The Minstrel From Clare

By Willie Clancy

Seven comments

This is one of the recording which is a must for lovers of real traditional music. It sounds like you would have been in Willie’s kitchen yourself and had a tape recorder. You ask him to play or sing a few tunes and that’s it!
Although I’m a piper my preferred one is ‘the song of the riddles’ - nice mysteryous lyrics also!

Re: Willie Clancy

Recorded in Co. Clare 1967. Wille Clancy plays pipes, the tin whistle and does some vocals. For a grand smile check out ‘The Family Ointment’, and ‘The Gander’.

“Willie Clancy: The Minstrel from Clare”

For me this is the best of Willie, representing him in his wider character, including but not limited by his piping. And there’s some of his humour in the choice of songs. This might not satisfy the uilleann obsessive, who cannot see past the music to the wider and richer character of the musician, in this case Willie Clancy, but for those with a more inclusive interest and a love of the full context of the music, this is a sweet listen. Yes, it has great piping, inspirational, but also his fine whistle playing, and there’s Willie’s voice in songs of thought, emotion and humour. Even the recent double CD collection that is ALL pipes, doesn’t come near this in giving a more rounder experience of this gentleman, and Irish tradition…

“Willie Clancy: The Minstrel from Clare” ~ the notes, by Breandan Breathnach

First published by Topic 1967
Recorded by Bill Leader in Co. Clare 1967
Notes by Brendan Breathnach

Re-released as a CD by Green Linnet Records, Inc. 1994

George Petrie, the greatest of the collectors of Irish music, was captivated by the music he heard in Clare. It was, he wrote, in a high degree characteristic of a vigorous race and even when blended with cadence of tenderness and sorrow breathed a manly buoyancy of spirit. More recently, a B.B.C. recording team in quest of traditional music and lore in Ireland found the West and South especially notable for vocal style and virtuoso instrumental performance. These two descriptions separated by a century in time aptly apply to the music of Willie Clancy, piper, flute and whistle player and singer, who comes from Miltown Malbay, a noted centre for traditional music in Co. Clare.
In listening to Willie Clancy one indeed is hearing the music which fascinated the gentle Petrie. Willie’s father, Gilbert, was an excellent flute player and singer who learned all his music from Garrett Barry, a blind travelling piper, and the blind man in turn acquired his stock of music from the very musicians whose repertoire and performance fascinated Petrie. The blind piper was a frequent and welcome visitor to the Clancy household and, when he had completed the preliminaries of strapping on the pipes and tuning the drones, he would stretch out his hand and ask was the boy there beside him. In this way Gilbert Clancy absorbed the old man’s music, and his stories about him and his playing created in Willie an abiding interest in the pipes. It was a meeting with another travelling piper, Johnnie Doran, which gave him the opportunity of getting his first lessons on the instrument. Willie did not restrict himself to the music of his own district. He sought out the pipers throughout the country learning their tunes and craft, but when playing his new acquisitions for his father he invariably evoked the comment “that’s not the way Garrett played it” and Willie’s store of tunes was richer by another setting.
The selection of music and song offered by Willie Clancy on this recording illustrates the richness and variety of his repertoire and his excellence as a performer. His pieces on the pipes bring out the varying tonal qualities of the chanter, and the adoption of piping ornamentation in his whistle playing results in a performance on that humble instrument which is incredible until heard. His voice has a roundness and warmth which suits admirably the songs he has chosen and his manner of singing is genuinely traditional. We are aware while listening that the performer is giving us music and song of his own environment, genuine traditional music rendered in an authentic manner. The fact that the tradition he so truly represents is being submerged in the social revolution now in progress adds immensely to the value and significance of this recording.

1. ) Langstern Pony ~ uilleann piping

This fine double jig with its strongly marked rhythm has appeared in the printed collections under a number of variants of our title. In Neal’s ‘Choice Collection of Country Dances’ (c. 1726), one of the earliest Irish printed collections, it appears as ‘Lastrum Pone’. In O’Farrell’s ‘Pocket Companion for the Union Pipes’ (c. 1810) it is ‘Lanstrum Pony’. The tune may be found under ‘Saddle the Pony’ in the O’Neill collections.

2. ) The Templehouse & Over the Moor to Maggie ~ whistling

The popularity of these two reels is attested by the profusion of names by which they are known throughout the country. ‘The Templehouse’, almost certainly of Scots origin, is also known as ‘The Evergreen Lasses’, ‘The Pretty Girls of Bulgaden’, ‘The Tipsy House’ and ‘The Rising of the Lark’. It is played as a jig also. ‘Over the Moor to Maggie’ is described in the old collections as a country dance and also as a hornpipe. It is commonly known among pipers as ‘Kitty’s Wedding’. ‘The Green Meadow’, Peggy’s Wedding’, ‘The Humours of Fairymount’, ‘The Rakes of Killevan’ and ‘The Smoky House’ are among its other titles.

3. ) Bruachna Carraige Báine (The Brink of the White Rock) ~ uilleann piping

A hat and silf from tip to toe with a coach drawing her to the brink of the white rock are some of the inducements offered to the fait maiden in this popular love song. John O’Daly in his ‘Poets and Poetry of Munster’ identifies the Carrick of the song with Carrick Blacker near Portsdown, Co. Armagh, and describes it as a ‘welcome home’ song composed on the occasion of the marriage of one of the Blacker family in 1666. This ascription is wholly fanciful. The location of the song is, in all probability, Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary.

4. ) Erin’s Lovely Lea ~ singing

A patriotic ballad commemorating events of the Fenian Rising of 1867. The unusual route from Queenstown to New York taken by the writer enables him to include Tone and Emmet in his verses. It may be mentioned that Emmet was not buried in Glasnevin.

5. ) The Killavel Fancy & The Dogs Among the Bushes ~ whistling

The rhythmical and melodic variations introduced into these two reels owe a lot to Willie’s style of piping. ‘The Killavel Fancy’ is a Sligo tune which may be found under ‘Eilís Ní Bhrógáin’ in Breathnach’s ‘Ceol Rince na hEireann’. ‘The Dog Among the Bushes’ which is in the O’Neill collections is also known as ‘The Piper’s Lass’.

6. ) The Family Ointment ~ singing

This amusing little piece has been known around Miltown Malbay for years but who introduced or composed it is not known.

7. ) The Dear Irish Boy ~ uilleann piping

The lament of an Irish maiden whose Connor has gone off to the wars. While the words are somewhat pedantic, the plaintive beauty of the melody makes it a favourite among traditional players. Words and music may be found in Joyce’s ‘Old Irish Folk Music and Songs’.

8. ) Caoineadh an Spailpín (The Spalpeen’s Lament) & The Cuckoo’s Nest ~ whistling

Arthur Young in the 18th Century offered the derivation ‘spail’ (scythe) and ‘peen’ (penny) for ‘spailpín’, the Irish word for migratory labourer — harvest-labourer. This exquisite piece played movingly by Willie Clancy is followed fittingly by the more lively ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’. Eoghan Rua O Súilleabháin, an Irish poet of the 18th Century, wrote to this air, known in Irish as ‘An Spealadóir’ (The Scythman) a beautiful lyric of the ‘aisling’ (vision or dream) type. In the aisling the poet meets a lady of surpassing beauty who identifies herself to him as Ireland. She laments her sorrowful plight at the hands of English oppressors but holds out hope of relief on their expulsion from the country. Eoghan Rua wrote this ‘aisling’ near Mallow in co. Cork while actually working as a ‘spailpín’. Originally ‘The Cuckoo’s Nest’ derives from a ribald song of the Elizabethan times ‘Come Ashore Jolly Tar and Your Trousers On’.

9. ) The Pipe on the Hob ~ uilleann piping

This double jig is a particular favourite among pipers. It has been suggested that the correct title of this tune is ‘Píobaire na Gríosaí’ (The Piper of Embers), an Irish name for the cricket.

10.) The Gander ~ singing

Once heard, one knows the ending. Nevertheless, ‘The Gander’ will continue to please because of its good-humoured rendering which is heightened by the slightly plaintive strain that runs through the air. Willie got this song from an old man in the Cúil Aodha district of West Cork.

11.) The Legacy Jig ~ whistling

The open structure of this double jig suggests a Scots origin.

12.) The Flogging Reel ~ uilleann piping

The opportunity for tight playing of triplets and popping which the third part of this reel affords, explains the appeal of this reel to pipers. It is yet another example of a Scots reel being naturalised in Ireland. It was published by Neil Gow in his ‘First Collection of Reels’ under the title ‘The Floggon’.

13.) The Song of the Riddles ~ singing

Under this local title is found ‘Captain Wedderburn’s Courtship’ (Child 46) and yet another air to add to the twenty-four or five already noted to which this song is sung. Willie learned this song from a neighbour who had the title as above but had not name for the air, which is one in use for several other songs.

14.) Spailpín a Rúin (Spalpeen, My Love) ~ uilleann piping

A chaile bhuí chrón, nior mhilis liom do phóg,
Is ní ghlacfainn céad bó mar spré leat,
Is go mbfearr liomsa póg ó chailín bheag óg
Ná a bhfuil agat ar bhord an tsléibh’ amuigh

(O swarthy yellow wench, I would not think
your kisses sweet and I would not take a dowry
of a hundred cows with you: one kiss from a
little maid I would prefer to all you possess on
ther verge of the mountain.)

So the ‘spailpín’ spurns the wealthy but ugly and ageing spinster who would travel the world over with him if he wold accept her hand. This song belongs to the Waterford Gaeltacht and is, surely, one of the most beautiful of the older Irish melodies.

~ a great recording, in my mind and heart…

Another affection for this recording is having had the pleasure of playing some of Willie’s instruments, some featured here, in particular a favourite whistle, and discovering what curious differences about it made it unique and prized… That seems like such a long time ago now…

Unreservedly, this recording is highly recommended…

Willie Clancy, 1918, December 24th - 1973, January

~ and not only ~ uilleann piper, whistler, singer, dancer, carpenter, character, husband ~ and so much more…

The Willie Clancy Summer School

There’s a gap in tradition that ne’er will be filled
A wide gap that ne’er shall be mended
On the hill o’er town we laid you down
’Twas sad that your young life ended.

~ Junior Crehan, poem

The man himself ~