Gol na mBan san Ár

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GOL NA mBAN SAN ÁR (Lament of the Women in Battle). AKA and see "Micky "Cumbaw" O'Sullivan's." Irish, Slow Air (3/4 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). One part. The title is variously translated as "Lament of the Women in Battle (The)" or "Crying of the Women in the Slaughter (The)." The title has been thought to have been inspired by a number of different battles; some think it refers to the Battle of Aughrim in 1691, between the Jacobite forces and the British troops and their allies under the Dutch general Ginkel. Breathnach (1997) says the piece relates to the victory of Lord Inchequin at Knockinnoss, County Cork, in 1647 (see note for "Macalisdrum's March" for another tune connected with this battle). The last of the old Kerry pipers, Michael O'Sullivan (who admittedly had some extremely idiosyncratic and 'eccentric' notions), maintained it was about the battle of Cnoc an Áir, in which Fionn Mac Umhaill defeated Meargach and his hosts with great slaughter. A piping piece, it programmatically simulates the march of the troops to battle, the struggle itself, and the women lamenting the slain in the aftermath. It appears in the appendix to Walker's Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards (1786) and Thompson's Hibernian Muse (1786), although in the latter collection in appears under the title "Irish Dump (1) (An)" ('dump' meaning a lament or sad tune). See also the related tune "Eagle's Whistle (2) (The)."

According to music historian Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin (1998), a cylinder recording still exists from the 1890's of blind Micí Chúmba Ó Súilleabháin/Micheal O'Sullivan playing the piece. Breathnach (1997) expands on this to explain that O'Sullivan competed in the Feis Ceoil held in Dublin in 1899, in which he tied for second place. He also was an entrant in the competition for unpublished airs, which could either be submitted by manuscript or could be played into an Edison phonograph. Those thought worthwhile would be notated and the cylinders scraped for further use, however, by some bit of luck or twist of fate, the 1899 cylinders were retained and survived to the present day. Moreover, an account of O'Sullivan playing at the Feis appeared in the Irish-American journal Gael (New York) in July 1899:

Michael O'Sullivan is also blind, and is named in his own country Michael Dall. He is the last of a long line of pipers and has a great store of airs. The impatience of the audience however, prevented his being asked very minutely regarding them before the other competitions commenced. He however, played Gol na mBan san Ár. This was an important contribution. It is the Lamentation of the Women amidst the Slaughter. There are five lamentations, one for each province.

As noted above, O'Sullivan could harbour odd ideas. He attributed his not taking top honors in the competition to his landlady feeding him fairy butter, the effect exacerbated by the malign influence of the dead man's trousers he was wearing (Breathnach explains the piper had been outfitted with a ready-made suit when departing for the Feis, and nothing would convince him that it had not been taken from a funereal corpse).

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Ó Canainn (Traditional Slow Airs), 1995; No. 116, p. 99.

Recorded sources:




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