Pearl of the Irish Nation (2)

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PEARL OF THE IRISH NATION [2]. Irish, Air and Song Tune (6/8 time). D Mixolydian. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. "There is a song to this air written by Patrick O'Kelly, a wandering peasant poet of the beginning of the last (i.e. 18th) century, who discloses his name in the last verse: a custom found in other songs" (Joyce). The song from Joyce's source begins:

Though many there be that daily I see,
Of virtuous beautiful creatures,
With red rosy cheeks and ruby lips,
And likewise comely features:
Yet there is none abroad or at home,
In country or town or plantation,
That can be compared to this maiden fair—
The Pearl of th’ Irish Nation.

However, song is quite old and there are different versions and branches. It was printed on broadsides as early as the first decade of the 18th century. A copy in the National Library of Scotland [1] begins:

Hard was my Lot for to be shot,
By Cupits Cunning Arrows,
Both Night and Day I fall away,
Through persit grief and Sorrow,
To the Hills and Deals left Reveal,
And breaths forth my Lamentation,
Which I endure for that Virgin pure,
The Pearel of the Irish Nation.

Her Beauty so bright hath dazled my Sight,
and alas my poor Heart it is wounded,
No way can I find for to ease my Mind
By Cupit I am fore wounded,
Great is my Pain that I sustain,
and sad is my grief and Vexcation,
And all for the sake of a Beautiful Dame,
The Pearl of the Irish Nation.

Donal O'Sullivan, who edited the Bunting collection, found "Pearl of the Irish Nation" as an alternative title for "Charming Fair Eily (The)", an air printed by Belfast collection Edward Bunting (1773-1846) in his own 1809 publication. O'Sullivan noted that Bunting employed the tune as a setting for one of Thomas Campbell's imitations of old ballads, "Lord Ullin's Daughter" (sans the usual title).

The air was known in Scotland as early as 1751, and survived in tradition into the 20th century in variants from the island of Uist in Western Scotland. Similarly, Scots variants survived in Cape Breton, where a version of the tune was employed by Judique bard Alexander MacLean for his song "Oran do Theàrlach Caimbeul." Another Scottish version (also known on Cape Breton) is "Òrain an t-Saighder (Oran an t-Seathaich/The Solider's Song) by Alexander Grant of Achnagoneran, Glenmoriston, born about 1772, a soldier who served during the Wars with France at the end of the 18th century. He was wounded and returned to the Highlands, only to die on his way to his father's house in Glenmoriston. The Gaelic song "Oran na h-Aoise", printed in John MacKenzie's Sar-Obair nam Bard Gaelach: or the Beauties of Gaelic Poetry (1841) is directed to be sung to "The Pearl of the Irish Nation."

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Joyce (Old Irish Folk Music and Songs), 1909; No. 45, p. 25.

Recorded sources:




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