Thursday, March 15, 2012

Irish Ballad: Mairi's Wedding

In honor of St. Patrick's Day fast approaching here is another of my favorite ballads. This one I learned is actually a Traditional Scottish ballad but I've always heard Irish singers preforming this song so I still think of it as Irish. 

The song tells the story of guests going to the wedding of Mairi, a local girl. The first verse speaks of the guest's traveling to the wedding; the second verse tells what Mairi looks like; and the third verse is a toast for the bride to have food, comfort and many children. In the chorus they are dancing "heel for heel and toe for toe" and "arm in arm and row on row".  

Mairi's Wedding

Step it gaily, on we go
Heel for heel and toe for toe,
Arm in arm and row on row
All for Mairi's wedding.

Over hillways up and down
Myrtle green and bracken brown,
Past the sheiling through the town
All for sake of Mairi.

Red her cheeks as rowans are,
Bright her eye as any star,
Fairest o' them a' by far,
Is our darling Mairi.

Plenty herring, plenty meal
Plenty peat to fill her creel,
Plenty bonny bairns as weel
That's the toast for Mairi.

Words in Lyrics:
Mairi - a Scottish form of Mary, in some versions it's spelled Marie, pronounced mah-ree
bracken - large coarse fern often several feet high
sheiling - A hut or small cottage in an expessed or a retired place
rowans - tree with orange-red berrylike fruits
peat - dried peat moss used to make the fire burn better
creel - a wicker basket
bonny bairns as weel - pretty babies as well

History: Mairi's Wedding (also known as Marie's Wedding, the Lewis Bridal Song, or Mairi Bhan) is a Scottish folk song originally written in Gaelic by Johnny Bannerman for Mary McNiven. Written using a traditional Scottish tune, it was first played for McNiven in 1935 at the Old Highlanders Institute in Glasgow's Elmbank Street. Hugh S. Roberton translated the Gaelic version into English in 1936. It is also a Scottish country dance, 40 bar, reel time, devised in 1959 by James B. Cosh.

The High Kings - This version was the first I ever heard and is so much fun! The High Kings are my favorite Irish group, they sing all the old ballads, play so many different instruments and their voices blend so well together! For more on them you can read my post on The High Kings from last Ste. Paddy's Day. There's also a plain audio version of this song here.

The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem - These guys are the essential Irish folk group that has inspired many of today's singers. Their version is just voice, guitar and banjo. The song ends on the video at around 2:00 and the rest of the video is an introduction for another song.

Harp Version - Just the tune played on harp by a talented lady named Kathleen.

The Corries - A favorite Scottish folk group of mine, they recorded the song under the Scottish title of Lewis Bridal Song.

Other versions include The Rankin Familiy's fun upbeat version and Noel McLoughlin's mostly acapella version.

Have you every heard Mairi's Wedding?
Which of the versions above do you like best?


Miss Dashwood said...

This is one of my favorite Irish songs, ever, and I LOVE the High Kings' rendition of it! This is one of those songs that just makes me feel happy inside. :)

Mary Beth said...

Looove The High Kings version! :D Me and my sisters just love them and love love love Mairi's Wedding. :) My just-turned-four-years-old sister is often heard singing it. :) As am I!

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