“The Cliff of Dooneen” (Doneen, Dooneen, Duneen) is an Irish ballad from the 1930s (or late 19th century), made famous by Planxty; it spread to Great Britain after the post-war migration, Christy Moore heard a version in 1965 by various singers (Andy Rynne, Ann Mulqueen and Mick McGuane) and made it popular in folk scene of the 70s.
Like Avalon, the Dooneen cliffs are not found in a specific place, but in the mists of myth and nostalgia. Two counties contend this location: Clare near the mouth of the Shannon and Kerry near Beal. However, it is suspected that the confusion between the counties is an attempt to advertise the cliffs of Moher, that is one of the most charming places in Ireland.
It’s an emigration song, those who leave for distant lands regret their home and want to be buried in the places loved in their youth.
BEAL VERSION (CO. KERRY)
According to Beal’s people (Kerry Co.) the poem was penned by Jack McAuliffe of Lixnaw who wrote the original version during a visit to his sister. Nichols Carolan from the ITMA in Dublin attests: “Dooneen Point is on the Kerry Coast, between Ballylongford and Ballybunnion at the Mouth of the River Shannon, giving excellent views of the South West of Clare, though it should be said that it is not possible to see Kilrush and Kilkee from this point as stated in verse two [Christy Moore lyrics]. This has been explained by suggesting that the song was originally located in Moveen, a few miles south west of Kilkee in Clare. The song was first recorded in Dublin in the 1960s sung by Siney Crotty who came from Kilbaha, which is on the Clare side of the Shannon. Since it’s first appearance it has gained enormous popularity. The Irish Traditional Music Archive has around one hundred and ninety commercial recordings of it.”
| Jack McAuliffe poem
I have traveled afar from my own native home.
Away o’er the billows, away o’er the foam I have seen many sights but no equal I’ve seen
To the old rocky slopes by the cliffs of Dooneen
I have seen many sights of Columbus fair land,
Africa and Asia so delightful and grand,
But dig me a grave were the grass it grows green
On the old rocky slopes by the cliffs of Dooneen.
How pleasant to walk on a fine summers day.
And to view the sweet cherries that will never decay,
Where the sea grass(1) and seaweed and the old carrageen(2)
All grow from the rocks by the cliffs of Dooneen.
The Sand hills of Beal (3) are glorious and grand,
And the old castle ruins looking out on the strand,
Where the hares and the rabbits are there to be seen
Making holes for their homes by the cliffs of Dooneen.
I have tracked my love’s footsteps to the boathouse of old
And the dance (4) on the hillside where love stories are told,
Its there you will see both the lad and the colleen
Moving round by the shore of the cliffs of Dooneen
Take a view across the Shannon some sites you will see there
High rocky mountains on the south coast of Clare
The towns of Kilrush and Kilkee ever green
But theres none to compare with the cliffs of Dooneen
Farewell Dooneen, Farewell for a while, And to those kind-Hearted neighbours that I left in the isle,
May my soul never rest till it’s laid on the green
Near the old rocky slopes by the Cliffs of Dooneen
1) these sea floor plants often grow in large “meadows” that resemble grazing
2) There are various types of red algae found along the coasts of Ireland – Great Britain: the alga dulse (Palmaria palmata) and the irish moss (Chondrus crispus also called Carragheen) which, when spread out and dried in the sun, turns to white in a characteristic “blonde” color!
3) the Dingle Peninsula in the south-west of Ireland has a very indented coastline characterized by rock headlands and pristine green meadows
4) a Feile Lughnasa, a Celtic summer festival still celebrated in July
MOVEEN VERSION (CO. CLARE)
However the most accredited version of the song is the one that identifies the cliffs with the “Cliffs of Moveen” in County Clare.
Christy Moore tells in his web page“It is a very simple piece of writing yet the combination of its lyric and music have people around the world. I have heard it sung in very different styles too. Margo recorded a “Country and Irish” version whilst Andy Rynne used to sing it in the Sean-Nós style“
|Christy Moore lyrics
You may travel far from your own native home
Far away o’er the mountains, far away o’er the foam
But of all the fine places that I’ve ever seen
there’s none to compare with the Cliffs of Dooneen
Take a view o’er the mountains, fine sights you’ll see there
You’ll see the high rocky mountains o’er the West coast of Clare
Oh the towns of Kilkee and Kilrush can be seen
From the high rocky slopes of the cliffs of Dooneen
It’s a nice place to be on a fine summer’s day
Watching all the wild flowers that ne’er do decay
Oh the hares and the loft pheasants are plain to be seen
Making homes for their young round the cliffs of Dooneen
Fare thee well to Dooneen, fare thee well for awhile
And to all the kind people I’m leaving behind
To the streams and the meadows where late I have been
And the high rocky slopes of the cliffs of Dooneen
Who knows why on the Web many write that the text is by Jack McAuliffe but then they sing the Christy Moore version !!