Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My Little Marble Hall

The Old Turf Fire

Oh, the old turf fire and the hearth swept clean,
There is no-one half so happy as myself and Paddy Keane;
With the baby in the cradle you could hear her mammy say
"Wouldn't you go to sleep, Alanna, till I wet your daddy's tay."

"Oh the man that I work for is a richer man than me,
But somehow in this world, feth, we never can agree;
He has big tow'ring mansions and castles over all
But sure I wouldn't exchange with him my little marble hall."

"I have got a house and a tidy bit of land;
You would never see a better on the side of Knocknacran;
No piano in the corner and no pictures on the wall,
But I'm somehow quite contented in my little marble hall."

O the old turf fire and the hearth swept clean,
There is no-one half so happy as myself and Paddy Keane;
With the baby in the cradle you could her her mammy say,
"Wouldn't you go to sleep, Alanna, till I wet your daddy's tay."

I heard Catherine McKinnon sing this, ages and ages ago, on Don Harron's TV show. Harron was known mainly for his braying, hole-y-sweater-wearing, rural alter ego, Charlie Farquarson, a quintessential/stereotypical Canadian long before Bob and Doug came on the scene. He and McKinnon were married, which seemed like a strange match since she was cultivated, gorgeous, and sang beautifully.

The only thing I remembered about this song were:

- the tune;

- the "little marble hall"; and

- "wet your daddy's tay", which I assume means refill his teacup,but which COULD mean other things.

I also assumed the title was My Little Marble Hall, and it wasn't, so it was - well, not exactly hard to find, though it took thirty seconds instead of five. Little Marble Hall didn't work, but when I entered the line about "tay" it took me right to the song, not to mention the sheet music.

The wonders of the internet.

This is deeply Irish, and I must find out more about it. Here I go.

OK, right away I find variations, including a version that really makes a lot better sense in voice. The first version seems to switch back and forth: it's the wife first, speaking of "myself and Paddy Keane", then a sort of weird shift to second person: "you could hear her mammy say", then back to mammy: "wouldn't you go to sleep. . . ", THEN obviously switching to the voice of (we assume) Paddy Keane for the rest of the song as he boasts of his tidy little home, made (most incongruously) of marble. Just calling it a "hall" is strange, but maybe it made sense in old Ireland, or maybe it was originally a different phrase altogether.

Here's another version that makes better grammatical sense:

Oh, the old turf fire, and the hearth swept clean
There’s no one quite so happy as meself and Mary Keene
With the baby in the cradle, you can hear her mother say
“Won’t you go to sleep, Alana, while I wet your Daddy’s tay”

Now, I’ve got a little house and land, as neat as it can be
You’ll never see the like of it, this side of Moneylea
No piano in the corner, and no pictures on the wall
But I’m happy and contented in my little cottage hall.

(etc., etc. - the rest is much the same).

In this version, Paddy Keene sings the whole song (referring to "meself and Mary Keene"). The town he names is  Moneylea rather than Knocknacran, so obviously it's worded differently to rhyme and scan. Neither name makes a goddamn bit of sense to me.

And there isn't even a "little marble hall" in this one. It's a mere cottage, which is pretty disappointing. I wanted Paddy and Mary to live in some stonemason's nightmare, with huge slabs of marble hewn from quarries in Kilkenny (or wherever) drug off to Moneylea by shaggy dray horses. Or perhaps made of great collapsing chunks of stone that Michaelangelo had rejected. And "cottage hall" is even more nonsensical than the other one.

Then there are these strange couple of verses I found on various sites that have nothing to do with Mary and Paddy Keene:

Round the old turf fire
Sit the old folk, bent with years
As they watch us trippin' lightly
They're smilin' thro' their tears

So sadly they are dreaming
Of their youthful heart's desire -
In those dear old days so long ago
Around the old turf fire

The only reference to the couple is "as they watch us trippin' lightly", which is pretty strange. It seems like a paste-up job, something added later. A lot of folk songs have that cobbled-together feel, mainly because they've been passed down and passed down, never heard quite accurately, like that game you play where you whisper a phrase down a line of people and see how much it changes.

And then there are mondegreens, which I have written about before:

This is a not-half-bad post, unlike some of the old ones which make me shudder. Mondegreens are just words misheard in song lyrics, then repeated and repeated as if they're correct. If you quote the lyric properly, someone will say the wrong one at you. The example that comes to me is "s'cuse me while I kiss this guy".

So I've put a tiny piece back in the mosaic of my listening past. Or something. That "little marble hall" has come back again and again over the years, and a question mark has formed over my head like in those old Felix the Cat cartoons, but then I'd forget about it. I may even have tried to find it on the internet once or twice before. But the internet is an amoeba which doubles in size every few seconds, so if you can't find the information you want, check back in a minute or so and you'll be inundated.

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