thread,
My love to be beside me, I wouldn’t mind the day;
Mary would pay the reckoning and I would call a glass
And I’d walk throughout Ireland with my lovely ﬁne young lass.
If I had the full green fallow ﬁeld of cattle and of goods,
And have my two hands full of golden yellow coins;
I’d not give a farthing for a month of all their chat,
If my love were in a tavern, the night would seem no length.
I was west in Connacht and I was weak and sick,
I, myself, beseeched her, would she raise my lonesome heart;
A hundred men were in love with her who never will come out;
And if I’ve loved fair Mary, well there was no shame in that.
I went out yesterday walking by the shore,
Who did I come across but fair Mary sleeping there;
I laid her down upon the ground, hoping her to woo,
But instead of enticing her, she upped from me and moved.
Do you hear me now, fair Mary, don’t stay out too late,
Don’t you be keeping company with the young lads of the glen,
Your coat it will be rising and a pain all in your back,
Your footstep, once so graceful, will, alas, get slow and slack.
I will break a rowan stick with a loop around the top,
And tight around my Mary’s waist, I will tie a knot;
No knot that I will make for her will ever be unloosed,
My own sweet, gentle comrade I bid you all adieus.
Love, don’t fret now, be sad or break your heart,
Or feel in any way like that, but the joy and fun of life;
If I had the whole world and the locked coffers of the state,
To you I’d give them as a gift but elope as my wife.
Translation: P.Ní Uallacháin
The air sung here is the Dromintee air below, most likely collected from the McCrink family of musicians living in Dromintee, who were a source of song and instrumental music for collector Luke Donnellan. It has the flattened seventh which is a feature of older songs in the Irish tradition.
The Omeath version is published in tonic solfa in Amhráin Chúige Uladh 1927 and re-edited by Colm Ó Baoill in staff notation in 1977. It was collected from Mrs McGivern and Mrs Dobbins from Omeath.