An Fhine Bhean Mhodhmhuil

The Fair-Haired Gracious Lady

Véarsa 1 Verse 1
‘S í an fhine bhean mhodhmhuil d’fhúig[1] tinneas im’ cheann It was the gracious, fair-haired lady who left me with a pain in my head
Agus d’fhág sí gan mheabhar gan chéill mé. And she left me bereft of intellect or sense,
Is ba gheille[2] liom a com ná an sneachta ar an ngleann Brighter to me than the snow in the glen was her waist,
Is ná an eala ar an abhainn bhuig[3] bhraonaigh Brighter than the swan on the mild, dewy river.
A Dhia cad é an fáth ná tabharfainn féin grá O God, how could I fail to love
Dod’ choimín bán, a spéirbhean. your little white waist, o beautiful lady?
Is go dtugais féinig barr leat ar méin agus ar breáthacht And you outshone in disposition and in beauty
Ó mhnáibh deasa áilne an tsaoil seo. All the fine women of this world.
Véarsa 2 Verse 2
Dá mba liomsa Eochaill is Corcaigh na seólta If Youghal town and Cork city of the sailing ships belonged to me
Is an baile beag a gcónaíonn an ríbhean And even the little village where the queenly woman lives,
Do mhalairt do shonóchar[4] ní dhéanfainn go deo, I would never exchange you for any other spouse
Cé gur fhágais go ró-lag m’intinn. Even though you left my mind in disarray.
Gheallais-se dómhsa is mheallais go hóg mé, You promised me and you enticed me when I was young,
‘Sé mo chiach mar [a] chonairc[5] fós riamh tú My sorrow it is that I ever laid eyes on you.
Is gur fhágais ansúd[6] mé i mbaile gan súgradh, And you left me there in a village without sport or fun,
Ag sileadh na súl is mé i bpiantuibh. Weeping bitterly and in pain.
Véarsa 3 Verse 3
Ní stuif mar éadach do thabharfainn féin duit I would not give you thin, worsted cloth as a gift
Ach  poplin daor do dhaothain But, rather, expensive silk poplin, enough to satisfy you,
Síoda craorach[7] anall ón Éigipt Purple-red silk all the way from Egypt
Is búcla i mbéal do bhróige. And buckles for the tops of your shoes.
Coc ró-neata shocróinn féin ort A pretty top-knot I would arrange for you,
Ar cionn clár t’éadan a óigbhean, Above your brow, young lady
Is go bpósfainn thú ‘na dhéidh sin, d’ainneoin mo ghaolta And after that I would marry you in spite of my relatives
Is go ndéarfaidís féin gur chóir sin! And they would admit that it was right [to do so].


Its references to Cork city and to the historic, seaside town of Youghal would seem to place this lively song in County Cork. We can be fairly sure too of when it was composed because of other references in the text. Extravagant promises to dress the beloved in silks and satins abound in the amhrán tradition but in this song the descriptions of the promised items are more specific than is usual.

The Irish silk industry was big news in the 18th century and efforts were being made to promote Irish-made silk in a kind of early ‘Buy Irish’ campaign. Letters were written to the press exhorting consumers, especially ladies, to wear Irish silks, advertisements appeared in the newspapers extolling the quality of Irish fabrics over cheap imports and society ladies in Dublin appeared in Irish silk poplin at receptions at Dublin Castle and elsewhere to demonstrate their support of Irish manufacture. In Cork, ‘fancy balls’ (fancy-dress balls) were held from 1779 which supposedly benefitted Irish textile and clothing manufacturers. However, as some of the costumes were imported, their actual benefit may have been limited.

Irish poplin was a high-quality fabric ‘with a silk warp and a worsted weft. It had a corded surface which could be plain, watered, brocaded or plaid’ (from Dress in Ireland – A History, by Mairéad Dunlevy, Cork 1999). In the 1770’s silk weavers in Ireland experienced a brief period of prosperity and weavers flourished in Cork and Belfast as well as Dublin but competition from cheaper and more varied English cloths as well as the long-term damage to Irish manufacture caused by the provisions of the Act of Union meant that the Irish silk and woollen industries were virtually destroyed from 1800 onwards. Craftsmen struggled on but by 1830 linen weaving prospered only in Ulster and the poplin industry only in Dublin and on a much-reduced scale.

In this song, the man refuses to give his beloved stuif. ‘Stuff’ was thin, cheap, woolen worsted without any nap or pile. Instead, he promises to give her ‘síoda craorach,’ silk of a purplish-red colour, very fashionable at this time when natural dyes for fabrics were being superseded by manufactured dyes. He offers her buckles for her shoes and also offers to arrange a coc or topknot of ribbons and lace in her hair. Hairstyles featuring height had begun to be popular since the 1760’s and hair ornaments ‘included a few small ribbons, pearls, jewels, flowers or decorative pins styled together,’ (from ‘Big Hair,’ by Margaret K. Powell in Eighteenth Century Studies, Vol. 31, 2004). He is clearly a fashion-conscious young man and the details of dress in this song enable us to date it to the last quarter of the 18th century.

[1] D’fhúig = d’fhág. I have kept the original form of the verb for the sake of the metre.

[2] Ba gheille = ba ghile

[3] ‘bhuig’ is a form of ‘bog’ and ‘bhraonaigh’ is this poet’s version of ‘braonach.’

[4] ‘so-nuachar’

[5] Mar do chonairc = mar a chonaic mé

[6] The broad ‘ansúd’ rhymes with ‘súgradh’ on the same line and ‘súl’ on the next.

[7] ‘craorach’ = caor dhearg