McLeod's Reel — Sometimes known as Miss McLeod's Reel, this is, with The Irish Washerwoman, the widest-known of all Irish dance tunes. Indeed, Francis O'Neill reported in 1909 that in some parts of Ireland no other reel was to be heard. It has been circulating for at least a hundred and eighty years, for Beranger names it among the six favourite tunes played by pipers for his entertainment when he visited Galway in 1779.
A Bucket of the Mountain Dew — Samuel Lover wrote a song called The Mountain Dew. Whether the folk adapted Lover's words or vice versa would be hard to say. The McPeakes' tune is a modernized version of the line pentatonic air to which this song is usually sung. The modernizations, notably the filling in of the seventh step, which is missing in the older versions, brings the tune into some relation with the Boys of Wexford air.
Eileen Aroon — Several legends surround the making of this song. The most favoured one concerns a seventeenth century Connaught gentleman, Carol O'Daly, who was courting a landowner's daughter, Eileen Kavanagh. During O'Daly's absence abroad, his enemies spread rumours of his unfaithfulness and Kathleen was preparing to marry one of his rivals when O'Daly returned. Disguising himself as a harper, he appeared at the wedding, was called upon by Eileen to play, and sang his newly-composed song, Eileen Aroon, Moved by the song, the new bride contrived to elope with O'Daly that very evening. So runs the legend. The earliest printed copy of the song seems to be in Coffee's ballad opera The Beggar's Wedding, performed in Dublin in 1729. A song-sheet of it was printed in London about 1740, with the title: Eileen Aroon, an Irish ballad sung by Mrs. Clive at ye Theatre Royal. It was a favourite air with 18th century harpists, and in 1792 Edward Bunting noted a version of it from the remarkable blind harpist Denis O'Hempsey who died in 1807 at the age of 112.
An Durd Fainne — The tune is relatively old, being a Jacobite air from the 1690s, but the words are fairly recent, written in 1909 by Patrick Pearse who, seven years later, was for a brief period the President of the Provisional Government of Ireland before he was shot by the British on May 4th, 1916. The chorus, which is adapted from that of the Jacobite song, says: Welcome to our victorious army. Some day Ireland will be free of foreigners.
My Singing Bird — The melody is of a Munster folk tune. The words are by the Irish poetess, Edith Wheeler. The song came to the McPeakes from Cathal O'Byrne, who organised stage ceilis at which Francis senior played as a young man.
The Lament of Aughrim — On July 12th, 1691, the Franco-Irish army of James II (wearing the white cockades of the Bourbons and Stuarts) was defeated by the Anglo-Dutch army of William of Orange (wearing green cockades, oddly enough), at Aughrim, near Ballinasloe, Co. Galway. It was the decisive battle in the Williamite conquest of Ireland. This tune is an old piper's lament for the black day. Francis McPeake senior says: 'The tune has slept with me this forty years since it was first teached me by the old blind piper, John Riley.' The idea of inserting the courtly march known as The Glorious Return from Fingal, which the McPeakes play within the frame of this lament, was passed on from John Riley.
Carraig Dun (The Dark Rock) — The melody belongs to the large family of which The Mountains of Mourne is a recent and very humble member. The song is associated with the Geadhna Fiadhaine, the Wild Geese — a poetic name given (long after the event) to Irish soldiers who left their country after the capitulation of Limerick in 1691, and took service in armies on the Continent.
The Derry Hornpipe — The tune is meant to accompany a dance for one man alone, either step or clog dancing. The McPeakes play it in its original form as a two-strain tune. Other strains were subsequently added by the Irish-American pipers Bernard Delaney and Turlough McSwiney, and nowadays it's usually heard in this modernized form. It is widely known in Donegal, Down and Tipperary, and probably came into being in the latter part of the 19th century.
The Old Piper — Francis McPeake senior learnt this from Carl Gilbert Hardebeck, the dauntless pioneer in the cause of Irish music who began his fight early in this century for the introduction of living Gaelic songs into the Irish schools and concert halls. Hardebeck, who became Professor of Irish Music in Cork in the early 1920s, published a number of excellent folk song settings (notably Seoda Ceoil) and was an encouraging influence on Francis McPeake as a young man.
Slieve Gallon Brae — One of the airs Carl Hardebeck arranged. An exile song, associated with Slieve Gallon in the Sperrin Range. Romantic writers have associated the air with the Ossianic Enchantment of Finn Mac Cool, but there's no firm ground for this.
Ireland, Boys, Hurrah — A patriotic song perhaps a hundred years old. Francis senior had it from his father.
Cock Robin — Big theories surround the origin of this little piece. Some say the Cock Robin song originated with intrigues that led to the downfall of Robert Walpole as Prime Minister in 1742. Others say it arose out of an early myth such as the Norse legend of the death of Balder. Less ingenious thinkers take it as a more or less meaningless nursery piece that has been on the go for about two hundred years and has taken on various shapes. This is the McPeake Family shape of it.
An Coolin — Some people call this piece The Fair-Haired Girl. It was much wider-spread in the nineteenth century than now. Petrie has a set of it 'as sung in Clare' (Complete Collection of Irish Music, No. 598). Francis senior says 'That's just about the oldest air we know of'.
The Verdant Braes of Skreen — One of the best-loved of Co. Derry ballads. Herbert Hughes liked it so well, he made it No. 1 in the first volume of his Irish Country Songs. It also appears in Hayward's Ulster Songs and Ballads (London, 1925). Francis senior learnt his version from his father, and of it he says: 'Though I'm Belfast born, my heart is in Derry'.
A family of Musicians
Sam Hanna Bell
In Ireland, where the national emblem is the harp and the traditional instrument is the fiddle, the music-making of the McPeake family on bagpipe and harp is both novel and exciting. Francis McPeake is one of the great names in contemporary Irish folk music. Born in Belfast in 1885, he comes of Derry stock. When I was a boy about six years old,' he says, 'I began to take an interest in the musical traditions of my family. My father was a singer and played the flute. I had two brothers who played the flute and started a band here — I was about eleven years old then, and was learning the flute myself … ' About this time he discovered the uilleann (elbow) or 'union' pipes, and was fortunate enough to study under John O'Reilly, a blind musician from Galway and a famous uilleann piper. Francis, now in his late seventies, has dedicated many years of his life to perfecting his skill and artistry on that sweet and poignant instrument.
In the early years of the century, as he says himself, he was 'a lone piper in the North'. About 1906 he came into possession of a set of pipes made by the master craftsman, Richard O'Malley. Two years later, at the Belfast Feis, he carried away the trophy awarded by that strange genius of Irish music, the composer Carl Hardebeck (a name still honoured in the McPeake household). At the Dublin Oireachtas of 1912, he proved himself one of the sweetest pipers in the land. In his young days he came under the notice of Francis O'Neill, the Police Superintendent of Chicago and a noted editor of Irish dance melodies, who speaks of him in his famous collection, Irish Minstrels and Musicians, as the only Irish piper he ever heard who could sing to his own accompaniment.
This ability to make music is inherited by Francis's children and grandchildren. With his sons Frank and James he formed the McPeake Trio which has brought many Irish airs to audiences at home and abroad. The father and his son Frank play the pipes, and James plays the harp. James recalls how the Trio, with its unique instrumentation and style, came into being.
'My father, at the start of his folk music life, played with a Welsh harper by the name of John Page. He enjoyed it so much that from that time out he always wanted to play with a harper. But it's his opinion that harpers are much too important within themselves to accompany anyone but themselves, so he decided that someone in the family must learn the harp. First and foremost we had to get a harp. After three or four years' searching we found one (McFall of Belfast was the maker) which had been lying unplayed for many years in Downpatrick Convent. Through my little knowledge of the fiddle, accordion and piano, I started to learn the harp. Then my father, brother and myself sat round the hearth playing our instruments and singing. Those evenings round the fireside were the beginnings of the family Trio.'
In 1957, the McPeakes played their music before enthusiastic audiences at the Moscow World Youth Festival, where the instruments of the Irish musicians were greatly admired. On three occasions, in 1958, 1960 and again in 1962, they won major prizes at the International Eisteddfod at Llangollen. In 1961 the Trio were the guests of the English Folk Dance and Song Society on the occasion of the Jubilee Festival in the Royal Albert Hall. Other and greater audience seated at their radios and TV sets have enjoyed the music of the McPeakes.
And now the family talent for melody is transmitted to a third generation. Francis and Kathleen, son and daughter of Frank, with their cousin Tommy McCudden, form a second trio of two pipes and a harp. They are heard on this record, playing with the elder trio.