Muileann Dubh

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X:1 T:Mullindough, or the Black Laddie M:C| L:1/8 R:Reel or Strathspey B:Aird - Aird's 6th and Last Volume of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs (c. 1803, No. 3, p. 3) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:Ador g|Tedef g2 (f>e)|dG (e/d/c/B/) dGGg|{f}edef g2 f>e|dBgB [A2e2] [Ae]g| Te>def Tg2 f>e|d>gB>g d>gB>g|Te>def gbeg|d<Bg>B A2A|| g|Te>Ae>d eAAB|dG (e/d/c/B/) dGGg|e>Ae>d eAAB|d>Bg>B A2 Ag| e>Ae>d eAAB|dGdB dGGg|e>Ae>f g<be>g|d<gB>g A2A||



MUILEANN DUBH (Black Mill (The)). AKA – "The Devil's Mills," "Mullin Dhu (The Dark Mill)," "Mullin Du." AKA and see "Black Laddie (The)," "Black Mill (The)," "Oyster Wife's Rant/Oyster Wives Rant (The)." Scottish, Canadian; Reel, Strathspey or Air. Canada; Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island. A Dorian (most versions): A Mixolydian (Gow, Lowe, Ross). Standard tuning (fiddle). One part (Skye): AB (Athole, Kerr, McGlashan, Ross, Shears, Surenne): AAB (Gow, Lowe, Martin, Perlman): AABB (Williamson). "Very old" (Skye, Gow). The melody exists in air, strathspey and reel versions. An early appearance of the tune, set as a reel, can be found in the c. 1730–1760 music manuscript collection of fiddler James Christie, Banff, Northeast Scotland, under the title "Snuff in the Black Mill," suggesting that 'black mill' refers to a snuff mill. James Aird (c. 1803) gives the title as "Mullindough, or The Black Laddie," and the exact same tune and title were copied by fifer or fiddler John Fife into his 1780–1804 music copybook (Fife was perhaps from Perthshire, and may also have spent time at sea; there are references to battles in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean in the manuscript).

Puirt a beul (mouth music) words to the tune begin:

Tha nead na circe fraoich anns a' mhuileann dubh,
'Sa Mhuileann dubh 'sa Mhuileann dubh;
Tha nead na circe fraoich anns a' mhuileann dubh,
As t-samhradh.

The moor hen's nest is in the black mill,
The black mill, the black mill
The moor hen's nest is in the black mill,
At summer time.

Apparently, on Cape Breton Island the tune/song was not allowed to be played in certain parts because it was so closely associated with the MacDougalls of Margaree, who apparently were extremely touchy about hearing it played within their earshot! It appears that one line of a stanza of the puirt a beul set to the melody goes "Tha nead circe fraoiche 's a' mhuilean dubh." (In the black mill is the heather-hen's nest). The offense to the Margaree MacDougalls was due to a joke that was told about hens at the expense of the clan, and they were so sensitive to any reference to the joke that they could not tolerate mention of poultry of any kind, and took the playing of the tune to be a veiled insult against the clan.

A story of the tune was related by Gregor MacGregor of Edinburgh, in a letter to John MacKay's The Celtic Monthly of May, 1900 (pp. 159–160), and may have to do with the touchiness of the MacDougalls of Margaree. MacGregor said the verses "recall many happy memories. Fifty years ago [i.e. c. 1850] I often witnessed the young men and maidens of my native village, Camghouran, in Rannoch, Perthshire, dance to the strain of the song, used by an old village worthy as port a bheul." MacGregor associated the title "Muileann Dubh" with a miller, the "last smuggler in Rannoch, known throughout the length and breadth of the land as Am Muillear-dubh. The miller ran an illegal distillery, which MacGregor saw—"the mill lade to the bigging, and the tail race therefrom, the barley steeping...". His letter suggests that all such illegal distilleries were known as Am Muileann-dubh, and the Gaelic verses a reference to the activity:

Only an old Highland herd intimately acquainted with the habits and habitats of grouse, goats, sheep and crodh-laoigh, and who has for many a long winter fortnight sat by the glowing hearth, and heard the smuggling tales then so common, can appreciate the suggestiveness of the song. Every line is pregnant with meaning...I venture to submit that the bard witnessed the stone gable, all that remained, of the now deserted Muileann-dubh, the other parts according to my observation being generally constructed of feal and divot, and easily overthrown...I saw in common with all my schoolfellows the Muillear-dubh above referred to—having been caught flagranti delicto—being led away to Perth Prison by the guager and his minions...The miller was an old man. He had been in trouble previously...[when he died] he was carried to his long home, without stigma, or loss of respect in the district.

Another story of the tune was recited in Gaelic by John Allen Beaton of Broad Cove Marsh, Inverness County, Cape Breton, to researcher Dr. Seósamh Watson in 1982. It seems that a member of the community had taken quite ill one winter, and a man was dispatched to fetch the priest to administer to him. All haste was to be made, as the death was thought to be imminent, but the priest and his summoner were uncommonly fond of music. The passed a mill on the journey to the sickbed, and as they did so they were captivated by a melody emanating from the structure, and they were compelled to stop. Instead of ending, however, the melody played on without conclusion, until finally the priest, remembering his duty, said, "Get going. We'll be late for the sick man. That's the devil in there and he's trying to keep us back. Get Going! We can't be listening to the tune." Upon which they resumed their journey. When they arrived they found they were too late; the man had died. The tune, however, stayed with them, and they called it "Muileann Dubh a' Logadair"; 'The Devil's Mills'. Dr. Watson thought the odd word 'Logadair' may have been a corruption of the Lochaber placename, Auclaucharach, in Glen Roy, Scotland [see An Rubha, vol. 9, No. 1, Winter 2005/06].

The reel is very popular and often recorded by Cape Breton fiddlers, who occasionally play it in B dorian (B minor) rather than the pipe key of A dorian. Barry Shears remarks his pipe version is only one of many settings of the tune played by Cape Breton musicians.


Additional notes
Source for notated version : - George MacPhee (b. 1941, Monticello, North-East Kings County, Prince Edward Island) [Perlman].

Printed sources : - Aird (Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 6), c. 1803; No. 3, p. 3. Carlin (Gow Collection), 1986; No. 406 (appears as "The Mullin Du"). Gow (Complete Repository, Part 3), 1806; p. 23. William Gunn (The Caledonian Repository of Music Adapted for the Bagpipes), Glasgow, 1848; p. 16. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 1), c. 1880; Set 9, No. 2, p. 7. Joseph Lowe (Lowe's Collection of Reels, Strathspeys and Jigs, book 6), 1844-45; p. 4. Martin (Ceol na Fidhle, vol. 4), 1991; p. 9. MacDonald (The Skye Collection), 1887; p. 114. Martin (Traditional Scottish Fiddling), 2002; p. 86. McGlashan (A Collection of Reels), c. 1786; p. 20 (appears as "The Mullin du"). Perlman (The Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island), 1996; p. 96. William Ross (Ross's Collection of Pipe Music), 1869; No. 166, p. 116. Shears (Gathering of the Clans Collection), 1986; p. 59 (pipe setting). Stewart-Robertson (The Athole Collection), 1884; p. 44. Surenne (Dance Music of Scotland), 1852; p. 138. Williamson (English, Welsh, Scotch and Irish Fiddle Tunes), 1976; p. 52 (appears as "The Mullin Dhu").

Recorded sources : - CAT-WMR004, Wendy MacIssac – "The 'Reel' Thing" (1994). Green Linnet SIF 1139, "Eileen Ivers" (1994. Recorded in duet with Natalie MacMaster). Rounder 7001, Joe Cormier – "Scottish Violin Music from Cape Breton Island" (1974).

See also listing at :
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recording Index [1]
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2]
See Paul Cranford's B dorian notation at Cranford Publications [3]
Hear the tune played by fiddler Jo Miller at Tobar am Dualchais [4] (2nd tune, following "Sleepy Maggie").
Hear Cape Breton fiddler Dan Joe MacInnis's 78 RPM recording [5] (preceded by the march "Ninety-First at Modder River (The)").



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