I read a nice article this Sunday in The New York Times Travel Section about a young man’s growing interest in military history and how it influenced his family’s vacation plans to include visits to a surprising range of battlefields and not just in the United States.  Their travels included visits to Aughrim in Ireland and Culloden in Scotland.  Places I’m almost relieved to say I’ve also visited in my many romps around battlefields in my travels.   I was pleased to see the interest in military history being carried on by a member of the younger generation, especially since it included both Irish and Scottish (and by extension British) military history.

But one element of the story echoed our recent discussion of Irish music as an introduction to that history.  The young man’s mother, the author of the article, long resisted and may even have been a bit dismayed by her son’s seemingly bloodthirsty interest, until she encountered a song during one of the readings she had chosen to escape the vicarious bloodbath.  In one of those to me delicious ironies when perhaps the universe chose to speak to her, she was reading James Joyce’s “The Dubliners” while the male members of the family continued their investigations of the battlefield at Aughrim.

In the article she describes how one of Joyce’s characters, Gretta, overhears a young tenor singing on the main floor as she listens at the top of the stairs.  Gretta recognizes the song, “The Lass of Aughrim” from a snatch of lyric: “O, the rains fall on my heavy locks, and the dew wets my skin, My babe lies cold….”  Our modern mother and reader describes how she realized that this linked her to “that cold, sad battlefield we had just left.  The chills crawled up my arms and spine, and from that day on, I never took any of Dean’s history lessons for granted.”

I freely confess that the song did not ring a bell with me and investigation showed that, as is often the case, there are several versions of the lyrics available and it seems the tune and story are interlinked with several Scottish and English songs as well, but I liked this version from The Lyrics Mania website, credited to Beth Patterson:

If you'll be the lass of Aughrim
As I'll take you to be
Tell me that first token
That passed between you and me

Oh don't you remember
That night on yon lean hill
When we both met together
I am sorry now to tell

Oh the rain falls on my yellow locks
And the dew soaks my skin;
My babe lies cold in my arms;
Lord Gregory, let me in

Oh the rain falls on my heavy locks
And the dew soaks my skin;
My babe lies cold in my arms;
But none will let me in.


It turns out that The Chieftains also recorded an extended tune called “The Battle of Aughrim” on their The Chieftains 4 album. 

Views: 393

Tags: Aughrim, Chieftains, Dubliners, Galway, James Joyce, Traditional Music, battlefields, music

Comment by Fran Reddy on October 15, 2014 at 7:25am

Interesting story Robert! And quite a haunting melody to be sure..

Comment by Bit Devine on October 15, 2014 at 11:04am

Frank Patterson does my favorite version of the Lass of Aughrim... Many have covered it..

It was included in the 1987 film The Dead and in the movie Nora

Nora, James Joyce's wife, was from Aughrim

Comment by Christi L Caughey on October 15, 2014 at 5:40pm

What is that lovely painting??  Cool article too!

Comment by Bit Devine on October 15, 2014 at 6:11pm

It looks like a JW Waterhouse painting... I believe it is titled "Flower wind"... or perhaps I have it backwards and it is "Windflower"

Comment by Jean Sullivan Cardinal on October 16, 2014 at 1:08pm

Beautifully haunting song.

Comment by Christi L Caughey on October 16, 2014 at 2:26pm

Thanks to all who gave me the name of the painting and the artist.  I have a lovely print on my wall and did not know where to begin on the search! 

And Jean SC the song is beautiful!


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