Back to Little Stack of Barley (2)
LITTLE STACK OF BARLEY , THE (An Stáicín Eórna). Irish, Air (4/4 time). F Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. "Other settings of this tune have been published. Forde gives three, from Paddy Conneely (the Galway piper), High O'Beirne (the Leitrim fiddler), and Mr. MacDowell, respectively. Conneely's version (which I give here) is different from the others, and I think it very fine--the finest of all-- published or unpublished. It is, more than the others, a vocal setting, and has not been hitherto printed" [Joyce].
Breathnach (1997) records a story originally related by a man named Wayland (a founder and secretary of the Cork Piper's Club at the turn of the 20th century), who mentions the air in connection with the blind piper Michael O'Sullivan. O'Sullivan has been called the last of the old Kerry Pipers, and lived for a time in Worcester, Massachusetts, before returning to Ireland where he died in the poorhouse in Cahirciveen in 1916. The piper was a man of many exceedingly eccentric fancies and superstitions. He left Cork because he was convinced that his landlady was feeding him fairy butter, although it appears he had also been called away to see after his mother's funeral. Dismayed to find that there was no longer a tradition of keening women at funerals, O'Sullivan was convinced to play his pipes. His mother's coffin was loaded onto an ass-drawn cart for the trip to the graveyard, and O'Sullivan followed behind playing and singing every verse of "Seo leo, a thoil, is ná goil go fóill." When he returned home very late after the funeral her heard a voice singing "An Stáicín Eórna," and was so moved by the eloquence of the music that he strapped on his pipes and played the air.
Upon arising the next day the piper was disconcerted to find that his finger-nail hurt badly, and he sent for the doctor, who removed a grain of barley from the finger. O'Sullivan took this as a sign that the singing he had heard the previous night was the voice of one of the fairy folk, and this was confirmed for him when the finger healed but remained lifeless, despite the doctor's ministrations. He sought the advice of a traveling woman whom he knew who told him to stop playing the pipes for a month, and this he did. When the month was up O'Sullivan went to Bord Eoinín with his instrument, and again met the traveler. He said that he held no hope that he would play well, despairing that there were better pipers now than he, but she told him that he would make money that night. It was a while before he was asked to play, waiting while pipers from all over the country played, but when he did at last "they thought the cups were dancing on the dresser and he was kept playing until daylight. He was acclaimed the finest piper in all Ireland" (Breathnach, The Man and His Music, p. 51).
Source for notated version:
Printed sources: Joyce (Old Irish Folk Music and Songs), 1909; No. 462, p. 258.