Grá na Lánún

The Love of the Couple.

Véarsa 1 – An bhean Verse 1- The woman.
Mo ghrá do chúl do bhí búclach bachallach I love your hair which was wavy and curling,
Mo ghrá do shiúl [a] bhí lúthmhar acmhainneach I love your walk which was athletic and vigorous,
Mo ghrá is mo rún, mo phrionsa caithiosach My love and my affection to you my handsome prince,
Mo chumha, m’fhear óg – is mo bhrón a bheith scartha leat! My sorrow and my woe, young man, that I am parted from you.
Véarsa 2 – An fear Verse 2 – The man
Níor thaibhrigh mo chroí ná m’intinn ceal(a)gach Neither my heart, nor my scheming mind ever contemplated
Tú a thabhairt ó do mháithrín gan toil a haigne, Taking you away from your mother without her consent,
Cé gur gile liom tú ó Luan go Satharun Although you are more precious by far to me from Monday to Saturday
Ná an dá aspal déag ‘s ná Maor an Anama. Than the Twelve Apostles and the Steward of Souls.*
Véarsa 3 – An bhean Verse 3 – The woman
Glaoigh-se ar Dhia go dian chun t’anama You must call on God to save your soul
‘S ar an Mhaighdean Ghlórmhar an comharsa is fearra duit, And on the glorious Virgin Mary, who is the best of neighbours to you,
Ar an dá aspal déag is ar Mhaor an Anama. And on the Twelve Apostles and the Steward of Souls.*
Tréigh do ghrá is do pháirt féin feasta liom. Abandon your love and affection for me forever.
Véarsa 4 – An fear Verse 4 – The man
Ní thréigfead mo ghrá ná mo pháirt féin feasta leat I will not give up my love for you
Go ceann seacht mbliana déis dul i dtalamh dom. Until seven years after going into my grave.
Ní dheadhag do chéile fós ar leaba leat Your husband has not yet shared your bed
‘s acht go rachaig go deimhin bead eadraibh. And if he does I shall certainly be there between you.
Véarsa 5 – An bhean Verse 5 – The woman
Is gránna an pháirt is le mórán ceana dhom It is an ugly thing you do, despite your love for me,
‘s go gcuirfir m’fhear chéile síoraí in earraid liom. To make my husband forever suspicious of me.
Beidh sé ló agus d’oíche id’ chasaoid liomsa He will be night and day complaining of you to me
ach ní bheir-se beo ‘gam chun an scéal úd a aithris. But you will not be alive for me to tell you my story.
Véarsa 6 – An fear Verse 6 – The man
Dá mbeadh mo ghrá-sa i lár do chroí istigh If you felt true deep love for me in your heart,
Mar [a]tá do ghrá-sa is an bás dom claoidheachtaint Just as my love for you and Death itself are both oppressing me,
Do shiúlfá coillte is gleannta fraoigh liom You would walk the woods and the heathery glens with me
Nó go dtabharfá póg dom nó dhó ód’ chroí istigh. And you would give me a kiss or two from the heart.
‘Aithris’ in the last line of Véarsa 5 does not fit the musical line. When I sing this, I substitute ‘a rá’ for ‘a aithris.’ Metrically, this is not correct but it makes it possible to fit the words to the music. *The ‘Steward of Souls’ in lines 8 and 11 refers to St. Michael the Archangel who occupies a special place in the Catholic tradition throughout western Europe. Shrines and other sites dedicated to him are found in Italy, France, Cornwall, England, Wales and Ireland, notably Sceilig Mhichíl off the coast of Kerry. Indeed there is a holy well dedicated to St. Michael in Baile Móir, Ventry the next townland to the Goodmans’ home in Baile Áimín. ‘Rounds’ of the holy well still take place every year on St. Michael’s feast day, September 29th and it is likely that Goodman would have witnessed this ancient tradition in his youth.



This is one of the most beautiful songs in the manuscript and one of the most important. It is the only song to which James Goodman wrote an introduction in English which suggests that he planned to publish it. In essence, he was giving an English-speaking audience access to what is called údar an amhráin, the authority for the song which sometimes takes the form of a prose-tale attached to the song. It seems likely that he himself translated the údar into English.  It is very rare to find such an údar copied in a manuscript and rarer yet to find one so detailed. Údair are sometimes known to traditional singers who have learned them via the oral tradition and they can be a valuable source of background information and social history. They can also help to inform a singer’s interpretation of a song. Sometimes, however, údair are incomplete or have suffered corruption in their transmission. The údar which Goodman gives here is unusually detailed.


I give Goodman’s words in full:

There is a romantic story connected with the following verses. A young man fell deeply in love with a neighbour’s daughter but she, tho’ very partial to him, was unaware of the strength of his attachment. Her father had promised her hand to a lordly man to whom she was affianced. Her old lover, finding his case hopeless, became the victim of inconsolable grief which brought him to death’s door. On the eve of her marriage she received word that he was in a dying condition and wished greatly to see her before his death. She consented to meet her old playfellow and companion and then, becoming aware at length of his love for her which silent sapped the fountain of his life, she speaks kindly and affectionately to him and endeavours to advise him to banish her from his thoughts and prepare for death which now seems inevitable. The following is the dialogue that passed between them on that occasion.


Grá na Lánún is immediately followed in the song manuscript by three verses of a caoineadh or lament in which the young woman speaks passionately about her memories of their time together and her sorrow at her marriage to another. However, no tune is given for the caoineadh. It is within this text, and not in the song itself, that reference is made to ‘snaidhm an ghrá,’ the motif of a true-love knot formed by the intertwining branches of two trees, one which grows out of the young man’s grave and the other out of the young woman’s. This motif occurs in other Irish songs, the most famous example being in Úna Bhán. It also occurs in English folk-song, probably most famously in Lord Lovett. F.J. Child lists ten ballads in his The English and Scottish Popular Ballads in which this motif occurs. As well as twining trees, other songs feature a twining rose and a briar or a birch tree and a briar.

Verses 3, 4, 5 and 6 of Grá na Lánún correspond closely to a song called Snaidhm a’ Ghrá or Grá Dílis in Volume 1 of Breandán ‘ac Gearailt’s anthology of song An Blas Muimhneach. He got it from the late Eibhlín Ní Mhurchú, Baile Loiscthe, Corca Dhuibhne, whose uncle, Diarmaid Ó Murchú (1884-1966), believed the song had come from the Ardfert area of north Kerry, brought to Corca Dhuibhne by workmen building Sáipéal na Carraige (c.1870).

My own opinion is that the song may have been in Corca Dhuibhne before that time. It certainly was copied by Goodman into his song manuscript well before 1870. It is the very first song in the Song MS. We know that he had already begun to collect songs before he left home to go to university in Dublin in 1846 and the date on the cover of the song manuscript is 1857. He may have collected Grá na Lánún in west Kerry in his youth or during his ministry in Skibbereen or Ardgroom, Béarra. It is worth noting that other versions of this song, under different titles, have been collected elsewhere in south-west Munster: Snuím a’ Ghrá was collected by A.M. (Martin) Freeman from Peig Ní Dhonnchadha in Baile Mhic Íre, Múscraí, Co. Cork shortly before World War 1. Another version was collected in south Kerry in 1932 by Gearóid Ua Murchadha from Seán Bhait Inglis of Baile ‘n Sceilg under the title Buairt Chroidhe Chailín agus Bhuachalla but was not published until 1944. Apart from its theme and its dialogue structure, Ua Murchadha’s version does not resemble Goodman’s in its lyrics. Indeed the two songs have only one line in common. The Freeman version, however, is closer to Goodman’s, having four verses which are very similar to Goodman’s. A fourth version of the song, collected by Peadar Ó hAnnracháin from an unnamed old woman near Clonakilty, county Cork, was published in Fé Bhrat an Chonnartha in 1944. Versions were also published in the journals Fáinne an Lae (in February 1919) and Misneach (January 1920). Dónal O’Sullivan published Snaidhm a’ Ghrá in his Songs of the Irish in 1960. It is identical to the version sung by Peig Ní Dhonnchadha in Baile Mhic Íre and published by Freeman in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society in 1911.

I have not anywhere found a version collected earlier than James Goodman’s.

Taken together, these two texts Goodman has collected give a rare and beautiful insight into an ancient tradition of love song.

This song is a particular favourite of mine because the music so perfectly suits the pathos of the words.