Báidín Fheidhlimidh

Leggi in Italiano

The island of Tory or better Oileán Thoraigh, is a grain of rice (measuring 5 km in length and 1 in width) 12 km off the northern coast of Donegal. Ancient fortress of the Fomorians that from here left to raid the coasts of Ireland, a race of primordial gods, like Balor of the Evil Eye, the Celtic god of darkness that had only one eye on the back of the head.
It is called the island of artists since a small community of painters has been established in the 1950s. The hundreds of people who live there are Gaelic speakers and have been “governed” since the Middle Ages by a king of the island: it is up to the king to explain the legends and traditions of the island to the tourists!

island of Tory
by Pixdaus 

Bright and verdant in summer it is flagellate from strong storms in the winter months, theater of great tragedies of the sea.
But above all it is a land of rabbits and birds among which we can distinguish the puffins of the sea with the characteristic triangular beak of a bright orange with yellow and blue stripes wearing the frak.


“Phelim’s little boat” or “Báidín Fheidhlimidh” (Báidín fheilimi) is one of the “songs of the sea” and is taught to Irish children at schools being a rare example of a bilingual song. Almost certainly handed down for generations in oral form, the song may have been composed in the seventeenth century.
Despite appearing as a nursery rhyme, the ballad tells the story of Feilimí Cam Ó Baoill, or Phelim O’Boyle, who, to escape his bitter enemy, abandons Donegal. He was one of the Ulster leaders of the O’Neil clan, one of the largest tribal dynasty in Northern Ireland (see). A warrior-fisherman leader who, to avoid conflict with the Mac Suibhne clan, or Sweeney, takes the sea on a small boat to the island of Gola; but, still not feeling safe, he changes the route to the island of Tory, more jagged and rich in hiding places, even if more treacherous for the presence of the rocks. And right on the rocks the small boat breaks and Phelim drowns.

The Gaelic here is peculiar because it comes from Donegal and has different affinities with the Scottish Gaelic. Baidin is a word in Irish Gaelic that indicates a small boat and the concept of smallness returns obsessively in all verses; so the nursery rhyme has its moral: in highlighting the challenge and the audacity in spite of a contrary destiny, we do not have to forget the power of the sea and we must remind that freedom has a very high price.

Sinéad O’Connor from  Sean-Nós Nua 2002:  ua voice with such a particular tone; here the pitch is melancholic supported by a siren-like echo effect. In the commentary on the booklet Sinéad writes:
It tells the story of Feilim Cam Baoill, a chieftain of the Rosses [in Donegal] in the 17th century. He had to take to the islands off Donegal to escape his archenemy Maolmhuire an Bhata Bu Mac Suibhne. Tory Island was more inaccessible and seemed safer than Gola, but his little boat was wrecked there. For me, the song is one of defiance and bravery in spite of terrible odds. It is a song of encouragement that we should be true to ourselves even if being true means ‘defeat’. A song of the beauty of freedom. And a song of the power of the sea as a metaphor for the unconscious mind. It shows that we can never escape our soul.”

Na Casaidigh from Singing for memory 1998: a fine arrangement of the voices in the choir and a final instrumental left to the electric guitar in a mix between traditional and modern sounds very pleasant and measured.

Angelo Branduardi from Il Rovo e la Rosa 2013,  (his Gaelic is a bit strange!) the arrangement with the violin is very precious

Phelim’s little boat went to Gola,
Phelim’s little boat and Phelim in it,
Phelim’s little boat went to Gola,
Phelim’s little boat and Phelim in it
A tiny little boat, a lively little boat,
A foolish little boat, Phelim’s little boat,
A straight little boat, a willing little boat,
Phelim’s little boat and Phelim in it.
Phelim’s little boat went to Tory,
Phelim’s little boat and Phelim in it,
Phelim’s little boat went to Tory,
Phelim’s   little boat and Phelim in it.
Phelim’s little boat crashed on Tory,
Phelim’s little boat and Phelim in it,
Phelim’s little boat crashed on Tory,
Phelim’s little boat and Phelim in it.
Donegal Gaelic
Báidín Fheidhlimidh d’imigh go Gabhla,
Báidín Fheidhlimidh ‘s Feidhlimidh ann
Báidín Fheidhlimidh d’imigh go Gabhla,
Báidín Fheidhlimidh ‘s Feidhlimidh ann
Báidín bídeach, Báidín beosach,
Báidín bóidheach, Báidín Fheidhlimidh,
Báidín díreach, Báidín deontach,
Báidín Fheidhlimidh’s Feidhlimidh ann.
Báidín Fheidhlimidh d’imigh go Toraigh,
Báidín Fheidhlimidh’s Feidhlimidh ann
Báidín Fheidhlimidh d’imigh go Toraigh,
Báidín Fheidhlimidh ‘s Feidhlimidh ann.
Báidín Fheidhlimidh briseadh i dToraigh,
Báidín Fheidhlimidh ‘s Feidhlimidh ann
Báidín Fheidhlimidh briseadh i dToraigh,
Báidín  Fheidhlimidh ‘s Feidhlimidh ann (1)

1) or Iasc ar bhord agus Feilimí ann  [Laden with fish and Phelim on board]

THE DANCE: Waves of Tory

The island has also given the title to an Irish folk dance “Waves of Tory” which reproduces the waves breaking on the rocks! Among the dances for beginners is performed with one step and presents only a difficult figure called Waves.
see more



Arran Boat Song

Leggi in Italiano
“Arran Boat Song” ia a slow air from the Scottish Highlands, the title is often misanderstood as the “Aran Boat song” and is therefore widely considered as trad irish, but is more often known as The Highland Boat Song. It is a very popular melody and although it was published in the collections of nineteenth-century music it was already known in 1700 and combined for example with Robert Allan’s poetry “Queen Mary’s Escape From Lochleven Castle”. It is a melody that one learns to play on the tin whistle due to its relative simplicity of execution (see), but it is also a tune much loved by the harpists.
The arrangements of this sweet melody are endless, I propose only a small part, among those that I consider to be the most beautiful.

Musika Magika with the magic harp from Tabita Dulcamara

Patrick Ball  and the harp with metal strings

John&Phil Cunningham  from “Against the Storm”

Arran is the largest island of the Firth of Clyde, the fjord of the river Clyde, nicknamed the Sleeping Warrior because its conformation seen from the sea is that of a sleeping giant. “While wandering around the island, whatever the chosen vehicle, one also realizes why the isle has been called “a Scotland in miniature”, thanks to its geological conformation, because the landscape is divided into Highlands and Lowlands exactly as it is, the larger the entire Scottish nation.
And it is definitely impressive how much the landscape changes between the south and the north of the island: the north is bristly, rocky and sharp; while the southern part is flat, covered with heath and green.” (translated from here)


To Hear the Nightingale Sing One Morning in May

Leggi in Italiano

”The Bold Grenader”, “A bold brave bonair” or “The Soldier and the Lady” but also “To Hear the Nightingale Sing”, “The Nightingale Sings” and “One Morning in May” are different titles of a same traditional song collected in England, Ireland, America and Canada.


The story belongs to some stereotypical love adventures in which a soldier (or a nobleman, sometimes a sailor) for his attractiveness and gallantry, manages to obtain the virtue of a young girl. The girls are always naive peasant women or shepherdesses who believe in the sweet words of love sighed by man, and they expect to marry him after sex, but they are inevitably abandoned.


soldierIn the nursery rhyme above “Where are you going my pretty maid” this seductive situation is sweetly reproduced and the illustrator portrays the man in the role of the soldier. Walter Craine (in “A Baby’s Opera”, 1877) represents him as a dapper gentleman, but in reality he is the archetype of the predator , the wolf with the fur inside and the woman of the nursery rhyme with his blow-answer seems to be a good girl who has treasured the maternal teachings

In other versions is the girl (bad girl !!) to take the initiative and to bring the young soldier in her house (see more), only the season is always the same because it is in the spring that blood boils in the veins; as early as 1600 there was a ballad called “The Nightingale’s Song: The Soldier’s Rare Musick, and Maid’s Recreation”, so for a song that has been around for so long, we can expect a great deal of textual versions and different melodies. An accurate overview of texts and melodic variations starting from 1689 here

FOLK REVIVAL: “They kissed so sweet & comforting”

This is the version almost at the same time diffused by the Dubliners and the Clancy Brothers, the most popular version in the 60’s Folk clubs.

The Dubliners

Clancy Brothers & Tommy Maker, from Live in Ireland, 1965
The Nightingale

As I went a walking one morning in May
I met a young couple so far did we stray
And one was a young maid so sweet and so fair
And the other was a soldier and a brave Grenadier(1)
And they kissed so sweet and comforting
As they clung to each other
They went arm in arm along the road
Like sister and brother
They went arm in arm along the road
Til they came to a stream
And they both sat down together, love
To hear the nightingale sing(2)
Out of his knapsack he took a fine fiddle(3)
He played her such merry tunes that you ever did hear
He played her such merry tunes that the valley did ring
And softly cried the fair maid as the nightingale sings
Oh, I’m off to India for seven long years
Drinking wines and strong whiskies instead of strong beer
And if ever I return again ‘twill be in the spring
And we’ll both sit down together love to hear the nightingale sing
“Well then”, says the fair maid, “will you marry me?”
“Oh no”, says the soldier, “however can that be?”
For I’ve my own wife at home in my own country
And she is the finest little maid that you ever did see

1) soldier becomes sometimes a volunteer, but the grenadier is a soldier particularly gifted for his prestige and courage, the strongest and tallest man of the average, distinguished by a showy uniform, with the characteristic miter headgear, which in America was replaced by a bear fur hat.
2) it is the code phrase that distinguishes this style of courting songs. The nightingale is the bird that sings only at night and in the popular tradition it is the symbol of lovers and their love conventions (vedi)
3) perhaps the instrument was initially a flute but more often it was a small violin or portable violin called the kit violiner (pocket fiddle): it was the popular instrument par excellence in the Renaissance. It is curious to note how in this type of gallant encounters the soldier has been replaced by the itinerant violinist, mostly a dance teacher, so it is explained how any reference to the violin, to its bow or strings could have some sexual connotations in the folk tradition


John Jacob Niles – One Morning In May

Jo Stafford The Nightingale


The melody spread in Dorsetshire, so vibrant and passionate but with a hint of melancholy, a version more suited to the Romeo and Juliet’s love night and to the nightingale chant in its version of medieval aubade, also closer to the nursery rhyme “Where are you going my pretty maid” of which takes up the call and response structure.

To savor its ancient charm, here is a series of instrumental arrangements



Le Trésor d’Orphée
Redwood Falls (Madeleine Cooke, Phil Jones & Edd Mann)

Isla Cameron The Bold Grenadier from “Far from The Madding Crowd”

As I was a walking one morning in May
I spied a young couple a makin’ of hay.
O one was a fair maid and her beauty showed clear
and the other was a soldier, a bold grenadier.
Good morning, good morning, good morning said he
O where are you going my pretty lady?
I’m a going a walking by the clear crystal stream
to see cool water glide and hear nightingales sing.
O soldier, o soldier, will you marry me?
O no, my sweet lady that never can be.
For I’ve got a wife at home in my own country,
Two wives and the army’s too many for me.


Sweet Nightingale from Cornwall

Leggi in italiano

In Italy, the nightingale returns in mid-March and leaves in September. His song, melodious and powerful, presents a remarkable variety of modulations and phrasings, by able songwriter, so that one can speak of a personal repertoire different from bird to bird.
In the folk tradition the nightingale is the symbol of lovers and their love meeting, immortalized by Shakespeare in “Romeo and Juliet” he sings at the pomegranate and the only choice is between life and death: to stay in the nuptial thalamus and die or to leave for exile (and perhaps salvation)?

Romeo and Juliet, Heather Craft

Wilt thou be gone?
It is not yet near day.

It was the nightingale,
and not the lark,

That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear.
Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate tree.
Believe me, love,
it was the nightingale.

It was the lark,
the herald of the morn,

No nightingale. Look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east.
Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die.

Thus the song of the nightingale has assumed a negative characteristic, he is not the singer of joy as the lark but of melancholy and death.


Fresco detail Casa del bracciale d’oro, Pompeii

The fresco in the House of the Golden Bracelet, in Pompeii, dated between 30 and 35 AD. depicting scenes taken from a wooded garden, portrays a lonely nightingale among the rose branches.
And it is precisely for his nocturnal hiding in the thick of the wood that in the traditional songs he has approached to trivial kind with double meanings alluding to the erotic sphere and his sweet song is an invitation to abandon oneself to the pleasures of sex.
The folk song was probably born in Cornwall with the titles of”Sweet Nightingale”, “My sweetheart, come along” or “Down in those valleys below”.

“The words of Sweet Nightingale were first published in Robert Bell’s Ancient Poems of the Peasantry of England, 1857, with the note:“This curious ditty—said to be a translation from the ancient Cornish tongue… we first heard in Germany… The singers were four Cornish miners, who were at that time, 1854, employed at some lead mines near the town of Zell. The leader, or captain, John Stocker, said that the song was an established favourite with the lead miners of Cornwall and Devonshire, and was always sung on the pay-days and at the wakes; and that his grandfather, who died 30 years before at the age of a hundred years, used to sing the song, and say that it was very old.” Unfortunately Bell failed to get a copy either of words or music from these miners, and relied in the end on a gentleman of Plymouth who “was obliged to supply a little here or there, but only when a bad rhyme, or rather none at all, made it evident what the real rhyme was. I have read it over to a mining gentleman at Truro, and he says it is pretty near the way we sing it.”The tune most people sing was collected by Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould from E.G. Stevens of St. Ives, Cornwall.” (from here)

The song also includes a version in cornish gaelic titled “An Eos Hweg“, but it is a more recent translation from the folk revival of the Celtic traditions.  It is a popular song often sung in pubs today in repertoire of the choral groups.

Sam Lee & Jackie Oates from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 2 
Jackie Oates – The Sweet Nightingale (Live)

Alex Campbell – ‘Live’ 1968

“My sweetheart, come along!
Don’t you hear the fond song,
The sweet notes of the nightingale flow?/Don’t you hear the fond tale
Of the sweet nightingale,
As she sings in the valleys below?
My sweetheart(1), don’t fail,
For I’ll carry your pail(2),
Safe home to your cot as we go;
You shall hear the fond tale
Of the sweet nightingale,
As she sings in the valleys below.”
“Pray let me alone,
I have hands of my own;
Along with you I will not go,
To hear the fond tale
Of the sweet nightingale,
As she sings in the valleys below”
“Pray sit yourself down
With me on the ground,
On this bank where sweet primroses grow;
You shall hear the fond tale
Of the sweet nightingale,
As she sings in the valleys below”
This couple agreed;
They were married with speed(3),
And soon to the church they did go.
She was no more afraid
For to walk in the shade,
Nor yet in the valleys below.

1) Pretty Bets or Betty or Sweet maiden
2) the girl was a milkmaid and the young man offers to take home the bucket with fresh milk
3) certainly the girl had become pregnant

third part


Asshole Rules the Navy

Leggi in italiano

“Asshole Rules the Navy” is a sea song in a bawdry and very trash style, for a perfect “pirate song”: recorded by Salty Dick for his album “Uncensored Sailor Songs” (2004) it is also titled “Backside rules the Navy” in the Oscar Brand version ( 1958).

Oscar Brand from “Bawdy Sea Chanteys.” 1958: in a “British gentleman” accent for a very fun story (I, II, VI)

Iggy Pop & A Hawk and a Hacksaw from Son Of Rogues Gallery ‘Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys ANTI 2013 ( I, II, VI)

Pyrates! from Uncharted Lands 2014: the dutch “Pyrates!” add some more stanzas

Let us sing a bit of good old Captain Kitt,
Who sat one morning early in the head.
A bee came flying past and it stung him on the ass,
And this is what the gallant captain said.
“Asshole(1) rules the Navy,
asshole rules the sea.
If you want a bit of bum,
better get it from your chum –
You’ll get no ass from me.”
Now we’ll hear some rhymes of Yeoman Second Grimes
Who ran the hook that hoisted up the mail.
One day as he stood watch it caught him in the crotch
And he cried as he went flying o’er the rail/”It doesn’t matter..”
Let us sing at gait (2),
as cook was running late
as the second mate searched below the decks
He caught him dashing past, run him up his mast
and this is what the shipman had to say..

The skipper wore his caps, over good old fashion maps
and for the good ole seaman he did call
they started having fun, as he filled him up with…..rum
and this is what the captain had to say….
Next we’ll sing a while, of a man with bags o’ style
for his shoes were made of Aussie crocodile
as he sat there on the docks,
We showed him all our….rocks
and this is what the bos’n had to say….
And now to end my song I’ll sing of AB Long
Whose member was not like his name at all.
When asked if he would tell how
he got along so well
His answer simply was as I recall,
“It’s very simple…”

1) or Backside
2) our own way