English singer and songwriter Flo Morrissey (b. 1994) and Richmond, Virginia-based producer and musician Matthew E. White (b. 1982) teamed up for a collaborative full duet album of ten cover songs called Gentlewoman, Ruby Man. It was released in January 2017 by Glassnote Records. Following months of preparation, the cover songs were selected from a wide range of musical artists and recorded in 10 days at White’s Spacebomb Studios in downtown Richmond. The album’s first track is their cover version of Little Wings’ Look At What The Light Did Now (3:21 minutes). Little Wings is a band founded in the late 1990’s in San Luis Obispo, California, by Alabama-born indie rocker Kyle Field (b. 1972). The original Little Wings version of the song is a vocal duet with acoustic guitar released in 2002.
Matthew E. White.
Meeting at a music event in London in October 2015—Matthew White had first learned about Flo Morrissey from an article about her on The Guardian website— the busy English and American artist each signed to two different record labels found out they worked well together. Both of them liked recording cover versions of great but also personally resonating songs as it allowed them to reach a new generation of listeners as well as to focus on their vocal performances and the songs’ production values. After the duo compiled a list on Spotify of around 500 songs they chose their own list of ten songs based not so much on what they went into the project expecting to do but newer material and even R&B resulting in a diverse group of musical artists, such as Leonard Cohen, Frank Ocean, the Bee Gees, and James Blake.
Gentlewoman, Ruby Man tracklist: 1. Look At What The Light Did Now (Little Wings Cover) 2. Thinking ‘Bout You (Frank Ocean Cover) 3. Looking For You (Nino Ferrer Cover) 4. Color Of Anything (James Blake Cover) 5. Everybody Loves The Sunshine (Roy Ayers Cover) 6. Grease (Bee Gees Cover) 7. Suzanne (Leonard Cohen Cover) 8. Sunday Morning (Velvet Underground Cover) 9. Heaven Can Wait (Charlotte Gainsbourg Cover) 10. Govindam (George Harrison Cover)
All variations of the name Brigid mean “power, strength, force, and authority” as well as “vigor, virtue and fortitude.”
By John P. Walsh
In Ireland a generation ago the girl’s first name of Brigid (along with Mary) was one of the island’s most popular. In the 1960s and 1970s, it seemed that a lot of Irish-American girls were named Brigid, or wished to be. By the 2010s the name of Brigid was no longer, in Ireland at least, very popular as other girls’ names replaced it.1
In Ireland the name Brigid is rendered in a healthy variety of ways.
The well-known Bridget is the English variant. In this Irish folk song Bríd Óg Ní Mháille (Young Brigid O’Malley), it is the Irish language Brid (pronounced Breed) that is used. The Irish also offers Bride, Brídín, Brighid, Brighidín, Brigit, Breeda, and others. With so many alternatives for a very ancient name it may be surprising that none of them rank high on the popularity charts although their accumulated usage may do so.2
The root word of Brigid translates as “fire.”
With its root word being breo (which means fire), all variations of Brigid have the Irish word brígh in common. According to the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language, brígh has multiple definitions and meanings. It primarily connotes “power, strength, force, and authority” but also translates as “vigor, virtue and fortitude.” In medicine, brígh refers to the antidote which proves to be strongly effective.3 As Brid is sometimes translated as “strong-willed” and “high born,” it is clear that this girl’s appellation possesses excellent qualities that, along with the beauty of its sound when spoken and its venerable ancient history, may be expected to one day again reach into the top 100 Irish names for girls.
St Brigid of Ireland statue by Timothy P. Schmalz. The sculpture of St. Brigid at Knock Shrine in Ireland captures that moment where Brigid gave her father’s treasured sword to a leper in the presence of the King of Leinster. Before her father was able to strike her down, she explained that, by way of the leper, she could give the sword of God. The King, being a Christian, forbade her father to strike her down and granted her her freedom saying: “Brigid’s merit before God is greater than our own.”
Mother was a slave, father was a pagan chief.
The first Irish historical figure directly associated with the name Brid or Brigid that is most relevant to the name in Ireland today is St. Brigid (c. 451–525). Along with saints Patrick (418-493) and Columba (540-615), Brigid is one of Ireland’s three patron saints.
Legends swirl around this early Christian figure from the moment of her birth, including the story of angels seen hovering over the Irish cottage where she was born near Dundalk at the foot of the Cooley Mountains. History records that her mother was a Christian slave and her father was a pagan chief.
Legends from ancient times. Patron saint of ireland.
Soon after Brid’s birth, her mother was sold and had to leave her father’s house although young Brid stayed. There are many Irish fioretti or folk tales relating Brid’s fantastical holy exploits during this period of her early youth. One appealing story among many tells of her disobeying her father so to journey to visit her enslaved mother. Traveling alone along Ireland’s wild pathways, Brid located her mother who was tending her owner’s cattle. Mother and daughter worked side-by-side until their labors’ fruit proved so abundant that Brid was able to secure her mother’s freedom. How Brid later chose to consecrate her life to God as a nun which led to her founding Ireland’s first monastic community of women is also explained in legends.4
Pre-Christian Celtic goddess.
St. Brigid of Ireland’s misty past is informed by a pre-Christian Celtic goddess named Brigid whose mythology as we know it today was first recorded, ironically perhaps, by early Irish Christian monks. As in St. Brid’s story of liberating her enslaved mother, the pagan goddess Brid is closely aligned to the cow as well as the sheep, but also animals with mythological qualities of regeneration such as the rooster and snake. Surrounding this more remote Brid is a panoply of supernatural qualities and events told in legends and folklore.5 Yet this ancient pagan Celtic goddess has her even older forebears in the Proto-Indo-European goddesses that are over 5,000 years old. In ancient Mesopotamia one finds a certain Brid who was deity of the hearth.6
Brigit is a powerful spiritual and religious form in Irish history. She is one of the most complex and contradictory goddesses of the Celts. That pagan goddess is the patroness of healers, poets, and metal workers-all of the inspired and practical civilized arts. Associated with fire and light, Brigid is the guardian of inner vital energy.
Nineteenth Century Irish Folk song.
Bríd Óg Ní Mháille is an Irish folk song in a long line of Irish musical taste about forsaken love. It is performed here brilliantly in the Irish by singer Gillian Fenton who is accompanied on traditional Irish harp by Fiachra O’ Corragáin. There are many traditional and contemporary renditions, however, of this popular late nineteenth-century Irish Gaelic song. Its surge of popularity is an entirely local Irish story.
There was a certain young man in mid-20th-century County Mayo who was a Gaelic teacher. He took particular fancy to this tune about a young Irishman who lost his love — the titular Bridget O’Malley — to another suitor. He was left “heartbroken…the arrows of death…piercing my heart.”7 The Gaelic teacher, armed with this air about “the beauty of Oriel without any doubt…now married to another…” took it with him back to the county just next door, his native Donegal, where its popularity flourished.
St. Brighid of Ireland is shrouded in ancient legends and myths. A play featuring Brigid of Ireland casts her story as a tragedy.
The Beguiling of Merlin, Edward Burne-Jones, 1872-77, Oil on Canvas, 186 cm x 111 cm (73in x 44 in), Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port sunlight, Merseyside. There is twelfth century story in which Merlin is beguiled by a female figure whose vision thereof inspires or causes History. The female form is sometimes associated with Brigantia. In some stories-illustrated in a mid 19th-century painting such as this one by Pre-Raphaelite artist Burne-Jones she is the figure who nurtures the development of human potential–a Muse.
Saint Brigid of Ireland (c. 451 – 525) is one of Ireland’s patron saints. From the moment of her birth in the mid-fifth century, Brigid’s story is shrouded in Christian legends and tales. St. Brid is a direct descendant of the older pagan Celtic goddess of the same name. Until the mid-sixteenth century, St. Brid’s fire was a flame burned in her honor for literally 1000 yearsby nuns in the monastery in Ireland she founded.
St. Bride by John Duncan, 1913. Bride is one of the many variations for the English Bridget or Irish Brighid. Others include Brid, Brídín, Brighidín, Brigit, and Breeda.
There is another Irish Gaelic song referencing the name Brid that is titled Fair Bridget (Brid Bhan) and also emanates out of Donegal. It is not as popular as Bríd Óg Ní Mháille, but speaks about a modern young Brid –- similar to the mother of ancient St. Brid –-who is taken out of her home to tend cattle in a far-away place not her own. It is heartbreak for this fair Brid to begin a new life where the cows graze on the “sour grass” of the mountain sides. Like St. Brid’s mother, this fair Brid, it is told, eventually returned to her native place, although the song doesn’t tell us, only local legend.
The listener, however, can be assured of the veracity of these melancholy verses for in Bríd Óg Ní Mháille it says: “There is nothing more beautiful than the moon over the sea or the white blossom, and my love is like that with her golden tresses and her honey-mouth that has never deceived anybody.”
Oh Bríd O’Malley You have left my heart breaking You’ve sent the death pangs Of sorrow to pierce my heart sore A hundred men are craving For your breathtaking beauty You’re the fairest of maidens In Oriel for sure
I’m a handsome young fellow Who is thinking of wedlock But my life will be shortened If I don’t get my dear My love and my darling Prepare now to meet me On next Sunday evening On the road to Drum Slieve
‘Tis sadly and lonely I pass the time on Sunday My head bowed in sorrow My sights heavy with woe As I gaze upon the byways That my true love walks over Now she’s wed to another And left me forlorn
There are thousands of Irish folk songs, a traditional and often nationalistic musical genre that is experiencing today a renaissance and renewal as song collections are widely available that began to be compiled in the nineteenth century and continued into the twentieth century at a productive pace.
These folk song collections include the Francis James Child collection of 305 Scottish and English ballads (which has ramifications for the first Irish song discussed here) from the final decades of the nineteenth century to recent collections including Folksongs of Britain and Ireland compiled by Peter Kennedy in 1975.1
The popularization of an extensive range of Irish folk songs proliferated in the twentieth century with the inclusion of sound recordings and broadcast programs on radio and television. Music and words that started in local communities returned to them by way of mass media such as the popularity of “Beidh ceol, caint agus craic again” (“We’ll have music, chat and craic”) used by Seán Bán Breathnach for his Irish-language chat show SBB inaShuí, broadcast on RTÉ from 1976 to 1982.
Folk songs, local songs, are experiencing a twenty-first century renaissance with a return to traditional, local cultural sources through the prism of contemporary interpretations and arrangements by established and new musical performers in Ireland and other countries around the world, including the United States. These artists find commercial value in performing mainly traditional material on their own terms.3
Craicing Selfie with Seán Bán Breathnach.
Weile Weile Waila is a folk song that emerged in Ireland during the hardship of the Great Hunger of the 1840s and early 1850s when by necessity hundreds of thousands unto millions of Irish emigrated to the United States and Canada and to many other parts of the world out of sheer desperation.4
Weile Weile Waila is a children’s nursery rhyme specific to Ireland first catalogued by Harvard English professor and folklorist Francis James Child (1825-1896) who discovered over a dozen variants for this song titling them “The Cruel Mother.”5 In Child’s incomplete catalogue of ballads — his project interest in the British Isles in the 1880s and 1890s was more literary than musical — its overall subject offerings range from romance and legends, the supernatural, history, morality tales, and riddles, and in no way precludes darker subjects and themes as is found in Weile Weile Waila.
This folk song could be called a “murder” ballad as well as a “family strife” ballad or “abuse of authority” ballad, all of which are considered “Child” ballads named for Francis James Child who catalogued their type.
Which of the 17 versions of this song that Child collected as “The Cruel Mother” best meshes with this Irish ditty belies traits they appear to all share: a woman gives birth and using a pen-knife kills the child, often with the descriptive relish to tear “the tender heart.”6
The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1882–1898 of Francis James Child. Reviewing this product revealed a treasury of folk music in the British Isles that has been especially active since the end of the eighteenth century.
Undated engraving of F.J. Child, the dedicated scholar at the root of folk music collections in the British Isles by Gustav Kruell (German, 1843-1907). There is a faint image of a rose at the upper right.
The song’s title phrase Weile Weile Waila is itself murky. Likely medieval in origin, the term’s original meaning is lost to history although in Ireland in the nineteenth century it was primarily used for a popular exclamation of grief – an emotion much roused and justified on the island in that time period.7
This Irish version of Francis James Child’s “The Cruel Mother” poses its own specific plot. An “old” (no longer “cruel”) woman who “lived in the woods” stabs an infant “three months old” to death along the banks of the River Saile, a stream which may refer to one that flows in and near Dublin today.
A tiny portion of the River Saile featured in the Irish folk song Weile Weile Waila may be a local name given to the River Poddle in the city of Dublin. The River Poddle is a tributary of the Liffey, rising in Cookstown to the north of Tallaght. From its source, it flows into Dublin City, and splits at Mount Argus at what is known as the “Tongue” or “stone boat” in the photograph pictured above.
In the Irish version, the old woman is probably not the mother of the baby which provides a remarkable variant to a historic song that extensively describes a cruel mother. Yet the old folk song’s dark flavor is retained for use as a nursery rhyme obviously sung by a young mother to her child perhaps with humor and loving, benign menace.
The old woman uses the song’s prevalent pen-knife (here made “long and sharp”) and is quickly approached and arrested by “two policemen” and “a man” to be “sent to jail” where she is dispatched to the gallows and executed for the crime. This series of events unique to the Irish lyric (some of it was updated as recently as the 1970’s) is that the cruel mother’s hope for eternal mercy or fear of eternal damnation that ends many of the Child Ballad versions is replaced with harsh justice for the old woman in the here and now. The death of the baby is specifically lamented.
Suffering associated with The Irish Famine of 1845-50 depicted in a contemporary sculpture (1997) called Famine by Rowan Gillespie in Dublin. While causes and numbers are hotly debated, approximately one million people died and at least one million more emigrated from Ireland according to David Ross in Ireland: History of a Nation (2002, Geddes & Grosset, New Lanark).
The song retains in each verse that popular Irish exclamation of grief -– Weile Weile Waila -–injecting into its dark proceedings, now made into a nursery ditty, a forlorn lyric that stands on the precipice to describe with open eyes shocking and oftentimes glossed-over ancillary misfortunes in Ireland during years of mass starvation and disease in the mid-nineteenth century. Its specificity of Irish suffering -– the “end” of the old woman and the baby — describes a cycle of viciousness met by harsh earthly justice that makes for a sobering two minutes of Irish folk music. The song’s material carries forward to the present a sharp slice of Ireland’s former meaner times when members of local communities could be driven to despicable acts when necessary resources for survival are long delayed. In this short nursery rhyme with an ample and well-documented folk song history– and popularized in the 1970’s by the folk band The Dubliners –Irish parents and children alike could be entertained by others’ calamities where the guilty are meted out justice and the innocent are bemoaned.
(“There was an old woman and she lived in the woods…”) Woman begging with baby in Clonakilty (County Cork), Ireland. Portrait print of a destitute mother holding her baby in one arm and a begging bowl in the other. These miserable conditions were brought on by the Great Famine and compounded by socio-economic practices such as forced evictions of poverty-stricken peasants from their homes and farms.
The Dubliners featuring Ronnie Drew perform Weila Weila Waila in a 1988 television performance (2:19 minutes). Twenty years later, at Ronnie Drew’s funeral in 2008, the large gathering of mourners sang this song to his memory in unison clapping and stamping their feet.8
The Dubliners began performing as a group in 1962. The group was composed by Ciarán Bourke, Barney Mckenna, Luke Kelly, John Sheahan, and Ronnie Drew).
LYRICS Weile Weile Waila:
And there was an old woman and she lived in the woods A weila weila waila There was an old woman and she lived in the woods Down by the River Saile
She had a baby three months old A weila weila waila She had a baby three months old Down by the River Saile
She had a penknife long and sharp A weila weila waila She had a penknife long and sharp Down by the River Saile
She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart A weila weila waila She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart Down by the River Saile
Three loud knocks came knocking on the door A weila weila waila Three loud knocks came knocking on the door Down by the River Saile
There was two policeman and a man A weila weila waila There was two policeman and a man Down by the River Saile
They took her away and they put her into jail A weila weila waila They took her away and they put her into jail Down by the River Saile
They put a rope around her neck A weila weila waila They put a rope around her neck Down by the River Saile
They pulled the rope she got hung A weila weila waila They pulled the rope she got hung Down by the River Saile
Now that was the end of the woman in the woods A weila weila waila And that was the end of the baby too Down by the River Saile
Quote Seán Bán Breathnach – Fintan Vallely, Companion to Irish Traditional Music, New York University Press, New York, 1999, p. 9.
New bands recording Irish folk songs include, in Ireland, The Corrs; in Britain, The Pogues; and in the United States, Dropkick Murphys as well as Flogging Molly. There are many others.
There are many sources on the subject of Irish emigration in the mid-nineteenth century. What is noteworthy is that the causes for it and numbers involved in it frequently remain intensely debated.
On the subject of Child Ballads – see Mary Ellen Brown, Child’s Unfinished Masterpiece: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 2011 and E. Housman, British Popular Ballads, Ayer Publishing, 1969.