This Is What Happens When You Can’t Get a Song Out of Your Head . . .

You post a video version from YouTube and start studying Scottish and Irish history.

OK, so I’ve been listening to an audio podcast version of Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale of high adventure, political intrigue, and skullduggery in the Scottish Highlands during the 18th century. It gets my pride in my Scottish ancestry all stirred up, which means that my pride in my Irish ancestry can’t be far behind (I think I have Scottish, Irish, and Welsh family connections). I go scrambling for Irish and Scottish music videos on YouTube, start listening to lots of music in Gaelic, and start singing the song “Oro sé do bheatha bhaille” almost compulsively. The song was originally sung by Irish Jacobites, or supporters of Bonny Prince Charlie” Stuart during the 1745 uprising (“The Bold ’45”), an attempt to restore the House of Stuart to the English throne. It didn’t work out. The events of the Bold ’45 take place just a few years before Kidnapped begins.

Later, the Irish nationalist poet Padraig Pearse rewrote the words to the song to refer to Grace O’ Malley, (also known in Irish as Granuaile) an Irish noblewoman who took up a life of seafaring and piracy to protest the English domination of Ireland. When her relatives were captured by the English, Granuaile went to London to meet with Queen Elizabeth I to negotiate for their release. According to legend, during the meeting, Granuaile sneezed, and the queen offered her a handkerchief. Granuaile took the handkerchief, used it, and threw it into the fireplace, explaining that a used handkerchief was dirty and should be thrown away. According to the social customs of the time, disposing of the handkerchief would have been a calculated insult to the queen, a symbol of defiance. The queen must have been impressed with Granuaile’s pluck, however, because she granted her request, and Grace O’ Malley became a national hero, a symbol of Irish pride and refusal to knuckle under to the English. The song was used as a rallying cry by the IRA during Ireland’s war of independence and has been recorded by many Irish singers and musicians, ranging from The Clancy Brothers to Sinead O’Connor. This version is sung by Paul Brady, and the accompanying animation tells the life and legend of Granuaile. You’ll notice the melody is very similar to “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?” and I defy you to get it out of your head once you’ve heard it. This video was broadcast on Irish television’s all-Gaelic channel, TG4.

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One thought on “This Is What Happens When You Can’t Get a Song Out of Your Head . . .

  1. Okay, if you run into any sites that have "traditional Irish clothing" on them, I want info for my Saint Dmyphna artwork in progress. More seriously, though, I think looking into one's ancestral history is always helpful. (Especially for learning from history so as not to repeat it.) Have fun!

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