Fintan Vallely’s Musical Notations for ‘Cocooning’
The term ‘cocooning’ causes a certain revulsion in sensitive brains, loaded as it is with the potential for all kinds of age-marginalisation. As several newspaper correspondents argued in Ireland the correct term should be ‘voluntary self-isolation’, a socially-responsible, personally driven action. Those over 70 are not idiots, and (mostly) do have the intelligence to know how to behave in a crisis. Nevertheless, it seemed better not to get annoyed by the patronising implications, but to parody it in some way.
And so, while ensconced on a two-week quarantine in March, working through Irish-music tune-names for an article in the 3rd edition of Companion to Irish Traditional Music, I was time-travelled back to the 1800s, conjured by those melodic ‘handles’ into a heaving landscape of people, lives, places and the everyday. For Irish dance-music tune-names are a vivid narrative of the lives of the poorer classes (in contrast to Scottish tunes which tend to celebrate local aristocracies and Imperial associations).
The Irish titles from before the time of electricity grids and mass media have the most authentic stamp, and the trawl of older music-collection indexes led me into the idea of an esoteric, contemporary recontextualisation for the age of Covid19. The names that leapt out might most appropriately be bundled into a parody of a tune-name which also implies seclusion – ‘The Cuckoo(n)’s Nest’. The remarkable names that follow are mainly from Francis O’Neill’s 1903 and 1907 Chicago, collections of Irish music, some are from James Goodman, pre-Famine Munster, collected in the 1860s, as published by the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Tunes of the Munster Pipers. Others are from Aloys Fleischmann’s mammoth archive (covering 1600-1855) and from Limerick dance master Francis Roche’s 1912/1927 volumes; a sprinkle are from c. 1950s-1990s.
Essential work The Dairymaid; Buttermilk Mary; The Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow; Kitty Gone A Milkin’; The Maid at the Churn; The Threshers; The Mills are Grinding; The Cook in the Kitchen; The Baker’s Reel; Bruise the Pease; The Maid at the Well; The Irish Washerwoman; The Wash Woman; Jenny Picking Cockles; The Jolly Clamdiggers; Fishing for Eels, and, of course, The Woman of the House . . .
Keep active Going to the Well for Water; Give Us a Drink of Water; Wallop the Potlid; Molly Put the Kettle On; Come to Your Dinner; Tea in the Morning; Boil the Breakfast Early, and, an ideal occupation for piano players, Soda Bread Making, and (but via Skype) The Ladies’ Cup of Tea . . .
Stock up on Apples in Winter; Winter Apples; Gillan’s Apples; The flitch of Bacon; Jackson’s Bottle of Brandy; The Bottle of Porter; The Jug of Punch; A Draught of Ale; The Mug of Brown Ale; The Little Bag of Meal; Bannocks of Barley Meal; The Three Scones of Boxty; Sweeney’s Buttermilk; The Munster Buttermilk; Butter-Milk and Pratees; Boiled Goat’s Milk; The Bag of Spuds; The New Potatoes; Potatoes and Butter; The Little Bag of Potatoes; The Head of Cabbage; The Cock and the Hen; The Leg of the Duck; Roast Beef From London; The Bunch Of Currants; Lumps of Pudding; Puddings and Pies; The Creel of perches; The Fisherman’s Harvest; The Basket of Oysters, and, if you a true prepper, Salt Fish and Dumplins . . .
Chains of transmission Tabhair dom do Lámh; Maudabawn Chapel; The Little Grey Church; Have a Drink With Me; Come to the Bottle House; Come to Dinner; O’Rourke’s Feast; I Went to a Chinese Restaurant; Bímuid ag Ól is ag pógadh na mBan; Cherish the Ladies; Will You Come Home With Me?; Up against the Boughalauns; Come Under My Plaiddie; Come With Me Now; Behind the Bush in the Garden; Rolling on the Ryegrass; Kiss the Maid Behind the Barrel; Kiss Your Partner; The Highland Man who Kissed his Grannie; Dancing on the Green; Swinging Around the Circle; Round the House and Mind the Dresser; All Hands Around; The Waves of Torey; The Walls of Limerick; Out With the Boys; A Night at the Fair, and, regrettably, Finnegan’s Wake . . .
Prohibited travel A Trip to the Cottage; Over the Moor to Maggie; Over the Bridge to Peggy; Fr Grady’s Visit to Bockagh; Rick’s Rambles; The Gravel Walks; Around the World For Sport; Kitty Come Down to Limerick; Round the world for sport; The Connachtman’s Rambles; Going to the Fair; A Trip to Galway; A Night at the Fair; A Trip to Athlone; Follow me down to Carlow; Follow Her Over the Border; Return to Camden Town; Off to California, and, unless you’re a medic, A Visit to Ireland . . .
Cancelled events The Merry Days of Easter; Easter Sunday; The Sporting Days of Easter; The Maid Behind the Bar; Out on the Ocean; The Rathkeale Hunt; The Boyne Hunt; The Races at Carrick; The Castlebar Races; The Mullingar Races; The Curragh Races; The Piper’s Picnic; Donnybrook Fair; Killarney Fair; Lanigan’s Ball; The Dances at Kinvara; The Trip to Birmingham; The Trip to Durrow, and, mercifully, at least for a while, The Day We Paid the Rent . . .
Social distancing Stay away from: A Stranger From Limerick; The Cow That Ate the Blanket; The Green Fields of America; The Banks of the Nile; The Boys From the East; The Rakes of Kildare; The Rakes of Clonmel; The Rakes of Mallow; The Highway to Limerick; Kitty’s Wedding; The Rambler From Clare; The Sporting Bachelor; The Roving Bachelor; The Rambling Sailor; The Ranting Rake; Rakish Paddy; The Dandies Gone a Roaming; The Killarney Boys of Pleasure; The Back of the Haggard; Roarin’ Mary; Johnny With the Queer Thing; The Coughing Old Man, and, sadly for tourism, Our Own Little Isle . . .
Permitted activities The Cup of Tea; Cheese It!; Kiss Your Partner; Kiss Me Sweetheart; Courting in the Kitchen; Come Upstairs With Me; Take Her Out and Air Her; Within a Mile of Clonbur, but, considering everything, don’t go Within a Mile of Dublin . . .
Contact tracing Last Night’s Fun; Kissing and Drinking; The Friendly Visit; Happy to Meet Sorry to Part; Take a Kiss or Let it Alone; The Unfortunate Cup of Tea; Coming From the Wedding; Molly What Ails You?; What Ails You?; Peggy is Your Head Sick? And, what the tracker app. can deduce, such as “I Met Her In The Garden Where the Praties Grow” . . .
Contagion reporting Tell Her I Am; Go home go home dear cousin; An Ugly Customer; The Expensive Sneeze; Take Your Hand Away; Cuz’s Concoctions for the Throat; When Sick is it Tea You Want?; Is it the Priest You Want?; The Pretty Girl in Danger; A Short Way to Heaven; What the Devil Ails You?; The Perfect Cure, and if you think you’ve identified the culprit, resist shouting “You Thief who Stole my Health From Me” . . .
Isolation Farewell to Liberty; Lock the Door; The Lonesome Jig; Splendid Isolation; The Lonely Fireside; Take It Easy; The Pleasures of Home; Our House At Home; Tá Mé ‘mo Chodhladh ’s Ná Dúisigh mé; Snug in the Blanket; Advice to the Soupers; Banish Misfortune; We’ll Drink Good Health, and, there being nothing else for it, Erin’s Hope . . .
Consequences The Pleasures of Hope; The Lonesome Wedding; My Love is in America; My Love is on the Ocean; Pay the Reckoning; Níl Aon Airgead Agam; The Little Pig Lamenting the Empty Trough; The Smiles and Tears of Erin … The Parting Glass.
Fintan Vallely is a musician and writer on Traditional music. He wrote the first tutor for the Irish flute in 1986, studied Ethnomusicology at Queen’s University Belfast, and was The Irish Times correspondent on the music in the 1990s. He lectured at NUI Maynooth, Ulster University and Dundalk Institute of Technology. A founder of the Crosbhealach an Cheoil conferences, and an editor of their proceedings, his books include Tuned Out, on Protestant identity in music (2008), and Ón gCos go Cluas, on the shift from dancing to listening (2020). A consultant editor to the 2003 Encyclopedia of Ireland, his PhD research is on the flute in Ireland. His major work is the A-Z Companion to Irish Traditional Music (1999, 2011, 2021). [www.imusic.ie]