(see A Hidden Ulster pp 228-37 for detailed references and information)
This is an iconic song from the Oriel tradition. It was written and, probably, composed to an original air by Peadar Ó Doirnín (c.1700-69) who was a master of love poetry and a harper. This version of the song, with the air composed in 1907 by Peadar Ó Dubhda, was the only one of the poet’s songs to have survived in the recent oral tradition.
See more on this song-poem in this short section from an RTE 1971 documentary, on the Armagh/Louth literary heritage at 2.30″which features a young Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin: http://www.rte.ie/archives/category/arts-and-culture/2016/0201/764476-voices-from-a-hidden-people/
Composer Seán Ó Riada revived and recorded another of Ó Doirnín’s songs: Uilleagán Dubh Ó (AHU pp.238-40) for the poet’s bicentenary celebrations in 1969 in the Gaeity Theatre Dublin. The song Séamus Mac Murfaidh (AHU pp.241-46), which is sometimes attributed to Ó Doirnín, was popular with traditional singers. A number of his songs had survived in the local tradition while Irish was spoken as a community language. It belongs to a genre of pastoral, literary love poems and is a lyrical invitation to the land of milk and honey.
It was more than likely that this song was sung to harp accompaniment, as were other songs of Ó Doirnín. At least three were included in the Bunting collection. A version of the original air survived in the harp tradition and was collected and published by Edward Bunting and later published in the Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society 26 (ed. 1967) entitled A Phlúr na Maighdion.
This song was revived in the early part of the twentieth century when it was set to music by the collector and photographer, Peadar Ó Dubhda (AHU pp.370-2). He introduced his arranged version to the Donegal Gaeltacht after the founding of Coláiste Bhríde in Rann na Feirste in 1926 (AHU pp.228-37). It is popular now in the repertoire of Donegal singers,
Úrchnoc Chéin Mhic Cáinte (now Killen Hill) was a spectacular ancient site and has great significance in the mythological and folk history of Oriel. Cian was the father of Lugh who gave his name to Co. Lú, Co. Louth. It was also the site of school of poetry and harp in the late 17th and early 18th centuries under the guidance of poet and harper, Pádraig Mac Giolla Fhiondáin. (AHU pp.343-7), which Peadar Ó Doirnín probably attended (AHU pp.348-50).
Máire Ní Choilm was invited to choose a song of her liking from A Hidden Ulster to include in her repertoire. Being familiar with Úr Chnoc Chéin Mhic Cáinte, having heard it sung by singers in Rann na Feirste, she chose the popular Peadar Ó Dubhda version of the air here.
It has survived in the oral tradition since he submitted it for the Oireachtas competition in 1907. It is not the original air, however. An air entitled A Phlúr na Maighdion which was probably the original air composed by the poet Peadar Ó Doirnín, was collected by Edward Bunting in 1792 and was reprinted in A Hidden Ulster p. 236.
This is a version of the words taken from scribal manuscrips, edited by Prof. Breandán Ó Buachalla and published in Nua Dhuanaire (1976). The translation here was later published in the Penguin Book of Irish Poetry ed. Patrick Crotty 2010
A Phlúr na maighdean is úire gné
Thug clú le scéimh on Adhamhchlainn;
A chúl na bpéarlaí a rún na héigse,
Dhúblas féile is fáilte;
A ghnúis mar ghréin i dtús gach lae ghil;
Mhúchas léan le gáire;
Sé mo chumha gan mé ‘stú a shiúr linn féin
San dún sin Chéin Mhic Cáinte.
Táim brúite i bpéin gan suan gan néal
De d’ chumha a ghéag is áille;
Is gur tú mo roghain i gCúigibh Éireann
Cúis nach séanaim ás de;
Dá shiúlfá a réalt gan smúid liom féin
Ba súgach saor mo shláinte,
Gheobhair plúr is méad is cnuasach craobh
San dún sin Chéin Mhic Cáinte.
Cluinfir uaill na ngadhar ar luas i ndéidh
Bhrian luaimnigh bhearnaigh mhásaigh;
Is fuaim guth béilbhinn cuach is smaolach
Suairc ar ghéaga in áltaibh;
I bhfuarlinn tséimh chífir sluabhuíon éisc
Ag ruagadh a chéile ar snámh ann;
Is an cuan gur léir dhuit uaid i gcéin
Ón dún sin Chéin Mhic Cáinte.
A rún mo chléibh is mar súd a bhfearr dhuit
Tús do shaoil a chaitheamh liom;
Is ní i gclúid faoi léan ag túirscín bréan
I gcionn túirne is péire cárdaí;
Gheobhair ciúl na dtéad le lúth na méar
Do do dhúscadh is dréachta grá fós;
Níl aon dún faoin ghréin chomh súgach aerach
Le hÚr Chnoc Chéin Mhic Cáinte.
A shuaircbhean tséimh na gcuachfholt péarlach
Gluais liom féin ar ball beag;
Tráth is buailte cléir is tuata i néaltaibh
Suain faoi éadai bána;
Ó thuaidh go mbéam i bhfad uaitha araon
Teacht nuachruth gréine amárach;
Gan ghuais le chéile in uaigneas aérach
San uaimh sin Chéin Mhic Cáinte.
Beir uaim do phléid gé gur luaigh tú céad ní
Nós a bhfuil spéis ag a lán ann;
Is an duais is fearr nó ualaí séad
Níor chuala mé thú ag trácht air;
Tuatha saora buaibh is caora
Is cruacha péarla i bpálais;
Mar luach ní gheabhainn uait is gan gléas
In am suain le ndéantar páiste.
Flower of maidens, the fairest of face
Famed for human splendour;
Head of curls, beloved of poets
Enhances warmth and welcome;
Face as the sun each bright new dawn
Banishes grief with laughter;
It is my sad woe, love that we’re not alone
In that fort of Cian son of Cáinte.
I’m deep now in pain, sleepless, awake,
Longing for you, fairest maiden;
It’s you I prefer in all of Éireann
I deny not one whit, for that reason;
If you were to walk with me, unblemished star,
My health would be light and carefree,
You’ll get flower and mead and fruit of the trees,
In the fort of Cian son of Cáinte.
The call of the hounds you will hear as they chase
The wide haunched, swift legged hare;
The cuckoo’s sweet voice and sound of the thrush
Joyful on boughs in the dales;
In the pond, calm and cool you can see fish in shoals,
Swimming and chasing each other;
And beyond you can see in the distance, the bay
From the hill of Cian son of Cáinte
My gentle sweet girl, it is better you’d fare
To spend your young life with me there,
Than sad in a corner with a miserly boor
At your spinning-wheel and carders;
You will have sweet music played nimbly on harpstrings
To awake you – and love poems thereafter;
There’s no fort on earth as airy and bright
As the hill of Cian son of Cáinte.
Charming sweet lass of the pearled curling tresses
Come out later on in the night,
When the people and clergy are deep in slumber
Asleep beneath linens white.
Far north we will both be, away from them all,
At the break of tomorrow’s new dawn
Together and fearless in sweet isolation,
In the cave of Cian son of Cáinte
“Away with your pleading – though much you have stated –
A habit of interest to many;
And the finest of gifts, than a great many jewels
I have never heard you relating
Free holdings there, of cows and sheep
And hoards of pearls in palaces,
Its worth Ireceive not without a device,
Used at night time for making children”
(Translation: P. Ní Uallacháín)
The air, which is sung here on video by Máire Ní Choilm, was arranged by Peadar Ó Dubhda (AHU pp.370-2) and is based on the air of a local Omeath song Iomáíl Léanaí an Bhábhdhúi. It won an Oireachtas award for him in 1907 as a newly composed air but it was a variant of an Omeath air.
A version of the original air was collected by Edward Bunting and published in his 1809, Ancient Music of Ireland under the title of A Phlúr na Maighdion, which is the first line of the song (more pp 228-37). It is a much admired song in the oral tradition due to the skill of both Peadar Ó Doirnín and Peadar Ó Dubhda.