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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwuYD_ULZag

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 anotherĀ 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.

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February 18, 2014 at 7:42 pm, Bob Mac Dougall, Donkin, Cape Breton said...

Your West Mabou reel notation jogged a memory, I used to play it on my accordian back in the 70’s, but as a strathspey with strict measure.I checked all my music books but the closest tune I could find was the strathspey “the yetts of muckart” in the Skye collection,kind of similar but another tune altogether. Great site and always interested in information on Scottish music particularly Cape Breton tunes which in my opinion should be called Cape Breton music and not Scottish, after 200 years I think we have earned the distinction. Bob MacDougall.

    February 19, 2014 at 9:02 am, Kimberley Fraser said...

    Hi Bob,
    Thanks for your comment. I’m always fascinated how tunes adapt and change over the years.
    Thanks again,
    Kimberley

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