Shamrock, Rose and Thistle: The Singers and their Songs

Tom Anderson

ANDERSON, Tom, Lower Road, Clooney; born in the last years of the nineteenth century, recorded 1969, 1975 in Deighan’s lounge. His wife Nelly also sang (Index: ‘Banks of the Bann’, ‘Distressed maid’, ‘Mary Acklin’) and his daughter is Annie Sweeney. Tom sings a variety of songs in good traditional style – often convivial ones, and some fairly modern sentimental songs. His style is vigorous and distinctive, with marked and often unusual phrasing, notably in ‘The Wheel of Fortune' (no 70), a fragment learnt from Sarah Sweeney. Nos 17 (frag.), 30, 32, 60, 64, 70, 71M. [playlist of 6 songs]

Charlie Begley

Begley, Charlie, Magilligan; briefly met and recorded in Eddie Butcher’s house in 1961; then in his late fifties, unmarried, now dead some years. A singer with, probably, a small repertory, modest in style, using some progressive rallentando and occasional glottal vibrato. No 14.

Eddie Butcher

BUTCHER, Eddie, Aughil Crossroads; first met in circumstances described above. Born 1900, married about 1933: see Gracie Butcher. Died 1980. Their two sons and three daughters are all married and live in Magilligan, Limavady, Articlave and Coleraine; they do not seem to sing Eddie’s traditional songs, but for mention of Eveline see Gracie Butcher. John, the younger son, is married to a daughter of Mick and Lizzie O’Hara. Eddie had a big repertory, contributed thirty-six of our eighty published renditions and sang me full or partial versions of twenty-four of the forty-four others. In 1953-4 regularly and in 1955 briefly I noted about sixty song texts and melodies in MS sung in his house mainly by himself. I recorded him there and in Downhill in 1961; at home, 1964; at home and in Dublin, 1966, 1968; at home, 1969, 1970, 1975; in Dublin, 1975; at home, 1977, 1979.

Eddie provided pertinent comment on song, and was an excellent guide to the district and its other singers. He had a robust voice produced with considerable tension, slurring, and fine control of pitch not only giving good intonation but allowing a change down to a lower key while singing if he found the high notes a strain (see p.28). He used moderate melodic embellishment, with expressive glottal vibrato, and introduced regular nasality by replacing or supporting plosives by nasals.

Eddie was a farm labourer in his youth and a road worker in later life. Some of his own compositions reflect his experience: Index, ‘Anglers on the Roe’, ‘Bureau’, ‘Concrete mile’, ‘Down by the drainside’ (a single verse), ‘Longfield bank’, ‘Magilligan Gaelic team’, ‘Myroe floods’, ‘New Mallard bar’, ‘New tractor’, ‘Point fair’, ‘Roe bridge’, ‘Smuggler’, ‘Walling of the men’. For text added to existing songs see ‘Carrowclare’ (no 13), ‘Close of an Irish day’ (no 14) and ‘The Trader’ (no 68).

From 1966 he sang frequently on radio from Dublin and Belfast and his songs have been published on discs: Butcher 1–4, Folk ballads. Nos 1–3, 4B, 5D, 6–7, 8M frag., 10Z, 13B, 14B, 15H, 16A, 17, 19, 20Y frag., 21–4, 25A frag., 26–9, 30B, 32CD with others, 35 frag., 36, 37C frag., 38, 39A, 41, 42B, 43I frag., 44, 45F, 46, 48D frag., 50–1, 52D frag., 53–4, 56, 57D, 58, 59A, 60C, 61–3, 64D frag., 66, 67F, 68–9, 71, 73–4. [playlist of 39 songs]

Gracie Butcher

BUTCHER, Gracie, nee Carr, Aughil crossroads; wife of Eddie (above). Gracie knows many of Eddie’s songs and has occasionally been prevailed on to sing in special circumstances: our examples show her in duet with Eddie (no 23) and, illustrating a children’s game song (no 65D), with her daughter Eveline.

Jimmy Butcher

BUTCHER, Jimmy, nr. old Railway Station, Limavady; born 1913, married; recorded at his home in 1966. Youngest of the Butcher brothers, he seems to have a smaller repertory than the others. His eldest brother Robert (below) was perhaps a model for him; Jimmy’s voice is sweet and his style gentle, with moderate embellishment of melody, slurring, and marked syllabic on- and off-glides. Nos 5, 25B. [playlist of 3 songs]

John Butcher Senior

BUTCHER, John senior, Drumavally; recorded there in 1969 and at his brother Eddie’s home, 1966, 1969; died in 1973 aged about seventy. John’s wife Maria and his daughter Mary Ellen also sang for me (below) and I have recorded a snatch from his son Christopher (no 32G). John seemed to have a large repertory, including many of his father’s songs common to Eddie. He sang in a full voice with well-marked rhythm, fine intonation, and interesting and varied melodic embellishment. Nos 5F, 15–6, 30C, 32C with others, 39, 48, 53 with others, 57 with Eddie, 67, 71L; cf. 55,66. [playlist of 7 songs]

John Butcher Junior

BUTCHER, John junior, Ballysally, Coleraine; younger son of Robert (below), recorded in his uncle Eddie’s house, 1969; then in his late forties and living in Downhill, Dunboe. John has a powerful voice, with good intonation and little embellishment, somewhat influenced by popular music of the Thirties and Forties, which he prefers. The traditional song he contributes here dates only from 1935. No 4, 64H frag.

Maria Butcher

BUTCHER, Maria, Drumavally; wife of John senior (above); recorded in Eddie Butcher’s house 1966, 1969. Maria died later in 1969 in her late sixties. She seemed to have considerable experience of traditional songs, but a certain hoarseness due to poor health made it difficult to appreciate her style properly. Nos 32C and 53 with others, 55 with her husband. [playlist of 2 songs]

Mary Ellen Butcher

BUTCHER, Mary Ellen, Dumavally; daughter of John and Maria (above); recorded 1969, then aged about twenty, since married. She sang in clear tones with light embellishment – suggesting her father’s influence – and some modern popular features such as chromatic slurring. I do not know whether Mary Ellen preserves much of her father’s repertory; her song below was learnt from her uncle Jimmy (above). No 25.

Robert Butcher Senior

BUTCHER, Robert senior, the Boretrees, the Umbra; married, father of Robert, John, and Lizzie O’Hagan (all listed here). He died in 1966 aged about seventy; his house on the railway is now ‘tumbled’. I recorded Robert at Downhill in 1961 and also noted several texts and melodies in MS from him during the same visit at his own house (which lacked electricity for the recorder) and sang and recorded several of these melodies myself immediately afterwards (indicated in references thus: ‘6105 HS (RB)’). Robert was ailing in his later years and somewhat breathless. But the recordings reveal a quiet smooth style with interesting and varied melodic and syllabic embellishments. His repertory was evidently large, including many songs learnt from his father. Nos 3N, 9, 26K frag., 47, 49, 59, 69R frag. [playlist of 4 songs]

Robert Butcher Junior

BUTCHER, Robert junior, the Claymire, Duncrun; elder son of Robert (above), married; recorded in his uncle Eddie’s house in 1969; then aged about fifty. He has, perhaps not an extensive, but a varied traditional repertory. His father was an important influence on Robert’s singing, though the son uses less embellishment and makes unusual lengthening at cadences. Nos 13, 32D with his uncle Eddie, 33E, 64G frag.

Hugh Campbell

CAMPBELL, Hugh (see p.13), Magilligan; unmarried; author of ‘The Castle maid’ (‘I’m a decent farm labourer…’) and ‘Down with Georgie Lee’ – Index. He seems to have died in the 1920s, aged about seventy.

John Fleming

FLEMING, John, Bellarena; unmarried, lorry-driver; recorded in Brolly’s bar, Myroe, 1969, 1975. Born about 1930. John seems to have a moderate repertory of varied traditional songs, which he sings in a pleasantly hoarse voice often near breaking but with generally good intonation. Nos 33, 35 (disc: Folk ballads), 55B. [playlist of 2 songs]

Mary Harte

HARTE, Mary, nee Butler, a native of Derry city from whom I noted no 72 in 1954 and recorded several songs in 1961 when she was living with her married daughter Mrs McCloskey at Aughil crossroads. She died in the mid–Sixties aged about seventy. Her previous residence was at Benone where Henry noted his no 813 (= Index ‘Londonderry on the banks of the Foyle’) from her in 1939 (publ. 24 June). No 72.

Bob McCurry

McCURRY, Bob, Carrowmena, Myroe, born 1900, married; worked with Eddie Butcher for a road contractor until his retirement; recorded in 1969 at his home talking about his great–uncle Jimmy McCurry (below; 6913–4) and at Deighan’s lounge (6924, stories)

Jimmy McCurry

McCURRY, Jimmy, the Sea bank, Carrowclare, Myroe, unmarried, blind fiddler, singer and author of ‘Ballycarton ball’, ‘Carrowclare’ (no 13), ‘Coleraine regatta’, ‘The Myroe ploughing match’, ‘Sarah Jane’, ‘The star of Moville’ – Index. For mention of a seventh song by him: ‘Northern Constitution’ 10 Dec. 1932, p.8. Jimmy died about 1920 aged about seventy: see Bob McCurry (above). A full account of Jimmy and his songs can be found in the article by Hugh Shields,  ‘A singer of poems: Jimmy McCurry of Myroe’, Ulster Folklife 27 (1981) 1–18.

Lizzie O'Hagan

O’HAGAN, Lizzie, nee Butcher, daughter of Robert and Maria (above), aged about forty when recorded in 1966 at her home in Coleraine singing a song learnt from her father. Lizzie has a light voice and makes much use of melodic slurring. Her repertory seems small. No 10.

Lizzie O'Hara

O’HARA, Lizzie, Glack, near Limavady, wife of Mick (below) and mother–in–law of Eddie Butcher’s son John; born about 1915. Recorded in 1969, 1975, in her home singing a miscellany of songs, at times from a ballot. Nos 34 frag., 35K frag. [playlist of 2 songs]

Mick O'Hara

O’HARA, Mick, husband of Lizzie (above), born about 1910; farmer. Recorded in his home in 1969, 1975, singing fragments in uncertain intonation. Nos 17 frag., 35K frag.

Mary Osborne

OSBORNE, Mary, nee Somers, Bellany, Dunboe, formerly of Avish, Magilligan. Aged about 40 when recorded in 1969 at her home singing a few songs which though traditional do not suggest a large locally formed repertory. Her style is somewhat influenced by popular music of the Thirties and Forties. No 64.

Bill Quigley

QUIGLEY, Bill, Lower Road, Bellarena, husband of Tilly (below); recorded at his home and at Eddie Butcher’s home in 1969 when aged about sixty-five. Bill has a good repertory of songs mostly traditional and sings in slow deliberate style with frequent slurring, some pitch vibrato and strongly stressed attack. Nos 3Q, 11D frag., 18, 37, 45, 53 with others. [playlist of 4 songs]

Tilly Quigley

QUIGLEY, Tilly, nee Carr, wife of Bill and sister of Gracie Butcher (above); recorded 1969 at her home and Eddie Butcher’s home, when she was aged about sixty; she died in 1972. Tilly had a light singing voice, and a small but interesting repertory, including ‘The dark–eyed gipsy’ learnt from Sarah Sweeney (below) – disc: Folk ballads. Nos 20, 53 with others. [playlist of 2 songs]

Charlie Somers

SOMERS, Charlie, the Bog, nr Bellarena railway station; small farmer and widower born about 1900; recorded at his home in 1969, in Deighan’s lounge, 1969, 1975, died in 1976. Charlie had a good repertory of ballads and lyric songs, for which his mother was his chief source. His style is declamatory rather than strongly musical, but with generally good intonation; notes are held only when using effects of glottal vibrato; melodic structure is not always clear. Nos 3R, 8 (disc: Folk ballds), 31, 37M, 40, 43, 52. [playlist of 5 songs]

Hugh Somers

SOMERS, Hugh, Aughil; recorded in 1969 at Eddie Butcher’s house singing a fragment uncertain in intonation and melodic structure. Unmarried, aged about seventy at that time, he died a few years later. No 11 frag.

Annie Sweeney

SWEENEY, Annie, nee Anderson; daughter of Tom (above); now living with her husband in Scotland. I had no opportunity to ascertain whether she had learnt her father’s songs when I recorded her in 1969; she was then aged about forty. She sang with progressive acceleration in strict rhythm and with obtrusive slurring and supplementary syllables on the vowel eNo 12.

Sarah Sweeney

SWEENEY, Sarah, married, whom I never met, was obviously an interesting singer (see Tom Anderson and Tilly Quigley above). She was brought up near the Point in an upturned boat, ‘the Scow’, and lived in her later years on the Point Road until the early Sixties, when she died at the age of about 104. In her late nineties, Sarah is said to have visited a dying man about ten years younger than herself and been asked to sing. ‘Just the same songs sung the same way as I heard her singing them eighty years ago,’ he said when she had finished.

ANON. MS texts from unidentified informants. (‘Anon.’ songs or spoken text in the Index, etc, comprise erotic, bawdy, or political items for which I have suppressed informants’ names.)