Jack on the Green (2)

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JACK ON THE GREEN [2] (Sean air an bainseac). AKA - "Jack in the Green." AKA and see "Lark in the Green." Irish, Slip Jig. G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. A tune by this title in 9/8 meter also appears in the Bodleian Manuscript (in the Bodleian Library, Oxford), inscribed "A Collection of the Newest Country Dances Performed in Scotland written at Edinburgh by D.A. Young, W.M. 1740." "Jack on the Green" was mentioned by MacTaggart in The Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia (1824) in a description of a rural country dance class as being one of the hornpipe dances taught by the master. There are several melodies that go by the similar titles "Jack on the Green," "John of the Green" "Jack o' the Green" etc., and, while some are similar in parts, most differ from one-another. This may be explained by the MacTaggart comment that there was a dance called Jack of the Green to which perhaps several (or even many) 9/8 time tunes were employed as vehicles for the steps.

May Day Jack-in-the-Green celebration



The title may or may not be associated with the Jack on the Green folklore character, although the character was certainly well-known in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some accounts link the Jack-on-the-Green to the figure variously known as the Green Man, Jack-in-the-Green, Robin Hood, the King of the May and the Garland, who was a central figure in the May-Day celebrations throughout Northern and Central Europe. Designs of foliate heads or men date back to the 2nd century AD, and can be seen in churches, architecture, paintings and on monuments. In more recent times the Green Man has graced innumerable pub signs. He is symbolic of 'The May', the traditional beginning of Spring and the regeneration of the life-cycle.

J. Simpson and S. Roud have an entry on Jack-in-the-Green in their Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore (2000), which associates the Jack as one of the figures of traditional May celebrations by chimney sweeps. In addition to the Lord and Lady, clowns, musicians and figures clashing a broom and shovel together rhythmically, capering boys, and donkey riders, there was a Jack, "a man inside a wood or basketwork frame, from well above his head to his ankles, on which was fixed an abundance of greenery and flowers. The visual effect was a conical-shaped bush on feet, which danced." They point out that, while great antiquity for the Jack figure is often claimed, there is scant evidence to support it. First of all, the custom was not widespread through England, and was clustered primarily in London, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Second, the earliest references to the Jack are only from the late 18th century. They believe that speculations of a link with Green men by Lady Raglan in 1939, plus a good deal of romantic or wishful thinking, have lead the assignation of antiquity to be continually perpetrated. Roud and Simpson also point out that the custom was in decline by the mid-19th century due to the drunkenness, tawdriness and vulgarity of the sweeps' proceedings, and needed to be "abolished before it could be reinvented, cleaned up, and made safe, to take its place in the pageants of the late Victorians and Edwardians, and the fetes, fayres, and processions of the 20th century."

Source for notated version: O'Neill seems to have used R.M. Levey's 1858 publication as his source.

Printed sources: Cole (1000 Fiddle Tunes), 1940; p. 77. Doyle (Plain Brown Tune Book), 1997; p. 27. Haverty (One Hundred Irish Airs, vol. 2), New York, 1858; No. 124, p. 57 (as "Lark in the Green"). Kennedy (Fiddler's Tune-Book: Slip Jigs and Waltzes), 1999; No. 35, p. 9. Levey (First Collection of the Dance Music of Ireland), 1858; No. 34, p. 14. O'Neill (Krassen), 1976; p. 83. O'Farrell (Pocket Companion, vol. III), c. 1808; p. 70. O'Neill (Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies), 1903; No. 1149, p. 217. Ryan's Mammoth Collection, 1883; p. 110.

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