Thursday, July 26, 2018

My Lagan Love by Joseph Campbell

"My Lagan Love" is a song to a traditional Irish air collected in 1903 in northern Donegal.

Leanan sidhe
1) Where Lagan stream sings lullaby
There blows a lily fair
The twilight gleam is in her eye
The night is on her hair
And like a love-sick lennan-shee
She has my heart in thrall
Nor life I owe nor liberty
For love is lord of all.

2) Her father sails a running-barge
'Twixt Leamh-beag and The Druim;
And on the lonely river-marge
She clears his hearth for him.
When she was only fairy-high
Her gentle mother died;
But dew-Love keeps her memory
Green on the Lagan side.

3) And often when the beetle's horn
Hath lulled the eve to sleep
I steal unto her shieling lorn
And thru the dooring peep.
There on the cricket's singing stone,
She spares the bogwood fire,
And hums in sad sweet undertone
The songs of heart's desire

4) Her welcome, like her love for me,
Is from her heart within:
Her warm kiss is felicity
That knows no taint of sin.
And, when I stir my foot to go,
'Tis leaving Love and light
To feel the wind of longing blow
From out the dark of night.

5) Where Lagan stream sings lullaby
There blows a lily fair
The twilight gleam is in her eye
The night is on her hair
And like a love-sick lennan-shee
She has my heart in thrall
Nor life I owe nor liberty
For love is lord of all.

In Scottish Gaelic a "leannan-sidhe" is a Faery Lover. This type of Faery Lover
often takes a person's love and then leaves. He or she goes back where they came
from (Faery Land?) leaving the human pining for their lost love. The poor
mortals in the tales of leannan sidhe often died of sorrow."

You may be quite certain that it is the river that flows through Belfast. The
song was first published in "Songs of Uladh"  [Herbert Hughes and Joseph
Campbell] published in Belfast by William Mullan and Sons, and in Dublin by MH
Gill, 1904. Hughes' preface says: "I made this collection while on holiday in
North Dun-na-n Gall in August of last year." My Lagan Love is on page 32. The
note says, "I got this from Proinseas mac Suibhne who played it for meon the
fidil. He had it from his father Seaghan mac Suibhne, who learned it from a
sapper working on the Ordnance Survey in Tearmann about fifty years ago. It was
sung to a ballad called the "Belfast Maid," now forgotten in Cill-mac-nEnain."
[This pretension in spelling etc is typical of the Gaelic Revival flavour of
this book - it is also embellished with "celtic knots" and fanciful derivations
of half uncial script.]

Lambeg is a village between Lisburn and Belfast and the Drum is the site of a
bridge across the river and the canal that was made beside it, which eventually
diverged from the river and entered Lough Neagh. There
for the sake of scansion! " - JM

To quote from Mary O'Hara's notes on this song, from her book "A Song For
Ireland", - "The leanin sidhe (fairy mistress) mentioned in the song is a
malicious figure who frequently crops up in Gaelic love stories. One could call
her the femme fatale of Gaelic folklore. She sought the love of men; if they
refused, she became their slave, but if they consented, they became her slaves
and could only escape by finding another to take their place. She fed off them
so her lovers gradually wasted away - a common enough theme in Gaelic medieval
poetry, which often saw love as a kind of sickness. Most Gaelic poets in the
past had their leanin sidhe to give them inspiration. This malignant fairy was
for them a sort of Gaelic muse. On the other hand, the crickets mentioned in the
song are a sign of good luck and their sound on the hearth a good omen. It was
the custom of newly-married couples about to set up home to bring crickets from
the hearths of their parents' house and place them


"My Lagan Love" ~ Celtic Woman

The English lyrics have been credited to Joseph Campbell (1879–1944, also known as Seosamh MacCathmhaoil and Joseph McCahill, among others). Campbell was a Belfast man whose grandparents came from the Irish-speaking area of Flurrybridge, South Armagh. He started collecting songs in County Antrim. In 1904 he began a collaboration with composer Herbert Hughes. Together, they collected traditional airs from the remote parts of County Donegal.

The Belfast Maid
While on holidays in Donegal, Hughes had learned the air from Proinseas mac Suibhne, who had learned it from his father Seaghan mac Suibhne, who in turn had learned it fifty years previously from a man working with the Ordnance Survey of Ireland.  Campbell said that mac Suibhne knew the tune under the title of "The Belfast Maid", but did not know the words.  A song by this title was published in various early 19th century broadsides, with the first lines "In Belfast town of high renown / There lives a comely maid".  This ballad now has Roud number 2930.

The Lagan referred to in the title most likely is the River Lagan in Belfast. Campbell's words mention Lambeg, which is just outside the city. The Lagan is the river that runs through Belfast. However, some argue that the Lagan in the song refers to a stream that empties into Lough Swilly in County Donegal, not far from where Herbert Hughes collected the song.

The song was arranged in a classical style by Hamilton Harty; this was used by Mary O'Hara and Charlotte Church.

"My Lagan Love" - Kate Bush

The melody is a common air often applied to ballads and songs throughout the region.  An example is "The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood" Made popular by Pete Singer - God Bless the Grass:


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