The West Mabou Reel: Another Irish Connection

by adminKFS on · 2 comments

I must be still basking in the glow of having been to Ireland for the first time! Here is another common tune shared both in the Irish and Cape Breton repertoire that I personally just discovered and I get very excited at those discoveries!

The West Mabou Reel:

I had always known the West Mabou Reel to be a Cape Breton tune. Like Miss Lyall’s Strathspey and Reel, it is a staple of the repertoire and often played for dancing. I didn’t realize that it had its origins in the Irish repertoire until just after returning home from Ireland when I had a listen to the fabulous recording, Jig Away the Donkey; Music and Song of South Ulster by Gerry O’Connor (fiddle) Martin Quinn (button accordion) and Gabriel McArdile, (vocal and concertina). I heard a tune that sounded exactly like the West Mabou Reel. The parts are in reverse and the melody has a few slight differences but it is the same tune.

After hearing this version of the tune, I referred to Kate Dunlay and David Greenburg’s The Dungreen Collection: Traditional Celtic Violin Music of Cape Breton which is a fabulous collection of not only Cape Breton repertoire but source information about the tunes. For the West Mabou Reel, the Dungreen lists ‘The Mayo Lasses’, Johnny When You Die’, and ‘The Old Maids of Galway’ as Irish sources for the Cape Breton version of the tune. On the album I cited above, the tune is listed as ‘Traynor’s Rambles’.

Here is a youtube video of the West Mabou Reel played by the Cape Breton fiddler Donald Angus Beaton (1912-1981) of the Mabou Coal Mines:

To compare, here is a youtube clip of ‘Johnny Will You Die’ from Jackie Daly and Seamus Creagh:

Again the parts are reversed compared to ‘West Mabou’, but you can certainly tell it’s the same tune.

I think it’s amazing how tunes cross into another repertoire and evolve into a new version which then becomes a new standard. According to the Dungreen, in Cape Breton, the composition of this tune is sometimes attributed to a Dan (Domhnull Iain an Taillear- Donald the Taylor) Beaton (1856-1919) of the Mabou Coal Mines. However, as I wrote in another¬†blog post, Cape Breton fiddle music was significantly influenced by Irish music. As the Dungreen speculates, perhaps Dan Beaton heard it from an Irish-style fiddler in Cape Breton or he learned it from one of the tune books in his collection that may have contained Irish tunes. Whatever the case, the West Mabou reel is a great example of tune evolution.

Common Ground: Shared repertoire of the Cape Breton and Irish traditions

by adminKFS on · Leave a comment

Just back from my first trip to Ireland. What a fantastic time and of course lots of great tunes!¬† I’m always fascinated at how much the Cape Breton repertoire shares with the Irish and how the tunes that we share have evolved in both traditions. Some tunes we share are played in different keys in Ireland, and are sometimes played as a different tune type- a hornpipe in the Irish tradition may be heard as a reel in Cape Breton. In this post I’d like to draw attention to two of my favourite tunes that are staples of the Cape Breton repertoire and common in Ireland as well:

Miss Lyall’s Strathspey

Miss Lyall’s Reel

In Cape Breton, the strathspey is often followed by the reel or amongst tunes from the King George medley. They are often heard played for step dancing.

Miss Lyall’s Reel in Ireland is known as ‘Paddy Ryan’s Dream’. Miss Lyall’s Strathspey is commonly known as ‘The Cat that Kittled in Jamie’s Wig’. Although strathspeys are a Scottish and Cape Breton tune type, they are also a part of the Donegal tradition. There, they are known as Highlands. County Donegal is in the north west of Ireland, very close to Scotland. Migrant workers brought their music to Scotland and also brought back Scottish tunes and thus, the Donegal and repertoire and style is very much Scottish influenced.

Here is a recording of the Cape Breton versions:

Miss Lyall’s Strathspey and Reel

To compare, I’ve found some great clips on youtube from the Irish tradition.

This is ‘The Cat that Kittled in Jamie’s Wig played by the fantastic George Keith from the Boston area (it’s the second tune in the medley):

Here is Paddy Ryan’s Dream played by Tina Lech, another fantastic player from the Boston area. Compared to the Cape Breton version, it is more minor with ‘c’ naturals and ‘f’ naturals where the Cape Breton version is more modal with C#s in the B part.

I also found this great version of Paddy Ryan’s or ‘Mooney’s Reel from John Doherty who was a well respected player of the Donegal tradition. Interestingly, the version is more closely related to the Cape Breton version with the B part being more modal with ‘C#’s. (Also the second tune in the medley).

Hope you enjoy! There is so much beauty in all the stylistic differences in this common repertoire.