The Best Of Irish Piping

Featuring the albums : The Pure Drop & The Fox Chase

Seamus Ennis

TARA 10029

Tracklist CD1 - The Pure Drop
  1. The Pure Drop / The Flax in Bloom (Two Reels)
  2. The Fairy Boy (Slow Air) The Groves Hornpipe / Dwyer's Hornpipe (Hornpipes)
  3. O'Sullivan the Great (March)
  4. When Sick, Is it Tea You Want? / The Humours of Drinagh (Double Jigs)
  5. By the River of Gems / The Rocky Road to Dublin (Slow Air and Slip-Jig)
  6. Ask My Father / Pat Ward's Jig (Two Single Jigs)
  7. Valencia Harbour (Slow Air)
  8. The Standing Abbey / The Stack of Barley (Hornpipes)
  9. The Leitrim Thrush / Miss Johnson (Two Reels)
  10. The Return From Fingal (March)
  11. Chase Me, Charlie / The Dingle Regatta (Two Single Jigs)
  12. White Connor's Daughter, Nora (Slow Air)
  13. Slieve Russell / Sixpenny Money (Two Double Jigs)
  14. Stay for Another While / I Have No Money / The Cushogue (Three Reels)
  15. The Brown Thorn (Slow Air)

CD 2 The Foxchase

  1. Music at the Gate / The Pigeon on the Gate (Two Reels)
  2. The Blooming Meadows / Kitty's Rambles (Two double Jigs)
  3. Ned of the Hill (Slow Air)
  4. Smash the Windows / The Dark Girl in Blue (Two single Jigs)
  5. The Derry Hornpipe / The Cuckoo's Nest (Two Hornpipes)
  6. The Trip We Took Over the Mountain (Song-tune)
  7. The Merry Sisters / Music in the Forge / Castle Kelly (Three Reels)
  8. Johnny Cope (Hornpipe)
  9. The Rainy day / A Fair Wind (Two Reels)
  10. The Fox Chase (Descriptive Piping Piece)
  11. The Braes of Busby / Colonel Frazer (Two Reels)
  12. The Kid On The Mountain (Slip-jig)

Sleeve Notes

MUSICIANS : Seamus Ennis

CD 1 - The Pure Drop

1. The Pure Drop & The Flax in Bloom (Two Reels)
The Pure Drop
This reel has all the hallmarks of an old pipers' reel in that it includes movements peculiar to chanter-playing and lends itself to drone-blending and comfortably attained harmony playing . A simple version appears in O'Neill's collection (Chicago 1903) with this title and it is played on a 78 of the 1930's by Sonny Brogan (accordion) under the title "Hand me Down the Tackle".
The Flax in Bloom
A reel very melodic in its structure and therefore a favourite. It strikes me as being originally a fiddle-player's development but lends itself most aptly to piping.

2. The Fairy Boy (Slow Air)
This is the tune of the song in Gaelic of a mother whose boy-child was taken by the fairies in accordance with the fairy changeling mythological tradition. I have heard a free translation sung, the first verse of which commences: "A woman came when stars were paling….." and ends "wherefore steal my fairy boy?" It was one of my father's favourite airs.

3. The Groves Hornpipe & Dwyer's Hornpipe (Hornpipes)
As a hornpipe recital my father invariably coupled these two tunes, so that they are automatically in sequence in my mind. They are two of the "Big" hornpipes, each having more than two or three "parts" (extensions of theme) and are heard at their best in piping.

4. O'Sullivan the Great (March)
If the O' Sullivan had one, as other Clans had, this is presumably their Clan-March and is a striking, hard-hitting melody. It seems to have been a popular one, too, for I know of two songs in English, sung to this tune: "I'll Marry and I'll never be a Nun". And a song of sentimental pathos "The Better that He longed for Never Came".

5. When Sick, Is it Tea You Want? & The Humours of Drinagh (Double Jigs)
There are three forms of the Jig in Irish traditional music: the double jig (time signature 6/8), the single jig (12/8) and the slip of hop-jig (9/9). We get the term from the Continental gig and jigga dance-music rhythm. These tunes are both included in "O'Neill's" so titled.
When Sick, Is it Tea You Want ?
Melodically arresting, this tune carries the disposition of the musician when hospitality affords something more desirable than tea on "the morning after the night before" of alcoholic indulging as an introductory anecdote suggests.
The Humours of Drinagh
There are at least two places named Drinagh in Ireland. One in Co. Cork and one in Co. Westmeath. "Humours", which occurs in many Irish tune-titles would seem to refer to a very enjoyable, musically festive night or occasion. My father and I, together, learned this jig from the piping of one Philip Martin of Omagh, Co. Tyrone, in the 1930's. He had no name for it, but I have since found it in "O'Neill's".

6. By the River of Gems & The Rocky Road to Dublin (Slow Air and Slip-Jig)
It was a custom with the old pipers to follow a slow sir, in particular a lament, with a cheerful dance-measure. I have done so here, selecting a lively slip-jig in the same mode and key.
By the River of Gems
I learned this from the singing in West Cork of an old Gaelic Aisling, or dream-ballad, particularly as sung by Miss Maire Ni Chrochain of Coolea. The "Gems" of the title are the imagery of the bard, referring to the glittering of lights and shades in the river's pure waters and are brought forth brilliantly in some of the tunes' nuances. This struck me forcibly when I first heard Maire singing the song.
The Rocky Road to Dublin
Some fragments of Macoronie (Irish and English) words survive, to this tune. A complete, enteraining ballad of the sortie of a West-of-Ireland-man as far as Liverpool, under the same title, is published in a collection, "Irish Street Ballads" (O'Lochlainn, Three Candle Press, Dublin, 1939) to this tune. I include here a third part or theme-extension which I've never known anyone but my father to play.

7. Ask My Father & Pat Ward's Jig (Two Single Jigs)
Ask My Father
This is most certainly a pipers' tune, primarily as the "cranning" (a piper's gracing of the dominant) and other features make manifest. An anecdote relating to its title tells how a young piper, when asked what was its name, seemingly did not know and replied as above - and the name stuck.
Pat Ward's Jig
As a child, I remember Pat Ward. He was a native of Drogheda an old man with a white crescent-shaped beard. He played a double changer - two reeds, two bores and two stop-holes for each finger, as compared with the usual single piece. I would compare his tone with that of a very mellow concertina, to the best of my recollection, for I was but a child when he was tragically killed by a motor-bus near his own house. My father learned this tune from him and as he had no name for it we referred to it as above at all times.
Notice that the accepted performing-rhythm of the single jig is nearly identical with that of the hornpipe - a "common" tune simulated by the four threes of 12/8.

8. Valencia Harbour (Slow Air)
"Valencia" is from the Gaelic Beal Inse - The Island-mouth, for Valencia Island is situated almost in the mouth of what would otherwise be an open bay, between Donlus Head and Portmagee in the extreme West of Iveragh (pron. Eevraw) Peninsula in Kerry. A schoolmaster named "Connor, Master Riordan", in making a change of schools from one district to another, had his books transported across the bay by a local boatman. The story has it that the board foundered, Riordan's books were lost and he composed a song in Gaelic grandiosely lamenting the tragedy of the "Mighty Vessel", naming it "The Song of The Books". I learned this tune, its song history as above and the lyric from the late Colm O'Lochlainn, author of "Irish Street Ballads" (v. note on item 6) who sporadically studied piping under my father's tutelage.

9. The Standing Abbey & The Stack of Barley (Hornpipes)
The Standing Abbey
Named or both composed and named in honour of some abbey which survived one or many of the pillage orgies of the would-be oppressor, or the roofless walls of which were still standing gutted by incendiaries. To my mind the tune exudes sadness and defiance, alternately, and is primarily the music of a piper for it communicates much more from him than from any other instrumentalist.
The Stack of Barley
This very melodic tune is, by name, dedicated to the much-treasured amount of the grain apportioned to the distilling of "The Pure Drop". The "Stack" in its Gaelic title is "Staicin", a diminutive suffix being used for endearment. Again it is primarily a piper's piece, in my opinion. An ersatz Irish Song, Kerry Long Ago", has been written to this tune.

10. The Leitrim Thrush & Miss Johnson (Two Reels)
The Leitrim Thrush
To anyone who is familiar with native bird-song, it would be unnecessary to try and trace here the inspiration for this melody and I daresay its originator was a thrush heard in Co. Leitrim! My mind relegated this one to the fiddle.
Miss Johnson
Undoubtedly this reel is a tribute by a musician of long ago either to a woman noted for hospitality or a fair damsel who merited his adulation, which may have been unrequited, for with all its liveliness it carries a sad motif. Again, its occasional wailing is that of the fiddle, in my ears.

11. The Return From Fingal (March)
The Return From Fingal
This is a tune of Triumph and Defiance with a skillful depicting of after-battle weariness interwoven. It is believed to intend association with the aftermath of the Battle of Clontarf (A.D. 1014) in Fingal, where the High King Brian Boru led his men and drove a Danish invasion back into the sea. Fingal is an old name for the northern half of what is today the County of Dublin, and is an Anglicisation of Fine Gall, the Foreigners' Gall, The Foreigners' Territory.

12. Chase me Charlie & The Dingle Regatta (Two Single Jigs)
Chase me Charlie
This is possibly of Scottish origin, for it is well known in Scotland as a 6/8 march named "Cock 'O The North". It gets the name here from a nonsense-jingle and another jingle would entitle it "Aunty Mary Had a Canary".
The Dingle Regatta
I am of the opinion that this is a new name for a very old tune. Its first part is erroneously coupled in recent years with the second part of another single jig. I have both jigs in their entirety from source - a district in East Derry where the single jig is still a very popular measure today, being played for the dancing of the old "Kerry Sets" and called a "Slide".

13. White Connor's Daughter, Nora (Slow Air)
White Connor's Daughter, Nora
There is a man named Colm Keane, living at Glynsk, 4 miles north of Carna in Connemara, now in his late seventies, from whom I had the privilege of writing down 212 songs, before mobile recording was an established means of collecting. Colm, though utterly illiterate, knows his patronymics from oral tradition: Colm, Son of John, son of Martin, son of Thomas, son of Michael, son of "Big Connor" Keane.

The Nora of the song to which this is the tune, a song of unrequited love, was "Big Connor's" daughter. He was the only one in all my experience who had the tune in its entirety, for the second or "higher" half of the tune was all I had ever heard elsewhere. This, in my collecting experience, tends to be an unconscious inclination with numerous folk-singers where tunes of this structure are concerned.

14. Slieve Russell & Sixpenny Money (Two Double Jigs)
Slieve Russell
Slieve is the Anglicisation of the Gaelic Sliabh, a mountain or moor, and Russell an English ascendancy surname. Despite many casual enquiries throughout the years, I have never succeeded in placing it, nor did my father. I have been more the enquired of than the enquirer and one said "It could be a knob of a hill anywhere". Our inability to locate its title, however does not take from its lilting attractiveness.
Sixpenny Money
This jig's characteristics point to its being primarily a pipers' piece. Folk-tradition maintains that it was a tune played by a piper when the hat was being passed around for subscriptions from the company and he, disdaining coppers, politely called out the name of his tune as above. This is certainly one of the old pipers' jigs and owes it s survival to my fathers playing.

15. Stay for Another While : I Have No Money & The Cushogue (Three Reels)
Stay for Another While
I Have No Money
The Cushogue

To my father, these would be three "Run-of-the-mill" pipers' reels, because of this familiarity with the old pipers, apart form their melodic attractiveness. The first one is alternatively named "Stay and Have Another One" - words which fit its first phrase. The second is purported to have been named by a piper when the hat was being passed around and the last name, translated from Gaelic, means a blade of grass and also a common rush. Incidentally a rush inserted in the barrel of a musical pipe (changer etc.) makes its bore narrower and flattens its pitch. Therefore it is used extensively in tuning pipes.

16. The Brown Thorn (Slow Air)
The Brown Thorn
(No available notes).

CD 2 - The Fox Chase

1. Music at the Gate & The Pigeon on the Gate (Two Reels)

Music at the Gate is an old reel my late father had; very lively in its melodic sequences. I do not think I have ever heard anyone else play it, but it is obviously the tune to which "Phil the Fluter's Ball " is sung, though more elaborate in its present form. The Pigeon on the Gate was and still is a very popular reel among Irish traditional musicians. My version is one which my father had from the old pipers.

2. The Blooming Meadows & Kitty’s Rambles (Two Double Jigs)
The Blooming Meadows is a tune which conjures up the peace of mind associated with the lush bounty of a good season and the balmy humming of bees on a warm summer's afternoon. Kitty's Rambles takes us on a variety of expeditions with her enquiring turn of mind and her conclusions. This is my father's version and I learned "The Blooming Meadows" from the late Michael Gorman, one of the last "Daddies" of Co. Sligo fiddle-playing.

3. Ned of the Hill (Slow Air)
Ned of the Hill is the tune of an old Gaelic song which consists of Ned's conversation with his sweetheart when he knocks on her door seeking shelter whilst on the run, sought by the alien authority he had flouted and bemoaning his plight "Drenched, cold and wet from eternal tramping of valleys and mountains". A very free translation by James Clarence Mangan, sung to this tune makes for a beautiful song in English.

4. Smash the Windows & The Dark Girl in Blue (Two Single Jigs)
Smash the windows, one of my father's favourites, is a tune of abandon and gaiety, calling for no small amount of expression in its playing, as its title would denote. The Dark Girl in Blue, an East Kerry indigenous, goes into raptures of admiration for a girl among the dancers for whom the tune was played and named in her honour.

5. The Derry Hornpipe & The Cuckoo’s Nest (Two Hornpipes)
The Derry Hornpipe was, I feel sure, a tune much favoured by harpers of old, for it contains many harp-string sequences, but lends itself admirably to piping, particularly in its latter stages, which were assuredly pipers' addenda. The Cuckoo's Nest (the tune that never was!) is a pipers' development of an old song sir: "And I'll lay you down to rest in the Magpie's Nest". Eoin Rua O'Sullivan, the 18th Century Gaelic poet wrote a song to this tune, "An Spealadoir" (The Scythesman) and it is sometimes given that title.

6. The Trip We Took Over The Mountain (Song-tune)
The Trip We Took Over the Mountain, to give it its full title, is a song of courtship in which the singer invites a girl to come for a walk with him over the mountain. She agrees and "I hope you'll excuse my simplicity over the mountain". This tune definitely stems from my grandfather, and the words are extant.

7. The Merry Sisters : Music in the Forge & Castle Kelly (Three Reels)
The Merry Sisters strikes me as being the musical embodiment of a man's dilemma as he tries to choose between the three, with arguments for and against each, unsuccessfully. Music in the Forge plays about with hammer and anvil-ringing and Castle Kelly is a piper's tribute to his patron's hospitality. The Kellys were West of Ireland Irish ascendancy.

8. Johnny Cope (Hornpipe)
Johnny Cope is something of an enigma to me in that it is basically the tune of a near-Doric Scots song with hunting overtones, but in the Irish instrumental hornpipe-guise enjoys the distinction of being probably our longest tune, having six parts or six variations on its theme. The question arises: is it an Irish or a Scots melody? I learned it from the late Padruig O'Caoimh of East Kerry, the last of what were known as the fiddle-masters, teachers of traditional fiddle-playing, who died exactly ten years ago.

9. The Rainy Day & A Fair Wind (Two Reels)
The Rainy Day was not an unheard-of day in Irish agricultural communities and it conveys an air of time hanging heavily on idle hands and minds whilst tilling, hay making or harvesting suffers a depressing setback - though a note of hope reveals itself like the lightening of an overcast sky, only to be dashed to gloom again by a heavier patter of rain on the barn roof. A Fair Wind can be the title of an agricultural or seafaring community. In my own opinion the latter is more suiting as the reel smacks of serene sailing.

10. The Fox Chase (Descriptive Piping Piece)
The Fox Chase This is the only 'great' of descriptive pieces, purely as such, in Irish traditional music. Based , for its theme, on "The Little Red Fox" tune - a song in Gaelic- it portrays the individual trot on horseback to the meet, the hunt leisurely setting out, following the hounds as the search for a fox's scent starts, the excitement when the hounds pick up a scent only to react disappointedly when it proves to be an old one: very soon a fresh scent is found, the ''Hark-Away'' to the hounds giving voice, the '' View- Halloo'' as the fox is seen, the horn of the master of the hunt, the yelping of the hounds giving full cry, the chase with all its excited speeding-up and, inevitably, the kill. Then the fox is lamented with the most poignant, wailing melody I have ever heard, whereupon the hunt jogs happily homeward to the light and airy tune of the fox-hunters' jig, (having had an enjoyable and successful hunt, pleasing to all) which finishes with a very conclusive final cadence.

This is the Fox-Chase of the old pipers as my father culled it from them. I have heard several incomplete renderings of it through the years, resorting to inventiveness where lacking, and departing from the main theme.

11. The Braes of Busby & Colonel Frazer (Two Reels)
The Braes of Busby is probably an Ulster fiddle - players' reel, It falls in with that dialect of fiddle playing and "brae" is a Northern and Scots word. I learned this whilst in my 'teens from the piping of the late Dan Nugent of Dublin whom I've seen play himself to sleep on his chair with this same tune! Colonel Frazer is melodically very close to it. It is not known who was Colonel Frazer, but the beautiful melody of this reel would show that he was an honoured and well-liked man. It is one of a select number that never goes under any other title, nor is the title erroneously given to any other tune.

12. The Kid On The Mountain (Slip-jig)
The Kid On The Mountain is really a descriptive piece, for it depicts the lost, forlorn, lonely kid in desolate surroundings, imitating its forsaken bleating.

Where my notes do not state otherwise, I learned all of these items from my father, R.I.P.
Seamus Ennis - Dublin, November 1972.

To the connoisseur and keen student of traditional music, the name Ennis stands out among the greats in Uilleann piping. His skill as a piper has come directly to him from his father who was considered to be the last of the pipers in the idiom or dialect of the old piping tradition. His piping was in fact (Seamus tells me ) of select synthesis of all that was best in the playing of old pipers he met and heard at the old Oireachtas Festivals during the first ten years of this century, polished up by a tuition course with Nicholas Markey, a master-piper then resident in Dublin.

In addition to being an expert performer Seamus is also renowned folklorist and Gaelic Scholar. These latter accomplishments give him an undoubted advantage in the interpretation of our native music. This is particularly evident in the perfection and beauty of his slow air playing. One never tires of his music. The more often it is heard the more one appreciates the finer points of his piping.

I made my own way up on tin whistle and at the age of twelve got my first practice chanter, but until meeting Seamus and hearing him play I never realised that the field of piping could be so fast and comprehensively embraced by the ability of the old pipers. When I hear Seamus I am listening to the specialised playing of the old pipers, as distinct form a rendering on a woodwind instrument, and as his selection here is for the most part from the repertoire of his father, who he tells me, played to him in his cradle, the above titles 'The Pure Drop' and 'The Foxchase' cover a multitude!

Liam O'Flynn