What Is A Ballad And Where Do They Come From ?
The etymological sence of the word Ballad is ''Dancing Song''. But this discription is not entirely
acceptable for there are many more songs in use today which we could not call Ballads, perhaps most ballads were not
composed to accompany a dance. Another definition currently popular is
''A Ballad Is A Relatively
Short Song With A Short Story Line'' devided into verses and sung to a story like melody. Even this definition, close as it
may be is still completely accurate. Some ballads extend to only a few lines, while others run into hundreds. The Oxford Dictionary
says that a ballad is a simple spirited poem stanzas narrating some popular story. This is much nearer to the ballad as we
it, but still not completely accurate, as the demand for stanzaic structure is fulfilled
only in the ballads of certain countries. Three of the four principle types of European ballads are not stanzaic at all. I
am not churning out all this to confuse, but to illustrate just how how difficult it is to classify the ''Ballad''. Bearing
the above in mind we have, I feel no option but to use the term
ballad in it's widest sense as
meaning any short traditional narrative poem sung with or without accompaniment or dance. I am sure there are still many who
will not agree with this definition.
The ballad evolved from the more ancient kind of song
narrative, the epic or hero song. Heroic epics were once spread all over The Balkans. They are long
songs, some of them taken seven or eight hours for just one song. There are likely to be hundred, even thousands of lines
long, telling of Godlike heroes in a whole chain of complex adeventures. They move in a supernatural world of magic monsteres.
In contrast the ballad is more like a romantic short story, anything from fifty to one hundred lines long telling of a single
exploit, involving lifesized figures in a realistic world, true lovers and false ones, fearless soldiers and
treacherous neighbours. Nowadays the epic is found mainly in Albania, Greece and Bulgaria. But all over western and
central Europe the old epics have faded away and being replaced with the ballad.
Did The Ballad First Evolve ?
If a map of Europe was drawn to show the migration of ballads,
it would be criss - crossed in every direction, so that it is extremely difficult to say for certain where the long grim hero
songs first softened into the gentler pieces, with the old solid block recitative broken up into stanzas and fitted to song-like
tunes. The balled may first have seen the light of day among French and Waloon pessants and gradually spread outwards. Wherever
there is no difficult language or cultural frontier to surmount, the traditional ballad is able to travel
from mouth to mouth. The dialect used for its performance takes on, slowly, new
as the song moves over the ground until it reaches the limits of the linguistic area. Then it is subestitution not translation
which occurs and the stronger part of the ballad, either tune or story survives. As the ballad moved outwards towards Ireland,
Scotland and Scandinavia it became longer and more full of fighting and magic, doubtless because the effects of old hero epics
lingered longer on the fringes of the ballad area.
Who Created The Ballads ?
were made by educated amateures, some by professional ministrels, but the overwhelming majority were made by European peasants.
Usually we can inentify the upperclass products by their artifical language, and the minstrel pieces too are easily detectable.
They are usually found in books, as they didn't last very long in the mouths of traditional singers. As most of the ballads
were peasant creations why then do Lords and Ladies figure so often as the heroes ? One suggestion is, that to the peasant
the hero is likely to be more elevated above the rest of local society. Of course there could have been a mischievous reason,
because generall the lady with Milk White Skin crimson gown would leave her Lord and dash off with the passing
peasant or Gypsy, the stuff of dreams for those with work-hard hands. To those same Lords and Ladies, the ballad, as sung
by the peasants, was wild, vulgar and sometimes grudgingly as a sort of poetry. But the ballad clung through centuries without
any aid from courtly society or from offical literature, contemptious of such 'Wild Songs.' The ballad only lives in the moment
of performance as they move their audience 'more thin a trumpet'It is a glory not achieved by the great artistic poets. There
is no personal right arrogated by the author over his ballad, which is the absolute property of each reciter, to shorten,
extend, mingle with others as they transmit them. Once launched the ballad is everybody's property.
When Did The Ballad Emerge ?
The Russian scholar Zhirmunsky suggests that the ballad emerged
in Western Europe, from the thirteenth century onwards. Some would put the date a century earlier. The
written word is no sure guide, as these merely indicate when educated people became aware of their existence which were already
circulating among the ordinary people. In France the first written records date from the latter part of the fifteenth
century. In England the ballad first appeared in print in sixteenth century manuscripts., and by the seventeenth
century they had become very fashionible. But they had aready being in the possession of the peasants for about four hundred
years and were constantly being added to.
Is The Ballad Song Or Verse
a large number of people the word Ballad calls to mind. not a folk song, but a poetic text printed in the ''Child Collection'',
or elsewhere. Not ment to be sung but recited as a verse the same way as ''The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner'' or ''Dangerous
Dan McGrew''Song collectors have raised a cry of protest, they argue that mere verbal text of a ballad
is by no means the ''Real Ballad'', and is just a fossile relic, that the native beauth and charm of the traditional ballad
can never be really appreciated apart from its music. Much has been said and written to explain why the ballad has survived
through all those centuries of change, and no doubt much more will be said and written to explain the how and why of their
The ballads are and that is their best justification, despit changes of fashion
and language they have clung to the peoples memory with a remarkable tenacity. The humble folk who listen with all their ears
say ''That's A True Story.'' They won't remark on the song's truth, likeness, it's passionate music and shuddering tragedies
or it's nobleness. They have no adjectives to spare for the manner of balladry, the wisest of scribes have followed their
Written by Sean Byrne.
Irish Ballads From The 16th Century To The 21th Century
There are man nationalist / republican songs on the site,
the association of musicians and songwriters with nationalist
has a very long tradition throught Ireland going as
far back to the Elizabeth conquest.
Gaelic musicians such as the
Irish harpers and the bards
were prevented from preforming and writing nationalist
songs and playing Irish music. There
was even a law
forbidding it and the musicians were persecuted by the
English administration in Ireland.
of the republican songs date back to the 1798
when the United Irishmen organised hugh polictal movement
with help from
the French for an Irish Republic.
Some of the more famous songs from this time were Roddy McCorley
and The Croppy Boy.
These songs were actually written during
the rebellion of '98, there are many others that deal with this
period of Irish
history but were written during the 19, and 20th
century, ballads like The Rising Of The Moon by Leo Casey.
There are also numerous Irish tunes, dance sets, that commemorate the events and pay tribute to the French who were on
the Irish side
during the verious battles of '98. These anonymous poets and musicians presented the first native views
of the rebellion, and the first musical response to the rising. The ballads and poems of the poets such as "Roddy McCorley,"
"The Men of the West," "Who Fears to Speak," "Boulavogue," "Kelly the Boy from Killane" were written long after the rising. Many were written as commemorative tributes in 1898 and were to become the most popular
songs remembering the rebellion of 1798. They present "the Irish native
view of events and people.
included here are well known, many not so, but all deserve to be more widely sung. The ballad has carried
the stories of the cause of Irish Freedom in every decade, and in many ways the songs and ballads of '98 were the first powerful
force of its poetic and literary expression in the English Language. After '98 the Irish Patriotic Ballad takes on a life
of its own in the years that followed, it become the voice of the Irish struggle and over the next six generations
attempt to overthrow or resist English law and rule is well documented in song poem or ballad.
Many ballads here were widely popular. In the early 19th century, with the population double what it is today, they had
and eager audience, a large peasant population who were anxious to hear the native view, and the ballads
were the only means of expression and entertainment of the poor. Consequently, they were therefore placed as Gads on the street
around the hearth many ways, the ballad has been as poorly treated as the Irish native poorfor whom it carried the hopes
and dreams and aspirations. The songs and stories presented here are a hugh archive of our ballads and poet literature from
1798 to today.
The ballad singer played a big role in the daily lives of Irish people during the 18th to the 20th centuriey. He searved
as a news service setting out in song form historical events, battles and murders, he also commerated triumphs and telling
the life stories of religious and plictal leaders of the day.
Not all were about war and murder, some actually told a love story, for example the song Teddy O'Neill told of a young woman pining for her handsome young exiled sweetheart.
Another wave of ballads were born out of the 1916 rising, these songs mainly concentrated on the leaders of the rebellion.
Songs like James Connolly where the writer remained anonymous for fear of represals. Others include Come Out Ye Black And
Tans by Dominic Behan which tells of his father coming home from the pub drunk and taunting The Black And Tans to come and
fight him. Many of these ballads were written years after the events of 1916. Dominic Behan and Brian Warfield are credited
with writing many of today's modern rebel songs along with Gerry O'Glacain from The Irish Brigade.
Other notably ballad writers emerged in the 1970's including Phil Coulter who for a time was producing
the Dubliners records. While writing songs Phil had The Dubliners in mind and especially Luke Kelly as the singer of his songs.
All of his writings were hits for The Dubliners, including The Town I Loved So Well which is about the City Of Derry where
Phil comes from. The song tells of how his native city is torn apart by The Troubles. Phil Coulter didn't write exclusively
of The Dubliners. One of his biggest hits, Steal Away was first recorded by The Furey Brothers And Davey Arthur, the
ballad tells of two teenagers running away from The Troubles in Belfast.
At the start of the troubles many ballad groups emerged. One of the first were The Barleycorn fronted
by Paddy McGuigan. Paddy was imprisoned for writing ballads in the 1970's. The Barleycorn were known for singing the hard
rebel songs rather than the folk stuff. Much of their music was banned by radio stations all over Ireland but still their
records sold in large quantities. The Wolfe Tones sang many of Barleycorn's songs and made a lot of money of of
them. These include The Boys Of The Old Brigade and The Men Behind The Wire.
The Wolfe Tones are the most successful of all the ballad groups ever. They'll be 50 years together
in 2013. Most of their songs were written by their 5 string banjo player Brian Warfield. Brian has written hundreds of ballads
about most aspect of Irish life. They contiue to preform today as a three piece since the departure of Derek Warfield. They
still do their tours around the world and play in America most years.
The second most successiful ballad group of recent times were The Dublin City Ramblers. Patsy Watchorn
was their lead singer for the most part. They had a string of hits in the 1970's and 80's. None of the group were into songwriting
in a big way. It was Pete St. John who provided the group with their big hits which included The Rare Auld Times and The Ferryman.
Starting out in the 70's The Ramblers included many reel songs in their set list during the 70's but over the years the real
hard ballads faded away replaced by more general folk songs.
All of these groups grew out of what was known as The Ballad Boom, which is used to describe the big
upsurge of intrest in ballads and folk songs during the 1970's and 80's. The inspiration for these groups came from the success
of The Clancy Brothers And Tommy Makem who made a big impact in America singing old Irish folk songs. Each of the new groups
had their own unique style. In the early 60's a raft of new ballad groups and singers sprung up all over the country and especially
the Dublin. Along with The Wolfe Tones there were Emmet Spiceland, Danny Doyle, Sweeneys Men, The Fureys and The Johnstones.
These are the ones that made it big time. In almost every pub in Ireland during the 60's and early 70's ballads were the norm.
The Pogues also played their part in keeping the ballads alive. Just like Brian Warfield of The Wolfe
Tones, The Pogues songwriter Shane MacGowan has written songs on many subjects. He wrote several rebel songs including The
Birmingham Six and Paddy Public Enemy No. 1 which is about Dominic McGlinchey who was the most wanted man in Ireland at one
time. Another member of The Pogues who put ink to paper was their mandolin player Terry Woods who wrote Young Ned Of The Hill
which is about a Tipperary man Edmond Ryan who was a member of The Wild Geese.
The Irish Brigade from Tyrone were born out of the troubles. Their main songwriter is Gerry O'Glacain.
The group play mostly rebel songs which consist of new ballads written by Gerry O'Glacain about the most recent past along
with older standard ballads. The band have had over 10 albums all of which did not include their faces on the album covers.
This is because it was still considered seditious to sing rebel / anti British songs just as it was in 1798.
Christy Moore started his career singing ballads. He was never one to shy away from the rebel songs.
From his first album ''Paddy On The Road'' came 2 of his finest, the first being The Ballad Of James Larkin followed by The
Belfast Brigade. This was the late 60's and Christy was in England singing in folk clubs for a living. It wasn't popular to
be singing Irish ballads in England but Christy managed to get away with it. Along came the 1970's and he formed part of the
band Moving Hearts, a fast trad/folk group playing a mixture of traditional tunes with a few ballads. During the early 80's
Christy lent his support to the H-Block protest. This was at a time very few musicians would even consider such a move.
The Rising Of The Moon - Leo Casey Remembered
Leo Casey whose ballads put spirit into a generation depressed
to the point of despair
by famine and oppression was born
in Mount Dalton Westmeath in 1946.
He was still a boy when he wrote "The Rising Of The Moon."
He was only twenty-four when he died. He had his first
poem published at the age of sixteen. An eight months
of cruel imprisonment in 1867 was his death warrant.
He was the victim of brutal Victorian treatment and racial
hatred for any patriotic Irishman who expressed
in ballad form. When he was arrested and imprisoned as a
suspect, he was a tall, handsome, athletic youth
six feet high. Eight months later he was released on rendition
that he leave Ireland, he was bent and pale with
a hacking cough.
This sentence of exile or death was given to many a good
Fenian man, It was the colonial solution,
a policy of
"ship away the problem" "get him out of Ireland." However,
he returned to his friends,
Doomed but with spirit unbroken
he disguised himself as a Quaker, took the name
of Harrison and rented
an office beside Dublin Castle and
continued his writing and publishing, right under the
noses of the Crown authorities.
However, his health failed
but he survived and lingered for almost three years writing
his patriotic ballads. Organizing
to strengthen the people's
power of resistance till on St. Patrick's Day, 1870 he died
Just before he drew his last breath he grasped
the crucifix and said, "Oh Holy St. Patrick, intercede
me and for my unhappy country." His booklet "Wreath of Shamrock"
was first published in 1866, and "The Rising
Of The Moon'
first appeared in 1869.
He was only twenty-one when the authorities thought it necessary
to have him
put out of the way. Here is his own description of
the imprisonment: "Since the "Wreath of Shamrocks" made its
have been within the walls of an English Bastille
on the simple word of a "village Dog" Berry, and the English
kept me locked up and treated are as a convict,
Untried for eight long dreary months when I was denied paper
to write on save the official letter per
day, denied intercourse
with my friends, and as dead to the world as if I did not exist.
Solitude of that nature is
not over poetical, particularly
as the use of the mop has to be quickly learned
and the number of cell remembered.
This accounts to the reader,
for any apparent over bitterness of feeling in some of the verses." When be died 50,000 people
attended his funeral, and it was one the largest funerals seen in Dublin, many walked from Westmeath and Longford
It was a tribute to his patriotism and talent as a poet and a ballad
writer that he should have had such
a large gathering of admirers
he is remembered by a nice sculptured monmuent of a round tower
and Ruined Church. Leo
Casey was held in Mountjoy Prison without trial for eight months. He also wrote The Wearing Of The Green. Yes indeed, in them
days you could be arrested and put in jail for writing songs.
The Following History Of Irish Ballads Is Written By Brian Warfield Of The Wolfe Tones
Have you ever wondered why Irish music and song is so important to the people of Irish decent in Scotland
and why they still hold on dearly to their musical heritage? There are many historic reasons for this phenomenon, let me explain.
Firstly the History of our people is enshrined in our songs and ballads a story that could not be freely got from other sources.
The song was an important source of information and a vehicle for carrying our stories into the cities, towns and homes of
the emigrant communities.
There was great hardship suffered by the Irish people over the
centuries, wars, invasions, famine, plague, evictions, despotic Governments and oppression but one thing that kept their spirits
alive was their love of music. When battles were lost; consolation was taken in musical expression. When their lands were
confiscated, the oppressor felt their anger in their songs or in sorrowful ballads of eviction and emigration. The Lough Sheelin
Eviction is a good example, The Crossing is another. The so called famine scattered the Irish all over the world but no matter
where they made their home there is one thing common to all and that is their great love of Irish music and song.
The Irish emigrants who made their way to Scotland during this period were never fully accepted into Scottish
society nor were their ethnic origins recognised there. Treated as strangers or unwelcome intruders in the cities and towns
of Scotland they held on dearly to their music and song and it thrived and survived among them. The hero’s of these
ballads where those who fought against the aggressor, the outlaws, raparees, Rebels and highwaymen. The villains were the
landlords and the oppressive lawmakers and governors that had driven them from their homeland. In songs of emigration those
forced to leave recalled the good times their experience and memories of home and homeland in song and dance tunes. It was
the song that kept them in touch with their home. It was said that all their wars were merry and all their songs were sad
– I don’t know who said it but it’s not true. The songs and music of the Irish are full of expressions of
joy, wit, sorrow, anger, pain outrage and could be either inspiring or soothing. Very often the musicians who told these stories
were hunted down, tortured or even hung for treason. Music was the universal language and the soul of Ireland, said Thomas
Davis and the first faculty of the Irish.