Yellow Bittern (The)

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X:1 T:Yellow Bittern, The M:3/4 L:1/8 R:Air N:”Very ancient, author and date unknown.” Q:"Moderately Quick" B:Bunting – Ancient Music of Ireland (1840, No. 77, p. 56) Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:Bb .G .F{G}(F/>D/)|E2 .D(D/E/) .F(F/G/)|(_A2 .G).G .B/(G/F/E/)| .D/>(E/D/C/) .B,/(D/E/B,/) T(C>B,)|.B, {A,}.B,2 G F{G}F/D/|[C2E2] .D(D/>E/) .F(F/>G/)| [B,2D2F2_A2] GG B/G/F/E/|.D(D>C) .B,(B,/>D/) T(C>B,)|(.B,.B,.B,)|| .FF(G/A/)|[D2F2B2] .B.c.d.e|[F2B2d2][F2A2c2] (d/c/d/B/)|[F2A2] (A/c/B/A/) T(G>F)| F [C2F2] (D/>E/) .F(F/>D/)|.E.E .D(D/>E/) .F(F/>G/)|[B,2D2F2_A2] GG .B/(G/F/E/)| .D>(E/D/C/) .B,/(C/E/B,/) {D}.C/(B,/C/D/)|(.B,.B,.B,)||.f .fg/a/| .b2 (.b.c'.d'.e')|.d'2 (.c'.c') (d'/c'/d'/b/)|a2 .a/(c'/b/a/) T(g>f)|.f [A2c2f2] D/>E/ FF/D/| [E2B2] [DB]D/>E/ [FB]F/>G/|([D2F2_A2B2][EGB])G .B/(G/F/E/)|.D>(E/D/C/) .B,/(C/D/B,/) {E}C/(B,/C/D/)|(.B,.B,.B,)||

YELLOW BITTERN, THE (“An Bunnán Buí” or “An Bonnán Buidhe”). Irish, Slow Air (4/4 time). Ireland, Ulster. C Major (Joyce, O’Sullivan/Bunting): D Major (Ó Canainn). Standard tuning (fiddle). One part (Ó Canainn): AB (Joyce, O’Sullivan/Bunting). O'Sullivan (1983) and Ó Canainn (1978) both note the song is still sung today by traditional musicians, to a variety of melodies. O’Sullivan edited the Irish collector Edward Bunting's works but uses the tune as given by the Cork collector William Forde (c. 1846) because it is a closer variant of the modern version than the one in Bunting's 1840 collection. "In Bunting's third collection (1840), p. 56, is given a fine air, The Yellow Bittern: in 3/4 time...(, however, Forde's tune) is in common time and is at least as good as that of Bunting: besides being simpler and more vocal. Compare with 'Maire Aroon'" (Joyce).

The song "The Yellow Bittern" was written in the 18th century by an Ulster poet, Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna (1690–1756). It seems that Buí Mac Giolla Gunna, or in English ‘yellow Charlie Gunn’, went walking one wintry day near his home by the shores of Lough MacNean. He came upon a yellow bittern lying frozen on the icy lake, and Gunn, identifying with the creature, suspected that the death was brought about because the bird could not drink from the iced-over water. His suspicion was the product of his own fears, for one of his greatest was the absence of convivial drink. The song was translated by Thomas MacDonagh, who was ultimately executed for his role in the Easter Rising of 1916, and goes, in part:

It's not for the common birds that I'd mourn,
The blackbird, the corncrake or the crane,
But for the bittern that's shy and apart
And drinks in the marsh from the lone bog-drain.
Oh! If I had known you were near your death,
While my breath held out I'd have run to you,
Till a splash from the Lake of the Son of the Bird
Your soul would have stirred and waked anew.

Additional notes

Printed sources : - Bunting (Ancient Music of Ireland), 1840; No. 77, p. 56. Joyce (Old Irish Folk Music and Songs), 1909; No. 609, p. 314. Ó Canainn (Traditional Slow Airs of Ireland), 1995; No. 104, p. 88. O'Sullivan/Bunting (Bunting's Ancient Music of Ireland), 1983; No. 77, pp. 120–121. O'Sullivan (Songs of the Irish), 1981; p. 124.

Recorded sources : - Globestyle Irish CDORBD 090, Sean MacDonnchadha (et al) – “Hurry The Jug: Classic Recordings Of Songs, Lilting & Storytelling.”

See also listing at :
See the Wikipedia entry on the song [1]

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