I would rather than Ireland

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I WOULD RATHER THAN IRELAND. AKA - "bhFear liom na Eire." Irish, Air (3/4 time). G Minor (Bunting): E Minor (Howe). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (most versions): One part (Howe). The melody was also known, in County Galway, as "Old Coulin (The)" or "Galway Coulin The," according to collector George Petrie, who in 1863 wrote uilleann piper and Anglican cleric Thomas Goodman in a letter that appears in William Stokes' The life and labours in art and archaelogy of George Petrie (1868, pp. 350-351).

The tune, of which you have sent me the setting has been known to me for a long period, and I have always considered it as one of the most beautiful of our melodies. It is generally known in the county of Galway and is called 'The Old Coulin', and most certainly it is not a tune of Carolan's but much older. I first set it from the singing of Paddy Conealy, the Galway piper, about five and twenty years ago, and shortly afterwards got a set of it very slightly different from a folio manuscript volume of Irish songs and tunes written by Edward O' Reilly, the Irish lexicographer. The volume passed into the hands of the late James Hardiman, and thence to the library of the Royal Irish Academy, in which it is now preserved. The tune was the favourite Irish one of the late Lord Rossmore, who had a strong love and a fine taste for Irish music. I have heard him descant upon its expression of sentiment, with an admirable appreciation of its beauty, for a quarter of an hour at a time. I should also tell you that the tune has been published by Edward Bunting in his first volume of Irish melodies about the year 1793, with the name of 'bFear Liom n ire' or 'I would rather than Ireland?'. But he has set it in the minor mode, which makes it appear a different tune, and I doubt that was right in doing so. I certainly never heard it so sung...

The title "I would rather than Ireland" comes from a song to the air called "O Lov'd Maid of Broka!" translated by the Scotsman, Hector MacNeill:

O lov'd maid of Broka, each fair one excelling!
The blush on thy cheek shames the apple's soft bloom,
More sweet that the rose-buds that deck thy lov'd dwelling,
Thy lips shame their beauties, thy breath their perfume.

Come, bird of the evening, sweet thrush, void of sorrow,
Come greet her approach to thy flower-scented thorn,
And teach her fond warbler, thy lov'd notes to borrow,
To banish her coldness and soften her scorn.

O perch'd on thy green bough, each lov'd note delighting,
How blest, happy bird! could I change lots with thee!
But, alas! while fast fetter'd, each prospect is blighting,
I would rather than Ireland again I were free!

But, adieu! though my hopes, by thy coldness and scorning,
Fall faded like blossoms half brown on the tree,
May love bless your eve, though it blighted my morning,
I would rather than Ireland once more I were free!

Thomas Moore employed the melody for his song "Yes, sad one of Sion," published in his Irish Melodies (1808), and Beethoven composed a setting of the air for the song "Thou Emblem of Faith" to a lyric by the literary Irish politician John Philpot Curran [1].

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Bunting (A General Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland), 1796; No. 48, p. 27. Clinton (Gems of Ireland: 200 Airs), 1841; No. 146, p. 74. P.M. Haverty (One Hundred Irish Airs vol. 3), 1859; No. 208, p. 100. Howe (Musician's Omnibus, No. 2), c. 1864; p. 101.

Recorded sources:




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