X:1 T:Blackbird , The M:C L:1/8 S:Bunting K:D d/c/|B2 c>B A2 AB/c/|d>e d/cA/F/ G>FD>E|Fg f/g/e/f/ d>c A/G/F/A/| GG/F/ DD D2z2:||:d/e/|ff/e/ d/e/f/g/ a2 a/g/f/a/|gfga g>f d d/e/| ff/e/ d/e/f/g/ a2 a/g/f/a/|gg/f/ dd d3 f/g/|a/b/a/g/ f/g/a/f/ g2 fe/f/| d>c A/B/c/d/ f>g a2|Ag f/g/e/f/ d>c A/G/F/A/|GG/F/ DD D2z:||
BLACKBIRD , THE. AKA – "Royal Blackbird (The)." Irish, Slow Air (4/4 time). C Major (Joyce): D Major (O'Sullivan/Bunting). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Joyce): AABB (Bunting). The Irish collector Edward Bunting (1840) thinks the tune "bears evident marks of a much higher antiquity" than the Jacobite war of 1688–90, though O'Sullivan finds the earliest printed version to have been issued on a London broadside in 1718. O'Farrell (1804–10), too, marked it "very old." It is clear however, that the tune became immensely popular from the early 18th century to throughout the 19th century. "In the early half of the last century this song was known and sung all over Ireland. It was a particular favorite in Limerick and Cork, so that I learned it at a period too early for me to remember. An abridged copy of the song is given in Duffy's Ballad Poetry; but I give here the whole text, partly from memory, and partly from a ballad-sheet printed in Cork by Haly, sixty or seventy years ago. Duffy tells us that the song—i.e. the curtailed copy he has given—is found in a Scotch collection of Jacobite Relics. But the words are Irish—as much so as the splendid air, which is found in many Irish musical collections, both printed and MS., including Bunting's volume (Ancient Irish Music, 1840), and which was, and still is, played everywhere by Irish pipers and fiddlers. My notation of the air follows the Munster musicians and singers of sixty yeas ago. The 'Blackbird' meant the Young Pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stuart. This custom of representing the Pretender—and much oftener Ireland itself—under allegorical names was common in Ireland in the 18th and the first half of the 19th century; the original object of which was concealment, so that the people might be able to sing their favorite Jacobite and political songs freely in the dangerous times of the Penal Laws" (P.W. Joyce). Zimmerman, in his Songs of Irish Rebellion (p. 57) mentions the use of birds as metaphorical images and states that the blackbird was the first avian to be used in such a representational manner in Anglo-Irish songs (see Bayard's note quoted at length in "Blackbird (4) (The)").
The song is not often sung in modern times but remains well-known as an instrumental throughout Ireland. Cowdery (1990) speculates this may be because of its ocatave-and-a-fifth range, with emphasis on the high notes as well as the low finals, or perhaps due to the "rather ambiguous feelings many Irish people have about James II's flight and exile."
One fair summer's morning of soft recreation,
I heard a fair maiden a making great moan.
With sighing and sobbing and sad lamentation,
And saying my blackbird most royal has flown.
My thoughts they deceive me, reflection it grieves me,
And I am overburdened with sad misery,
Yet if death it should blind me as true love inclines me,
My Blackbird I'd seek out wherever he be.
See also the American derivative "Wounded Hoosier", from the playing of western North Carolina fiddler Marcus Martin (1881-1974).