Coolun (The)

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X:1 T:Coulin M:3/4 L:1/8 R:Air B:Samuel, Anne & Peter Thompson – The Hibernian Muse B:(London, 1787, No. 54, p. 33) N:”A Collection of the most Favorite Compositions of N:Carolan the Celebrated Irish Bard” Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:G (de/f/)|g2 g>b {b}a(g/e/)|g2G2 GB/d/|(g>f) (g/a/b) (ag)|T(g2f2) g>f| e2 e>f {a}g(f/e/)|d2 B>dg>d|{f}e(d/c/) B2 TA2|G4:| |:d>c|B>AG>AB>c|d>^cd>e (de/f/)|(g>f) (ga/b/) (ag)|Tg2f2 g>f| e2e>f {a}g(f/e/)|d2 B>dg>d|{f}e(d/c/) BG TA2|G4:|]



COOLUN/COOLIN, THE (An Cúilfhionn/Chuilfhionn) AKA – "An Cuilfion Le Atrugad," "An Cuilrionn," "The Coulin," "The Coolin," "Cuilin," "Old Coolun (The)." AKA and see "In this Calm Sheltered Villa," "Had You Seen My Sweet Coolin," "Oh! hush the soft sigh," "Oh! the hours I have passed," "Though the Last Glimpse of Eri," "Lady of the Desert (The)." Irish, Slow Air (3/4 time). D Major (Gow, Mulhollan): G Major (Clinton, Ó Canainn, O'Farrell, O'Flannagan, O'Neill/1915 & 1850, Roche): E Flat Major (Forde): F Major (Joyce). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Forde, Joyce, O'Neill/1850, Sullivan): AAB with variations (Roche): AA'B (Ó Canainn): AABB (Clinton, Gow, Mulhollan, O'Flannagan): AABBCCDDEEFF (O'Farrell). "The Queen of Irish Airs" maintains Francis O'Neill (1913). There are many versions of this ancient and celebrated air "of which Bunting's and Moore's are not among the best: they are both wanting in simplicity," states P.W. Joyce (1909), who prints the tune as collected by William Forde (1795-1850) from Hugh O'Beirne (a Co. Leitrim piper[1] from whom a great many tunes were collected ). He considers Forde's version "beautiful...(and) probably the original unadulterated melody," and adds that it is similar to the version he heard the old Limerick people sing in his youth during the 1820's. Grattan Flood (1906) states it is probable the air dates from the year 1296 or 1297, believing it must have been composed not long after the Statute, 24th of Edward I, in 1295, which forbade those English in Ireland (who were becoming assimilated into the majority Gaelic culture) to affect the Irish hair style by allowing their locks to grow in 'coolins.' The original song, told from a young maiden's point of view, berates those Anglo-Irish who conformed to the edit by cutting their hair, and praises the proud Irishman who remained true to ancestral custom (the Gaelic title "An Chuilfhionn," means 'the fair-haired one'). The Irish Parliament passed another law in 1539 forbidding any male, Irish or Anglo-Irish, from wearing long or flowing locks of hair; this enactment, relates Flood, is the source of the claim printed by Walker in 1786 in Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards as the impetus for the song. [Ed. note: Grattan Flood is notorious for inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims; his information should be viewed as suspect until confirmed.] Walker states:

In the twenty-eighth year of the reign of Henry VIII [i.e., 1536–1537], an Act was made respecting the habits, and dress in general, of the Irish, whereby all persons were restrained from being shorn or shaven above the ears, or from wearing Glibbes or Coulins (long locks), on their heads, or hair on their upper lip, called Crommeal. On this occasion a song was written by one of our Bards, in which an Irish Virgin is made to give the preference to her dear Coulin (or the youth with the flowing locks), to all strangers (by which the English were meant), or those who wore their habits. Of this song the air alone has reached us, and is universally admired.

Thomas Moore used the tune printed by Walker (who had no words) and wrote his own verses to the air. A.A. Lloyd writes that an informant, John Doonan, told him the song "The Coolin" was the work of one Maurice O'Dugan, who flourished in the latter half of the 16th century, but in this version the title refers to the hair style of a blond girl (A.A. Lloyd). In fact, the Irish word cuileann (sometimes chúilfhionn) means "fair lady" (a male character would be Cúilfhionn).

The air is arranged for 'Temperance Band' in The Dublin Magazine (December, 1842, No. 5); there were separate parts for flute, three clarinets, horn in Eb, trumpet in Eb, bassoon, and trombone or bass. The melody is contained in the music copybook [1] of John Buttery (1784-1854), a fifer with British army's 37th (North Hampshire) Regiment of Foot (so designated in the army reorganization of 1782), who served from 1797-1814. Later in life Buttery emigrated to Canada, where he died. In his manuscript Buttery identifies the tune as "A Retreat", which in military use represents the musical announcement of the end of the day's activities and a time for rest. The operant condition for a retreat was a specific drum roll, over which a melody--any melody--could be played, and it was the drum roll (not the tune) that was the musical signal for a retreat. The Buttery manuscript, as well as other period military manuscripts, often include a variety tunes that are labelled 'Retreats', which were selections the musician employed for the duty. Buttery's manuscript collection has also been identified as belonging to John Fife [2], with a suggested date of 1780. Fife was a family name, like Buttery, identified with the manuscript.

The air was played by Irish harper Charles Fanning at both the first and second Granard Harp Competitions in 1781 and 1782, performances which earned him the first prize of ten guineas and eight guineas respectively. Fanning, 56 years old in 1781, won a similar contest eleven years later at the Belfast Harp Festival with the same air (Flood, 1906), although Bunting (who was in attendance, recording the tunes played) says he was not the best performer but used modern variations on the tune which was much in vogue with young pianoforte players at the time. It was well known enough to have been mentioned by name by the Belfast Northern Star of July 15th, 1792, as having been one of the tunes played in competition by one of ten Irish harp masters (i.e. by Fanning) at the last great convocation of the ancient harpers, the Belfast Harp Festival, held that week.

In the alternate title for the tune, "Lady of the Desert (The)," the word 'Desert' may refer to "Dysert" (though it has the same meaning), a place name in several parts of Ireland, including North Kerry. Bunting's source Hempson claimed to have his version from Cornelius Lyons, a North Kerry musician.


Additional notes



Printed sources : - Aird (Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 5), 1797; No. 71, p. 29. Bunting (Ancient Music of Ireland), 1840; No. 119, pp. 88–89. Carlin (Gow Collection), 1986; No. 537. Clinton (Gems of Ireland), 1841; No. 48, p. 24. William Forde (300 National Melodies of the British Isles), c. 1841; p. 1, No. 1. Gow (Complete Repository, Part 2), 1802; p. 10. P.M. Haverty (One Hundred Irish Airs, vol. 2), 1859; No. 101, p. 45 and No. 180, p. 81 (two settings). Hime (Pocket Book, vol. 3), c. 1810; p. 33. Holden (A Collection of Old Established Irish Slow and Quick Tunes, vol. 1), 1806–7; p. 28. Joyce (Old Irish Folk Music and Songs), 1909; No. 564, p. 299 (appears as "The Coolin"). Kinloch (100 Airs, vol. 1), c. 1815; no. 25. Mooney (History of Ireland, vol. 1), 1846; p. 532 (as "The Youth with the Fair Flowing Locks"). Mulhollan (A Selection of Irish and Scots Tunes), Edinburgh, 1804; p. 20. Murphy (Irish Airs and Jigs), 1809; p. 8. Ó Canainn (Traditional Slow Airs of Ireland), 1995; No. 103, p. 88. O'Farrell (Collection of National Irish Music for the Union Pipes), 1804; p. 33 (appears as "Coolun with Variations"). O'Farrell (Pocket Companion), 1801–10; No. 122. O'Flannagan (The Hibernia Collection), 1860; p. 39. O'Neill (O'Neill's Irish Music), 1915; No. 46, p. 30 (with variations). O'Neill (Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies), 1903; No. 89, p. 16 (with nine variations). O'Sullivan/Bunting (Bunting's Ancient Music of Ireland), 1983; No. 119, pp. 168–170. Roche (Collection of Traditional Irish Music, vol. 1), 1912; p. 22, No. 43. Stanford/Petrie (Complete Collection), 1905; Nos. 598 & 599, pp. 150–151. Sullivan (Session Tunes, vol. 3); No. 40, p. 17. Samuel, Anne & Peter Thompson (The Hibernian Muse), London, 1787; No. 54, p. 33. Walker (Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards), 1786; Appendix IX, No. 10, p. 8.

Recorded sources : - Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD 167, Peter Horan & Gerry Harrington – "The Merry Love to Play" (2007). Green Linnet SIF 1084, Eugene O'Donnell – "The Foggy Dew" (1988). Green Linnet SIF 1045, Joe Burke – "The Tailor's Choice." MKM7590, Mike McHale – "The Schoolmaster's House" (2000). Topic 12TS230, Noel Pepper (et al) – "The Lark in Clear Air: Irish Music Played on Small Instruments" (1974. Learned from an old Waterford fiddler, Charlie Sweeney). Winner 4259 (78 RPM), Leo Rowsome (1925).




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  1. P.W. Joyce concluded that O'Beirne had been a fiddler in his Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909, p. 296). However, William Forde, the only collector who had direct contact with O'Beirne, wrote in a letter to John Windele of Cork, dated Sept. 21, 1846, that he had obtained over 150 airs from a piper, Huge Beirne. Forde was seeking to supplement his collection with music from Connaught and the north, and was glad to make the piper's acquaintance, staying on in Ballinamore longer than he originally planned. He also found O'Beirne in poor health in the time of Great Famine, writing "Stirabout and bad potatoes were working fatally on a sinking frame," and aided the piper by improving his diet ("but a mutton chop twice a day has changed Hugh's face wonderfully").
  2. Early American Secular Music and Its European Sources [2]