Versions of the Song ‘An Draighneán Donn’, 1789–1990

‘An Draighneán Donn’ (The brown thorntree or sloe-tree) is one of the oldest and most widely spread songs now sung in the Irish language.

It exists in many versions that can individually contain up to 25 or more verses; it exists also in some English and Irish-English macaronic versions, and also in many prose and verse translations into English. A lyric lovesong with an implied narrative, it expresses normally the sorrowful feelings of a young woman who has been deserted.

The song is of unknown origin. It may belong to the 17th or 18th centuries, as its language is relatively modern and the oldest known version of it appears in print in 1789 (see below). It may have been composed in Connaught, on placename and other evidence, but it is found commonly in all the provinces.

Over 150 versions (Irish, English, translations, melodies, etc.) of ‘An Draighneán Donn’ are found in print alone (as distinct from audio and video recordings) in the ITMA collections. As is the case with many other such songs in the collections, these many versions, widely diffused in time and place, provide material for the study of change and transmission in Irish traditional song. The song was the subject in 2000 of an MA thesis by Enda Ó Catháin in the Department of Modern Irish, National University of Ireland Maynooth: ‘An Draighneán Donn’ – ‘Rí na nAmhrán’ (in Irish, ii+262 pp.)

With thanks to book donors the Breathnach Family, Bernard Croke, Máire Ní Dhonncha per Maedhbh Uí Loinsigh, Claire O'Kelly, Eve O'Kelly, Séamus Ó Raghallaigh, Laurie Uí Raghallaigh, Seamus Purcell, & Nellie Walsh, and to Brian O'Rourke for permission to publish.

ITMA would welcome the donation of other materials of this kind which are not yet in its collections (check our catalogues here), or of their loan for copying.

NC & MG, 1 April 2009