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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Canberra Chris Rocks of Bawn - Meaning? (138* d) RE: ROCKS OF BAWN - MEANING? 11 Dec 03

Thanks for the thread on a song I love. The last two years I have sung a solo with piano accompaniment in a concert mainly of choirs. Out of missionary zeal I do a folk song in uncompromising sean nos style, having a sensitive pianist who can improvise around it. It has to be a 'big' song to carry it. The first was Carrickfergus, this year's was Rocks of Bawn. (Next year - Spencer the Rover).

I had taken the Clancy Brothers' 'bawn = white' at face value, thanks for the other ideas. I can add that as a digger archaeologist, as well acquainted with soils as a cyclist with inclines, digging 'clay with flints' or flinty chalk with a trowel gives a wrist-jarring insight into ploughing 'the rocks of bawn'.

The feel of the meaning is unmistakeable. My audience were mainly public servants, and I told them that workers in bureaucracies these days well know such feelings! And 'plough the rocks of bawn' is much more poetic than 'push shit uphill'.

From the internal contradictions and changes of topic in the song, like the apparent switch of identity of Sweeney from the labourer to the hiring farmer, I take this as likely to be a hybrid song, where bits of two or three songs have collided and stuck together. Sometimes by happy accident this results in strongly evocative lyrics, as it mimics the way our minds wander, and the 'not quite fitting' of life itself.

Art has occasionally got close to this, as in the mad aria from Lucia di Lammermoor, or Ophelia's mad speech in Hamlet. But the supreme example of accidental genius is Carrickfergus. The Mudcat thread on the origin of this song, with its detective work and stunning revelations, is a very great document. Print it off (in its two parts) and read it to the end in a long, slow bath.


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