Crann Úll

Recorded by Clannad, 1980, Tara Records
Review by Tim

The name of the recording is Gaelic for The Apple Tree, and is also the title of the sixth track. It features some of the band's finest arrangements of traditional songs and instrumental music. The liner notes for the recording I have give absolutely no information on any of the music, save for the titles. This is disappointing for those of you who, like myself, are curious about the music you are hearing. So along with my impressions of the music, I'll tell you what I have managed to learn, some of which is just a bit strange.

"Ar a ghabhail 'n a 'chuain damh", the first song on the recording, tells of love and loss. It is sung in Gaelic by Máire Brennan with some background harmony from the band, and includes an instrumental bridge featuring guitar, bongos, flute and bass.

The lyrics to "The Last Rose of Summer"1 are taken directly from the poetry of Thomas Moore, whose Irish Melodies form (with musical settings by Sir John Stevenson and others, including Moore himself) a great part of traditional Irish music. The poem is a melancholy reflection on surrendering gracefully to death in old age, with perhaps even a hint of approval for suicide. But it is prettily sung.

"Cruscin Lán" (The Full Jug2) is a song that celebrates the joys of drink and good company, hard as it may be to believe the Irish would sing of such frivolous pursuits. It is sung in Gaelic by Máire Brennan with the band joining in the chorus. The flute solo has a nice swing.

"Bacach Shile Andai" is an odd song that was written shortly after the Rising of 1798, and has also been titled "Ruball na Muice" (The Pig's Tail), and "Mise 'gus Tusa" (Me An' You). The title used by Clannad may be a corruption of "Bucky's Highlanders", a unit that fought for England during the rising. The refrain goes:

"…mise 'gus tusa 'gus ruball na muice 'gus bacaigh shíol aindí…"
This translates:
"…me an' you an' the pig's tail an' Bucky's Higlanders…"
The words "ruball na muice" may be a corruption of the English words "rabble of mickies", a reference to the rebels. My information for this rather convoluted comedy of errors are two web pages: The Pig's Tail and Songs of 1798. As for the song itself, it is unusual in that it is sung by one of the men in the band, with the rest of the men joining the refrain.

"Lá Coimhthioch fan dtuath" means "A Strange Day in the Countryside", and the title is very apt. It is a delicate and eerie blend of instrumental music that is difficult to describe. The harp and guitar trade off on the prominent parts, sometimes solo, often supporting each other. Flute and bass make their appearances later on. The music fades off toward the end, then swells unexpectedly with wordless vocal accompaniment, before finally fading away altogether. The mood evoked, for myself at least, is one of strangeness carried from within oneself, so that familiar woods and meadows become wild and uncertain places - not dangerous, but definitely otherworldly. I've no idea who wrote this tune, or of how much it owes to the band's arrangements, but I offer my sincere congratulations to the author.

"Crann Úll" (The Apple Tree) is a gentle lyric that seems to lead naturally and gracefully from the preceding track. It is a fragment of a work song overheard by Seamus Clandillon in the 1920's. The refrain, imagined as birds whispering to each other in an apple tree, translates from the Gaelic as "When you move, then I move, and we'll all move together". It is sung in Gaelic by Máire Brennan with the band joining in the refrain.

"Gathering Mushrooms"3 is a sprightly little ballad from Ulster and describes, as near as I can tell, a chance meeting between a Big Bad Wolf and a Willing Red Riding Hood.

"Bunan Bui" ("The Yellow Bittern"4) is a graceful, melancholy song that a non-Gaelic speaker like myself would naturally assume to be a wistful ballad of love and longing. Not so! Cathal Bui Mac Giolla Ghunna wrote the words to this song on finding a dead bittern on the road near a frozen lake. The poet surmised that the poor creature, unable to reach the ice-locked waters of the lake, had expired of thirst. He commiserates with the deceased bird, and resolves never to give up drink himself, lest he suffer a similar fate. And people wonder how the Irish have managed to garner a reputation for maudlin sentiment and hard drinking! Mac Giolla Ghunna was born sometime in the last quarter of the 17th century. He had studied for the priesthood, but abandoned this vocation for that of a travelling poet.

"Planxty Browne" is a harp tune by Turlough O'Carolan, and is the last track on the recording. The music on this page is a MIDI version of the tune, sequenced by Barry Taylor, and obtained from Lesley Nelson's Turlough O'Carolan site.

1 The Last Rose of Summer
Written by Thomas Moore (1779-1852)

'Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rose bud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh.

I'll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter
Thy leaves o'er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
And from Love's shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie wither'd,
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?

2 Cruiskeen Lawn (My Full Little Jug)
(English translation)

Kathleen Hoagland's 1000 Years of Irish Poetry notes that
this is a famous drinking song with many variations. I make no
guarantee, therefore, that this is the version sung by Clannad; it
does seem to me, however, to capture the spirit of the song!

Let the farmer praise his grounds,
Let the huntsman praise his hounds,
The shepherd his dew-scented lawn;
But I, more blest than they,
Spend each happy night and day
With my charming little cruiskeen lawn, lawn, lawn,
My charming little cruiskeen lawn.

Gra machree ma cruiskeen,
Slainté geal mavourneen,
Gra machree a coolin bawn.
Roughly Tranlated:
Dear to my heart, my little jug,
To your health my fair darling!
Dear to my heart, flowing fair!

Immortal and divine,
Great Bacchus, god of wine,
Create me by adoption your son:
In hope that you'll comply
My glass shall ne'er run dry,
Nor my smiling little cruiskeen lawn.


And when grim death appears,
In a few but pleasant years,
To tell me that my glass has run;
I'll say, "Begone, you knave,
"For bold Bacchus gave me leave,
"To take another cruiskeen lawn!"


Then fill your glasses high,
Let's not part with lips a-dry,
Though the lark now proclaims it is dawn;
And since we can't remain,
May we shortly meet again,
To fill another cruiskeen lawn, lawn, lawn,
To fill another cruiskeen lawn.


3 Gathering Mushrooms

Rising early out of bed
Across the fields I steered O,
When O! And a woman I spied
And a pretty fair maid appeared O.

Her head was bare I do declare
She had neither hat nor feather on,
And she stooped so low gave me to know
It was mushrooms she was gathering O.
O gathering O!
And she stooped so low gave me to know
It was mushrooms she was gathering O.

"Where are you going," says I. "My dear
"Why are you up so early O?
"I've seen you on the dewy grass
"Before the sower Ferdio."

Quite modestly she answered me
And she gave her head one fetch up!
And she said "I am gathering mushrooms
"To make my Mommy ketchup O".
O ketchup O!
And she said "I am gathering mushrooms
"To make my Mommy ketchup O".

Her parting breast on mine she pressed,
Her heart was like a feather O.
And her lips on mine do gentle join
And we both sat down together O.
Together O!
And her lips on mine do gentle join
And we both sat down together O.

4 Bunan Bui (The Yellow Bittern)
Written by Cathal Bui Mac Giolla Ghunna (c1680-1756)
(English translation by Thomas Kinsella)

Bittern, I'm sorry to see you stretched
with your bones decayed and eaten away.
Not want of food but need of a drink
has brought you so to lie face up.
I feel it worse than the ruin of Troy
to see you stretched on the naked stones,
who caused no hurt nor harm in the world,
as happy with boghole water as wine.

It hurts, fair bittern, a thousandfold
- your fallen head on the open road,
whose honk I heard in the early mornings
out on the mud as you took your drink.
Everyone tells your brother Cathal
that's certainly how I'm going to die.
Not so. Behold this handsome bird
so lately dead for want of a drop.

Sorrow, young bittern, a thousandfold
to see you before me among the clumps
and the big rats travelling toward your wake
taking part in the fun and games.
If only you'd sent me word in time
that you were in trouble and needed a drink
I'd have dealt a blow at Vesey's lake
would have wetted your mouth and your innards too.

Your other birds I don't lament,
blackbird, thrush, or the grey crane,
but my yellow bittern full of heart
so like myself in face and hue.
He was forever taking a drink
and they say I'm the same from time to time
- but I'll leave undrunk no drop I find
for fear I'd catch my death of thirst.

My darling said give up the drink
or I've only a little while to live
but I told her that she told a lie,
the selfsame drink prolongs my life.
Have ye not seen this smooth-necked bird
that died of thirst a while ago?
So wet your lips, my neighbors dear.
There won't be a drop when you're dead and gone.