According to Ossian’s sleeve notes from Seal Song ( which has a great cover painting of an enormous mountain-sized seal towering out of the ocean) this was genuinely a song used for the purpose its name suggests.
Interesting it’s also on The Fire Aflame ( Molloy, O’Flynn, Keane) - https://thesession.org/recordings/display/75 - as a backdrop to Brian Keenan’s reading of Seamus Heaney’s poetry in track 7.
Thanks for posting this tune. It is a great tune and interesting in its bar count. I was taught this by Iain MacDonald of Glenuig (ex-Ossian) with a slightly different setting:
T: A Fisherman’s Song For Attracting Seals
|: B2 d dBA | dBA dBA | B2 d dBA | e2d e3 :|
|: g2f g2a | e2d e3 | g2f g2a | e2d e3 |
aee gee | edd dBA | B2 d dBA | dBA dBA | B2 d dBA| | e2 d e3 :||
Oops… never even noticed the key signature.
This is not in Em
It is awkward to work out the true key but I would guess G Lydian - as in the root is G and it is on a D scale.
The Fisherman’s Song For Attracting the Seals
Probably first published in The Patrick McDonald Collection of Highland Vocal Airs… (1784), this tune is in the ‘North Highland Airs’ section, and is given both the Gaelic title ("Maol dònaidh") and the English ("The fisherman’s Song for Attractiong the Seals").
T: The Fisherman’s Song for Attracting the Seals
T: Maol dònaidh
S: Patrick McDonald’s Coll, 1874
Bdd dBA | dBA dBA | Bdd dBA | e2d e3 :|
g2f g2a | e2d e3 | g2f g2a | e2d e3 |
a2e g2d | e2d BAG | Bdd dBA | dBA dBA | Bdd dBA| | e2d e3 :|
It’s also the opening theme for Track 9 here.
As far as I can remember,Ossian said on the sleeve notes that the fishermen used to hang a basket of herring over the side just in case the song didn’t work.
This tune is also on the disk "Shadows on stone" by Matt
Molloy. A lovely version.
As for the tonality, I would certainly not call it "G lydian" as
there is not C#. This is actually nearly pentatonic,
and as often with ancient tunes of this kind, of
(and better not to try to put tonality concepts on it).
Also appears in Allan MacDonald’s Moidart Collection as "Maol Donaidh"
There may not be a C# in the tune itself but there is no C nat either. I would suggest that there is an ‘implied C#’ in it. Certainly the main chords would be G, A and D.
The point I was making is it is not in E minor but rather G. It is also not simply in G major. C chords do not work in it and neither do A minor chords, both of which could be considered fairly prominant in G major!
I stick by my claims of G lydian. For avoidance of doubt the scale would be:
G A B C# D E F# G
Gmaj, AMaj, Bm, C#dim, D, Em, F#m, G
Of course, not all chords would be used!
however it suits your ear. To me, it’s not harmonically composed, so any harmonies would be our later-day addition. I probably wouldn’t use "standard" chords at all. But, if I did, I can hear it being done well in either G or Emin, with either C sharps or C nats. These are stylistic choices. For example, one could simply harmonize the first four measures of the B part as alternating G and C major chords… the first half of the fifth bar of the B part could be done with an A major chord… I can hear the opening phrase of the A part with a nice E minor seventh chord… I can hear drones and parallel fifths… etc. Any of these can sound good or bad depending upon execution and the preferences of the listener.
Ossian did a fantastic version of this tune and it is of course Scottish. Since the Irish and Scots are musical cousins and there are a good many scottish songs of scottish origin as well as irish (and sometimes both) on this site shouldn’t this be aknowledged on the homepage? instead of just referring to it all as just irish?
A Fisherman’s Song For Attracting Seals, X:4
I know this as The Selkie Jig.