Oft In The Stilly Night

#IrishMusic #amwriting

This poem, written in the early 19th century by Irishman Thomas Moore, was set to music by Scottish composer Sir John Stevenson. It was perhaps most famously played at the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002. I also feature it in my manuscript WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, as the favorite song of Katie Donovan, the clan matriarch. A version of it by the inimitable Sarah Brightman can be found here.


Oft in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Fond mem’ries bring the light
Of other days around me:
The smiles, the tears of boyhood years,
The words of love then spoken,
The eyes that shone now dimmed and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Sad mem’ry brings the light
Of other days around me.

When I remember all
The friends, so link’d together,
I’ve seen around me fall,
Like leaves in wintry weather;
I feel like one who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled, whose garlands dead,
And all but he departed!
Thus in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Sad mem’ry brings the light
Of other days around me.

The Cowboy’s Dream

#amwriting #cowboysongs

A common theme in cowboy songs is the hope of heaven. This particular song is sung to a Scottish air virtually everyone is familiar with: My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean. A very early (1935) and abbreviated recording of the song by The Sons of the Pioneers features Roy Rogers on vocals and yodel. It can be heard here.

The Cowboy’s Dream

Last night as I lay on the prairie,
And gazed at the stars in the sky,
I wondered if ever a cowboy
Would drift to that sweet by and by.

CHORUS: Roll on, roll on;
Roll on, little dogies, roll on, roll on,
Roll on, roll on;
Roll on, little dogies, roll on.

The road to that bright, happy region
Is a dim, narrow trail, so they say;
But the broad one that leads to perdition
Is posted and blazed all the way.

They say there will be a great round-up,
And cowboys, like dogies, will stand,
To be marked by the Riders of Judgment
Who are posted and know every brand.


I know there’s many a stray cowboy
Who’ll be lost at the great, final sale,
When he might have gone in the green pastures
Had he known of the dim, narrow trail.

I wonder if ever a cowboy
Stood ready for that Judgment Day,
And could say to the Boss of the Riders,
“I’m ready, come drive me away.”


For they, like the cows that are locoed,
Stampede at the sight of a hand,
Are dragged with a rope to the round-up,
Or get marked with some crooked man’s brand.

And I’m scared that I’ll be a stray yearling,
A maverick, unbranded on high,
And get cut in the bunch with the “rusties”
When the Boss of the Riders goes by.


They tell of another big owner
Whose ne’er overstocked, so they say,
But who always makes room for the sinner
Who drifts from the straight, narrow way.

They say he will never forget you,
That he knows every action and look;
So, for safety, you’d better get branded,
Have your name in the great Tally Book.

Note: if you’re interested in seeing more traditional cowboy songs, John A. Lomax anthologized many of the lyrics in Cowboy Songs & Other Frontier Ballads, published in the Journal of American Folklore in 1938. It’s available for download from the University of Nebraska.


#irishmusic #music

A traditional Irish tune. The rhythm of the words actually invokes the spin of the wheel, as the young girl tries to convince her grandmother there are no sounds from outside the window but those made by nature. There’s a lovely version of the song by Catherine McKinnon with the Jubilee Singers here.


Mellow the moonlight to shine is beginning,
Close by the window young Eileen is spinning.
Bent o’er the fire, her blind grandmother sitting,
Crooning and moaning and drowsily knitting.

Chorus: Merrily, cheerily, noiselessly whirring,
Spins the wheel, rings the wheel while the foot’s stirring.
Sprightly and lightly and merrily ringing
Sounds the sweet voice of the young maiden singing.

“Eileen, a chara, I hear someone tapping.”
“Tis the ivy, dear mother, against the glass flapping.”
“Eileen, I surely hear somebody sighing.”
“’Tis the sound, mother dear, of the autumn winds dying.”

“What’s the noise I hear at the window I wonder?”
“’Tis the little birds chirping, the holly-bush under.”
“What makes you shoving and moving your stool on,
And singing all wrong the old song of The Coolin?”


There’s a form at the casement, the form of her true love,
And he whispers with face bent, “I’m waiting for you, love.
Get up from the stool, through the lattice step lightly,
And we’ll rove in the grove while the moon’s shining brightly.”

The maid shakes her head, on her lips lays her fingers,
Steps up from the stool, longs to go and yet lingers.
A frightened glance turns to her drowsy grandmother,
Puts her foot on the stool, spins the wheel with the other.


Lazily, easily, now swings the wheel round,
Slowly and lowly is heard now the reel’s sound.
Noiseless and light to the lattice above her,
The maid steps, then leaps to the arms of her lover.

Slower and slower and slower the wheel turns,
Lower and lower and lower the reel rings,
Ere the reel and the wheel stop their spinning and moving,
Through the grove the young lovers by moonlight are roving.

Paddy on the Railway

#music #irishmusic

A crisp, easy-to sing tune about an Irishman who comes to the US to work on the railroads. So many Irish worked on the railway that, in the Eastern States in the 19th century, there was a popular saying: “an Irishman was buried under every tie.”  This song is actually very long, with at least one original verse for each year between 1841 and 1848, and many in between. In a vastly abridged form, I present “Paddy on the Railway”. You can hear a version of it by The Wolfe Tones here.


To work upon the railway

In eighteen hundred and forty-one,
Me cord’roy breeches I put on.
Me cord’roy breeches I put on,
To work upon the railway.


In eighteen hundred and forty-two,
I left the Old World for the new.
Bad cess to the luck that brought me through
To work upon the railway.


When we left Ireland to come here,
And spend our latter days in cheer.
Our bosses, they did drink strong beer,
And Pat worked on the railway.


It’s “Pat do this” and “Pat do that”,
Without a stocking or cravat,
And nothing but an old straw hat,
While Pat works on the railway.


Our boss’s name, it was Tom King,
He kept a store to rob the men,
A Yankee clerk with ink and pen,
To cheat Pat on the railway.


One Monday morning to our surprise,
Just a half an hour before sunrise,
The dirty divil went to the skies,
And Pat worked on the railway.


And when Pat lays him down to sleep,
The wirey bugs around him creep,
And divil a bit can poor Pat sleep,
While he works on the railway.


In eighteen hundred and forty-three,
‘Twas then I met Miss Biddy MacGhee,
And an elegant wife she’s been to me,
While workin’ on the railway.


In eighteen hundred and forty seven,
Sweet Biddy MacGhee, she went to heaven,
If she left one child, she left seven,
To work upon the railway.


In eighteen hundred and forty eight,
I learned to take my whiskey straight;
‘Tis an elegant wife that can’t be bate,
For working on the railway.


The Colorado Trail

#cowboymusic #amwriting

Here’s a wonderful cowboy song with one of most popular themes, the girl he left behind. There are several versions out there, some with more or different verses, but my favorite is this short and sweet one by the Norman Luboff Choir. You can listen to it here.

The Colorado Trail

Eyes like the morning star,
Cheeks like a rose,
Laura was a pretty girl,
God almighty knows.

Weep all ye little rains,
Wail, wind, wail,
All along, along, along
The Colorado trail.

Stars fading in the sky,
Day’s gonna break.
Sun will be arisin’ soon,
Everything will wake.


Maids, When You’re Young Never Wed an Old Man!


A sassy little ditty with advice for unmarried women. Listen to a recording by The Dubliners here.

Maids, When You’re Young Never Wed an Old Man!

An old man came courting me, hey ding dooram ay!
An old man came courting me, me being young
An old man came courting me, all for to marry me;
Maids when you’re young never wed an old man!


For he’s got no faloorum, fadidledo doorum ay
For he’s got no faloorum, fadidleday
He’s got no faloorum, he’s lost his ding doorum
So maids when you’re young, never wed an old man!

Now when we went to the church, hey ding dooram ay!
When we went to the church, me being young,
When we went to the church, he left me in the lurch.
Maids when you’re young, never wed an old man!


Now when we went to our bed, hey ding dooram ay!
Now when we went to our bed, me being young,
When we went to our bed, he lay like he was dead!
Maids when you’re young never wed an old man!


Now when he went to sleep, hey ding dooram ay!
Now when he went to sleep, me being young,
When he went to sleep, out of bed I did creep,
Into the arms of a handsome young man!


And I found his faloorum, fadidledo doorum ay!
I found his faloorum, fadidleday,
I found his faloorum, he got my dingdoorum!
So, maids, when you’re young never wed an old man!

Jessie, The Flow’r of Dunblane

Though this song is of Scottish origin, it’s been adopted into the Irish litany of music. I like it especially because the heroine of my novel WHISPERS IN THE CANYON is named Jesse. You can hear a lovely version by a harpist here.

Jessie, The Flow’r Of Dunblane

The sun has gone down o’er the lofty Ben Lomond
And left the red clouds to reside o’er the scene,
While lonely I stray in the calm summer gloamin’
To muse on sweet Jessie, the flow’r of Dunblane.
How sweet is the brier with its soft folding blossom,
And sweet is the birk with its mantle of green.
But sweeter and fairer and dear to this bosom
Is charming young Jessie, the flow’r of Dunblane
Is charming young Jessie, is charming young Jessie,
Is charming young Jessie, the flow’r o’ Dunblane.

She’s modest as any and blythe as she’s bonnie
For guileless simplicity makes her its aim.
And far be the villain, divested of feeling,
Who’d blight in its bloom, the sweet flow’r of Dunblane.
Sing on, thou sweet mavis, thy hymn to the evening,
Thou’r’t dear to the echoes of Calderwood glen,
So dear to this bosom, so artless and winning,
Is charming young Jessie, the flow’r of Dunblane.
Is charming young Jessie, is charming young Jessie,
Is charming young Jessie, the flow’r of Dunblane.

How lost were my days till I met with my Jessie;
The sports of the city seemed foolish and vain.
I ne’er saw a nymph I would call my dear lassie
Till charmed with sweet Jessie, the flow’r of Dublane.
Though mine were the station of loftiest grandeur,
Amidst its profusion I’d languish in pain,
And reckon as nothing, the height of its splendor
If wanting sweet Jessie, the flow’r of Dunblane.
If wanting sweet Jessie, if wanting sweet Jessie,
If wanting sweet Jessie, the flow’r of Dunblane.

Hotdogs, Ice Cream, Fireworks … & Russia?

I may be the only person alive who objects to the Russian National Anthem being played to celebrate America’s Independence Day.

Our July 4th celebrations here in my new home town were cancelled this year due to heavy rains.  I found out today that there will be fireworks locally to celebrate Labor Day this weekend.  Which put me in mind of the Fourth just passed.

Regardless of the rain, I wouldn’t have been able to attend the local fireworks on the 4th, as I was spending the weekend in New Jersey with friends and family.  In much of NJ these days, fireworks come at a premium; the cost of admission is anywhere up to $25 per person, and we’re a really big family.  So, at the end of a lovely day, we gathered in my mother’s living room to watch the Macy’s fireworks on TV.

4th of July Fireworks

4th of July Fireworks

Not quite as good as live, but they do a wonderful job.  It just never fails to amaze me that we so often hear the national anthem of Russia as the musical accompaniment to our Independence Day celebrations.

Yeah, I’m talking about The 1812 Overture.

Now I love Tchaikovsky — his Concerto in B-flat minor is my favorite piece of classical music.  And where would we be without The Nutcracker at Christmas?  Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty — the man was a genius!  But The 1812 Overture was written to commemorate his country’s victory over Napoleon.  And that passage with the cannons roaring in the background?  Behind the flourishes, the score includes excerpts from Russia’s National Anthem.

And we Americans play it every Fourth of July.

Try mentioning that to anyone and you will get “the face”.  The “you’re-crazy-you’re-weird-you-don’t-know-nuthin’-and-who-cares-anyway” face.

But it is crazy, at least to me.  Why, when we have scads and scads of scores written by Americans about America, do we insist on playing a Russian song on Independence Day?

Ever heard Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean?  Wonderful song.  It could use a little cannon fire at the end.  Or what about our own March King, John Philip Sousa?  There are several fabulous choices from his works, including The Liberty Bell March and Hail to the Spirit of Liberty.

John Philip Sousa

John Philip Sousa

Or what about our national march?  Almost everyone is familiar with Sousa’s Stars & Stripes Forever.  And let’s not forget about our own National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.  It’s already got “rockets red glare” and “bombs bursting in air”.  An enterprising music arranger could certainly accentuate it with some cannons roaring for effect.

Now at this point, you may be thinking I’m just a Russophobe.  But I’d have the same reaction to any other country’s anthem.  Seriously, wouldn’t you object to celebrating the Fourth with La Marseillaise (France) or A Soldier’s Song (Ireland)?

But those other anthems aren’t included in a song with CANNONS.  So I guess they don’t have a chance to start with.

It may just be one of those things that comes under the heading of “Well, we’ve done it this way for so long …”  Or maybe nobody has actually been paying attention.  But let’s stop and reflect.

Isn’t there a better choice?

If I Were a Blackbird

Our song today comes with both male and female verses. Though they are often sung apart, the occasional duet is most beautiful. You can hear a version of it by Silly Wizard here.

If I Were a Blackbird

Begins with the man’s part:

I am a young sailor, my story is sad
For once I was carefree and a bold sailor lad.
I courted a lassie by night and by day,
But now she has left me and gone far away.

Refrain: Oh if I were a blackbird, I’d whistle and sing,
I’d follow the vessel my true love sails in
And in the top rigging, I’d there build my nest
And I’d flutter my wings o’er her lily-white breast.

Or if I were a scholar and could handle a pen,
One secret love letter to my true love I’d send.
And I’d tell of my sorrow, my grief and my pain,
Since she’s gone and left me in yon flowery glen.


I sailed o’er the ocean, my fortune to seek,
Though I missed her caress and her kiss on my cheek.
I returned and I told her my love was still warm,
But she turned away lightly and great was her scorn.


I offered to take her to Donnybrook Fair.
And to buy her fine ribbons to tie up her hair.
I offered to marry and to stay by her side,
But she said in the morning she sailed with the tide.


My parents they chide me, and will not agree,
Say that me and my false love married should never be.
Ah but let them deprive me, let them do as they will,
While there’s breath in my body, she’s the one I love still.



Proceeds to the woman’s part:

I am a young maiden and my story is sad
For once I was courted by a brave sailor lad.
He courted me strongly by night and by day
But now my dear sailor is gone far away.

Refrain: If I were a blackbird I’d whistle and sing
And I’d follow the ship That my true love sails in,
And on the top rigging I’d there build my nest,
And I’d pillow my head on his snowy-white breast.

He promised to take me to Donnybrook fair,
To buy me red ribbons to tie up my hair.
And when he’d return from the ocean so wide,
He’d take me and make me his own loving bride.


His parents they slight me and will not agree
That I and my sailor boy married should be.
But when he comes home I will greet him with joy,
And I’ll take to my bosom my dear sailor boy.


The Hills of Kerry

In keeping with the short story I published in response to the New West Writers prompt, I’m giving you today the complete words to The Hills of Kerry. You can hear a lovely version by Peggy Sweeney here.


The palm trees wave on high all along the fertile shore.
Adieu, the Hills of Kerry, I ne’er will see no more.
Oh, why did I leave my home, why did I cross the sea,
And leave the small birds singing around you, sweet Tralee?

The noble and the brave have departed from our shore,
They’ve gone off to a foreign land where the wild canyons roar.
No more they’ll see the shamrock, or the hills so dear to me,
Or hear the small birds singing around you, sweet Tralee.

No more the sun will shine on that blessed harvest morn,
Or hear our reaper singing in a golden field of corn.
There’s a band for every woe and a cure for every pain,
But the happiness of my darling girl I never will see again.