I first came into contact with the Tunneys when I was about eleven years old. At that time my father, Sean O'Baoill, was travelling the country with Peter Kennedy collecting songs for the BBC archive of folk music. Paddy Tunney's mother, Brigid, was one of the people whose recorded voice was played over to us when the two collectors could get home to Armagh. It was not long before we began to hear records of Paddy himself and since those days there is no doubt that he has established himself as a singer in a class of his own. One of Paddy's peculiarities is that he chooses a high proportion of songs that are hexatonic or pentatonic. In the present instance. these 'gapped' scales. along with the decorated styles of his singing, produce a homogeneity of character which alone would make this a record for the connoisseur of traditional singing.
Paddy Tunney — Man of Songs — is, without doubt, one of Ireland's greatest traditional singers. Many of his songs come from his mother, Brigid Tunney, and it is from her also that he has learned the ability to lilt — an ability that has made him a prize-winner. Paddy's repertoire is continually on the increase and he can be heard on several other Topic records: A Wild Bee's Nest, Ireland Her Own — with Arthur Kearney, The Irish Edge and The Mountain Streams.
Paddy Tunney is one of Ireland's finest singers, possessing a huge and varied repertoire, which he performs with consummate skill He combines masterful use of ornamentation and embellishments with delicate shadings and variations of vocal texture to fashion eleven crafted performances on this his eighth LP and his first on the Green Linnet label.
He tells his own story in a lyrical, compelling volume, The Stone Fiddle, published by Gilbert Dalton, Dublin, 1979. Those interested in Paddy's life history and in such matters as who sang songs, where and when they sang them, and what they meant to the singers and their audiences, would do well to buy a copy of the book. As well as being eloquent and informative it also contains the words and music to many of the songs in Paddy's repertoire and some poems he wrote himself.
In brief, he was born in 1921 in Scotland His mother Brigid Tunney was a great singer and Paddy learned many songs from her He has lived in various parts of Ireland, including Fermanagh, Derry, and Belfast Jails (for political reasons), Donegal, Dublin, Kerry, and Galway where he currently resides with his wife, Sheila. They have six children Paddy Og, Cathal, Brigid, Michael, Maura and John.
Paddy has been singing since he was four years old, and he continues to learn and perform new songs with vigour and flair virtually anywhere and anytime people are willing to listen He has visited America several times including summer 1976 when he performed at the Smithsonian Institution's Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C., and early in 1980 when he toured several American cities as a lecturer/performer under the auspices of the Irish American Cultural Institute.
Some have called Paddy "the man of songs", equally well might he be known as "the man of words" as he is never short of chat on practically any subject one could think of. He speaks about the songs recorded here in these excerpts from a late night talk we had in Philadelphia.
— MICK MOLONEY
The Stone Fiddle is a monument raised to one Denis McCabe, Fiddler and Jester to Sir James Caldwell, Baronet, and Count of Milan, who fell out of Saint Patrick's Barge, belonging to the good knight on August 13th 1770, and was drowned The spot was Rossbeg Point near Castle Caldwell in the County of Fermanagh, Ulster, Ireland, the district where I was reared The Fiddle was moved twice and now can be seen at the ruins of the gatehouse entrance leading to Castle Caldwell The castle also is in ruins. The Stone symbolizes the rich store of traditional song, music, and lore that survived there and flourishes to this very day.
Almost all the songs recorded in the album The Stone Fiddle come from this area or were collected there The greater number of them have not been recorded before Hence the idea to record the album as a complement to my book of the same name.
The verse on The Stone Fiddle reads:
Beware ye fidlers ye fidler's fate
Nor tempt ye deep lest ye repent too late
Ye ever have been deemed to water foes
Then shun the deep till it with whisky flows
On firm land only exercise your skill
There you may play and drink your fill
The Green Fields of America is a song my mother had, but she had only two verses and the corrant or chorus. I sat down last year and wrote three further verses starting with 'Farewell to the dances in homes now deserted' and finishing with the one 'And if you grow tired of pleasure and plenty.' I considered the song was much too short and indeed my mother was the first to admit that she had only fragments of it. You know, Mick, we go in more for the long songs in Ireland with the rich, rolling line.
The White Steed, a remarkable song, came from William Monaghan of Tullyhasson who had songs like The Temptation Song, Erin the Green and Sheila Nee lyer. William was the great troubadour of those parts but was never fully appreciated in his day He was dead before my time but my mother and her neighbors talked so much about him and told so many legends of his exploits that I always felt I knew him intimately. I don't know where the Monaghans originally came from. They had settled in those mountainy parts between Ballintra and Pettigo known to me as Mountain Stream Country, and had been there for two or three hundred years the old people said. Where they got their songs, having no Connacht connections, is a mystery if it was not the travelling craftsmen and journey-men pedlars brought them in Travelling tailors, weavers and the odd cobbler were common enough when my mother was growing up. A tailor came to a townland and sewed suits all day. When night came the table or bench he squatted on all day was removed and they had a scud of a dance It was a social event in the district, you understand. William was always at the tailor's dance for he was ever after the songs with classical allusions such as 'May the sufferings of Sisyphus fall to my share/And may I the torments of Tantallus bear '
The Cool Winding Ayr was composed by a Glasgow policeman. It was the last song my mother gave me She never gave me a song until she considered I was able to sing it properly Indeed she refused to give me The Wee Weaver and I had to learn it off a recording she made for the B.B.C. that Ewan MacColl was able to make a copy of.
I mind well an evening in 1966 two days before my father, God rest him, died. Sheila, my wife, was above in the room chatting to my father The door to the kitchen was open and I was there coaxing the last two verses of The Cool Winding Ayr out of my mother. She went astray a couple of times in the last verses and we nearly fell out over the head of it. My father said to Sheila, 'I hould you Paddy has got that song off her this evening at last" Then, in 1968, I was doing a singing stint in Scotland. Wee Geordie McIntyre gave me a copy of Ford's Vagabond Ballads of Scotland. Damn it, wasn't the whole song included in the collection and the yarn about the peeler who composed it and all, but the tune given in Ford was only for a four-lined verse and was a wee bit straight. My mother's tune was for an eight-lined verse and the tune has runs in it like Banks of Dunmore, Craigie Hill and The Mountain Streams — her big songs. Ford states that no song Burns composed himself enjoyed the same popularity among the rural folk of the Lowlands that The Cooling Winding Ayr won for itself. What attracted me was the fine tune and its great range, more than anything else, and the winding style in which my mother sang it.
Erin the Green, another of old William Monaghan's songs, is an aisling or 'vision' type song with the great Napoleon Bonaparte taking the place of the usual speirbhean or sky-woman to plead his support for the overthrow of the savage and hated English tyrant. That aid is still being sought from whatever source. The tune is the one from the Cork ditty, The Bould Thady Quill. I have never heard anyone sing it but my mother and of course she got it from old William. She had just the two verses and the chorus, and maintained that William hadn't any other verses either.
An Bunnan Bwee (The Yellow Bittern) is my translation into English of one of the most famous Gaelic songs by the 18th Century Fermanagh poet and pedlar Cathal Bwee Mac Giolla Gunna. It seems Cathal found a yellow bittern frozen to death on the ice-covered shore of Lough Macnean in that county. He concluded it had died of thirst and, a noted tippler himself, composed this song of self-mockery in which he compares the life style of the bittern to his own. It is a song beloved in every part of Ireland where Gaelic is spoken and I have seen old men in Connemara shed tears when listening to the singing of it by the high king of sean-nos (traditional) singers, the great Joe Heaney. In my translation I tried to retain the vowel stresses and internal assonance of the original Gaelic. This enables one to sing it naturally. Thomas McDonagh, one of the 1916 martyrs, did a more literary translation of the song but it is difficult to sing. Along with being a poet, a pedlar and a tippler, Cathal Bwee was a mighty man with the fair sex. He married a goodly number and was reputed to have seduced a great many more. We Irish love a vagabond.
Lovely Annie is another of the Scottish songs my mother learned from her Aunt Mary Gallagher — the woman known as Mary of the Mountain Streams. The verse referring to Bedlam I heard before in a selection of London street songs in the possession of one Jim Dooley, a singer of London-Irish extraction. He had quite a number of songs relating to girls crossed in love who ended up in Bedlam and were subjected to dire cruelty and deprivation. The tune again has that haunting quality about it that manifests itself not infrequently in my mother's songs.
Tam Brown I learned from my father, the Lord have mercy on his soul, who was not a singer at all. In his version of the Mummer's play performed when he was young in the Pettigo-Castlecaldwell districts, when Turkish Champion cut down Prince George on cue and the Doctor had restored the slain hero to life and health, the Captain proclaimed:
'Oh horrible, horrible, was the like ever seen
A man of seven senses driven into seventeen
By a buck, by a bear, by the devil's own ancestors, son and heir,' etc …
and then restored peace and good fellowship by requesting the Mummers to sing:
'We'll join our hands together and we'll never fight no more
We'll be as loyal comrades as we have been before We'll bless the master of this house and the mistress too
And all the little children that round the table grew
With their pockets full of money and their glasses full of beer
We wish you a merry Christmas and a bright new year.'
And then they all sang Tam Brown. Dr Galley of the Ulster Folk Museum, Belfast, states in his thesis on Irish Folk Drama that the Pettigo-Castlecaldwell area is the only one in Ireland where the song, Tam Brown was incorporated into the Mumming play. Mumming was done mostly during the weeks preceding Christmas The mummers went 'round all the houses in a large rural district, mostly on foot, and performed their play in the kitchen of each house visited This was done during the dark winter nights of course Any stipend collected went towards organizing a Mummers' dance held in some farmer's barn loft after Christmas. At least two persons from each house visited were invited to the dance. There was a light supper served and a barrel of porter supplied the refreshments to thirstier patrons.
The Temptation Song is a magnificent one from the William Monaghan collection He used to declaim it at the big dances of the mountainy country, and in order to emphasize a point scored by the tempted over the temptor, would throw his cup upon the floor in dramatic fashion. This act drew loud applause from the assembly My mother had only fragments of this remarkable song and I had to restitch the last five or six verses To do this I had to re-read all the Old Testament to check on the accuracy of the argument and to sustain the classical grandeur of the lines. As far as I know this song was never recorded in any form before.
The Banks of the Bann — a beautiful song of silent and subtle seduction, collected by O'Boyle and Kennedy in the Portadown/Armagh area during their song-collecting forays of '53. Len Graham sings another version of it he learned in the South Derry region of Ulster It has different words and another tune altogether. There are two Bann rivers of course, the Upper Bann and the Lower Bann, but in both songs the maiden is seduced. This whole area is rich in song. It is Geordie Hanna and Robert Cinnamond territory, both renowned traditional singers. This song is not published in my book.
Highland Mary is a song my mother sang frequently with her other Scottish songs. I believe it was Robbie Burns himself composed this one, but she listed it along with her other big songs. I once heard a Galway man sing it but he had only two verses and you could scarcely call him a singer. He drizzened a wee bit you know Still he was a clinking litter. Traditional dance music was his first love. My mother and this man were the only two mortals I ever heard sing Highland Mary.
Good Friends and Companions is a lasting monument to the memory of the gentle and genial Joe Holmes, may the sod lie lightly on his bones' He taught it to Len Graham and three years ago at the Singing Festival of Belleek we adopted it as the traditional singers' anthem. I first heard Joe and Len sing it together at a singing festival in Trinity College, Dublin. I include it here as a stone on the cairn of Joe Holmes; a cairn or monument that grows higher each time Ulstermen meet in song. No other traditional singer did more to build bridges in a divided community and replace hatred and discord with harmony and love
— From an interview with Mick Moloney