Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, Volume 1, Issue 1, Page 34

Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, Volume 1, Issue 1, Page 34
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Irish Folk Song Society
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Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society
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5,455Broadsl)eeis and Ballads.11.A NATIONALIST BROADSHEET.THE title of our present paper is hardly so accurate as the last, for the present sheetcontains songs but distantly connected with Nationalism; yet as most are party balladswe may let the title pass.With this broadsbeet we pass from the rugged chants of a fierce oligarchy tothe softer and, to most, more attractive lays of an oppressed majority. We have donewith resolute self-confidence, and come to lament for failure. These songs were notto be sung openly and haughtily; they were proscribed, and their sellers were underthe ban of the law; so that subterfuge had to be used. The sale of ballads atcountry fairs is dying out in Ireland now, no doubt because of the spread of cheapliterature. But in the old days the ballad-singer was to be seen at every fair andpattern. Each singer carried with him a number of printed ballads for sale. If hisstock were treasonable he carried a small handful of straws as well, and when he wasasked to sell a ballad he would refuse, as well became a law-abiding man; but-he wouldgo on to offer it as a free gift to anyone who would buy one or more of the straws,and so it came about that the buyer, the seller, and the law each had what theywanted.These Nationalist ballads, like most Nationalist ballads, are very free from localinfluences. Even those which seem most local are very far from the localism of thelast broadsheet. The Castlewillan Meeting is summoned to honour a Munsterpolitician, and though Wolfe Tones Grave is in Nildare, Wolfe Tone himself wasan Ulsterman.The ballads differ in style considerably, not only from the Orange ballads, butalso among thethselves. In its literature Orangeism has been less prolific and -moreself-contained than Nationalism. Its ballads seem, so far as one can trace their growth,to improve gradually and steadily, whereas in Nationalist ballad literature there is agreat break, due to the strenuous literary activity of the Young Ireland movement.This activity gave to Nationalist ballad-makers models in abundancemodels whichin ballad literature were defective, yet in style far above any ballads which had been in Irelandtill then. They were easy, musical, forcible, and above all they were popular, althoughthey have not that indescribable movement which marks the true ballad. - .Ou the uther hand, this greater sensibility to external influences gives us ballads very stronglytinged by the influence of the music-hall; the modern Dublin street-ballad is sometimesfull of English slang.The broadsheet before t s contains some fine ballads. Of these The Exile of.Erin and The Boys of Wexford should be known to everyone, and may be dismissedwith passing notice, while anyone who has collected Irish ballads has met TheSmashing of the Van a stirring ballad, though somewhat rough, and also WolfeTones Grave, which has exactly the opposite qualities. Donnelly and Cooper isanother old and well-known ballad. When the conflict which it celebrates took placeI do not know, and it is hard to understand why it should be so popular, since it ishopelessly rude and old in style. The writer does indeed somewhat redeem it by hispatriotic enthusiasm over Donnellys victory, and it must be this alone which sells theballad. In The Boys of Old Erin the Green the motive is still the antagonism ofEnglishman and Irishman, but the ballad is far better written, as well as morerollicking. Father Tom ONeill is also a fine ballad; the unjust attack on- thereputation of the young priest is well told; the interest is extremely well sustainedeven though the ending is weak. The presence of this ballad on the btoadsheet isexplained by the long and close connection of Roman Catholicism and Nationalism.The remaining songs, eight in all, half the broadsheet, are not ballads at all,They tell no story, but are versifications of states of emotion. Jr fact, they are lyrics:four on emigration, one on Robert Emmets reflections before his executiona well-conceived poem, but spoiled by its chorus. The Bard of Armagh is a favouriteamong popular songs. It too is a song of yearning for the past, but as to its meritsthere is more doubt. Where, for instance, did the writer get the phrase, SergeantDeath in his cold arms will embrace me? The expression reminds us of the poemswhich the old hedge-schoolmasters are said to have written in the strained jargon whichthey- affected. The Stone outside Dan Mdrphys Door is another song, of past days,and An Irishmans Toast is but a very conventional recital. -To sum up, the songs are better written and with more feeling than the Orangeballads, but it is not too much to say that the Orange ballad-writer has more concernfor his story. If we may use the words, the one broadaheet is epic, and the otherV
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Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, Volume 1, Issue 1

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