From The United Irishman, October 7, 1899.
From the time that the English tongue found any foothold in Ireland there have been Irishmen who have given their songs to the world through that medium. None of their names have survived, but a few of their strains still live, and in one or two cases fully deserve to have survived. “The Blackbird,” one of the most plaintive of the Jacobite songs, is believed to have been the first Irish song written in English, but “Shule Aroon” is probably older, and save for its Irish chorus should head the list as the first of Anglo-Irish songs. Since then most of the Anglo-Irish poets have contributed to the lyric literature which all the world labels “English.” Swift, the Sheridans, Delany, Brooke, Concanen, O’Hara, O’Keeffe, Bickerstaffe, McNally, and a host of lesser luminaries, were the staple providers of the songs sung everywhere in the early and middle years of the last century. Bickerstaffe’s “There was a Jolly Miller,” McNally’s “Lass of Richmond Hill,” O’Keeffee’s “My Friend and Pitcher,” “Dear Tom, this Brown Jug,” “Friar of Orders Gray,” “Jolly Ploughboy;” Sheridan’s “Here’s to the Maiden,” “The Mid Watch,” “Had I a Heart,” “Give Isaac the Lass,” &c., were sung everywhere and by everybody, and are to be heard occasionally to the present day. Irish composers, too, put music to songs of indifferent worth, which have lived down time; thus Thomas Carter, a Dublin man, has given us “Nanny wilt thou Gang wi’ Me,” “Hearts of Oak,” and a few other equally fine airs. John Moorehead, Thomas Cooke, Michael Kelly, and Lord Mornington, father of Wellington, were amongst the eminent of the musical composers of the same period. Then there were not wanting, either, ingenious Britishers who thought it quite honest to “purvey” their strains from forgotten or neglected Irishmen. Thus William Shield, who occupies a rather respectable place amongst musicians, coolly stole – there is no lighter word – O’Carolan’s magnificent air – “The Princess Royal,” and adapted it to what Thomas Davis calls the only real sea-song in English literature – “The Saucy Artehusa,” the words of which were supplied by an Irishman – one Thomas Hoare. “The Rose Tree,” known to us all as “I’d Mourn the Hopes,” he treated similarly, and both these airs have ever since being placed in the catalogue of English music. The beginning of the century found the songs of Andrew Cherry – “The Bay of Biscay, O!” “Tom Moody,” and “The Dear Little Shamrock” in the full tide of popularity, that is as far as London was concerned. Here in Dublin, Edward Lysaght’s “Kate of Garnavilla,” “The Man that Led the Van,” “Our Own Little Island,” and “Kitty of Coleraine;” George Ogle’s “Molly Astore” and “Banna’s Banks;” Dr. Drennan’s “Erin;” James Orr’s “Irishman,” and “Song of an Exile,” and a couple of George Nugent Reynolds’, “Kathleen O’Moore” and “Green were the Fields,” were widely sung. They were all written to Irish airs, and if they are not of the highest excellence they have preserved the music associated with them. Sydney Morgan was the first to issue a volume of songs manifestly intended to draw attention to the peculiar beauties of Irish music. Most of her pieces have perished, but “Kate Kearney” and “Savourneen Dheelish” have not lost all their attractions yet. Thomas Moore is, of course, the king of Irish lyricists, modern criticism to the contrary, notwithstanding. There is no need to name his labours here – they have forced their way to all parts. His example fired most of the budding poets of his time, and in Banim, Griffin, Joseph O’Leary, and many others the people found eloquent exponents of their feelings. We need but name Banim’s “Soggarth Aroon,” “The Reconciliation,” “The Irish Maiden’s Song,” “He said that he was not Our Brother;” Griffin’s “Gille Machree,” “Shule Agra,” “Hark, Erie, the Blast is Blown,” “A Soldier To-Night is our Guest,” “Once I had a True Love;” and Joseph O’Leary’s “Whiskey, Drink Divine,” to indicate the general excellence of their productions.
The founding of the Nation, and the publication of the famous “Spirit,” brought new songs to Erin. Davis, Duffy, Frazer, McCann, Denny Lane, and John Pigot were amongst the best singers. Mangan with all his majestic genius could not, like Shelley, write a singable song. His poems are music, but they cannot be sung. They drove the trash which Maginn had stigmatised as “bestial Cockneydom,” clean out of the market; they hold their ground in many places yet, and are again growing in popularity. While the Nation was thus rooting up the tares at home, in England Irishmen were adding to what is claimed as English literature and music – John A. Wade was writing and composing songs like “Meet me at Moonlight Alone,” “Love was once a Little Boy,” “I’ve Wandered in Dreams,” “A Woodland Life,” Wellington Guerensey was doing likewise by pieces like “Mary Blane,” “Poor Old Ned,” “I’ll Hang my Harp on a Willow Tree” and “Alice, where Art Thou?” Henry R. Allen was wedding “The Maid of Athens” to music, and George Darley was writing those most poetical songs “I’ve Been Roaming,” “The Nightingale and the Thorn,” “In My Bower so Bright,” “The Wild Bee’s Tale,” “Aileen Astore,” and “The Temptress of the Cave.” They were all more or less popular, when “a bright particular star” broke on the horizon in the person of Michael William Balfe, who, in the sixty-two years of his life, gave to the world an almost limitless tide of melody. His fifty or more operas include songs that are in the mouth of everybody. “When Other Lips,” “The Light of Other Days,” “I Dreamt that I Dwelt,” “The Heart Bowed Down,” “The Fair Land of Poland,” “When I Beheld the Anchor Weighed,” and countless others testify to his wide popularity, as well as separate songs like “Excelsior,” “Come into the Garden, Maud,” and the characteristically Irish one, “Killarney.” If Balfe represents the most popular of the non-Irish, Lover certainly occupies that place amongst the really Irish. There is not a man over fifty who does not recollect the time when “Widow Machree,” “Rory O’More,” “The Bowld Soger Boy,” “Molly Bawn,” “Live in My Heart and Pay no Rent,” “The Whistlin’ Thief,” “Oh! Mollie, I can’t say You’re Honest,” “What Will You Do, Love,” “True Love can Ne’er Forget,” “The Fairy Tempter,” “The Land of the West,” “The May Dew,” and innumerable others, were the fashion. He is, undoubtedly, the truest of all our lyricists to the thoughts of the people. The Glovers – Stephen, William, Howard, and Charles William, deserve mention, since we owe to them songs like “The Gipsy Countess,” “What are the Wild Waves Saying” and “’Tis Hard to Give the Heart,” as do also Charles Jeffries, author and composer of songs like “Mary of Argyle” and “Kitty Tyrrell,” Wm. Bellamy, composer of “Simon the Cellarer,” Mrs. Barnard, who has left us such melodious pieces as “The Blue Alsatian Mountains,” “Won’t You Tell Me Why, Robin?” “I Cannot Sing the Old Songs,” “We’d better Bide a Wee” and “Come back to Erin;” Mrs. Crawford, whose “Kathleen Mavourneen” and “Dermot Asthore” still remain green. Lady Dufferin, whose “Lament of the Irish Emigrant,” “Katie’s Letter,” “Bay o’ Dublin” and “Terence’s Farewell,” are equally verdant, and Mary Anne Virginea Gabriel, whose “Skipper and his Boy” was once the rage of the time. In William Vincent Wallace Ireland once more scored enormously, and must continue to win fame, while taste still appreciates “Let Me Like a Soldier Fall,” “Take this Cup of Sparkling Wine,” “Sweet Spirit Hear My Prayer,” “Alas! those Chimes,” “Flow on Thou Silver Rhine,” “Scenes that are Brightest,” “A Father’s Early Love,” or detached songs like “Ring the Bell Watchman,” “Our Hands have Met,” and many others.
The great exodus of ’48 might reasonably be expected to have been the source of much singing, but little of it has survived, though the most popular of all transatlantic songsters was an Irishman – Stephen Collins Foster. It is regrettable that he did not tune his lyre to Irish themes – for the popularity of songs like “The Old Folks at Home” (Way Down the Swanee River) “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Massa’s in the Cold, Cold Ground,” “When we went Marching Thro’ Georgia,” “Oh! Susanna,” “Old Dog Tray,” “Old Uncle Ned,” “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp,” and a host of other nigger melodies, attest their worth. John McNaughton’s “Belle Mahone,” John Brougham’s “Ireland You’re Me Darlin’,” and Michael Scanlan’s “Far From the Hills of Innisfail” and “The Jackets Green,” also attained a high degree of popularity. At the present time the purveyors of the most popular songs of the period are Irishmen, passing by such names as Arthur Sullivan and Charles Stanford (whose work is beyond question). There are quite a host of Irishmen who, if they have not established their fame in opera, stand high as song makers. First, perhaps, is James Lynam Molloy. To his credit is to be placed such uniformly fine airs as “The Clang of the Wooden Shoon,” “Darby and Joan,” “Love’s Old Sweet Song,” “The King’s Highway,” “The Vagabond,” “Fiddle and I,” “Punchinello,” “London Bridge,” while airs like “The Kerry Dance,” “Thady O’Flynn,” and “Bantry Bay,” prove that he possesses the spirit of the old bards and can translate the “piercing, melancholy,” and the effervescent joy of the Gael into sounds that haunt the ear and echo in the heart. William Charles Levey in “Rory of the Glen,” “Many a Year Ago,” “The King and the Beggar Maid,” “Here Stands a Post,” “The Gipsy Fortune Teller,” and “Esmeralda,” scored high though we seldom hear him now. Miss Hope-Temple, a Dublin woman, whose real name is Davis, has given us graceful melodies in “Love’s Golden Dream,” “An Old Garden,” and kindred pieces, and Richard Harvey, a resident composer, has proved his ability by songs so enthusiastically encored as “I Breathe Once More my Native Air,” “Thady and I,” and “Old Ireland’s Hearts and Hands.” There are other living Irish composers whose work is scarcely to our credit, notably Robert Martin and Felix McGlennon. The former’s “Killaloe,” “Enniscorthy,” “Ballyhooley,” and “Mullingar,” have nothing to recommend them but their air, and they bear traces of older melodies, while the latter, who undoubtedly is the Apollo of Cockneydom since he has created “Hi-Ti Tiddly Hi-Ti,” “The Rowdy Dowdy Boys,” “Round the Town,” and others of the same kidney, is in most cases only a stringer of notes, and not a master of harmony. John M. Glynn is a name we should have mentioned earlier (he not being a living composer), for the air he has set to Father Ryan’s lines, “Where the Lovely Rivers Flow,” is a real gem, and should perpetuate his name amongst our countrymen, and Battison Hayes deserve recognition for “Off to Philadelphia.” Frank Fahy, Percival Graves, P. J. McCall, Dr. Sigerson, and William Dollard are amongst the best of our living song writers. There is no necessity to particularise their places here, but there is one living Irish musician whose work has never been fully recognised or rewarded by his countrymen – an Irish composer, whose life has been given to Irish music, John Werner Glover, who still survives though close on his eightieth year. A cantata, “St. Patrick at Tara,” and an opera, “The Deserted Village,” are possibly known as his work by many among us, but worthy as they are the ingratitude with which their author has been treated will be the more evident when we know that to him are due those stirring airs in the “Spirit of the Nation,” “The Memory of the Dead,” “The Sword,” “Oh! For a Steed,” “Bide Your Time,” “Step Together,” “Dear Land,” “Ourselves Alone,” and various others.
From this list it will be seen that the Irishmen who have contributed to swell the album of English lyric literature are neither few nor worthless, and it does not by any means exhaust them. The stock arguments of those people who decry Irish music is that it is too old-fashioned, or that the principle of singing our own songs alone is a conservative one. They tell you it is unfair to limit the selection of songs. Yet, heaven knows the catalogue of the songs of those we have dealt with is long and varied enough to satisfy anyone. It may be argued that they are not all Irish, but as the work of Irishmen they have equally the same right to rank as such, as Verdi’s “Aida” has to rank in Italian, or Gounod’s “Faust” in French music. It will come as a surprise to some people to learn that “Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming,” is claimed amongst Irish music, and doubtless the people who sing it would immediately cease doing so if they knew it. Fashion is the criterion of their taste, and fashion at present sees nothing worthy of its appreciation in matters Irish, except when they are ignorant of its source. Fashion has got to be lived down, and in this, as in most other matters, the only means is education.