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Searching for beauty in the dissonance

Amhrán Mhuínse

I fell in love with this song 10 years ago in Ireland (a different but similar recording): Amhrán Mhuínse (The Song of Muínis)

I fell in love with the music — I never understood the lyrics. By chance, I scrolled past it in a playlist today, and it spoke to my heart, so I put it on repeat and decided to spend some time searching for an English translation.

*hand to heart*

If I were three leagues out at sea or on mountains far from home,
Without any living thing near me but the green fern and the heather,
The snow being blown down on me, and the wind snatching it off again,
And I were to be talking to my fair Taimín and I would not find the night long.

Dear Virgin Mary, what will I do, this winter is coming on cold.
And, dear Virgin Mary, what will this house do and all that are in it?
Wasn’t it young, my darling, that you went, during a grand time,
At a time when the cuckoo was playing a tune and every green leaf was growing?

If I have my children home with me the night that I will die,
They will wake me in mighty style three nights and three days;
There will be fine clay pipes and kegs that are full,
And there will be three mountainy women to keen me when I’m laid out.

And cut my coffin out for me, from the choicest brightest boards;
And if Seán Hynes is in Muínis, let it be made by his hand.
Let my cap and my ribbon be inside in it, and be placed stylishly on my head,
And Big Paudeen will take me to Muínis for rough will be the day.

And as I go west by Inse Ghainimh, let the flag be on the mast.
Oh, do not bury me in Leitir Calaidh, for it’s not where my people are,
But bring me west to Muínis, to the place where I will be mourned aloud;
The lights will be on the dunes, and I will not be lonely there.

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6 Responses to “Amhrán Mhuínse”

  1. Karen Conneely says:

    I’m currently writing an essay on this song (Irish folklore, song and storytelling is one of my fields of study), and came across some info I thought you might appreciate.
    Unusually for this type of song, the composer is known, her maiden name was Mairín Ní Chlochartaigh, her married name Máirín Uí Chonghaile (as she married Taimín Bán Ó Conghaile – so the Taimín Bán mentioned in the song doesnt translate as ‘fair Taimín’ but as his actual name.
    It is said she composed it on her deathbed, as she wished to be buried on Mweenish Island (http://www.logainm.ie/Viewer.aspx?text=mweenish&streets=yes&listText=Mweenish+Island) instead of Leitir Caladh, the townland into which she married 6 miles away. Allegedly her cousin promised her that he would see her wish fulfilled, and that she would be brought home to be buried however there was a vicious storm at sea for 3 days after her death, and seeing as we bury our dead quickly in Ireland, she was interred in Leitir Caladh.
    If you can read Irish or know someone who can you’ll find this info in Leabhar Mór na nAmhrán published by Cló Iar Chonnacht.

  2. Karen Conneely says:

    Hi Blaise, I’m so sorry I never got a notification about your reply to this post. I think she died around the time of the famine in Ireland, but there is a lady who knows for sure as she is related to her. If you Google Coláiste Chamuis, you will find their email. The lady who runs the Coláiste is a descendant, her husband was my head of department in NUIG and he told me this himself. FAO your email to Máire / Gearóid and you might be able to find out some more details. All the best!

  3. Rich says:

    yes, beautiful tune, and story..
    Ireland’s musical spirit has affected me in a way that cannot be undone

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