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Boys of the bluehill.jpg
The Boys of Bluehill

Played by : Leo Rowsome and Frank O'Higgins
Source : The Internet Archive
Image : Leo Rowsome: 78 RPM Imperial Recording (1933)

The Boys of Bluehill

O'Neill (who said the melody was unknown to Chicago Irish musicians beforehand) had the tune from a seventeen year old fiddler named George West, who, though gifted musically, was somewhat indigent and did not own a fiddle. He had formed a symbiotic musical relationship of sorts with one O'Malley, who did own a fiddle and who eked out a meagre living playing house parties despite the loss of a finger from his left hand. O'Malley, however, invariably could only make it to midnight before he became too inebriated to bow, at which time West took over his fiddle and finished the night's engagement. "Thus lived the careless, improvident but talented Georgie, until an incident in his life rendered a trip to the far West advisable." Early American recorded versions on 78 RPM's give the title as "Boys from the Hill" and "Slieve Gorm." Fiddler Tommy Dandurand (Chicago/Kankakee, Illinois) recorded the melody as "Beaux of Oak Hill (1) <div class="mw-ext-score" data-midi="/w/images/lilypond/g/e/gew2xp7lvobbcm7bgljonvsrg9kicfz/gew2xp7l.midi"><img src="/w/images/lilypond/g/e/gew2xp7lvobbcm7bgljonvsrg9kicfz/gew2xp7l.png" width="685" height="52" alt=" X:1 M:2/4 L:1/8 K:D (d/B/)|A/F/D/F/ .A(d/c/)|B/A/B/d/ .e(d/e/)|f/g/f/e/ f/g/f/e/|d/e/f/d/ .B(d/B/)| "/></div> in 1927, and it is this title that is familiar to many American fiddlers not influenced directly by Irish repertoire (of which "Boys of Bluehill" is a staple hornpipe). Earlier recordings of the melody were by Charles D'Almaine (c. 1913), paired with other tunes in his "Fisher's Hornpipe Medley," and by William B. Houchens (1922) in his "Turkey in the Straw" recording.

There are 'Blue Hills' in many regions of the world, including Massachusetts (near Milton and Canton) and Scotland, and a 'Blue Hill' in Maine. The tune is perhaps older in American tradition than in Irish, although its provenance is unknown, although in American tradition it is almost always played as a reel rather than a hornpipe. In the 19th century it appears in publications such as Ryan's Mammoth Collection (1883) as "The Boys of Oak Hill" (by which title it also appears in one of the Scottish Kerr collections). The earliest American printing seems to be as "The Two Sisters" in Knauff's Virginia Reels (1839). More that a century and a half later a version of "The Two Sisters" could be heard in the playing of Appalachian fiddler Sherman Wimmer as the similarly-titled "Twin Sisters" (also played by Ernie Carpenter). Other American variants are the southwestern Virginia/north Georgia Old Ark's a-Moving (The) <div class="mw-ext-score" data-midi="/w/images/lilypond/5/n/5njbgn5ijmv281b3oswtzb63ue88tlb/5njbgn5i.midi"><img src="/w/images/lilypond/5/n/5njbgn5ijmv281b3oswtzb63ue88tlb/5njbgn5i.png" width="650" height="52" alt=" X:1 M:C| L:1/8 K:D |:FG|A2 AB AGF2|AB dc d2de| f2a2 f2 fe|defd B2dB| "/></div> (see Taylor Kimble's version, for an example of that variant), the Pennsylvania-collected "Silver Lake" (which Paul Tyler has also found in an 1842 notebook from Ohio), Ira Ford's Lonesome Katy <div class="mw-ext-score" data-midi="/w/images/lilypond/g/4/g403synd2wf8fljt7ma48w5ebm21ozb/g403synd.midi"><img src="/w/images/lilypond/g/4/g403synd2wf8fljt7ma48w5ebm21ozb/g403synd.png" width="596" height="52" alt=" X:1 M:2/4 L:1/8 K:D A/G/F/G/ AA|B/A/B/c/ ed|f/g/a/f/ ef|d/f/e/d/ BA| "/></div> (probably from the Mid-West) and the Kentucky variant Jenny Baker <div class="mw-ext-score" data-midi="/w/images/lilypond/h/m/hm6ykybosrq9fb944jbnl7m0995onue/hm6ykybo.midi"><img src="/w/images/lilypond/h/m/hm6ykybosrq9fb944jbnl7m0995onue/hm6ykybo.png" width="671" height="52" alt=" X:1 M:C| K:D |: dB | AFDF A2 Ad | BABd e2 d2 | f2 af egfe | dfed B2 dB | "/></div> (from the Jimmy Johnson String Band), and Texas fiddler Lewis Thomasson's "Grandfather's Tune (2)." See as well Ozarks fiddler Vesta Johnson's She oughta been a Lady <div class="mw-ext-score" data-midi="/w/images/lilypond/c/k/ckg8p1p94ol6al7lj6xhvrvj0mmxhkc/ckg8p1p9.midi"><img src="/w/images/lilypond/c/k/ckg8p1p94ol6al7lj6xhvrvj0mmxhkc/ckg8p1p9.png" width="598" height="52" alt=" X:1 M:C| L:1/8 K:D F-A2B A2AA|BABd e2d2|f2 af e2fe|dBA2Bd A2| "/></div> Mel Durham's "Pussy and the Baby," Ozarks Mountains musicians Lee and Fred Stoneking's "Birdie in the Snowbank," and one of the many "Hell on the Wabash" titles, particularly one played by Clay Smith of Star City, Indiana. See also Henry Reed's Sally Ann Johnson <div class="mw-ext-score" data-midi="/w/images/lilypond/q/a/qadf0srcaupwi1g8o3sd8s712y0rciy/qadf0src.midi"><img src="/w/images/lilypond/q/a/qadf0srcaupwi1g8o3sd8s712y0rciy/qadf0src.png" width="620" height="53" alt=" X:1 M:C| L:1/8 K:D F[A2A2][AA][A2A2][A2A2]|BABd ed3|{e}f3d e2d2|fded BdAG| "/></div>

Interestingly, there's some evidence of the melody traveling back to Ireland from American (i.e. non-O'Neill's) sources. A reel called "Keep the Old Ark Rolling" appears on Pádraic Mac Mathúna's album "Blas na Meala," a variant of "The Boys of Bluehill." The liner notes to the album, by Séan Potts, state that it's "one of the many tunes brought to the US by Irish immigrants. The titles and rhythms were often changed to suit the American country style. The melody is almost identical to the Irish hornpipe, The Boys of Bluehill. Pádraic got the tune from two musical friends in Cork, Matt Cranitch and Noel Shine." In fact, Matt Cranitch played in an old-time string band in Cork for a time, and may have picked up the tune from an American player.

...more at: The Boys of Bluehill - full Score(s) and Annotations

X:1 T:The Boys of Bluehill M:2/4 L:1/16 R:hornpipe B:O’Neill, Dance Music of Ireland. 1001 Gems, 1907, no. 898 Z:François-Emmanuel de Wasseige K:D (FG)|BAFA D2(FA)|BABd e2(de)|faaf egfe|dfed B2(dB)| BAFA D2(FA)|BABd e2(de)|faaf egfe|d2dd d2:| |:(fg)|afdf a2(gf)|gfga b2(ag)|faaf egfe|dfed B2(dB)| BAFA D2(FA)|BABd e2(de)|faaf egfe |d2dd d2:|]

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Although we are not trained musicologists and make no pretense to the profession, we have tried to apply such professional rigors to this Semantic Abc Web as we have internalized through our own formal and informal education.
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