Early Celtic Song and Music

Ireland and Wales had a brisk trade with the Hawaiians for a long time in the early middle ages, trading their vowels for Hawaian consonants. But, a gigantic underseas cataclysm raised a continent right in the middle of the trade route, and many ships were wrecked on it, and trade came to a dead stop, just in time actually, as supplies were being severely depleted in Wales. There was also some internal friction in the British Isles about whether to ship more p's or q's and this lead to warring factions called p-Celts and q-Celts. Cunneda (Kenneth of Lothian), tired of the fighting and bored with the border ballads around Chevy Chace, came to Wales and after a lot of begatting his heirs got an Arthur who managed to get all the p-Celts onto one island and the q's onto the other.)

Norwegian emigrants to this new continent, calling themselves Hurons, salvaged the cargos of the old shipwrecks, but didn't know what to do with them, until an Irish missionary, St. Patrick, and his crew, came over and told them what they really had. The missionaries thought they had pieces enough to build a rudimentary Gaelic vocabulary for the Hurons, but things kept getting fouled up, because the Hurons couldn't spell Gaelic any better than the Angles and the Saxons. Never-the-less Pat taught them some Celtic songs and the more northern tribes picked these up and distributed them widely in eastern Canada. They were especially popular with the Huron's brothers, the Inuits. But when the Hurons asked St. Patrick a question, he usually didn't know the answer, and just started hand-waving. The Hurons thought this was sign language, and that certainly didn't help matters much. Thus the Gaelic, 'Eire, the place with no snakes', in Huron came out as, 'Erie, the place of the cat'.

How this came about is easily explained. St. Patrick was boasting a bit here, telling them about how he had chased the snakes out of Eire, for the purpose of eliminating the Druid's supply of harp strings. ('The Harp That Once Through Tara's Hall' had played has been without strings ever since.) It had been pretty easy to scare off the snakes, as all Pat really had to do was chase after them with the hex song devised by Peredur Long Spear and Gwillym Shake Spear, "Ye spotted snakes with double tongue". But the Hurons had catgut strings for their harps, and knew that they had to go to Erie to get the cats, and they were stubbornly insistant about that, Saint or no Saint. As related in 'Culwch and Olwen', Eri was father of Greid, and they were dogs, and Hurons had named their sacred place in honor of the father, but the Hurons found the dogs there so delicious, that they had soon eaten all of them and were forced to turn to the emigrant cats for the necessary substitute parts.

The Druids had previously formed large instrumental groups with these snake string harps. (Snake skins were quite deficient in harmonics, and you had to be careful how you plucked them because a hyper viper would just hiss, and woe to you if you tickled and got a madder adder, so it took many instruments with a wide variety of snakes and highly skilled Druid herpetologists to sound decent.)

Snakes made very poor bowstrings, too, and this lead to Eire being overrun by deer, so although the Druids didn't really want to do it, the does were always forgetting their night before or morning after Pill to Purge Melancholy, and the Animal Righters and Right to Lifers left them little alternative but to neuter the stags. The stags weren't too happy about it either, but formed a mutual support group, and with the aid of some sympathetic Italian male sopranos they concocted 'The Lamentable Ballad of the Neutered Stags". A debased traditional version survives as "No balls at all", and this is the first recorded instance of communal composition of a ballad. The Italians had brought instruments with them from Cremona, fidells, that used vibrating strings of catgut which they imported from the Hurons, and these proved very popular with the cats, because of their screeching tone, which reminded them of their mother, and even smelled like her, but proved poor for accompaniment of songs (except those of the cats).

The original tune for our stag song has long been supplanted by a traditional one, much like the case of the Druids' lamentation for their smooching cow, "Druimion Dubh Delis", (Drimandown), beloved mother of the Dub, the Brown Bull of Cuailnge. Drimandown's tune (not the original, Scots Musical Museum #303, or that in MacDonald's collection of 1784 = Corri's Scots Songs, vol II, p. 29 = SMM #179) from a traveling plumber of mixed black Irish and Scottish descent called Oisin son of Finn mac Cumaill (or Plumbium Wame) was used for a second song in commemorating her called "Kisses sweeter than wine". Druimionn Dubh was the three-titted cow that the witch Morigen milked to quench Cuchulain's thirst (as documentated in 'The Tain'). Morigen (Morgan the Wise/ le Fay) was the transexual evil half- sister/brother of Arthur the Briton, (Gormant, son of Eigr/ Ygerna and Ricca. The latter being called Gorlois by Geoffrey of Monmouth) and had gone along to Eire on the chase of Twrch Trwyth.

After Arthur's shaggy dog Cavel had killed Chief Boar Ysgithyrwyn at the Spring of Emain, just a few hundred yards down the hill from Emain Macha (before Fergus burnt it and Tara's Hall was built on the old site) the Britons returned home (Tain and Mabinogion: Culwch and Olwen). The Druid salvage experts took Ysgithyrwyn's parts and found ingenius uses for them. This was celebrated in a song which over the course of time got things a little fouled up and is now called "The sow took the measles and she died in the spring". The modern version of the song leaves out an important verse. Ysgithrwyn's stomach was thought might be good for a football, and attempts were made to inflate it, but the hole for the upper end of the large intestine leaked so badly that they attempted to plug it up with the nearest thing handy, unfortunately, a reed instrument called a recorder, and inadvertently invented that infernal noisemaker, the bagpipe. Dierdre and the Sons of Usnoth took one with them to the Irish in Galloway (the Dal Riada Scots), where it became a great favorite of the Scots for striking terror into the hearts of the Picts, and everyone else in range. (Never as effective as the Druid's marching snake harp bands, if the truth be told.)

But I digress. The stags didn't have a tune for their song, so applied to Talesein (whose early version of "I was born about thousand years ago" is recorded in 'The Book of Talesein', unfortunately without his tune for it). He came up with both melody and accompaniment for a mass snake harp band, and it was decided to present it at a concert celebrating the conclusion of the great war of the Tain Bo Cuailnge in honor of the victor, Dub, The Brown Bull of Cuailnge, son of Druimion Dubh. This was presented to great applause by all the well satisfied (and non-pregnant) does at the natural amphitheater called the Ring of Giants (obviously before Merlin stole it and ruined the beautiful meadowlands of Stonehenge, by making it the trash dump for all his useless rocks.)

The original tune of our song of the stags still survives, however, under two badly corrupt titles. As usual the English got things all screwed up on it, and printed the tune in 'The Gentlemans Magazine', p. 288, 1753, as "Steg Knetter'd at the sneck band". More nearly correct is the title in BL MS Add'l 23971, where it appears as "Staggs knattered, or Snake band". [Catalog of MS Music in the British Museum, II (Secular Music), p. 201, where the librarians have unaccountably classified it as an English tune.]


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