Joyce on the Hop Jig

b’Fearr liomsa ainnir gan gúna.  I would rather have a Maiden without a Gown.

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FOR the following beautiful air, as well as for the preceding, and many other melodies of equal value, I have to express my very grateful acknowledgments to Mr. Patrick Joyce, formerly of Glenasheen, in the county of Limerick, but now of Dublin,—one of the most zealous and judicious of the collectors of Irish music who have voluntarily given me their aid in the prosecution of this work. Like most of the airs in his collection, this tune was procured in Munster, and it very probably belongs to that still singularly musical province. It was learnt by Mr. Joyce from the singing of his brother, Mr. Michael Joyce of Glenasheen, who had it from his father. Of the Irish song sung to it, Mr. Joyce says that his brother can now only remember the annexed fragment; but the subject of it was a comparison drawn by a young man between two women, one of them old and ugly, but very rich,—possessed of large herds of cattle, and to whom he was importuned to get married,— the other, a young and blooming girl, but entirely fortuneless; and he contrasts the riches and ugliness of the former with the poverty and beauty of the latter, whom he finally determines to prefer. The fragment above alluded to is as follows :—

Seácht fichit bó bhaine, gan amharus,
* * * * * * *
Da sheisreach chapel do threabhthach,
Dá sheacht fichit donn druimfhionn óg;
B’fearr liomsa ainnir gan gúna
Na smíste do reamhar chaille chrón.


Seven score milchers, without doubt,
* * * * * * * *
Twice six ploughing horses to plough with,
Twice seven score young dun heifers;
I would rather have a maiden without a gown
Than a stump of a fat, swarthy woman.

In reference to the construction of the preceding air, it should, perhaps, be observed, that it is one which characterizes, and is peculiar to, a large class of Gaelic melodies, and which may be described as airs in triple time, consisting of two strains, or parts, in each of which there are two sections, and in each of these, again, two extended or irregular phrases. Such melodies, therefore, when written in three-four time—with a view to enable the performer to mark the time and accents more readily—as in the example above, will have the seemingly irregular number of twelve bars, or measures, in each part; whereas, if considered as properly in six-four, or nine-eight time, the parts will consist of but four bars in each part, or eight in all,—as in the example of the well-known air of this class called Cailin deas g-cruidadh na mbo, or “The pretty Girl milking the Cow,” which has been always so written.

Further, with respect to the rhythm of melodies of this class, I may remark that the two phrases in each of their four sections consist in each of three accented, or emphatic notes, each of which is preceded and followed by an unaccented one, with this exception, that every second phrase closes upon the accented note; or, using the terms of Grecian rhythm, the first phrase of each section consists of three amphibrachs, and the second of two amphibrachs and an Iambus. Hence it follows that the stanza suited to such melodies should consist of eight lines, corresponding to the eight phrases of the tune, the lines alternately containing nine and eight syllables, having their accents in accordance with those of the melody; and as a very happy example of such metrical adaptation of English words to a melody of this class, I may instance Moore’s song, “The Valley lay smiling before me,” written for the Irish melody of Cailin deas g-cruidadh na mbo, or “The pretty Girl milking the Cow,” as above referred to.

Lastly, I would remark, that it appears to me in the highest degree probable that it is to this class of the ancient Irish or Gaelic vocal melodies we should ascribe the origin of that class of our dance-tunes, in nine-eight time, popularly known in Munster by the name of “Hop jigs.” Such dance-tunes,—as I have already stated in a preceding notice at page 19,—are certainly very peculiar to Ireland; though I have found an interesting specimen of a dance-tune, very similar in construction, in the Introduction to Wood’s recent valuable work, “The Dance Music of Scotland,” where it is given, amongst the examples of the old dance-tunes of continental countries, as a “Song for dancing; of Sarlat, in the ancient province of Perigord, now in the Department of Dordogne, in the south-west of France.” It is written in three-four time; and as an interesting illustration of the preceding remarks, I have taken the liberty of inserting it here.


Hop Jig

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FOR the following dance-tune I have, unfortunately, no name. I found it as I give it, in a valuable manuscript collection of the dance-tunes popular in Ireland about a century back, and of which I made mention in a preceding notice. It is a pleasing specimen of the class of Irish jigs, in triple, or nine-eight time, known in Munster by the name of “hop jig,” and also “slip time; ” and, as I have already remarked, I consider such class of tunes as very peculiar to Ireland. I may further observe, that in such jigs we often find, instead of triplets, a succession of long and short, or crotchet and quaver, notes throughout the parts,—a peculiarity of structure which is also often found in the jigs in common, or six-eight, measure, which are known by the name of “single jigs.”

In reference to the kind of dance adapted to this description of jig, Mr. Joyce writes as follows :—

“The dance of the hop jig is the most pleasing, airy, and graceful of all the Munster dances that have come under my observation. It is generally danced by four persons—of whom two are females—but the number is not limited. As in the reel, only the alternate parts of the tune are danced; during the other parts the dancers move round the room. In the reel, however, this movement is little more than a mere walk, though performed in a systematic way; but in the hop jig the dancers skip lightly round, keeping perfect time with the music—which is played very quickly—and arrive in their respective places in time to commence the ‘step’ to the next part of the tune.

“The ‘steps’ of a hop jig are quite unlike those of any other dance,—they all consist of light and graceful skipping,—most exciting, and not at all so fatiguing as the steps of a reel or a double jig. In general the floor is struck, or rather, tipped lightly, three times during every bar of the tune; and from this description, the appropriateness of the names ‘hop jig,’ and ‘slip time,’ will be at once apparent. Occasionally, however, the heavier steps of the double jig dance are applied to this also; but from the greater quickness with which it is necessary to perform them, the exercise is excessively fatiguing.”


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