Amhrán an Tae

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  • Teideal (Title): Amhrán an Tae.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 850112.
  • 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): James Cowdery.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): between 1979 and 1981.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): private.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

Did I ever sing Amhrán an Tae for you?… ‘Song of the Tea’? Colm a’ Bhailís, a poet, made a song about two people arguing in a field about tea… during the First World War, I think. He wanted… Now, she’s talking about tea. The man wanted tobacco. And she said, ‘we don’t have anything in the house, only two… eggs that the hens laid, and we’ll have to give that to the children.’ And he said, ‘If you don’t get me tobacco,’ he said, ‘I’ll break your back with the spade.’ And eh… it’s a dialogue between the two.

Trathnóna Dé Sathairn ag dul faoi don ghréin
A chonaic mé lánún i ngarraí leo féin
Bhí an bhean ‘s í go caithiseach ag caint ar an tae
‘S níor mhaith leis an bhfear í a bheith ag trácht air.

She was talking about tea, and he wanted to put the subject onto tobacco.

‘Muise, bíonn tusa i gcónaí ag cur síos ar an tae
Is an lá a mbíonn sé agat ní feictear agat é
Imigh leat is faigh tobac dom ar mhaithe leat féin
Nó roinnfidh mé leat feac na láí.’

‘Ó, cén slí atá agamsa? cá bhfaighinn-se dhuit é?
Ach ag ceangail dá chirc a raibh ubh aice réir
Rud a thóig tú faoi Nollaig, níor íoc tú fós é
‘S tá an méid sin sathach gann ag na páistí.’

Now, she says, ‘what we borrowed at Christmas, we never paid for yet… What we have is scarce enough for the kids.’ And he says… ‘If I went to Galway or to Headford… Cinvara or Tralee… I’d be hired in a house a week or a month… I’d earn the price of a drawer and a báinín1.’ That was the old style that the men wore long ago, the báinín, and the drawer they called the white trouser, and the báinín is the, is the, what they wear as gimmicks now you see, you know what I mean, people wear as gimmicks. Báinín, made of white wool, white tweed… it’s as warm as an overcoat. That’s what he said to her.

Dhá dteinnse go Gaillimh nó soir go hÁth Cinn
Anonn go Cinn Mhara nó síos go Trá Lí
Casfaí i dteach mé seachtain nó mí
Agus saorthóinn luach drár agus báinín.

And she said… ‘You went before, and you came back… You didn’t have a bloody halfpenny!… You lay on your bed, snoring and sleeping all day!… That’s all you did.’

Muise, d’imigh tú cheana is tháinig tú arís
Ní fhaca muid agat coróin, scillinn ná pingin
Luigh tú ar do leaba is bhí d’easnachaí tinn
Bhí an slaghdán go domhain i do chnámha.

Muise, éist do bhéal feasta, a amaid de shraoill

‘Well, you, you, you… sraoill. You stupid woman,’ he said, ‘if you don’t shut up I’ll break your back with the spade.’

Muise, éist do bhéal feasta, a amaid de shraoill
Nó buailfidh mé buille ort a bhrisfeas do dhroim

‘Fighting and arguing is nagging you for all your life,’ he said, ‘and your mother had the same habit.’

Ag troid is ag achrann a chaith tú do shaol
‘S bhí an faisean céanna ag do mháithrín!

And the end of it was, they went to a lawyer to settle the problem. He couldn’t settle the problem for them, which wanted the tea and the other wanted tobacco.

Chuadar go Gaillimh ag iarraidh fear dlí
Ag súil le go n‑iarrfadh sé an críochnú (?) dhaoibh;
Ní dearnadh don bheirt ach magadh is bé‑hé
Ach táim cinnte gur cailleadh na páistí.

The judge threw them out, he laughed at them. But the end of the story was, that he thought the kids died. A terrible ending to a song. That was Colm a’ Bhailís2 who wrote that. It’s the same air as The Wife of the Bold Tenant Farmer.


On a Saturday evening, as the sun was going down,
I saw a couple in their garden
The woman was complaining about the tea
And the man didn’t want to hear it.

‘Oh, you’re always going on about the tea
and the day you have it you never produce any.
Go out and get me some tobacco, if you know what’s good for you,
Or I’ll cut you in half with the spade!’

‘Oh, how’s that then? Where will I get it for you?
We’ve only the two hens that laid an egg last night!
What you borrowed at Christmas you haven’t paid for yet,
And things are meagre enough for the children!’

‘If I went to Galway or Headford
Across to Kinvara or down to Tralee
I’d be hired for a week or a month
And I’d earn the price of trousers and a bawneen!’

‘You went already, and you came back again,
And we never saw a crown, shilling, or penny from you!
You lay in bed moaning about sore ribs,
And how the cold was deep in your bones!’

‘Oh, shut up, you slovenly fool,
Or I’ll give you a beating that will break your back!
You’ve spent your whole life fighting and arguing
And your mother was just the same.’

They went off to Galway looking for a lawyer
Hoping he could settle things between them.
But they were only laughed out of court
And I’m certain that the children died.


1. Pronounced ‘bawneen’. Literally, ‘white stuff’. The name given to the white wool yarn knitted into sweaters, shawls and other clothing by the women of Conamara and Oileáin Árann (the Aran Islands). As Joe explains elsewhere, the patterns of the knitted sweaters were unique to each household, so that if someone were lost at sea and his body later washed up, he might be identified by the pattern of the báinín he was wearing. In calling these items of clothing ‘gimmicks’, Joe is referring to their having been popularised by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, who famously wore them during their stage performances.

2. Colm de Bhailís (1796–1906), born somewhere in Ceantar na nOileán (the Islands; not the same as the Aran Islands, however), about 12 miles east of Carna as the crow flies — and considerably longer by road. He was a contemporary of two other poets mentioned by Joe, Antaine Raiftearaí (1784–1835) and Micheál Mac Suibhne (1760–1820). Particularly known for his comic gifts, he is today admired particularly for Amhrán an Tae, An Seanduine Cam, and Cúirt an tSrutháin Bhuí, all of which can be found on commercial recordings. See G. Denvir (ed.), Amhráin Choilm de Bhailís (1996); also Cóil Neaine Pháidín Mac Donncha, Pluid Dhorcha Leára (tape and booklet, 1993). Amhrán an Tae was recorded by Darach Ó Catháin for Seán Ó Riada’s seminal recording, Reacaireacht an Riadaigh; by Maggie Dirrane for Songs of Aran, recorded by Sidney Robertson Cowell and issued by Folkways in 1957; and more recently by Treasa Ní Mhiolláin and Máirtín Tom Sheáinín Mac Donncha, among others. For additional verses and some discussion, see Ríonach uí Ógáin (ed.), Faoi Rotha na Gréine: Amhráin as Conamara a Bhailigh Máirtín Ó Cadhain (Dublin, 1999), 183–4.