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John Moulden Lyr ADD: How Can I Live at the Top of the Mountain (21) Lyr Add: THE BONNIE BLUE-EYED LASSIE 27 Sep 00


I have loved this song since I first heard it sung about thirty years ago on a barely intelligible recording by the wonderful Ballyvourney (Cork) singer, Elizabeth Cronin. I've been puzzling about this song for nearly thirty years - mainly because people mostly sing something markedly different from what I hear Mrs Cronin sang and attribute it to her. To my mind their words have nothing like the force and beauty of her way even though that way has obscurities which, even yet, I haven't worked out - it may even be that Bess didn't understand it entirely herself. This is what I (after talking to Finbar Boyle and Daibhi/ O/ Cro/ini/n - one of the singer's grandsons who has recently published "The Songs of Elizabeth Cronin, Irish Traditional Singer") have agreed with myself.



MY BONNIE BLUE-EYED LASSIE
(Elizabeth Cronin)

And how can I live at the top of the mountain
Without gold in my pocket or money for the counting?
I'd leave the money go all for to please her fancy
For I will marry no-one but the bonnie blue eyed lassie.

The bonnie blue eyed lassie with her fair hair so tender,
Her red rosy cheeks and her waist neat and slender.
I'd roll her in my arms and fondly'd embrace her
But how can I love her when all my people hate her.

Some people say she's very low in station
More of them say she's the cause of my ruination,
Lord, let them all say what they will, to her I will prove constant still.
Until the day that I die she's my charming girl believe me.

Brightly swims the swan in the broad streams of Eochill
And loudly sings the nightingale, all for to behold her.
And in cold frost and snow, the moon shines deeply
But deeper by far between me and my true love.

Other people sing something of the kind given in the DT or clickable above and, to my mind the mystery and passion has been knocked out of it. As far as I can gather, it may have been Se/amus Ennis, who knew Bess and got songs from her who was responsible; in which case it no credit to him.

The only other known version is Scottish from Andrew Crawfurd's Collection of Ballads and Songs Vol 1 (edited by Emily Lyle) (Scottish Texts Society, Edinburgh, 1975. The manuscript from which this was taken dates from around 1826-28 and this song was probably taken down in December 1826 from a servant girl named Mary McQueen, who married a man called Will Story or Storie and went to America in 1828. The text may be difficult to read in dialect and is actually not very clear. What is clear is that the two texts confirm one another.



THE BONNIE BLUE-EYED LASSIE (Crawfurd Collection)

O gin I were at the tap of yon mountain
Gold in my pocket and money for the counting
I wad gar the guinea gang I wad hae my fancy
I wad marry nane but the bonnie blue eyit Lassie

She has tway bonnie blue een her looks are sae tender
Her rosy cheeks and her body lang and sklender
And I wad take her in my arms sae fond I wad embrace her
For how I can love her when all the world hates her

For sum folk say she is o a bad station
And ither folks say she is o a bad nation
But let them aw say as they will it never will grieve me
For to the day I die she is my deir girl

Though my fause friends they'd revile thee
Here is the hand that never will beguile thee
Here is the hand although in the dark love
The next place ye'll find it will be in the kirk love

Sweet sweet swims the swans on yon high streams o Yarrow
Sweet sings the nightingales theire voice is like to an arrow
It's cauld frost and snaw the mune shining clearly
Deep runs the river between me and my dearie

Most of today's singers sing it the way given in DT. I know of only one recorded version, that by Patricia Flynn of Mullaghbawn, Co Armagh, which uses almost the words used by Mrs Cronin. While I have a strong opinion about how this song should be sung, I will resist being prescriptive - my friend Tom Munnelly, one of a few people I would admit to have the right to make a judgment has a preference which differs from mine.

The Song Tradition operates through a series of choices made by singers; most of the singers who have recorded this song have in my view made wrong ones or not known that any choice existed. Above is offered the potential for choice.


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