Miller's Maggot (The)

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MILLER'S MAGGOT, THE. Irish, Single Jig (6/8 time). G Major/E Minor (Joyce, Songer): F Major/D Minor (O'Farrell). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Joyce): AABB (O'Farrell): AABB' (Songer). The word maggot refers to a unit of liquid measure, a dram (see Joyce, 1909), although in archaic use (e.g. Playford) a 'maggot' meant a slight or small tune, a plaything, a whim; from the Italian maggioletta, or plaything. The tune can be (and is) played as a single jig or slide and has a history in Irish repertory dating to the 19th century. This is a rare instance in which a tune has kept but one name for centuries, although it is associated in the 20th century with the playing of concertina and fiddler John Kelly (1912-1987), originally from Rehy, Loop Head, Co. Clare, who lived most of his life in Dublin.

There is a possibility it does not have an Irish provenance. It appears earliest in Irish uilleann piper O'Farrell's National Music (1804), but O'Farrell was resident in London and his collections include Scottish and English tunes as well as Irish ones, and he does not indicate the source for this tune. There are few Irish tunes called "Maggots," which is usually an English or lowland Scots term.

The name 'Miller's Maggot' was once associated with a structure, built in 1810 to honor an Irish clergyman, Dr. William Richardson, of Clonfeckle, Ireland, not long after O'Farrell published his collection. The stone monument (now called Clonfeacles Tower) was erected on a height on Clonfeacle farm, overlooking Dalswinton, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, by agricultural experimenter and inventor, Glasgow-born Patrick Miller [1] (1731-1815), who is probably best remembered as poet Robert Burns' benevolent landlord of May, 1788. Miller decided to honor the cleric because Richardson first preached the virtues of a grass called 'fiorin' (agrostis stolonifera). In 1813 Miller had the farm under cultivation with the strain and wrote that he was "confident that this grass will have the effect to furnish much additional food for man and beast, as many fields now lying waste will be covered with it." Unfortunately, only the latter assertion proved true, as the weed proliferated wildly in the Scottish clime, and soon was considered a noxious weed of little or no value. [see Carswell, Life of Robert Burns, 2010, p. 394].

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Joyce (Old Irish Folk Music and Song), 1909; No. 438, pg. 248. O'Farrell (National Irish Music for the Union Pipes), 1804; p. 31. Songer (Portland Collection), 1997; p. 135.

Recorded sources: Kerry Elkin - "Soir et Matin" (1990). Shanachie Records, Solas - "Solas" (1996).

See also listings at:
Alan Ng's [2]

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