minstrel: Re: Siu/il a Ru/in

Lisa and Ken Theriot lnktheriot at cox.net
Fri Jul 5 21:27:26 PDT 2002

Brendan wrote:

[The chorus was sung in Gaelic, not nonsense syllables.]

It varies.  The American versions have true nonsense syllables; the PPM
version ("Buttermilk Hill") has:

Shool, shool, shool aroon
Shool a rack-shack
Shool a ba-ba-coo, etc.

The further the song got from Gaelic speakers, the more the sense was
lost, which is why the "Buttermilk Hill" versions are extra weepy and
sappy, because they've forgotten that originally, the girl was exhorting
the guy to run off with her _rather than_ go off to fight.  After crying
for the first verse, after all, she gets off her duff and takes action.

The chorus (for Christiana) translates as:

Go, go, go my love
Go gently and go calmly
Go to the door and creep out with me
And may you go, my darling, safely

Brendan also wrote:

[My understanding is that "Shool Aroon" is OOP, and refers to the Wild 
Geese - a group of Scot soldiers that went to France to fight in one of 
the innumerable wars in the 1700's.]

I believe you are correct, and I think it's even worse than that.  I
think it was written much later and "back-styled" to the past event,
much as "Follow Me Up to Carlow" commemorates a battle in 1580 despite
being written around 1890.

Aibhilin countered:

[One version of it certainly does. However folksongs don't come out of 
nowhere.... I believe the earliest version I have is just inside period,
since folk music was handed down from generation to generation it is
hard to tell.]

I don't think you can argue that in this case.  I'd love to see the
version that you think is period.  Don't get me wrong; I love the song,
and I even sing it, but I do so in the full knowledge that it's not
period.  Consider:

1.  I've never seen a version that wasn't completely modern English in
the verses.

2.  I find it really suspicious that the verses are English and the
chorus is Gaelic.  Though the Gaelic turned into "nonsense" English,
I've never seen even a fragment of verses in Gaelic (except for the
repeated last line).  Though many period Irish people were
multi-lingual, I would find it exceptional for a song to arise that
would require a bilingual audience to be properly understood.  (There
are plenty of period written pieces that do just that, usually
French/English/Latin/etc., but it's not consistent with a "folk" song.)
As opposed to, for example, "Eileen Aroon" (Eibhli/n a Ru/n), which was
originally entirely in Gaelic (and I believe, IS period) and was simply
translated whole (except for the title).

3.  Look into the history of the spinning wheel.  By the time a young
girl would have had one that was at her disposition to sell...  The
whole "rock, reel, spinning wheel" bit is reminiscent of a couple of
popular songs which were written in the mid 1800s.

(Anybody with a connection to Cantaria, could you tell them they have a
typo?  She doesn't sell a rod and reel, for she is not a fisher woman.
She is a spinner, and it's "rock and reel", parts of the spinning

You can pare away verse by verse; if you sing the one about following
the king, that definitely places it circa 1700.  In the end, I suppose
you could come up with a couple of verses which didn't mention anything
OOP, but you'd still have the bilingual problem, unless you want to
translate the verses into Gaelic.  Might there have been an older song,
entirely in Gaelic, about a woman trying to keep her Gallowglass lover
on old Erin's shore?  Sure.  But I haven't seen it, nor have I ever seen
that "Siuil a Ruin" is translated, or was written to an older air (as is
true for "Carlow").

Feel free to post the version you think is period; I'd be interested to
see it.


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