Trí Amhráin as Éirinn

2018
soprano & wind quintet
(fl.ob.cl.bsn.hn.soprano)
duration: 12:15

A suite of three traditional Irish songs, Trí Amhráin as Éirinn (Three Irish Songs) provides a modern setting for soprano and wind quintet. The entire cycle is sung in Gaeilge (Irish).

The opening song, Thugamar Féin an Samhradh Linn (We Brought the Summer with Us), is a centuries-old tune sung to celebrate May Day (Bealtaine) and the beginning of summertime.

Young women and men performing as “Mummers” or beggars during the Bealtaine celebration would roam door to door singing this song while offering garlands of hawthorn, holly, and flowers in exchange for food and other gifts. Their garlands were believed to ward off fairies (mischievous little people) and thus bring good fortune to the recipient when placed at the entrance of their home.

Though sources claim the text and tune originated in early 15th-century Ulster in what is now primarily Northern Ireland, we can’t be certain. The precise age of the text and whether it was always married to this tune is also a matter of speculation as other versions exist alongside completely different tunes.

Trí Amhráin as Éirinn: I. Thugamar Féin an Samhradh Linn; (trad./arr.J.T. McKinney) © 2018 J.T. McKinney

The second song, Seoithín Seo Hó (Hushaby), is a lullaby whose tune is believed to predate its text. The 20th-century song collector Eileen Costello noted in her 1919 anthology (Amhráin Mhuighe Seóla) that many believed the tune was sung by the Blessed Virgin to lull the Christ Child, and so it was traditionally sung without lyrics. Costello credits the text to a Rev. O’Kelly of Galway. In keeping with tradition, alternate stanzas of the Irish lullabies are often hummed rather than sung.

A number of Irish lullabies mention fairies as a way of coaxing children to close their eyes. It’s believed sleeping children can’t be stolen away by wily fairies. Still, it’s hard to imagine easily falling asleep knowing your only protection is that your eyes are closed!

In my setting of the lullaby, rather than depicting the sinister fairies lying in wait on the roof, I chose to focus on the love poured out by this mother as she shares an intimate moment with what I imagine is her first child.

Trí Amhráin as Éirinn: II. Seoithín Seo Hó; (trad./arr.J.T. McKinney) © 2018 J.T. McKinney

The final song, Beidh Aonach Amárach (There Will Be a Fair Tomorrow), is a “dandling” song. Rather than telling a story, dandling songs are simply meant to be entertaining to sing due to the sound or rhythm of the lyrics. These are often used to amuse or distract children, in particular.

Appropriately, the text in this song is a back-and-forth disagreement between mother and daughter. The daughter wants to go to the nearby fair where she intends to marry the town’s shoemaker, but her mother won’t allow it… and the debate ensues for more than twenty verses (depending on the source). I selected three verses for the sake of time.

Trí Amhráin as Éirinn: III. Beidh Aonach Amárach; (trad./arr.J.T. McKinney) © 2018 J.T. McKinney

Premiered 17 August, 2018, at the Oliver Art Center, Frankfort, MI: Manitou Winds with Emily Curtin Culler, soprano.