Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mountains of Mourne

Mountains of Mourne:

Dare be no better music to sing to when you’ve had a wee drop den Oirish music, and dare be no better Oirish music dan dat sung by der Fureys wid Davey Arthur. Okay. I’ll drop the faux Irish phonetics and introduce today’s item: Mountains of Mourne, a song in the form of a letter by a simple Irish chap to his wife or sweetheart. In it he tells of his experiences in, and his thoughts and impressions of, London, in the process revealing his own innocence and simplicity.

There is a version sung by Don MacLean which is popular but I have always preferred the Davey Arthur/Fureys’ version. IMHO Davey Arthur’s voice and accent present much more effectively the naiveté of the person singing than the more sophisticated voice and persona of Don MacLean.

Don MacLean’s version may be heard at:

The version by The Fureys and Davey Arthur, my favourite, can be heard at:

A version by Irish Mist is also charming:

Take the time to have a listen whilst reading the lyrics below. It’s a delightful little song where the real story is not what is sung in the lyrics but what the lyrics tell us about the person who is singing.
The Mountains of Mourne

Oh Mary this London's a wonderful sight
With the people here working by day and by night
They don't sow pratties nor barley nor wheat
But there's gangs of them digging for gold in the street
At least when I asked them that's what I was told
So I just took a hand in this digging for gold
But for all that I found there I might as well be
Where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea

I believe that when writing a wish you expressed
As to how the fine ladies of London were dressed
Now if you’ll believe me, when asked to a ball
They don't wear a top on their dresses at all
Sure I've seen them myself, and you couldn't in truth
Say if they were bound for a ball or a bath.
Don't be starting them fashions now Mary mo chroi,
Where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

You remember young Peter O'Loughlin of course
Well he’s over here at the head of the force
I met him today, I was crossing the strand
And he stopped the whole street with one wave of his hand
And we stood there talking of days that were gone
While the whole population of London looked on,
But for all his great powers he's wishful like me
To be back where the dark Moume sweeps down to the sea.
Yes for all his great powers he’s wishful like me
To be back where the dark Moume sweeps down to the sea.
Some comments:

-  The lyrics were written in 1896 by the 19th Century Irish musician Percy French.

-  The singer refers to his beloved as “Mary mo chroi” in the above lyrics, which when sung sounds like Mary Macree. In fact “mo chroi” means “of my heart” in the ancient Irish language. “Cuisle mo chroi”, pronounced “cushla muh cree”, is an ancient Irish term of endearment meaning “pulse of my heart”.

-  The Mourne Mountains are the most picturesque in Ireland and were the inspiration for C S Lewis’s Narnia.

-  In June 2009 archaeologists and geologists released studies in which they came to the conclusion that the Mourne Mountains were the source of Ireland’s prehistoric gold, used in ancient jewellery and artefacts.

-  The following verse is sometimes also sung:
There's beautiful girls here, oh, never you mind
With beautiful shapes nature never designed
And lovely complexions all roses and cream
But O'Loughlin remarked with regard to the same
That if at those roses you venture to sip
The colours might all come away on your lip
So I'll wait for the wild rose that's waitin' for me
Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.
-  In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, many Irish males went to London to labour on the roads, bridges, canals etc being built.

-  The Irish are a contradictory lot. On the one hand, they are continually fighting, even with each other: in the pubs; over politics; over religion; with the English; over football… Yet on the other hand they cherish a connection with anyone descended from the Irish or Ireland. Article 2 of the Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) was amended in 1998 to read "[f]urthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage." The Irish government recognises all people with a heritage on the island of Ireland.  The right to register as an Irish citizen survives to the third generation. The term “diaspora” refers to the displaced and relocated persons of a common ethnicity or identity, away from their original place of settlement. Although the Irish government limits the Irish diaspora to those living abroad who are Irish citizens or who have Irish citizenship by descent, in practice the Paddies claim anyone who has Irish descent as Irish diaspora. As a result the diaspora numbers 80 million worldwide, even though only 7 million live in Ireland. The singer of Mountains of Mourne is part of the Irish diaspora.


  1. What's the line about digging for gold about?

  2. The song is a letter written by an Irish lad to his girl back in Mourne. Amazed by all of what he is seeing, he still hearkens for the mountains and waters of Mourne. In so doing, he reveals his innocence and naivete, including that the road workers told him they were digging up the street to look for gold, which he believed. Despite helping them, he found as much gold as if he had been digging in Mourne. A beautiful song.

  3. Did the London women of the late 19th century really go topless to balls?

  4. Very low cut, I would have thought, which for the simple singer equates to no tops