The name of the recording is Gaelic for The Apple Tree, and is also the title of the sixth track. It features some of the band's finest arrangements of traditional songs and instrumental music. The liner notes for the recording I have give absolutely no information on any of the music, save for the titles. This is disappointing for those of you who, like myself, are curious about the music you are hearing. So along with my impressions of the music, I'll tell you what I have managed to learn, some of which is just a bit strange.
"Ar a ghabhail 'n a 'chuain damh", the first song on the recording, tells of love and loss. It is sung in Gaelic by Máire Brennan with some background harmony from the band, and includes an instrumental bridge featuring guitar, bongos, flute and bass.
The lyrics to "The Last Rose of Summer"1 are taken directly from the poetry of Thomas Moore, whose Irish Melodies form (with musical settings by Sir John Stevenson and others, including Moore himself) a great part of traditional Irish music. The poem is a melancholy reflection on surrendering gracefully to death in old age, with perhaps even a hint of approval for suicide. But it is prettily sung.
"Cruscin Lán" (The Full Jug2) is a song that celebrates the joys of drink and good company, hard as it may be to believe the Irish would sing of such frivolous pursuits. It is sung in Gaelic by Máire Brennan with the band joining in the chorus. The flute solo has a nice swing.
"Bacach Shile Andai" is an odd song that was written shortly after the Rising of 1798, and has also been titled "Ruball na Muice" (The Pig's Tail), and "Mise 'gus Tusa" (Me An' You). The title used by Clannad may be a corruption of "Bucky's Highlanders", a unit that fought for England during the rising. The refrain goes:
" mise 'gus tusa 'gus ruball na muice 'gus bacaigh shíol aindí "This translates:
" me an' you an' the pig's tail an' Bucky's Higlanders "The words "ruball na muice" may be a corruption of the English words "rabble of mickies", a reference to the rebels. My information for this rather convoluted comedy of errors are two web pages: The Pig's Tail and Songs of 1798. As for the song itself, it is unusual in that it is sung by one of the men in the band, with the rest of the men joining the refrain.
"Lá Coimhthioch fan dtuath" means "A Strange Day in the Countryside", and the title is very apt. It is a delicate and eerie blend of instrumental music that is difficult to describe. The harp and guitar trade off on the prominent parts, sometimes solo, often supporting each other. Flute and bass make their appearances later on. The music fades off toward the end, then swells unexpectedly with wordless vocal accompaniment, before finally fading away altogether. The mood evoked, for myself at least, is one of strangeness carried from within oneself, so that familiar woods and meadows become wild and uncertain places - not dangerous, but definitely otherworldly. I've no idea who wrote this tune, or of how much it owes to the band's arrangements, but I offer my sincere congratulations to the author.
"Crann Úll" (The Apple Tree) is a gentle lyric that seems to lead naturally and gracefully from the preceding track. It is a fragment of a work song overheard by Seamus Clandillon in the 1920's. The refrain, imagined as birds whispering to each other in an apple tree, translates from the Gaelic as "When you move, then I move, and we'll all move together". It is sung in Gaelic by Máire Brennan with the band joining in the refrain.
"Gathering Mushrooms"3 is a sprightly little ballad from Ulster and describes, as near as I can tell, a chance meeting between a Big Bad Wolf and a Willing Red Riding Hood.
"Bunan Bui" ("The Yellow Bittern"4) is a graceful, melancholy song that a non-Gaelic speaker like myself would naturally assume to be a wistful ballad of love and longing. Not so! Cathal Bui Mac Giolla Ghunna wrote the words to this song on finding a dead bittern on the road near a frozen lake. The poet surmised that the poor creature, unable to reach the ice-locked waters of the lake, had expired of thirst. He commiserates with the deceased bird, and resolves never to give up drink himself, lest he suffer a similar fate. And people wonder how the Irish have managed to garner a reputation for maudlin sentiment and hard drinking! Mac Giolla Ghunna was born sometime in the last quarter of the 17th century. He had studied for the priesthood, but abandoned this vocation for that of a travelling poet.
"Planxty Browne" is a harp tune by Turlough O'Carolan, and is the last track on the recording. The music on this page is a MIDI version of the tune, sequenced by Barry Taylor, and obtained from Lesley Nelson's Turlough O'Carolan site.