Monday, January 26, 2009

101 Interesting Things, part four: Spancill Hill

The story of Spancill Hill is a genuine Irish-American legend, concerning a song written by a man named Michael Considine. I came across this interesting bit of history and/or folklore while looking up the lyrics to the song Fairmount Hill by the Dropkick Murphys.

As the Wikipedia page can tell you, Michael Considine came to the USA from the Cross of Spancilhill, Ireland in 1870, at about the age of twenty. After working in Boston for two years, Considine moved to California, and died shortly thereafter. Before he died, though, he wrote a poem called "Spancilhill," and sent it to his six-year-old nephew John for safekeeping.

Here is the poem:
Last night as I lay dreaming, of the pleasant days gone by,
My mind being bent on rambling and to Erin's Isle I did fly.
I stepped on board a vision and sailed out with a will,
'Till I gladly came to anchor at the Cross of Spancilhill.

Enchanted by the novelty, delighted with the scenes,
Where in my early childhood, I often times have been.
I thought I heard a murmur, I think I hear it still,
'Tis that little stream of water at the Cross of Spancilhill.

And to amuse my fancy, I lay upon the ground,
Where all my school companions, in crowds assembled 'round.
Some have grown to manhood, while more their graves did fill,
Oh I thought we were all young again, at the Cross of Spancilhill.

It being on a Sabbath morning, I thought I heard a bell,
O'er hills and vallies sounded, in notes that seemed to tell,
That Father Dan was coming, his duty to fulfill,
At the parish church of Clooney, just one mile from Spancilhill.

And when our duty did commence, we all knelt down in prayer,
In hopes for to be ready, to climb the Golden Stair.
And when back home returning, we danced with right good will,
To Martin Moilens music, at the Cross of Spancilhill.

It being on the twenty third of June, the day before the fair,
Sure Erin's sons and daughters, they all assembled there.
The young, the old, the stout and the bold, they came to sport and kill,
What a curious combination, at the Fair of Spancilhill.

I went into my old home, as every stone can tell,
The old boreen was just the same, and the apple tree over the well,
I miss my sister Ellen, my brothers Pat and Bill,
Sure I only met my strange faces at my home in Spancilhill.

I called to see my neighbors, to hear what they might say,
The old were getting feeble, and the young ones turning grey.
I met with tailor Quigley, he's as brave as ever still,
Sure he always made my breeches when I lived in Spancilhill.

I paid a flying visit, to my first and only love,
She's as pure as any lilly, and as gentle as a dove.
She threw her arms around me, saying Mike I love you still,
She is Mack the Rangers daughter, the Pride of Spancilhill.

I thought I stooped to kiss her, as I did in days of yore,
Says she Mike you're only joking, as you often were before,
The cock crew on the roost again, he crew both loud and shrill,
And I awoke in California, far far from Spancilhill.

But when my vision faded, the tears came in my eyes,
In hope to see that dear old spot, some day before I die.
May the Joyous King of Angels, His Choicest Blessings spill,
On that Glorious spot of Nature, the Cross of Spancilhill.
The really interesting thing about this poem, though, is how it came to pass that we can read the original version today. After Considine's death, a popular but inaccurate version of the song took root in the area. From the Wikipedia page:
In the late 1930s or early '40s, Robbie McMahon, a local folk singer and composer, during an Irish traditional music session in Spancil Hill, was in a neighbour's house with some friends singing when someone suggested singing "Spancillhill". The woman of the house, Moira Keane, left the room and when she came back said, "If ye are going to sing that song ye might as well sing it right" and she gave Robbie the original song.

Some time later at another session in the parish Robbie was asked to sing "Spancilhill" when a gruff voice in the corner growled out "Don't sing that song". When asked "Why not?" the voice barked back " 'Cos ye don't know it."

Robbie, however insisted he did and launched into the version he'd gotten from Moira Keane. After singing a few lines Robbie noticed the gruff man sitting up and paying attention. As Robbie progressed with the song the gruff man foostered more and more with his cap and became agitated. When the song ended, the gruff voice in the corner demanded "Where did ya get that song?". The gruff old man seemed both perturbed and pleased.

Moira Keane was the gruff man's aunt and the gruff man was 76 year old John Considine, who had kept his uncle Mike's song safe for 70 years.
This is the sort of thing that's really hard to verify.  However, I think it's still a rather interesting story, true or not.

No comments: