Brenda Castles: The Light Side of the Tune

Concertina player Brenda Castles' interest in collecting unusual versions of well known tunes in the tradition has taken her on a journey of archival discovery to find out more about how tunes evolve over time and distance. To accompany the release of her latest album 'The Light Side of the Tune' Brenda shares her research on five particular tunes from the album: Jenny's Welcome to Charlie, The Cook in the Kitchen, The Limerick Lasses, Merrily Kiss the Quaker and The Connaughtman's Rambles.

Brenda Castles Blog 2021 image TMP 4420 1200
Brenda Castles, concertina
It’s fascinating to go back and hear how a tune can change over time and distance, with varying melody, time and key signatures and depending on the musician playing it.
Brenda Castles, 2021

I’ve spent time over the last three years collecting unusual versions of some of the well-known tunes in the tradition. It started with hearing Liz Carroll perform her gorgeous re-working of Ms McLeod’s reel, leading me to think about how tunes evolve and wondering about what more was out there in the archives.

Miss McLeod’s Reel / Cherish the Ladies

Source: Cherish the Ladies - Topic YouTube Channel

Before the advent of radio and cassette tapes, the aural transmission of tunes of course lead to changes in melody.

Mick Moloney tells the story of Joe Madden and a friend attending a session. One of them would diddle the first part of a new tune and one of them the second part all the way home on their bicycles, and that way, between them they’d have a new tune learned. You can imagine how that might lead to a change in the odd phrase here and there within a tune.

Antóin MacGabhann tells of how different tune versions might have occurred:

The most likely reason is that people hear a tune somewhere but later they don’t remember it all correctly, and so they will have a different twist on some bit of it. This occurred more in years gone by when a tune might be heard at a fleadh, or on the radio, and as musicians travelled less, they had no way to re-check. Musicians always depended on getting new tunes by hearing them – the aural tradition. There are old stories where musicians are trying to get a tune being played, and they arrange for one to memorise the first part and the other to get the second part. In addition, musicians always fashioned a tune to their own liking, or to their own instrument and so changes occurred in that way over time. And sometimes a musician was creative and would work in a variation . . . but to other musicians the variation eventually became the tune

Antóin also recounts an amusing tale of how tune names vary from one area to another:

A musician would learn a tune from the radio but would not get the name correctly. Years back, I learned two reels from John Joe Maguire and Cathal McConnell in Fermanagh, and John Joe gave the names ‘Mr McKnight’ and ‘The Tinkers Daughter.’ Some time later I was having a tune with Vincent Broderick, and I played them for him as good tunes that I had learned in Fermanagh. But, he said, they are my tunes, (I didn’t know that), that reel is The Midsummer Night. Obviously, John Joe Maguire heard the tunes on Ceili House but got the name wrong with Midsummer Night becoming Mr McKnight!

I’ve taken a small selection of tunes from my recently released album, delved a little deeper into their origins and included some of the versions that I have recorded on The Light Side of the Tune.

Jenny's Welcome to Charlie

I think the whole tune family goes back to the song air and jig ‘Cailleach an Airgid.’ If you stretch it into 2/2 it becomes the reel ‘Jenny Picking Cockles.’ Mash it into 12/8 and add a part, and you have ‘The Long Note.’ Put ‘The Long Note’ into reel time (and add yet another part) and it's ‘Jenny's Welcome to Charlie’ as it is played today.
-Don Meade

As Don says, the extended family of this tune seems to have originated from the air of the song 'Cailleach an Airgid' (which is also said to be related to the jigs 'Born for Sport' and 'My Brother Tom').

Cailleach an Airgid / Seosamh Ó hÉanaí

Source: Gael Linn YouTube Channel

My Brother Tom

Transcription courtesy

Source: O'Neill's music of Ireland: eighteen hundred and fifty melodies: airs, jigs, reels, hornpipes, long dances, marches etc., many of which are now published for the first time / collected from all available sources and edited by Capt. Francis O'Neill ; arranged by James O'Neill. (Chicago, 1903).

It’s also known as ‘The Horse’s Leotard’ and clearly related to ‘Cailleach an Airgid’.

Jenny's Welcome to Charley

A beautiful 3-part version of Jenny's Welcome to Charley I found in the Grier manuscripts which I hadn't heard before. This is the version recorded on my album and in the CCI chapel recording.

Source: Stephen Grier Manuscript Collection at ITMA. Book 2. Tune 128

Staff notation transcription available at ITMA:

I was lucky enough to complete a residency at CCI Paris in August of 2021 and in the beautiful chapel there I recorded some of these tunes that are related to one another to highlight the similarities between the different time signatures.
Brenda Castles, 2021
Brenda Castles Blog 2021 CCI Paris P1090756 1200
The Chapel at Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris

Cailleach an Airgid, jig; Jenny Picking Cockles, reel; The Long Note, slide; Jenny’s Welcome to Charlie, reel; My Brother Tom, jig / Brenda Castles, concertina. Recorded in the chapel at Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris, August 2021.

The Cook in the Kitchen

A Cape Breton jig titled 'Northside Kitchen' shares a closely related first part to the 'Cook in the Kitchen' that we know. Editor Paul Cranford traced this untitled Irish jig through generations of Northside Cape Breton Irish fiddlers, beginning in the 19th century with Henry Fortune. The first part is very similar to 'The Cook in the Kitchen', so Cranford gave the tune the title 'Northside Kitchen'.

Transcription courtesy

Source: transcribed from version at Natalie MacMaster's website

Transcript courtesy

Source: Meagher Manuscript

Researcher Conor Ward found this tune, 'Jackson’s Cook in the Kitchen', in the Meagher Manuscript, a music manuscript from Gaigue, Ballinamuck, Co. Longford, undated but probably ca. 1900. The name Jackson refers to 18th century uilleann piper Walter or Walker Jackson. It is in the higher key of D.

Recorded in 1971 in Cumann Chluain Árd in Belfast by Alf Ó Murchú, father of Marcas Ó Murchú, this is Belfast flute player Tom Ginley playing a tune known as 'Tom Ginley’s Fancy' which is a version of 'The Cook in the Kitchen'. Marcas recorded the tune himself on his album Turas Ceoil. It is possible that Tom got the tune from Cole’s.

Sincere thanks to Marcas Ó Murchú for permission to share this recording.

Tom Ginley's Fancy, jig / Tom Ginley, flute

Marcas kindly taught me the tune and I recorded it on my latest album The Light Side of the Tune.

Tom Ginley's Fancy, jig / Brenda Castles, concertina

The Limerick Lasses

Although 'The Limerick Lasses' is most commonly played as a three-part reel, I originally learned it as a four-parter from the Ó’Raghallaigh brothers (Mícheál, Félim and MacDara) from Co. Meath who won an All-Ireland Fleadh Trio competition with it in Clonmel, 1992. Mícheál tells me the tune came to the Meath area from the playing of Kathleen Collins via Nóirín Ní Ghrádaigh.

The tune features in several collections including Francis Roche Collection of Irish airs, marches and dance tunes ... Vol. 2, Ryan's Mammoth Collection and in the James Goodman Manuscripts volume 4. All of these are three-part versions with the last part varying quite substantially between the versions. The three-part version from the James Goodman Manuscripts has a slightly different second part and quite a different third part:

The Limerick Lasses

Source: James Goodman Manuscripts at ITMA

Who Made Your Breeches?

Transcription courtesy ITMA

Source: Ryan's Mammoth collection: 1050 Reels and Jigs, Hornpipe, Clogs, Walk-Arounds, Essences, Stathspeys, Highland Flings and Contra Dances, with Figures, and How to Play Them (Boston, 1883)

Transcript courtesy

Source: Rice-Walsh manuscript published in O'Neill Waifs and strays of Gaelic melody: comprising forgotten favorites, worthy variants, and tunes not previously printed (Chicago, 1922)

Transcript courtesy

Source: R.M. Levey A Collection of the Dance Music of Ireland. Vol. 1 (London, 1858)

In Levey's publication it is set as a polka, in 2/4 time.

Transcript courtesy

Source: Alexander’s Fifty New Scotch and Irish Reels and Hornpipes arranged for the Violin or Flute (London, ca. 1826)_

It’s seen earlier again as a two-part tune,'The Pretty Girls of Monaghan' in Alexander’s Fifty New Scotch & Irish Reels & Hornpipes. In the two-part versions, the first parts are pretty similar but there’s quite a lot of variety in the second parts.

The Limerick Lasses, reel, played at the All-Ireland Fleadh in Clonmel in 1992 / Mícheál, MacDara and Félim Ó’Raghallaigh

The Limerick Lasses, reel / Kathleen Collins, fiddle. Source: Traditional Music of Ireland. Shanachie, 1995

The Limerick Lasses, reel / Brenda Castles, concertina. Source: The light side of the tune. Brenda Castles, 2021.

Merrily Kiss/Kissed/Dance/Danced the Quaker/ ’s Wife

A slide in 12/8 time, most versions of this tune are in G but there are also versions in A and D major. Most settings have three parts but there are two and four-parters. The tune is most likely Scottish. Scottish versions parallel and predate Irish versions.

Francis O'Neill (1922) remarked:

For over a century the name 'Merrily Kissed the Quaker' has been associated with a tune or special dance in Ireland, but no song or verse relating thereto has been traced. In O'Farrell's Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes (1804–10), we find the tune with name The Humours of Last Night annotated 'New Sett Irish' Continuing the investigation we discover that 'Merrily Dance the Quaker' (probably the original tune) was printed in No. 7 of Bremner's ‘Collections of Scots Reels, or Country Dances’ issued in 1759. The traditional version in North Kerry taken from the Rice-Walsh manuscript serves to illustrate how far a tune may deviate from the original in a few generations.

Phillips Barry (Folk-Song Society of the Northeast) traces the tune back to the 14th century plainchant, on the authority of Wilhelm Tappert's book Wandernde Melodien'.

Transcription courtesy

Source: John and William Neal A Choice Collection of Country Dances (Dublin, 1724)

It next appears as ‘Ye Ragg’ in John and William Neal A Choice Collection of Country Dances (Dublin, 1724).

It then turns up in Rutherford’s Choice Collection of Sixty of the Most Celebrated Country Dances (London, 1750) and then in Robert Bremner's Collection of Scots Reels or Country Dances (1760).

This version is the second tune in my recording which you can hear below.

Transcript courtesy

Source: O'Farrell's pocket companion for the Irish or Union Pipes (London; Dublin, 1800-1810)

It is written as a march in Captain Robert Hinde's Collection of quick marches in the late 1700s, and as a four-part jig ‘The Humours of Last Night’ in O’Farrell’s Pocket Companion in the early 1800s.

A Trip to the Cottage

Merrily Danced the Quaker's Wife is also the name of a rather uncommon Scottish country dance. Upon questioning of several dancers in Ireland, I could not find any special Irish dance steps that are done to this tune specifically. Set dance master Pat Murphy says that a specific figure of the West Kerry set would be danced to the tune in certain areas and that this figure would only be danced to this tune. In Grace Orpen‘s The Dances of Donegal there is a dance called 'A Trip to the Cottage' which is danced to the tune of 'The Quaker’s Wife'.

Source: The Dances of Donegal / Grace Orpen

Available at ITMA

There are many versions of the song with varying titles and lyrics. Here’s just one example from Somerset:

The Quaker's Wife

The Quaker's wife got up to bake
With all her children round her
She gave them each a slice of cake
And there the baker found her
He chased her up and down the town
As fast as he could make her
And merrily danced the Quaker's wife
And merrily danced the Quaker.
The Quaker's wife came to my door
To borrow a market penny
But I'd been had that way before
And said I hadn't any.
And oh she sighed and oh she cried
Then went up the street O
But the wind it blew her cloak a-side
And there was the butcher's meat O!
My Aunty died a week ago
And left me all her money
A little black hen a pig in a pen
And twenty jars of honey
The hen and pig they danced a jig
And knocked against the door O,
The honey it came trickling down
And stuck their feet to the floor!

Source: The Quaker's Wife and other Sommerset Folk Songs, by Ruth Tongue and Felton Rapley (London, 1965).

Two versions of Merrily Kiss the Quaker, slide / Brenda Castles, concertina. Source: The Light Side of the Tune. Brenda Castles, 2021

The Connaughtman’s Rambles

Transcript courtesy:

Source: R.M. Levey A Collection of the Dance Music of Ireland. Vol. 1 (London, 1858)

This tune was often played in the key of C in earlier times and can be found in R.M. Levey’s First Collection of the Dance Music of Ireland (1858, No. 29, p. 12) in that key. The melody is slightly different to the version played commonly today.

The Lads of the Town

Source: James Goodman Manuscripts at ITMA

Another version in C appears as 'The Lads of the Town' in the James Goodman Manuscripts (1828-1896). The first part here bears a resemblance to the jig 'Petticoat Loose/The Rooms of Dooagh', but the second part is unmistakably 'The Connaughtman’s Rambles'.

The Connaught Mans Rambles

Source: Stephen Grier Manuscript Collection at ITMA

The tune appears in book three of the Stephen Grier manuscripts of 1883 with a similar melody but in the key of D.

A version in Bb called 'The Hag in the Hay' appears in Henry P. Hudson Collection of Irish Music, vol. 1 (c. 1840-50, No. 383).

Sally Sloane, melodeon

Image courtesy Bush Music Club, Sydney

There is a charming 1950s recording of Sally Sloane lilting the tune with a particularly attractive twist on the melody, similar to the version in R.M. Levey A Collection of the Dance Music of Ireland.

Sally Sloane (3 October 1894 – 20 September 1982) (birth name Eunice Evelyn Frost) was possibly the most important Australian "source musician" to have been recorded during the Australian folk music revival of the 1950s and onwards. A number of her songs and tunes were passed down via her mother from her Irish grandmother, who emigrated to Australia in 1838.

A resident of Lithgow, New South Wales and in her 60s at the time of her "discovery" by Australian folklorist John Meredith in 1954, she was an accomplished player of button accordion, fiddle and mouth organ as well as a singer. On a number of visits over the period 1954–1960, Meredith recorded over 150 items from her; these recordings are now in the collection of the and transcriptions of almost 40 of them were included, with accompanying notes, in his seminal 1967 book (with Hugh Anderson) Folk Songs of Australia; and the Men and Women Who Sang Them’.

The recording of Sally Sloane referenced as 'Sally Sloane Lilts a Jig' can be found on the National Library of Australia's site Trove by following this link:

Source: The Connachtman's Rambles, jig / Patsy Touhey, uilleann pipes

Courtesy: Ward Irish Music Archives YouTube Channel

Captain Francis O'Neill recorded 'The Connaughtman’s Rambles' on a wax cylinder from the playing of uilleann piper Patsy Touhey in 1907, the oldest sound recording of the tune.

My own recent recording is from a version found in The Northern Fiddler from the playing of Peter Turbit. Larry Sanger compiled commentary from various authorities on the tunes therein. One of these mavens, Mick Brown, wrote that

This tune was commonly played in the key of C at one time - this version is almost in C.

Source: The Northern Fiddler. Blackstaff Press, 1979.

The Connaughtman's Rambles, jig / Brenda Castles, concertina. Source: The Light Side of the Tune. Brenda Castles, 2021.


Brenda Castles and the Irish Traditional Music Archive would like to offer sincere thanks to the following individuals and organisations for their assistance in the publishing of this blog:

Don Meade; Macdara Yeates; Nora Hickey M’Sichili and all at Centre Culturel Irlandais; Ian Hayden; Mick Moloney; Bush Music Club Sydney; Mícheál, MacDara and Félim Ó’Raghallaigh; Jeff Ksiazek (Ward Irish Music Archives); Cherish the Ladies; Andrew Kuntz (; Antóin MacGabhann; Marcas Ó Murchú; Gael Linn, Kathleen Collins, Grace Toland and Noel Castles.


Written and researched by Brenda Castles

Presented by Grace Toland

Brenda Castles

Brenda Castles comes from a rich background of traditional music in Co. Meath.

She learned from neighbour Rena Traynor (née Crotty) from Kilrush. Rena was a relative of the renowned Mrs. Elizabeth Crotty (1885–1960). Later Brenda learned from well-known concertina maestro Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh.

In 2016 Brenda released her first solo album of traditional Irish music on concertina, Indeedin You Needn't Bother which received critical acclaim, positive reviews and frequent national radio play. It entered the top ten selling albums on the charts of Custy's Music shop. She launched the album with concerts in the Cobblestone pub, at Fleadh Nua in Ennis and at the Catskills Irish Arts Week.

Television and radio work and appearances include TG4’s Glaoch an Cheoil, Gay Byrne’s Late Late Show as a finalist in the Young Traditional Musician of the Year competition, TG4’s Hup! and RTÉ’s Céilí House.

Playing with Mick Moloney’s Green Fields of America collective has sparked an interest in singing, harmonies, songs of emigration and songs from her native Meath. Performances with the renowned John Roberts have ignited an interest in song accompaniment on anglo concertina.

Brenda is much in demand as a performer and teacher and is a regular at arts weeks and festivals globally. She completed a residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris in August 2021 and has currently toured in the US including performing at the New York Tradfest. Brenda is appearing at Tradfest Temple Bar on 29 January 2022.

Brenda’s second album, The Light Side of the Tune was released in November 2021. It is a collection of unusual versions of common tunes in the Irish music tradition. Tracks feature Tony Byrne on guitar and Ruairí McGorman on bouzouki.

Follow/Contact Brenda at:


Twitter: @Brenda_Castles

Instagram: @brendacastles

Contact: [email protected]

Albums can found on Bandcamp

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