Brian Boru's March (1)
X:1 T:Brian Borus March  M:6/8 L:1/8 R:March B:Stephen Grier music manuscript collection (Book 3, c. 1883, No. 191, p 60) B: http://grier.itma.ie/book-three#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=59&z=-286.7962%2C358.1348%2C3220.8726%2C1341.25 N:Stephen Grier (c. 1824-1894) was a piper and fiddler from N:Newpark, Bohey, Gortletteragh, south Co. Leitrim. Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:Amin B|cde efe|efe edc|Bcd ded|ded dBG| cde efe|efe edB|cBA Aed|cAA A2:| |:B|cBA Aed|cBA A2c|BAG Gdc|BAG G2B| cBA Aed|cBA A2B|cde fed|ecA A2:| |:B|cde/f/ g2a|g2a ged|Bcd d2e|d2 e dBG| cdef/ g2a|g2a ged|cBA Aed|cBA A2:| |:B|cBA a2A|cBA a2 A|BAG g2G|BAG g2G| cBA a2A|cBA a2A|cde fed|ecA A2:||
BRIAN BORU'S MARCH . AKA and see "Brian Borouhme," "Piper's March." Irish, March (6/8 time). B Aeolian (Roche): A Minor (S. Johnson, Mallinson, O'Neill, Sullivan): A Dorian (Tubridy). Standard tuning (fiddle). AA'B (Feldman & O'Doherty): AABB (S. Johnson, Roche): AABBCC (Mallinson, Sullivan, Tubridy): ABCD (O'Neill). This piece was thought by Dr. Sigerson (writing in The Bards of the Gael and Gall) to evidence Scandinavian musical influence stemming from the Norse invasions of Ireland c. 800–1050, although Grattan Flood (1905) believes him to be in error and asserts the tune hardly dates from the Norse period or even, for that matter, from Mediaeval days. Printed versions have no great antiquity: the earliest is in the Levey Collection, vol. 2 (1873), although Fleischmann found a version in an issue of the Dublin Monthly Magazine from 1842 under the title "The March of Brian Borumha" (it also later appears in Kerr's Caledonian Collection as "Brian Borumha"). It was in the repertoire of the man whom O'Neill calls the "last of the great Irish harpers," Patrick Byrne (c. 1784–1863). O'Neill never heard Byrne play, but an account of a Byrne concert which appeared in The Emerald of New York in 1870 caught his eye. Byrne played for an assemblage in the household of a Dublin gentleman in 1860, and O'Neill quotes from the article:
Byrne's command of the harp was complete, the writer tells us. His touch was singularly delicate yet equally firm. He could make the strings whisper like the sigh of the rising wind on a summer eve, or clang with a martial fierceness that made your pulses beat quicker. After quaffing a generous tumbler of punch, he would say, "Now, ladies and gentlemen, I am going to play you the celebrated march of the great King Brian to the field of Clontarf, when he gave the Danes such a drubbing. The Irish army is far off, but if you listen Attentively you will hear the faint sound of their music." Then his fingers would wander over the upper range of strings with so delicate a touch that you might fancy it was fairy music heard from a distance. Anything more fine, more soft and delicate than this performance, it is impossible to conceive. "They are coming nearer!" And the sound increased in volume. "Now here they are!" And the music rolled loud and full. Thus the march went on; the fingers of the minstrel's right hand wandering farther down the bass range. You find it hard to keep your feet quiet, and feel inclined to take part in the march music assumes a merry, lightsome character, as if it were played for dancers. "Rejoicing for the victory!" But this abruptly ceases; there is another shriek and dischord, jangling and confusion in the upper bass stings. The harper explains as usual, "They have found the old King murdered in his tent." Then the air becomes much slower and singularly plaintive. "Mourning for Brian's death." There is a firmer and louder touch now, with occasional plaintive effects with the left hand. "They are marching now with the brave old King's body to Drogheda." The music now assumes a slow and steady tone, the tone is lowered, and grows momentarily louder and louder, till finally it dies away...And all these marvellous effects are produced upon what is used as a simple dance tune in the south of Ireland (pp. 81-82).
O'Neill (1913) also prints an appreciation of the tune from a German gentleman named Kohl, who heard it played on harp at Drogheda in 1843:
The music of this march is wildly powerful and at the same time melancholy. It is at one the music of victory and of mourning. The rapid modulations and wild beauty of the air was such that I think this march deserves full to obtain a celebrity equal to that of the 'Marseillaise' and the 'Ragotsky.'
In Drogheda there at one time was performed a dance to this and similar stately music, called the "Droghedy March" or "Dancing Drogheda," reports O'Neill, though the practice had died out by the time of his writing. It was danced by six men or boys, each wielding a stick or shillelagh. They kept time to the music, he states, "with feet, arms and weapons with their bodies swaying right and left." As the dance progressed the movements became more complicated, mimicking the appearance of a rhythmic fencing or battle. "Brian Boru's March" was identified as a pipe tune in the repertoire of Teelin, Donegal, fiddlers Francie and Mickey Byrne, who, according to Feldman & O'Doherty (1979), probably had the tune from travelling piper Mickey Gallagher (a cousin of Donegal fiddler John Doherty's). See also the duple time melodies (which some believe are related) "Dan Sullivan's Reel," "General McBean," "Colonel McBain's," "Sean Frank," "Devonshire Reel (1) (The)," "Duke of Clarence Reel (The)" and "Sporting Molly."