MacKenna's Dream

Find traditional instrumental music
Jump to: navigation, search

Back to MacKenna's Dream


MACKENNA'S DREAM. AKA and see "John Doe," "Grand Conversation of Napoleon (The)." Irish, Air (4/4 time). D Mixolydian. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. The song tells of Brian Boru's defeat of the Danes. The first two stanzas go:

One night of late I chanced to stray to shores that's far away
When all the green in slumber lay the moon sank in the deep;
I sat upon a ruined mount and while the wild wind whistled round
The ocean with a solemn sound soon luled me fast asleep.

I dreamt I say that hero true who did the Danish force subdue,
His sabre bright with wrath he drew, these words he said to me:
"The harp with rapture yet shall sound, my children's chains shall be unbound
And they shall gather safe around the bloooming laurel tree!"

"The air of this song, which I remember from my childhood, was otherwise called 'John Doe,' and also 'The Grand Conversation', from a song about Napoleon, of which every verse ended in this, which is the only verse I remember:--

As Mars and Apollo were viewing some implements,
Bellona stepped forward and asked them what news;
Or were they preparing those warlike fine instruments
That had been got rusty for the want of being used.
The actions of Napoleon that made the money fly about,
Until the powers of Europe they did him depose;
But the All-Seeing Eye would not let him run through the world:
This grand conversation was under the rose.

The air may be compared with two others:-- 'Greenfields of America (1)' and 'Purty/Pretty Molly Brallagan.' All are evidently varied forms of the same original; but this--which has not been printed until now--is by far the finest of the group. The words of MacKenn'a Dream, in their original form, as they came from MacKenna's own brain, and as I give them here, have not been hitherto published. But a version is given in 'Ballads, Popular Poetry and Household Songs,' by 'Duncathail,' with much literary polishing up; and this, with some further literary alterations, is published by Mr. Halliday Sparling in his 'Irish Minstrelsy'. But somehow when these simple old peasant songs are altered in this manner, they are seldom improved; and they always lose the fresh racy flavour. I have taken my version, partly from memory, and partly from a ballad-sheet copy in my collection, printed in Cork some seventy years ago. But I have other and later printed ballad-sheet copies with some differences, and all much corrupted. MacKenna, in his vision, sees advance many historical Irish warriors and patriots, from Brian Boru down to the heroes of Ninety-eight" (P.W. Joyce, 1909).

Francis O'Neill (Irish Folk Music a Fascinating Hobby, 1910, p. 69), adds still more South Munster song titles set to variants of the melody, including "Farmer Hayes," "Raking Paudheen Rue," "Bold Undaunted Fox," and "Raking Red-haired Pat." To that list can be added the American Civil War song "Irish Volunteers" which celebrated the Sixty-Ninth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, the "Gallant Sixty-Ninth." Samuel Bayard says the melody developed along two separate lines: one the song air, and one a family of instrumental tunes. See Greenfields of America (1) for more.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Joyce (Old Irish Folk Music and Song), 1909; No. 373, pp. 176-178.

Recorded sources:




Back to MacKenna's Dream