Seán Gabha

Background

See A Hidden Ulster pp.154-58 for detailed references and information

In the list of songs written down by Luke Donnellan in the south Ulster region at the turn of the twentieth century there are some references to rhymes sung at funerals. The rhymes were sung as part of the games which were played at funeral wakes. This song, which was collected in Crossmaglen by Donnellan, appears to be a fragment of one of those games. Another version of this same song was collected called Cleas i dToigh Faire (A Game in a Wakehouse).

The singing of rhymes and games was a feature of the Irish wake in the days leading to a funeral. Wakes were lively social functions where music and games were played except when the deceased was a young person or the death was regarded as a great loss.

Contests in strength, agility, toughness, dexterity and endurance were popular features of the games played at wakes. This song, Seán Gabha, appears to have been a test in endurance and toughness and those who were the hardiest and toughest in their normal occupations, such as the blacksmith, were also likely to play in games which demanded these same qualities. One game noted in Armagh in 1928 may have been connected with this song. Written down in Lisnadill, the informant who was eighty years of age at the time stated that

‘in another game a man went down on his knees an’ stuck his head atween another man’s legs. He then put his hand behine his back. Then somebody axed him what trade he wud choose. Mebbe he wud be a tailor. An’ the man whose legs his head wud be ’atween an’ another at the head of the games wud agree to the tool that wus wanted. The crowd then choose tools. An’ he got a right clout for ivery tool he axed for until somebody gave him the one agreed upon. Then that man went in an’ the game begun all over again an’ mebbe he wud be a blacksmith or some other thing. It could last for hours there’d be so many tools to bring.’ (AHU pp. 155-6)

This type of game at wakes is referred to as a ‘slapping’ game: ‘another slapping game was called ‘The Cobbler and the Tinker’. A group of men sat in a line and on the floor and lots were cast to find out which of them should go on one knee in front of them. When this had been decided the person chosen had to go, blindfolded on one knee on the floor, his back towards the rest and one of his hands palm upwards behind his back. The leader of the game would already have given a name to each of the players and would now recite a rhyme such as: ‘Strike him Cob, strike him Léir, strike him Tin with a little care, the Cobbler and the Tinker-o.’ One of the other players would strike the palm of the blindfolded man who was then required to name his assailant or else remain where he was. The names ‘Cob’ and ‘Léir’, ‘Tin’ and ‘Céir’ are already derived from the Irish words for a cobbler (caibléir) and a tinker (tincéir). When the person responsible for the slapping was finally named, he exchanged places with the other player. (AHU pp.156-7)

Thomas’The Feather’ McCrink and Briget McAleavey Dromintee. copyright McCrink Family. Thomas was a brother of Neddy McCrink. 

A local wake renowned for its lively games and ‘goings-on’ was that of Neddy McCrink, a member of the musical McCrink family of Dromintee. One man remembered that, ‘he was at his wake on The Hip in Slievenabola where wild games were played and in all much horse play took place to such an extent that a curate of the parish denounced the whole thing as an outrage on the dead’. (AHU p. 157)

In this song, Seán Gabha, there is an emphasis on keeping the song going or ‘multiplying’ the song. Wake games and songs had many varied purposes, but one practical reason for keeping a song going would have had the purpose of keeping those in attendance from falling asleep. The recitation of various rhymes and riddles was another way of keeping those present alert and awake during the long night.

Multiplying songs or keeping the song going may have had its origin in traditions associated with seasonal customs where one would lead a song followed by a collective response. During the celebrations on the Cnoc na Bealtaine (Beltany Hill) near Gort a’ Choirce in County Donegal, at Lúnasa, a similar custom existed where ‘the melody would begin then and would go around from one to another and anyone who had a note of music  at all in his orher head would have to keep the fun going. (AHU p. 158f)

 

©Oriel Arts 2017

Transmission

The air was sourced from the Luke Donnellan Collection in the National Folklore Collection UCD  (AHU p.433-5) with fragmentary words. Other words were sourced from a poetry/song collection by Seosamh Ó Laoide in County Meath, called Duanaire na Midhe.

It is a rare song in the Irish tradition and one unique to Oriel.   It was renewed and recorded by Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin on Ceoltaí Oirialla – Songs of Oriel CD 2017.

 

©Oriel Arts 2017

Words

Sources:

Buail Seo Seán Gó: Luke Donnellan Box 1, 24/2

Cleas i dtoigh faire: Seosamh Laoide, Duanaire na Midhe (1914) 105.

 

Seán Gabha

Buail seo, Seán gabha, buail seo ard-mhór,

Buailigí go léir é ’gus méadaígí an t-amhrán,

Méadaígí an t-amhrán.

 

Buail seo, Seán gabha, buailimis(t) go teann é,

Síodram seodram, síodram seodram,

Méadaígí an t-amhrán.

 

Buailimis(t) go dian, is buailimis(t) araon é,

Síodram seodram, síodram seodram,

Méadaígí an t-amhrán.

 

Buailimis(t) go léir é, is buailimis(t) go tréan é,

Síodram seodram, síodram seodram,

Méadaígí an t-amhrán.

 

Buail seo, Seán gabha, buailimis(t) go teann é,

Síodram seodram, síodram seodram,

Méadaígí an t-amhrán.

 

Buailimis(t) araon, is buailimis(t) go dian é,

Síodram seodram, síodram seodram,

Méadaígí an t-amhrán.

 

Buailimis(t) go léir é, luígí gach aon air,

Buailigí go dian é, síodram seodram,

Méadaígí an t-amhrán.

 

Blacksmith John

Strike this here, blacksmith John, strike here very high,

All of you strike it (him) and multiply the song,

Multiply the song.

 

Strike this here, blacksmith John, let us strike it with vigour,

Síodram seodram, síodram seodram*

Multiply the song.

 

Let us strike it hard, let us strike it together,

Síodram seodram, síodram seodram

Multiply the song.

 

Let us all strike it, let us strike it firmly,

Síodram seodram, síodram seodram

Multiply the song.

 

Strike this here, blacksmith John, let us strike it with vigour,

Síodram seodram, síodram seodram

Multiply the song.

 

Let us strike it, let us strike it hard,

Síodram seodram, síodram seodram

Multiply the song.

 

Let us all strike it, each one press on it, Strike it hard,

Síodram seodram

Multiply the song.

Translation: P. Ní Uallacháin

© Oriel Arts 2017

Music

SOURCE

Buail Seo Seán Gó: Luke Donnellan Box 1 24/2.

The air of this song is in the form of a simple chant with response vocables and phrase.  The source of the air collected by Luke Donnellan is unnamed. It was recorded on ediphone and transcribed in the early 1940’s by piper Séamus Ennis (AHU p.368-70),  for the Irish Folklore Commission in UCD.

Seamus Ennis transcriber of Donnellan recordings

Luke Donnellan

Collector & Musician Luke Donnellan (AHU pp. 361-3) © National Folklore Collection UCD