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PRIMROSE LASSES (Cailm a Muisean). AKA = "The Primrose Lass/Lassy" (Gearrchaile an tSabhaircín), "Primrose Girl (2) (The).” AKA and see "Brown Eyed Girl (The)," "Kilworth Lasses (The)," "Maids (The)," "St. Patrick's Night.” Irish, Canadian; Reel or Highland Fling. Canada, Cape Breton. G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Dunlay & Greenberg, Dunlay & Reich): AAB (Kennedy): AABB (Breathnach, Cole, Mulvihill, O'Neill): AABB’ (Harker/Rafferty). Probably Irish in origin, and first appears in vol. 2 of the large music manuscript collection of County Cork cleric and uilleann piper James Goodman. Fiddler Joseph Tansey recorded the reel in under the title "St. Patrick's Night." The second strain could be substituted for that of "Boys of Portaferry (The)," although the first part is incompatible. The tune has long been popular in Inverness County, Cape Breton, and was recorded on a wire recording in 1949 from the playing of 'The Big Fiddler', John Alex MacDonald, aged 73. John Campbell recorded it and called it simply “A Mabou Reel" although it is usually known as "Primrose Lass/Lasses" on Cape Breton. The tune was used by the English guitarist and traditional singer Martin Carthy for his version of the song “Seven Drunken Nights” (recorded with Steeleye Span). Perhaps the earliest sound recording of the melody, however, was by Captain Francis O’Neill, on an early Edison cylinder machine, of the playing of Chicago fiddler John McFadden (originally from County Mayo). Philippe Varlet believes O’Neill acquired the machine after seeing it at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
Sources for notated versions: John Campbell (Cape Breton) [Dunlay & Greenberg, Dunlay & Reich]; piper Felix Doran, 1967 (Co. Killmany, Ireland) [Breathach].
Printed sources: Breathnach (CRÉ II), 1976; No. 189, p. 99. Cole (1000 Fiddle Tunes), 1940; p. 5 (appears as "The Primrose Lass"). Dunlay & Greenberg (Traditional Celtic Violin Music from Cape Breton), 1996; p. 97. Dunlay & Reich (Traditional Celtic Fiddle Music from Cape Breton), 1986; p. 63. Harker (300 Tunes from Mike Rafferty), 2005; No. 1, p. 1. Kennedy (Traditional Dance Music of Britain and Ireland: Reels and Rants), 1997; No. 162, p. 38 (appears as “Primrose Girl”). Mulvihill (1st Collection), 1986; No. 53, p. 130 (listed as a highland fling). O’Brien (Jerry O’Brien’s Accordion Instructor), 1949 (appears as Highland Fling, “Primrose Lass”). O'Neill (O’Neill’s Irish Music), 1915; No. 267, p. 137. O'Neill (Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems), 1907; No. 733, p. 128. Ryan’s Mammoth Collection, 1883; p. 29.
Recorded sources: Rounder 7003, John Campbell - "Cape Breton Violin Music" (1976). Cape Breton's Magazine Tape, Mike MacDougal - "Mike MacDougal's Tape For Fr. Hector." Rounder RO7023, Natalie MacMaster - “No Boundaries” (1996). Shanachie SH-78010, Solas - “Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers” (1997). WMT002, Wendy MacIsaac – “That’s What You Get” (1998?).