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Hugh’s introductions provide a valuable insight into his motivation to publish the Dusty Bluebells Collection and are a key to understanding his target audience.

While of course his scholarship and attention to detail are reflected throughout, the warm tone of his words and Lisa’s playful illustrations show the intended audiences were children and parents.
Original Introduction to Dusty Bluebells, 1971

“This little book is meant for children and parents. Its contents should be not just read, but sung, chanted or spoken as loudly as the neighbours will allow.
(Children need not read this)

Nowadays it is common knowledge that children have for generations preserved a legacy of music and poetry that owes nothing to teacher or parent. This oral legacy derives much from a former oral tradition of adult society, part myth, part ritual, part history, a tradition which had dwindled and largely disappeared from the adult world itself. But the children’s tradition has also its own characteristics and a creative force proper to the child’s own environment. As I write this, young voices are floating up from the street:

Traffic lights, traffic lights, run for the colour: Navy blue… White… Russet brown…

And the ones wearing the colour run. In these chants and rhymes and songs the present-day and the primeval worlds jostle one another.

This collection is a musical and textual one. It does not dwell on the functional aspect of children’s verses. Many of them, of course, are normally the servants of game, gesture and everyday encounter in the child’s life. But change of function is not uncommon and verses are moreover often detached from their functional environment and used independently. The social functions of children’s lore have often been described and some of the books and collections on this subject are referred to in the notes (pages 99—106). The main purpose of these notes is, however, to describe exactly the sources from which they were obtained. They include references to the tape recordings from which I have transcribed many of the items.

Adults may contemplate these juvenilia with pleasure and affection; in lullabies and suchlike they may participate more actively; but as well as ‘functional’ songs I have included a number of ‘straight’ ones. These are a good meeting-ground for child and adult. Some are of juvenile inspiration; others are meant by adults for children; others still are ‘adult’ songs which have a particular appeal for children because of their direct narrative or concrete imagery. In the same way, the acting of mumming plays is an occupation which was traditionally reserved for ‘stout, strong men’: but our Fermanagh mumming play and its songs are particularly accessible to the young.
My own four children have been the main critics concerning my choice of ‘adult’ songs. Certainly I would not have dared to include so long a ballad as John Barbour (no 123) without the delighted and persistent approbation of a four-year-old.

Some of these rhymes and songs are local versions of old favourites, while others are little known, perhaps never published. I hope that readers, or better, singers, will agree that they do not deserve to be forgotten. For my part, I wish to express my warmest thanks to the people who gave them to me. Their names appear on pages 97—98.

Hugh Shields, Dublin, 1971

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Once upon a time there was a man who knew lots of songs. People used to learn songs from him. But they could never sing them without changing the words and music. Sometimes they changed them so much that the man was hardly able to tell what songs they were when he heard them again.

‘My good song murdered!’ he would say. ‘It’s just like the man and his mare!

There was a man one time and he had an old mare he wanted rid of. She was no good to him, and he thought he would take her to the fair. And he took her to the fair. And when he went there, he had a notion of selling her and buying another one: a better one than her, for he thought that she was done. But when he went to the fair the dealers gathered round him. And they bought this mare off him anyway. They took this mare away and cleaned her up and gingered her, and brought her back into the fair again a while after. And he was looking for a good one. And he saw she was a good one. And bought her. And he took her home.

And whenever he went into the yard, the wife says to him, says she “Heavens! Have you your own mare back with you again?”

“Not at all” says he, “that’s the one I bought” says he. “Man, that’s a good one!”

“Take the bridle off her” says his wife, she says, “till we see where she goes.”

The man took off the bridle. And the mare goes back into the stable and straight into her own stall.

The man knew his own mare then all right.’

Very likely you know rhymes and songs like the ones in this book. And very likely the words and tunes you know are not just the same. Well, if some of the things in the book sound a bit like your own things ‘cleaned up and gingered’ don’t bother with them. Try the others. Try out the riddles on your aunts and uncles.

Most grown-ups learned songs and rhymes when they were children playing: but they are not very good at remembering them. They may even have forgotten all about them. You could probably sing and recite some of your own ones to your mother and father. This would help them to remember the ones they used to have, and encourage them to sing you some of the other songs in this book. Grown-ups like to be reminded of these things, and it is fun for children too.

Hugh Shields, Dublin, 1971”

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Original Introduction to Old Grinding Young, 1975

“ ‘The Old Grinding Young’ was the name of a Dublin pub until about 1960. The cover illustration is from a large broadside engraving by the Belfast printer Alexander Mayne, dating from about 1820 and preserved in the library of Queen’s University, Belfast. For a note on the motif of a rejuvenating mill see Alan Gailey in Ulster folklife, XVII (1971) 95–7.]

Generations of song play and word play in Ireland

This record is meant, not for children or adults, but for both. Adults, no doubt, can get pleasure merely from recalling the traditional poetry of their childhood and the activities it accompanied. But if they are to share their enjoyment of such things with any children who happen to be around, some sort of cultural exchange between old and young is needed. So this is not simply a record of characteristic children’s verbal and musical lore. It also brings in several of the sort of adult folk songs which seem most likely to appeal to children, as well as interludes of adult music on fiddle, accordion, flute, fife and drum, not to mention the vocables of mouth music.

A father and son fiddling [Maggie Pickie], a father and daughter singing [Down by yon riverside] grandpa and the youngest child bouncing and chanting [Bangor boat], a father-in-law tongue-twisting a daughter-in-law’s small sister who in turn riddles the collector [If a fella met a fella]: these are collaborating generations making explicit what in folk music has caused it to be called ‘traditional’.

But to be pedantic on this subject is no better than to grow maudlin, à la Sean O’Casey (a list of books etc. referred to by author’s name only is at the end of these notes); or, like some recent collections of children’s lore, to go ferreting for ‘naughty’ pieces. The songs and verses speak largely for themselves. They include no reconstructions or ‘improved’ versions, but were all taken from popular oral tradition, recorded by me between 1964 and 1975, performed at times with inconvenient indifference to recording apparatus.

There are plenty of background happenings and eccentric noises: fiddling accompanied by the whining of a dog (A7) A parent telling a child that she has skipped ‘enough’ (B22) [Bluebells cockleshells], titters hardly less audible for being voiceless (B39) [Baint na cnó]. There is the child who sings so out of tune as to have occasioned the query whether the girls’ chorus is meant to be in parts (A12) [Dusty bluebells] and the octogenarian who pauses a second or two in mid-line in deliberate burlesque of the phrasing of traditional singers (A10) [Town of Antrim].

Whatever adults may think of these effects, I am confident that children will receive them well. And for older children, who find burlesque at times almost the only means of vocal expression, it is only fair to include – along with the Skin-and-bone lady [=A6 Woman at the churchyard gate] – Dives and Lazarus intra and extra muros (B9) [Walls of Jerusalem] and a comical Barbara Allen learnt about fifty years ago from a maid in a Wicklow household (B10).

The young generation
(A1—6, 11—16, 18—19, 22, 24, 27: B1—7, 13—19, 21—32, 35—36, 38—39, 41—44)

Children’s songs-and-rhymes make no clear distinction between ‘singing’ and ‘speaking’. The verses are a special form of language in which intonation in particular is modified, with or without adopting the ‘formalization’ of a precisely repeated melody. ‘Melodies’ may be a little more than reiterated minor thirds (B22) and a particular melody recurs again and again:

Like their melodies, most rhymes are extensively practised, but several are rare or provide an unusual, often poetic, variant
(A1 [One, two, three, four], 5 [The rippo, the rappo], 11 [Skip to maloo], 24 [Cups and saucers];
B2 [Barry and Joan were under a bush], 5 [My mother told me], 14—19 [Our Queen up the river, Our Queen won the medal, Our Queen can burl her leg, Our Queen won, Bangor boat, Hally go lee] ), 21 [Hairy elephant], 26—7 [Teacher, teacher, Three, six, nine], 28 [A sailor went to sea], 29 [Denis the menace]).
These include the Belfast May songs, which are no longer in currency and have been recalled by adults.

On the other hand, the function of the rhymes is of special interest, whether it varies in different localities or even the same locality from skipping to counting-out to ball-bouncing. Several items were recorded during performance of the appropriate occupation (A12, 15—16, 22; B22, 25, 28, 32, 39, 42—44); the child’s attention is then concentrated on the activity and it is useless to complain of swallowed syllables or vague intonation. More ‘musical’ or ‘artistic’ effects could be had only at the expense of, for example, quite audible absorption in complex ball bouncing (B42) [One, two, three a plainsy] or dramatic spontaneity in a mother-and-children game (A22) [Bang, bang the dishes].

The old generation
(A7—10, 17, 20, 21, 23, 25?, 26, 28—29; B8–12, 20, 33—34, 37, 40)

Another play figures here (A20) [Christmas rhymes], for despite the obvious appeal of mumming to children, tradition has ordained that the Christmas rhymers should be grown men. Lilting and the inconsequential verses often associated with it (A26 [Sí piper’s tune], B12 [Minnie Picken]) derive from adult dancing, in the same way as the fiddle and accordion music (A7 [Maggie Pickie], 21; B11, 40). Flute, fife and drum produce band music; the fife and Lambeg drum of Orange parades are rarely heard outside Ulster.

Among the songs, those which deal with the adult subjects of love and marriage remain while doing so within the reach of children (who are interested in love and marriage themselves). Like most of the children’s rhymes the adult songs have major tonality, or in some cases are more or less pentatonic (A8–10 [Maid of Culmore, Linnets like to sing [=I love my love far better], Town of Antrim] ; B9 [Walls of Jerusalem]).

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But children do not have to sit down and learn adult folk songs in order to grow up with an interest in traditional music culture. Our record has the simple aim of re-creating for modern families – children especially – an opportunity of sharing folk-music experience between generations. Such opportunities surrounded our grandparents in the society of small communities which modern technology has displaced. They have become rare today, and it is in these opportunities that inherited oral traditions may still taste something of the remarkable rejuvenating medicine of the mummer’s doctor (A20 [Christmas mummers’ rhymes] ) or enjoy the invigorating effects of the mill grinding old people young.
Hugh Shields” [1975]