Si Bheag Si Mhor
X:1 T:Si Bheag, Si Mhor M:3/4 L:1/8 Q:225 K:D Major de|f3ed2|d3ed2|B4 A2|F4 A2|BA Bc d2|e4 de|f4 e2|d4 f2| B4 e2|A4 d2|F4 E2|D4 f2|B4 e2|A4 dc|d6 |d4:|* de|f3 e d2|ed ef a2|b4a2|f4 ed|e4 a2|f4 e2|d4 B2|B4 BA| F4 E2|D4 f2|B4 e2|A4 a2|ba gf ed|e4 dc|d6 |d4:|**
SI BHEAG, SI MHOR. AKA - "Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór," "Sidh Beag agus Sidh Mor," "Sheebag Sheemore," “Sheebeg and Sheemore,” “Shebeg, Shemore,” “Shi Bheag, She Mhor.” AKA and see "Hills of Habersham (The)," "Bonny Cuckoo (The)." Irish, Air (3/4 time). D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). One part (Ó Canainn): AB (Cranitch, O’Sullivan): AABB (most versions). The air, according to O'Sullivan (1958) and tradition, was probably the first composed by blind Irish harper Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738). The title of the air often appears as “Sheebag, Sheemore,” an Englished version of the original Gaelic Si Bheag, Si Mhor which means "little faerie, big faerie,” but it has been suggested that Sí is derived from the medieval Irish siod, meaning "fairy hill" or "fairy mound;" thus the title may also refer to "big fairy hill, little fairy hill." In the mid-20th century the tune was picked up by Seán O Ríada, and, in 1972 was recorded by Planxty, effectively popularizing it in modern times.
As a young man Carolan first found favor at the house of his first patron, Squire George Reynolds of Lough Scur at Letterfain, Co. Leitrim (himself a harper and poet). It is said that Carolan was at this time only moderately skilled at the harp and the Squire advised him to direct his talents to composing, as he “might make a better fist of his tongue than his fingers.” It is likely this was Carolan’s first attempt at composition. His inspiration was a story told to him by Reyonolds of Si Bheag and Si Mhor, two ranges of hills near Lough Scur, that according to local lore were the seats of two groups of fairies of opposing disposition. The these hosts engaged in a great battle, in which Finn McCool and his Fianna were defeated. Some versions of the legend relate that the mounds were topped by ancient ruins, with fairy castles underneath where heros were entombed after the battle between the two rivals. Squire Reynolds is supposed to have been much pleased by the composition. The ‘fairy mounds’ appear to have been ancient conical heaps of stones and earth called motes or raths, prehistoric remnants. See O’Sullivan (1958) notes to No. 202 (pgs. 295-296) for a more complete explanation. O'Sullivan believes the air to be an adaptation of an older piece called "An Chuaichín Mhaiseach" ("The Bonny Cuckoo" or "The Cuckoo"), which can be found in O'Neill, Bunting (1796) and Mulholland's Collection of Ancient Irish Airs (1810). Collector Edward Bunting (1773-1843) included the ‘Cuckoo’ melody in his Ancient Music of Ireland (1840), with the note (Introduction, p. 95): “From this ancient melody procured by the Editor in the poetical district of Ballinascreen [County Sligo], another tune, ‘The little and great mountain’ [‘Sheebeg and Sheemore’] seems to have been arranged with some slight variations.” A dance by Gail Tickner appeared in CDSS news #69, March/April 1986 by the title "The Bonny Cuckoo" to the melody. Under the title “The Irish Cuckow” the melody appears in the MacLean-Clephane MS., the work of either Echlin O’Cathain or Anna-Jane MacLean-Clephane, according to Bonnie Shaljean (Appendix to the 2001 edition of Donal O’Sullivan’s 1958 Carolan). Anna-Jane and her sisters were the wards of Sir Walter Scott after the death of their father, and Scott admired Anna-Jane’s accomplishments in music and poetry. The notation of the piece in the MS. includes a bottom line of music, not a bass, but rather a repeat of the opening line so that it forms a canon, and then a counter melody. Ms. Shaljean points out this would not have worked well on the sustained tones of Carolan’s wire-strung harp, but may have been added by Anna-Jane herself.
The following set of words for "Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór" was published by the Irish Text Society in The Poems of Carolan (Amhrain Chearbhallain):
Imreas mór tháinig eidir na ríoghna,
Mar fhíoch a d'fhás ón dá chnoc sí,
Mar dúirt an tSídh Mór go mb'fhearr í féin,
Faoi dhó go mór ná 'n tSídh Bheag.
"Ní raibh tú ariamh chomh uasal linn,
I gcéim dár ordaíoch i dtuath ná i gcill;
Beir uainn do chaint, níl suairceas ann,
Coinnigh do chos is do lámh uainn!"
An tráth chruinnigh na sluaite bhí an bualadh teann,
Ar feadh na machaireacha anonn 's anall;
'S níl aon ariamh dár ghluais ón mbinn
Nár chaill a cheann san ár sin.
"Parlaidh! Parlaidh! agus fáiltím daoibh,
Sin agaibh an námhaid Charn Chlann Aoidh,
Ó bhinn Áth Chluain na sluaite díobh,
'S a cháirde grá dhach, bí páirteach!"