Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fiddler's Green

Fiddler's Green

words and music John Conolly
As I roved by the dockside one evening so fair
To view the salt waters and take in the salt air
I heard an old fisherman singing a song
Oh, take me away boys me time is not long

Wrap me up in me oilskin and blankets
No more on the docks I'll be seen
Just tell me old shipmates, I'm taking a trip mates
And I'll see you someday on Fiddlers Green

Now Fiddler's Green is a place I've heard tell
Where the fishermen go if they don't go to hell
Where the weather is fair and the dolphins do play
And the cold coast of Greenland is far, far away

Now when you're in dock and the long trip is through
There's pubs and there's clubs and there's lassies there too
And the girls are all pretty and the beer is all free
And there's bottles of rum growing on every tree.

Where the skies are all clear and there's never a gale
And the fish jump on board with one swish on their tail
Where you lie at your leisure, there's no work to do
And the skipper's below making tea for the crew

Now I don't want a harp nor a halo, not me
Just give me a breeze and a good rolling sea
I'll play me old squeeze-box as we sail along
With the wind in the riggin to sing me a song

My post about ramp hunting included a photo of an old cabin known as Fiddler's Green. The cabin was the homeplace of blogger Matthew Burns' and Jason Burns' great-great-grandparents, and Matthew believes it was built about 1820.

The discussion got us wondering about the term Fiddler's Green. Blog friend Rowan told us it was an old Irish legend about a place where old sailors go when they die--a land where the music and laughter never ends (which sounds like a lovely place to me). Her reference to a legend got my interest spiked, so I began browsing online.

The song above, written by John Conolly (or Conelly or Connolly, depending on the source) tells the story as well as anything else I could locate. There are several YouTube videos of performers singing the tune, but this one by the Dubliners is my favorite. Wikipedia also has a brief description of the same story, along with a poem that was included in a US Cavalryman's manual in 1923. But that poem is an entirely different story from the one above, and not likely what I was looking for.

I found a bit more on the website Fiddlers Green Orlando:

The Legend of Fiddlers Green.
"They say that an old salt who is tired of seagoing should walk inland with an oar over his shoulder. When he comes to a pretty little village deep in the country and the people ask him what he is carrying...he will know that he's found Fiddlers Green. The people give him a seat in the sun outside the Village Inn with a glass of grog that refills itself every time he drains the last drop and a pipe forever smoking with fragrant tobacco. From then onwards he has nothing to do but enjoy his glass and pipe and watch the maidens dancing to the music of a fiddle on Fiddlers Green." A fresh new poem about this old story can be found on Allpoetry.

But is this actually a song or story about a fiddlers at all? "A last maybe surprising note is that the phrase Fiddler's Green has no relation with violinists whatsoever, but is derived from fiddling or more specific a fid, which is a tool used to split ropes better known as marlinespike." Which, I assume, has something to do with fishing, since a marlin is a fish. So the link from fiddling to fishermen can be made here, perhaps? For more about the marlinespike, read what Commander Bob has to say. Once again, a simple question leads me into new waters and new words for Scrabble (how many points would that be?)

The only book reference I have been able to find so far is Seafaring Lore and Legend which covers this topic and many other legends of the waters.

After more searching, I happened on this:

"Cloughmore, known locally as "The Big Stone", (Irish: An Chloch Mhór, the big stone), is a huge granite boulder found about 1,000 feet above the village of Rostrevor, County Down, Northern Ireland, on a relatively flat area on the side of Slieve Martin (or Slieve Meen) mountain, known as Fiddler's Green." Aha!

photo and text above from

According to scientists, the stone was put there during the Ice Ages when the glaciers left this part of the world. A local story claims that actually the stone was thrown to its resting place by Finn McCool during a fight between the legendary Irish folk hero and the Ice Giant, Ruscaire. I like this version better!

Cloughmore is in County Down in the north of Ireland, where the Ulster Scots lived. So here perhaps is the source of the name for the cabin and for the legend of "Fiddler's Green"-- a green Irish mountain in the County Down, by the side of the lough. A place for sailors to finally rest, where they can see the water and remember their seafaring days.

Now, to learn more about ice giants...


Rowan said...

Sorry, it's me again, Mrs Knowitall! A marlinspike does have a connection with the sea and sailors, it's a tool used for splicing ropes and untying tight knots. On the old sailing vessels all the rigging would be made of rope so a marlinspike would be an essential tool.

Rowan said...

Forgot to say that I like the story about Finn McCool too and I enjoyed The Dubliners singing Fiddlers Green - amazing where a photo of an old shack can lead isn't it?

Granny Sue said...

Thank you, Rowan. I lvoe the way our combined knowledge can answer such questions. Before today, I did not know that such a thing existed. Now I can spell it and tell what it's for!

Matthew Burns said...

I'm loving this post!!

I loved the song lyrics but I tend to think the last part of your post may be the origin of my grandparents Fiddler's Green. It is located on a relatively flat part of North Mountain and it has huge boulders all around there that have broken off the North Mountain cliffs. Also, I can't help but see similarities between Finn McCool and the Ice Giant, and the old story told to me by my great grandmother Mary (who grew up in Fiddler's Green) about the great rock fight between God & the Devil (which is how she said our land got covered by rocks).

Also, County Down is where my only Irish grandmother was born! Her name was Cisley and she married a Scotsman by the name of Edward Burns. They came to America by way of Virginia and their son William came to Pendleton County.

And, yes, Fiddler's Green was built around 1820. The last name of my great-great-grandparents who lived there was Kile. My Kile's originally spelled their last name Coil and legend has it that they descended from Old King Cole in Scotland (whose original name was Old King Coil).

But back to Fiddler's Green, this info is sooo cool. Could this mean that some of the stories I grew up with came from Ireland?

Granny Sue said...

Sounds rather likely, doesn't it, Matthew? You might want to find some collections of Irish stories, especially those from the north of Ireland.

Thank you for piquing my curiosity. I learned a lot while looking for this. Tonight I am going to look through some books and see if I can find any more mentions of Fiddler's Green or the ice giants.

Granny Sue said...

Oh, forgot to mention, you know my maiden name was Connelly. Dad said that we were from Ireland. We've nevr been able to get back past 1850 or so in tracing his father's family, though. Maybe that's because the spelling got changed along the way.

Rowan said...

This is fascinating, lovely to see everything tying in like this. I'd guess that if you found a book of the old Celtic myths and legends you might find that a lot of them are familiar Matthew. They are well worth reading anyway. The Tain Bo Cuailnge/Cattle Raid of Cooley is one of the best known - Granny Sue - you'd love these stories if you aren't already familiar with them.

Granny Sue said...

I did find one in my collection I'm lendng to Matthew, called Irish Folk History by Henry Glassie. It's about the north of Ireland and has a good bit about the Ulster Scots. I got it at a library book sale, and haven't read it yet myself. I think he'll enjoy it. I'll read it when he's finished with it--I'm in the middle of a few others right now.

Cathy Jo said...

And that is the song I used for Leanne's memorial (lyrics slightly changed to reflect her gender and the fact that she DID play a harp!) I think I even mentioned it last year in Chillicothe as a song you'd appreciate, over a glass of wine...

Granny Sue said...

I remember that, Cathy. It was so lovely. You sang it for me; I had forgotten about that. Thank you for reminding me.

j.dorfman said...

THis is great thread you've untangled. One of the explanations of Fiddler's Green is straight from the Odyssey. Odysseus, once the suitors are all sorted out, is told to carry an oar over his shoulder and walk inland till someone ask him where he's going with that 'winnowning fan.' At that spot he's to plant the oar and set up a temple to Athena. Wonderful how these stories get around--J. Dorfman

Tammy said...

Hidee Granny Sue~~~

I just wanted to drop by and let you know that I have a new blog link. Come see me sometime!

solsticedreamer~laoi gaul~williams said...

i love this song so much, it always makes me feel tearful~the version i have is by steeleye span, but not sung by maddy prior but by one of the chaps. i love now being able to read the lyrics as a poem :)

Granny Sue said...

It is kind of sad, laoi, but at the same time it's comforting because the sailors knew specifically what they wanted at journey's end.

Jane, I had read a mention of that connection online, but had not yet explored it. Thank you for the additional information. Old stories keep living in new versions--until even the new versions are old themselves. Wonderful sense of continuity.

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