Cathal Buí agus An Buinneán Buí (2)

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  • Teideal (Title): Cathal Buí agus An Buinneán Buí (2).
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 841417.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): none.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): lore.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Joan Rabinowitz.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 10/06/1983.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): Seabold Community Center, Bainbridge Island, Washington, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): concert.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

In this recording, Joe tells the story of the death of Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Gunna1, and of how the song An Buinneán Buí came to be composed.

This song is about Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Gunna. ‘Yellow’ Cathal Mac Giolla Gunna was a poet in Ulster, in fact he was born in Cavan. And he was a habitual drunkard, and he was excommunicated by the Catholic Church because he kept drinking… Cathal Buí was drinking, and the night he was — dying, he wanted to send for the priest, but he couldn’t — he had nobody to go for the priest. Anyway he was afraid to send for him, because at that time you were dead scared of priests, you know. So the priest was just going to bed when there was a knock on the door, and there was a lady and a child2 standing outside the door, and they asked him to go [to] Cathal Buí’s house, that he was dying. And the priest asked them something, and when he looked around, they were gone. So he went to the house, and Cathal Buí, ‘Thank God’, he said, ‘you came. I was just praying’, he said, ‘that I had somebody to send for you’. And the priest said, ‘You did’ he said ‘send somebody for me!’ And Cathal Buí said, ‘I did not’. There was no sign of the lady or the boy. Nobody knew who they were.

Now, he went out one morning and he saw the bittern, which is extinct in Ireland at the moment, dead on the lake outside. The lake was frozen, and the bittern was dead. And he was trying to put his beak through the ice to get a drop of water. And he made a song, putting himself in the place of the yellow bittern. And what would happen if I died of thirst? Wouldn’t it be better to keep on drinking? And make no mistake that I would ever die of thirst. See what happened the yellow bittern? He died because he couldn’t get a drink. ‘Although my sweetheart told me’, he said — This; I’m translating the song for you now, but the song is originally in Irish — ‘she told me not to drink, or I wouldn’t live long. But I told her that drink makes me healthy, and I’d rather die drinking than die without it. And there’s nothing up from heaven or down from heaven I’d give before I’d give a drink’.


1. Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Gunna (1680–1756). See B. Ó Buachalla (ed.), Cathal Buí: Amhráin (1975).

2. On another occasion when telling this story, Joe stated explicitely that it was the Blessed Virgin and Christ who called at the priest’s door.

Compare this version of the story with the one Joe tells in Cathal Buí agus an Buinneán Buí (3).