Bard of Armagh (The)
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BARD OF ARMAGH. AKA and see "Phelim Brady." Irish, Air (3/8 time, "plaintive"). D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). One part. 'The Bard of Armagh' was the name given to an early 18th century harper, Phelim Brady. Paul de Grae explains: "After the passing of the Popery Act in 1697, the South Armagh bishop Dr. Patrick Donnelly adopted the name and persona of the wandering bard Phelim Brady in order to be able to visit his flock in disguise". "The Bard of Armagh" has been attributed Dr. Donnelly, but also to Thomas Campbell, who wrote a version of "The Bard of Armagh" in 1801, and, according to de Grae, is the one more likely to be sung nowadays. There was more than one song by this title extant at the same time, and de Grae finds evidence of this in an article in The Newry Journal, which relates an interview by a local historian with the last Irish speaker in the area, Sally Humphrey (died c. 1918). He recited the words of the more common "Bard of Armagh", after which Sally became indignant and recalled the Ulster Gaelic folksong of that name from her youth with the same air. "She regarded the modern ballad in English a poor, unworthy and senseless imitation".
The air can be found throughout Britain and Ireland, and is the same as that of "Unfortunate Rake (3) (The)," an 18th century lament which tells of a dying young man. Other songs set to the tune are, in Ireland, "The convict of Clonmel" and "When I was on horseback," and in America, "The Streets of Laredo", "The Cowboy's Lament" and "St. James Hospital" (in Sharp and Karpeles' English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians). English derivations of the song can be be found printed in broadsides from the mid-19th century, including "The unfortunate lad" and "The bad girl's lament." A Scottish version is "Road to Dundee."
Oh, list to the lay of a poor Irish harper,
And scorn not the strains of his withered old hand,
Remember his fingers, they once could move sharper,
To raise up the mem'ry of his dear native land.
- Paul de Grae, "Notes on Sources of Tunes in the O'Neill Collections", 2017.
- ibid. Quoted from The Newry Journal