Part of a Caoineadh in the Conamara Tradition

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  • Teideal (Title): Part of a Caoineadh in the Conamara Tradition.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): none.
  • 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): The Máire Nic Fhinn Collection.
  • 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): Liam Clancy.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): unavailable.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): unavailable.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): unavailable.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

Ó, nach mór mo thrua a’m dhuit, a stóirín
Ó, ‘s ochón-ó, nach mé atá brónach anocht.
Is ochón mo stóirín, nach tú a bhí go deas liom féin
Is ochón mo mhúirnín, cén fáth gur imigh tú uaim?
Agus ochón, agus ochón, agus ochón, is ochón
Agus ochón, is ochón, nach trua nach bhfuil tú liom.
Ach is ochón, muise, ochón, a stóirín, cén fáth ar imigh tú uaim?
A stóirín, tar chugam, cén fáth ar imigh tú uaim?

‘That’s part of it, Liam…’


Oh, isn’t my sorrow great for you, my darling
And alas, I am so lonely tonight.
And alas, my treasure, weren’t you nice to me?
And alas, my dearest, why did you leave me?
And alas…
And alas… isn’t it a pity that you are not with me.
And alas, indeed, alas, my treasure, why did you leave me?
My treasure, come to me; why did you leave me?


This remarkable recording is one of only a very few recorded examples of caointeoireacht (keening of the dead).

While the formal, public ritual of keening has been frequently described — the keening over the corpse during the three days of the wake and at the burial by the dead person’s female relations and/or by a woman hired for the purpose — it is thought there was also a more private practice among the bereaved family, for whom such keening would have served the dual purpose of bringing the dead person to mind and of expressing the continuing sorrow of the bereaved. It seems that this is the sort of caointeoireacht that we are in the presence of here.

It’s clear that there is no established text for such lamentation but that the singer simply improvises as feeling dictates. The air, like the words, relies on repetition of a couple of basic motifs and, as Joe’s comment at the end suggests, can be extended for as long as necessary. Joe’s performance also gives us a clue to the probable character of a number of airs recorded in P. W. Joyce, Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909) for which unfortunately no words have been recorded; see Nos. 162 (p. 82), 259 (p. 124), 483 (p. 267), and 655 (p. 330).

For a thorough discussion of the practice of caointeoireacht and the probable structure of the formal caoineadh, see Breandán Ó Madagáin (ed.),Gnéithe den Chaointeoireacht (Dublin, 1978), and the same author’s Caointe agus Seancheolta Eile / Keening and Other Old Irish Musics (Indreabhán, 2005), 11-18 and 81-88.

Other recorded examples of the sort of caointeoireacht that Joe is practicing here would include Keen for a Dead Child (Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: Ireland, Rounder CD 1742) sung by Cití Ní Ghallchóir from Gaoth Dobhair, Contae Donegal in 1951; and two examples from the Aran Islands (Songs of Aran, Smithsonian Folkways CD) recorded in 1957, both entitled Caoineadh na Marbh (literally, ‘the keening of the dead’). Both of the latter are sung by very old women, one of whom preferred to remain anonymous — a fact that reflects the reluctance of people to record something so intensely personal and private.

We are grateful to the late Liam Clancy for his permission to use this recording.