19th Century Songs of the Irish Americans: Sean-Nos Singing

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Pat Young

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Many are familiar with Irish folk styles of music and know of Irish styles of music that were popular in the United States during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Both When Johnny Comes Marching Home and Bonny Blue Flag have Irish roots.

However, you may not be as familiar with sean-nos, or old-style, singing. This was form of pre-19th Century singing that was brought to the United States by Irish refugees from the West of Ireland during the Great Hunger. A single syllable can be sung to several notes. In many ways, it is the characteristic form of unaccompanied singing such as soldiers might listen to at night. In this example, a song set during the 1867 Fenian Rising is sung in English, followed by another song in Irish.

 

Pat Young

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Long Island, NY
Lyrics for the first song:

The Banks of the Moy
One day as I went on my ramble, from Swinford to sweet Ballylee
I met with a maid as I rambled and her name it was Mary Magee
And she said “For the sake of old Ireland, Michael Davitt, my brave Irish boy
He is now in the prison of Portland, far from the lovely sweet banks of the Moy”

I quickly approached this fair maiden, asked her what was the cause of her woe
And what was the reason for misery, that forced her from home for to go
And she sighed ” For the rights of old Ireland , Michael Davitt my brave Irish boy
He is now in the prison of Portland, far from the lovely sweet banks of the Moy”

You remember the year sixty-seven, we had brave men and true men also
There was young Peter Carney, God rest him, he died in Killarney also
He was drilled by my darling Mick Davitt, in the valleys and plains of Fermoy
And that’s why he’s a prisoner in Portland, far from the lovely sweet banks of the Moy

And now to conclude and to finish, I hope that the day will soon come
When those cruel landlords and bailiffs from the isle of Saint Patrick must run
We will unfurl our green and gold banners and we’ll raise them for Ireland on high
And we will drink to our brave Michael Davitt, from the lovely sweet banks of the Moy
 
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