Play recording: Lúibíní

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  • Teideal (Title): Lúibíní.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 781504 and 781505.
  • 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): Irish.
  • Catagóir (Category): song.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): Esther Warkov.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 06/03/1978 – 07/03/1978.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): University of Washington, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): interview.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

Lúibín ó Lú

This is one I thought of… it’s a work-song, you know. And it’s one where two women are arguing. They go out, you know, and they have a wash-board, we’ll say they’re out by the lake, with the wash-board, you know, and they’re not speaking to one another, you know. And one of them will start, you know, ‘What did your husband have for breakfast today?’ ‘Oh, my husband had a good breakfast today.’ ‘Well, he didn’t have as good a breakfast as my husband. What did your husband have?’ she says. ‘He had bacon and egg.’ ‘My husband had bacon and three eggs,’ the other woman said. Then they’d start – in verse – they’d start arguing – cutting each other’s throats. And probably the next day they’d be talking to one another…

Now, you hit the clothes on the wash-board, you know, like that, slis they call it – it’s a stick they have for knocking the dirt out of the clothes – this was old, olden times, you know. And this is what they were doing, and this is how they did it. This is Gaelic, now.

Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth is bí láidir,
Chonaic mé Máirtín ag baint fhataí ag Pádraic.
Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth is bí láidir.

Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth is bí láidir,
Tá a fhios a’m an lá ar ghoid tú mo cháca.
Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth is bí láidir.

Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth is bí láidir,
Chonaic mé Pat ag baint bháirneach ag Máirtín.
Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth is bí láidir.

Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth is bí láidir,
Chaith mé lá fada ag baint fhataí ag Máirtín.
Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth is bí láidir. potatoes for Martin.

(I saw that Pádraic had Martin harvesting spuds for him1.
I know the day when you stole my loaf.
I saw that Martin had Pat harvesting winkels for him1.
I spent a long day harvesting
I’ll finish that tomorrow…)

Interviewer: We were talking about the washing song yesterday, the women down by the stream, beating their clothes and having kind of…

JH: Oh, yeah – slashing with the bats, slashing with the tongue.

Interviewer: …verbal battle.

JH: That often happened, and sometimes, as I said yesterday, sometimes they’d walk home arm-in-arm, and smoke the pipe between them, and sometimes they wouldn’t speak to each other for years after it. Praising, praising, you know – one praising her husband, the other one praising her husband.

Interviewer: Did they ever conduct these verbal disputes on other topics, besides their husbands?

JH: It was… usually their husbands, you know, and what they were eating, the dinner they were having, and the breakfast they were having. I told you about the bacon-and-egg. And about other things that happened, you know, like the, maybe somebody stole something from somebody by the way. And the other woman turned around and was, ‘That’s nothing compared to what your people did’ you know, ‘they were bad, they were’ – this and that, you know.

Interviewer: Oh, their ancestors?

JH: ‘They were always drunk, and drunk, and kicking and blinding and cursing and everything. And it all came into it, you know.

Interviewer: Can you give us a little sample?

JH: Little sample.

Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir
Peadar ar meisce ‘s an t-asal dhá bháthadh
Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir.

That means, now, ‘Your husband was drunk, and the donkey was drowning at the time and he couldn’t save the donkey from drowning.’

Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir
Bhí eiteann2 ar t-athair is an aon ar do mháthair
Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir

The other woman turned around and she said, ‘Well mhuise your family was full of TB – your father and mother – what are you talking about?’

Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir
Is stráca an phota a bhí ina léine ar Mháirtín3
Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir

Stráca an phota… is the old rag they used to lift the pot off the fire long ago, and one woman said, ‘That was the shirt, that was the shirt that my husband wore that ye stole to lift the pot.’ Now.

Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir
Lúibín an chitil is lúibín an t-saucepan4
Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir

That means – lúibín an chitil – that means, ‘You’re so narrow-minded, that’s a little knob on the kettle.’

Interviewer: The size of your mind is like a little knob on the kettle?

JH: On the kettle.

Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir
Chonaic mé ar aonach thú ag ithe ubh Mháirtín5
Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir

I saw you at the fair, eating Martin’s egg.

Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir
Ghoid tú na cearca ‘gus ghoid tú an bardal
Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir
You stole the hens and the drake

Interviewer: What’s that mean?

JH: That means, they stole the drake and the hens, and they left the ducks without any, any, any, you know, help from the drake, you know – the drake is the male duck – you know, they stole the drake and they left the ducks there, they couldn’t… the eggs was no good to be hatched.

Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir
Ghoid tú an gandal ó bhóithrí Chionn Sáile6
Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir

JH: That means, the other woman said, ‘You stole the gander [from the roads of Kinsale] and you left the geese with nothing!’ And it goes on and on like that, you know.

Interviewer: Can you think of some other ones like that?

JH: Ehhhh…

Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir
Leag tú suas Peigín ‘s leag tú suas Máirín
Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir

That means, that your husband made Maureen and Peggy pregnant. [You knocked up Peggy and Maureen.]

Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir
Ó bhastardaí an bhaile a tháinig sibh ann
Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir

The other woman says, ‘Talk about bastards, they all, your kind a all your ancestors were bastards, you know.’

Interviewer: What does the beginning, ‘Lúibí…

JH: Lúibín ó lú. That means ‘the twisted mind’. Lúibín ó lú. One twisted mind arguing with another twisted mind. Lúibín ó lú. It goes around and around.

Interviewer: And so they actually…

JH: Lúibín is something like that, you know… [points to an electric cord or something similar] Tangled up.

Interviewer: A cord.

JH: That could be a lúibín.

Interviewer: Um-hm. A knot, kind of?

JH: It’s not really a knob, it’s something twisted like the… fellow with the two hunchbacks – the two humps on his back. It’s twisted round like that, lúibín, so you hang— to put something inside it, to hang it.

Interviewer: So they would actually sing about bent minds, then?

JH: You see, they’d sing about, you see, the narrow-mindedness of both families, and all… the crank-pots that belonged to them and all the… they used to call it scliúchas – scliúchas is the Gaelic word for it – going hammer-and-tongs at one another this nice way, so if anybody was passing they’d think they were singing.

Interviewer: Uh-huh.

JH: But at the same time they were cutting each others throats, you know, and then as they did it, they used to wallop the bat – the slis – on the clothes, like that.

Interviewer: To emphasize –

JH: To emphasize the final word. ‘Now! Take that!’

Interviewer: So… could you, one more time, repeat that first phrase that seems to be repeated at the beginning of each one of the little…

Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir
Chonaic mé Pádraic ag ithe ubh Mháirtín
Lúibín ó lú, bí lúth ‘gus bí láidir

That means, ‘We have the lúibín, we have the strength to twist you’. And that’s the answer the same woman would put back again, the same thing to her.

Interviewer: And then continue on with the…

JH: Continue on with the… argument or with the…

Interviewer: So each verse began, ‘We have the strength to twist you, and this is the reason why’.

JH: And then from across the river came the other answer, or whatever they were slashing the clothes.


1. The implication here might be that one woman’s husband was slaving away at the behest of the other woman’s husband, and that the man doing the bossing was the better one. Or it may simply be that one neighbour was helping another with his harvest. With these verses it’s often very difficult to tell what was meant unless you know the context – which is what Joe is trying to supply.

2. Eiteann (eitinn in other dialects) is tuberculosis. The words given above as an aon are somewhat unclear, but Joe appears to be saying that both father and mother suffered from the same illness; his subsequent explanation confirms this interpretation.

3. Stráca an phota (the standardised spelling is stráice) – a pot-holder, usually made of an old rag or bit of old knitting. Note that Joe goes further in his explanation than is warranted by the literal meaning of the verse – which is bad enough already, one would think, with one woman accusing the other of providing a shirt for her husband that’s only fit for use as a pot-holder. Why does theft have to come into it?

4. The tool used to lift these kitchen items when they are hot. Again, Joe’s explanation goes some way over the top.

5. You ate the boiled egg that I sent with my husband for his lunch the day he went to the fair.

6. You stole the gander that was walking on the road – maybe you didn’t know whose it was, but it wasn’t yours!

The literal meaning of the refrain line is something like ‘Loopety-loop, be quick and be strong.’ A lúb is a loop or twist, something that doubles back on itself. A literal meaning for lúibín would be a tool made of of metal or wire, designed so it can be used as a hook, something that could be looped into something else to provide a fastening, or an implement for lifting something – such as the kettle and the saucepan mentioned by Joe. Alternatively, the same word could be used to indicate a coil, or a link; a button-hole; a ringlet in someone’s hair; or a knitting stitch.

In terms of song, lúibíní are short verses that are exchanged between two or more people, one verse laying down a standard – or issuing a challenge – for the next singer. The Lúibíní competition at the annual Oireachtas calls for two people to compose a series of couplets on a single theme – current political scandals are a popular choice; they are usually very funny at the expense of somebody in power. Less formally, lúibíní can be composed ex tempore among a group of friends. Lúibíní are likely to be extremely topical as well as ephemeral and, as a result, only very few of them make it into song-books.

Liam Mac Con Iomaire, Joe’s biographer, relates that Joe participated in the lúibíní, agallamh beirte and other competitions at the Oireachtas on more than one occasion in the mid-1940s, in partnership with Seán Jeaic Mac Donncha from Aird Thiar, father of sean-nós singer Josie Sheáin Jeaic. Joe recalled the occasion years later: ‘I won a lot of prizes with this Mc Donagh man from Ard, Seán Jack. We won a lot of prizes together with work-songs and ‘Óra a Mhíle Grá,’ the two of us singing together. We often won first prize and we came second a couple of times. The prizes were usually divided so that one side wouldn’t get them all the time, which is only fair’ (see Seosamh Ó hÉanaí: Nár fhágha mé bás choíche, 120-22).

On this occasion, Joe has taken the meaning of ‘twist’ in a somewhat spiteful metaphorical sense, and run with it – somewhat misleading the interviewer, perhaps. This is not to say that such disparaging verses were never composed in Irish – clearly, they were – but Joe may have left her with the impression that the venting of spleen was the sole reason for composing lúibíní.

This was recorded while Joe was Artist in Residence at University of Washington.