Maid of Mullaghmore (The)

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MAID OF MULLAGHMORE, THE (Maighdean Mhara an Mhullaigh Mhóir). AKA - "Maid of Mullach," "Maid of Mullagh." AKA and see "John Doherty's Reel (1)," "Mermaid of Mullaghmore (The)." Irish, Reel. Ireland, Donegal. D Major ('A' part) & D Mixolydian/Major ('B' part). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. Caoimhin Mac Aoidh (1994) lists this as one of the Donegal tunes played with long bowed double stops, reminiscent of piping. He relates the story behind the tune, which is properly called "The Mermaid of Mullaghnore": It seems that there once was a young captain of a fishing boat out of Teelin who fished in Donegal Bay over towards Mullaghmore. While plying for his catch the captain was repeatedly taken by the lilting of a mermaid and enchanted the man. Soon the mermaid noticed the young sailor and she in turn fell in love with him, so much so that she beseeched her father for permission to live her life on land with her beloved. Upon hearing the earnestness of her pleading her father knew this was no passing fancy and decided that the only thing to do was to kill the source of her affections, and he plotted to create a storm to drown the captain. The mermaid and the captain met before this could happen, trothed their mutual love, and she presented him with a magic dagger, telling him that if ever his life was in danger on the sea that he should toss the implement into the water and the seas would calm. Soon after this the mermaid father seized his chance when the captain went out on the bay to fish. A terrible storm arose and the fishing boat foundered and began to break up. Meanwhile, the mermaid noticed the storm and when she found her father absent she raced to the scene. The captain waited as long as he could before bringing himself to use the knife the mermaid had given him, but seeing no other hope and having already lost several hands, he threw the knife into the water to save himself and his remaining crew and the lo, storm subsided. Soon afterwards the body of the mermaid was found floating on the surface, a knife piercing her breast. Devastated, the Teelin captain returned to land and forsook the sea ever after. The tune the mermaid lilted at the beginning of the tale became known as "Maighdean Mhara Mhullach Mhoir." The tune appears in at least four different versions in Donegal tradition, according to Caoimhin Mac Aoidh. The one by fiddler John Doherty is perhaps the most familiar, although Francie Dearg O'Byrne of Kilcar, Con Cassidy and James Byrne also had variants. The tune is sometimes mis-titled "The Maid of Mullagh" and thus mistakenly thought to have a West Clare provenace by some. Compare "Maid of Mullagh(more)" with O'Neill's "Plaid Mantle" (Dance Music of Ireland, `907, No. 663). When played as a reel the tune is known as "Doherty's Reel (3)," and Donegal fiddler Tommy Peoples has recorded it as "John Dohery's Reel (1)."

John Doherty

Sources for notated versions: a 1965 tape of fiddler John Doherty (1895-1980, Co. Donegal, Ireland) [Breathnach, Feldman & O'Doherty]; set dance music recorded at Na Píobairí Uilleann, late 1980's [Taylor].

Printed sources: Breathnach (CRÉ II), 1976; No. 134, p. 72. Breathnach (CRÉ III), 1985; No. 149. Feldman & O'Doherty (The Northern Fiddler), 1979; p. 83 (appears as "Untitled Highland," although it is a reel). Taylor (Music for the Sets: Blue Book), 1995; p. 25.

Recorded sources: Green Linnet SIF 1113, De Dannan - "Half Set in Harlem."




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