Green Grow the Rushes O

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GREEN GROW THE RUSHES O. AKA – "Green Grow the Rashes," "Green Grows da Rashes." AKA and see "East Neuk of Fife," "Foot's Vagaries," "Grant's Rant (1) (The)," "Highland Sword Dance," "Irish Whiskey (1)," "John Black's Daughter," "Lucky Black's Daughter," "Over the Hills and Far Away (3)," "Paddy Caught a Rat," "Paddy Got a Rat," "Paddy Killed the Rat," "Paddy Killed a Rat," "Paddy Run the Rat," "Paddy Run a Rat," "We're a' Dry wi' Drinking o't." Scottish (originally), Irish, English, American; Strathspey, Hornpipe, Barndance, Highland, Highland Schottische, Fling, Slide (12/8 time), March, Shetland Reel or Reel. G Major (most versions): F Major (Howe). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Cole, Howe, Moylan, Tubridy, White): AAB (Athole, Ford, Gow, O'Farrell): AABB (most versions): AABB' (O'Brien, Skye): AA'BB' (Flaherty). The air first appears in early lute manuscripts of the 17th century; a note in Graham (1908) claims the first strain of the tune occurs twice in the Straloch Manuscript of 1627. It appears in the Panmure Collection of c. 1705, a fiddler's MS repertory book, and in David Young's Drummond Castle Manuscript (1734, as "Lucky Black's Daughter"). Johnson (1984) states the whole tune was recorded in fiddle manuscripts from the 1680's and was already ancient when printed in Stewart's Reels (1761–1765, p. 13) and the Gillespie Manuscript of Perth (1768).

The "Green Grow the Rushes O" title is from Robert Burns's reworking of the poem sung to a tune called "Grant's Rant (1) (The)"—in the transition the rant form was dropped and a strathspey rhythm was substituted, a not uncommon fate of rants [a rant typically has two sixteenth notes and an eighth note, usually occurring on the first beat of the bar—see the Gow and Stewart-Robertson versions]. Burns' version is somewhat more polite, states Robin Williamson, for the tune seems originally to have been linked to lyrics satirizing the profligacy of priests. Johnson (1984) confirms the Scottish song (first mentioned in The Complaint of Scotland in 1549) originally was a rude or risqué text.

The American collector Ira Ford (1940) relates the following tale, a superficially plausible and thus repeated yarn, though unfortunately completely untrue: "'Green Grow the Rushes O' was a popular melody of American soldiers at the time of the Mexican war, to which they set many verses. The following verse is descriptive of their associations in the land of the senorita:

Green grow the rushes, O!
Red are the roses, O!
Kiss her quick and let her go,
Before you get the mitten, O!

The deviltry of the American soldier boys was very much resented by the Mexicans. Any American who attempted to kiss a senorita was certain to have his face slapped by her. They called this to 'get the mitten.' Whereever Americans were would also be heard verses of 'Green Grow the Rushes, O.' The Mexicans, in mockery, gave the name 'green grow' to their tormenters, their pronunciation being 'gingo.' After the war 'Gringo' became the sobriquet for all Americans." Another source gives the similar assertion that the song which gives rise to the word "gringo" is "Green Grow the Lilacs." Ford, at any rate, has a poor reputation for veracity.

O'Neill (1922) remarks: "Robert Burns' song to this oldtime favorite strain, was in general circulation among the Irish peasantry early in the last century, and the name is still well remembered. The melody much older than the poet's day, was known as We're a' dry wi' drinking o't. In reel time it was first printed in 1761 by Neil Stewart of Edinburgh in A Collection of the Newest and Best Reels, or Country Dances, Adapted for Violin or German Flute. The traditional Irish version of the tune as remembered by the editor (ed: version #2 below) may prove not uninteresting to the musical student of a later generation." Accordion player Johnny O'Leary, of the Sliabh Luachra region of the Cork-Kerry border, plays the tune as a 12/8 time slide. In other parts of Ireland the tune is played as a barndace, highland and/or hornpipe.

Bayard's thirteen Pennsylvania collected versions of the tune are divided into two groups, corresponding with two main British Isles variants. One is called in America the "Over the Hills and Far Away" (a floating title) group, corresponding to "The East Neuk of Fife" in the British Isles; the other retains the British "Green Grow the Rushes" title. One of Bayard's sources (1981, Appendix No. 11, p. 576) was a Massachusetts Irish-American born near Cork, a Mrs. Anastasia Corkery, who knew in the 1930's the following quatrain to the first strain:

Green grow the rushes O,
Blackbirds and thrushes O,
The piper kissed the fiddler's wife
Behind the bunch of rushes O.



Sources for notated versions: Chieftains (Ireland) [Miller & Perron]; Johnny O'Leary (Slibah Luachra, Co. Kerry), recorded at Ballydesmond in February, 1973 [Moylan]; 13 southwestern Pa. fiddlers, fifers and manuscripts [Bayard]; Gillespie MS. [Johnson]; a c. 1837-1840 MS by Shropshire musician John Moore [Ashman]; flute player Noel Tansey (b. 1940, Cuilmore, County Sligo) [Flaherty]; Castle Ceili Band [Sullivan]. Aird (Selections), vol. 6, 1903?; No. 37; the Joseph Kershaw manuscript-Kershaw was a fiddler from Slackcote, Saddleworth, North West England whose manuscript dates from 1820 onwards [Kershaw]; John Stickle (1875-1957, originally from Unst, removed to Lerwick) [Shuldham-Shaw].

Printed sources: Ashman (Ironbridge Hornpipe), 1991; No. 74b, p. 31. Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; No. 206A-M, pp. 158–162. Breathnach, 1971; No. 4. Cole (1000 Fiddle Tunes), 1940; p. 21 (Reel). Cotter (Traditional Irish Tin Whistle Tutor), 1989; 17. Cranford (Jerry Holland: The Second Collection), 2000; No. 190, p. 71. Emmerson (Rantin' Pipe and Tremblin' String), 1971; Nos. 30 & 31, pp. 130–131. Ford (Traditional Music of America), 1940; p. 72. Flaherty (Trip to Sligo), 1990; p. 95. Gow (Complete Repository, Part 1), 1799; p. 12. Graham (Popular Songs of Scotland), 1908; p. 36-37. Harding's All Round Collection, 1905; No. 86, p. 27. Howe (1000 Jigs and Reels), c. 1867; p. 141. Jarman and Hansen (Old Time Dance Tunes), 1951; p. 76. JEFDSS, vol. 9; p. 147 (Shetland variant). J. Johnson (Scots Musical Museum, vol. 1), 1787; No. 77, p. 78. D. Johnson (Scottish Fiddle Music in the 18th Century), 1984; No. 70, p. 223. Joseph Kershaw Manuscript, 1993; No. 39. Kennedy (Fiddler's Tune-Book, vol. 2), 1954; p. 17. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 1), c. 1880; No. 5, p. 19. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 2), c. 1880's; No. 117, p. 14. J. Kenyon Lees (Balmoral Reel Book), c. 1910; p. 16 (as "Highland Fling"). MacDonald (The Skye Collection), 1887; p. 80. McGibbon (Collection of Scots Tunes, vol. 2), c. 1746; p. 41. Miller & Perron (Irish Traditional Fiddle Music, vol. 1), 1977; No. 15 (Highland version). Miller & Perron (Irish Traditional Fiddle Music), 2nd Edition, 2006; p. 150. Moylan (Johnny O'Leary of Sliabh Luachra), 1994; No. 25, p. 16 (slide version). O'Brien (Jerry O'Brien's Accordion Instructor), Boston, 1949. O'Farrell (Pocket Companion, vol. 2), c. 1806; p. 97 (appears as "Green Grows the Rashes"). O'Neill (Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody), 1922; Nos. 217 & 218. Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion, vol. 1), 1760; p. 18. Petrie (Second Collection of Strathspey Reels and Country Dances), 1796; p. 22. Petrie (Fourth Collection of Strathspeys, Reels, Jiggs and Country Dances), c. 1805. Petrie-Stanford (Complete Collection), 1903-06; No. 1427. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 173. Ryan's Mammoth Collection, 1883; p. 45. Saar (Fifty Country Dances), 1932; No. 18. Scottish Country Dance Book, Book 12, 1950; No. 2. Sharp (Sword Dances of Northern England: Songs and Dance Airs, Book 2), 1912; pp. 3 & 9 (as "Bobby Shaftoe"). Pat Shuldham Shaw - "A Shetland Fiddler and His Repertoire: John Stickle 1875-1957", Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society), vol. 9, No. 3, Dec. 1962; p. 147 (as "Green Grows da Rashes"). Smith (Scottish Minstrel, vol. 4), c. 1821; p. 91. Stewart-Robertson (The Athole Collection), 1884; p. 157. Sullivan (Session Tunes, vol. 3); No. 30, p 12. Taylor (Where's the Crack?), 1989; p. 4. Thompson (A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs, vol. 4), 1805; No. 155. Tubridy (Irish Traditional Music, vol. 1), 1999; p. 12. Walsh (Caledonian Country Dances, vol. 2), 1737; p. 25. White's Unique Collection, 1896; No. 72, p. 13. Wilson (A Companion to the Ballroom), 1816; p. 67.

Recorded sources: Flying Fish, Robin Williamson – "Legacy of the Scottish Harpers, vol. 2". Front Hall 018, How to Change a Flat Tire – "Traditional Music From Ireland and Shetland" (learned from Kathleen Collins). Green Linnet GLCD 1175, Cherish the Ladies – "New Day Dawning." Green Linnet GLCD 1187, Cherish the Ladies – "One and All: the best of Cherish the Ladies" (1998). Island ILPS9432, The Chieftains – "Bonaparte's Retreat" (1976). Jerry Holland – "Crystal Clear" (2000).

See also listings at:
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recording Index [1]
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2]
Alan Ng's Irishtune.info [3]




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