Shamus O'Brien

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X:1 T:Chamois O’Brien M:3/4 L:1/8 S:Viola “Mom” Ruth, 1948 Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:G (dd)||(e2d2B2)|(G2A2B2)|(E2G2E2)|D4 (DD)|G3 (FGB)|(e2d2B2)| (A6|A4) (dd)|(e2d2B2)|(G2A2B2)|(E2F2G2)|e3 (fge)|(d2B2G2)| (A2E2F2)|(G6|G4) (dd)||:e3 (def)|(g2f2e2)|f3 (efd)|B4 (dd)|e3 (def)| (g2f2e2)|(f6|f4) (ge)|(d2B2A2)|(G2A2B2)|(E2F2G2)|e3 (fge)| (d2B2G2)|(A2E2F2)|1 (G6|G4) (dd):|2 (G6|G2) B2d2|(g6|g4)||



SHAMUS O'BRIEN. AKA - "Sheamus O'Brien," “Seamus McManus.” AKA and see "Shamus O'Brien's Waltz," James O'Brien. American, Canadian, Irish; Waltz and Air (3/4 time). USA; Michigan, Missouri, Arkansas, Arizona. G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Johnson, O'Neill): ABB (Ford). “Shamus O’Brien” was a song composed by Kentucky-born William Shakespeare (“Will S.”) Hays (1837-1907), a prolific writer of popular songs in the mid-to-latter 19th century, although none of his over 300 published songs have been enduring[1]. It was published in New York in 1867 under the title “Sheamus O’Brien; Answer to Nora O’Neal,” referring to an earlier song also written by Hays, in 1866. The lyrics to the song begin:

Oh! sweet is the smile of the beautiful moon,
As it peeps thro' the curtains of night,
And the voice of the nightingale singing his tune,
While the stars seem to smile with delight.
Old nature now lingers in silent repose,
And the sweet breath of summer is calm,
While I sit and I wonder if Shamus e'er knows
How sad and unhappy I am.

Chorus:
Oh! Shamus O'Brien, why don't you come home?
You don't know how happy I'll be;
I've but one darling wish, and that is that you'd come,
And for ever be happy with me.

The song air became popular as an instrumental waltz and was in the repertoires a number of fiddlers under different variations of the title; Arizona fiddlers Kenner C. Kartchner and Viola “Mom” Ruth knew it as as “Chamois O’Brien.” The spelling is often given as "Shamus O'Brien," and is presumably a corruption of the Gaelic name Séamus. Francis O'Neill, perhaps on the strength of the Irish sounding name, gave the waltz the titles "James O'Brien" (Music of Ireland, 1903) and "Chamois O'Brien" (O'Neill's Irish Music, 1915), and the Irish-sounding name has prompted suggestions (unsubstantiated, so far) that the melody was originally Irish. There is no evidence that O'Neill picked it up from Irish sources, however[2].

For a long time it was a popular waltz in the Mid-west, and it sometimes appears in New England and Canadian Maritime repertory under the "Shamus" title variant, thus probably not received from O'Neill's publications.


Additional notes
Source for notated version : - Bob Hubbach (Michigan) [Johnson]; Art Galbraith (1909-1993, near Springfield, Mo.), who learned the tune late in life, probably from Cyril Stinnett (Mo.) [Beisswenger & McCann].

Printed sources : - Beisswenger & McCann (Ozarks Fiddle Music), 2008; p. 41. Ford (Traditional Music is America), 1940; p. 140 (lyrics to song on page 405). Johnson (The Kitchen Musician's No. 7: Michigan Tunes, vol. 7), 1986 87; p. 13. O'Neill (O’Neill’s Irish Music), 1915; No. 92, p. 52 (appears as "Sheamus O'Brien"). Ruth (Pioneer Western Folk Tunes), 1948; No. 32, p. 13 (appears as “Chamois O’Brien”).

Recorded sources : - Marimac 9017, Vesta Johnson (Mo.) - "Down Home Rag" (appears as "Shamus O'Brien's Waltz"). MSOTFA 104, Cyril Stinnett - "Salty River Reel" (1992). Rounder Records 0133, Art Galbraith – “Dixie Blossoms” (1981).

See also listing at :
Jane Keefer’s Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [1]



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  1. Hays also wrote "The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane," "Mollie Darling" and "I'll Remember You Love, in My Prayers", absorbed into old-time repertory.
  2. O'Neill often listed his sources for tunes in his Music of Ireland (1903), but he gave no reference for this one.