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Josie Baker
Cahermurphy, Kilmihil
Recorded in Conway’s Bar, Mullagh, September 1973

Carroll Mackenzie Collection


Oh on a morning in May, with my hooks well fixed,
My rod and my line, down by Kilrush.
Where the salmon and trout in the Shannon are found,
And the ships sailing down to Limerick,
And I being so amazed, that I lost my wits.

In a rural retreat, like an angel bright,
I met a fair maid, I’ll now describe.
I thought of the maid, to issue the date,
From the eastern gates to chase the night
Agus ó bhean a tí, cén fáth do gol?

When astonishment ceased, I regained lost sense.
Being anxious to know, of this maiden’s descent.
Between hope and despair, I accosted this dame,
Requesting her name, her place and friends,
Agus ó bhean a tí, cén fáth do gol?

Now, are you the maid who came to strip,
With Jason from Greece, on board a ship?
Or the maid who was tied to the rock down at Troy,
Where Heracles did the monster kill?
Agus ó bhean a tí, cén fáth do gol?

Or the Memorian maid whose fame will live
Through the annals of fame to all ages end
Who when Catreus fell did Pigeonnellan distain,
And banish to seas by base content?
Agus ó bhean a tí, cén fáth do gol?

She answered and said, immediately then:
‘I’m none of those maids that you have mentioned.
But a forlorn slave, I’m left here in despair,
By those damnable knaves who invaded my friends.
Agus ó fear a tí, sin é fáth mo gol.

The names of those traitors to you I will tell,
Who killed all our priests and cut off their heads.
Who burned my seats usurped my estate
And left me and my friends in dire distress
Agus ó fear a tí, sin é fáth mo gol.’


“The various struggles for independence for Ireland produced some fine poetry and song in the culture. Many of the most beautiful of these poems which were also part of the Irish language singing tradition, were the ‘Aisling’- the vision songs. On our first trip in 1973, we recorded this one in English from Josie Baker in Ollie Conway’s Bar in Mullagh. The most popular form of the plots of these songs is as follows:

A man is out walking, the setting usually idyllic, on a lovely hillside or by a river, or in a flower filled meadow; he meets a beautiful woman who is weeping. She tells him her troubles, how her husband or her lover has been taken from her, her children killed, her home burned or taken over by strangers. As the song unfolds it becomes clear that the woman is not a woman at all but Ireland, and her troubles are the troubles of Ireland; the man wakes and finds it was a dream. These songs and poems were heavily influenced by the teachings of the hedge schoolmasters who introduced the Greek and Latin classics into their teachings.

Many of the poems that passed into the Irish song tradition contain references to characters and events of Greek mythology, for instance, as is the case with Josie’s song and with a number of the late Paddy Tunney’s songs. It is often difficult to trace the references because of the unfamiliarity of the singers with subjects that were once part of education in Ireland which leads to some confusion. Josie’s Catreus refers to the Minoan king slain by his children. These songs are usually in Irish and, though many of them are no longer sung, they are still to be found played as slow airs on the pipes; one of the best known and most haunting being ‘Raibh tú ag an gCarraig?’ (‘Where you at the Rock?’), where the mysterious stranger is not Ireland but the religion that was forbidden because of the Penal Laws, and the ‘rock’ one of the hidden ‘Mass Rocks’ that served as altars, such as the one that is replicated outside Kilkee. The ‘awaking and finding it was all a dream’ verse which usually comes at the end of the song is missing from Josie’s text.”
Jim Carroll

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