Bean Dubh an Ghleanna

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  • Teideal (Title): Bean Dubh an Ghleanna.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 860201.
  • 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): Mary E. Johnson.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 05/10/1980.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): Plowshares Coffee House, San Francisco, California, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): céilí (Larry Lynch).
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

This song is called ‘The Dark-Haired Woman of the Glen’ – Bean Dubh an Ghleanna. She was a beautiful woman, and she could very hardly be reached by somebody who was poor; all they could do was stare at her all the time. And she made him sick, so sick, that he was in love. And you know what love is – that my grandmother said that ‘Love is blind, and marriage is an eye-opener.’ [laughter] She also said when poverty came in the door, that love went out the window. But this man was really in love.

Tá bó agam ar shliabh, ‘s is fada mé ina diaidh
nó gur chaill mé mo chiall le nóchar
Dhá seoladh soir is siar ‘s gach áit a dtéann an ghrian
nó go bhfilleann sí ar ais tráthnóna
Nuair a bhreathnaím féin anonn san áit a mbíonn mo rún
sileann ó mo shúilí deora
A Rí Gheal na nDúl, déan fuascailt ar mo chúis
‘sí bean dubh an ghleanna a bhreoigh mé.

[Bean dubh an ghleanna, ‘s í an bhean dubh a b’fhearr liom
‘s í bean na gruaige [doiléir]
A grua mar an sneachta ‘s an snua mar an eala
‘s a béilín tanaí álainn
Níl ógánach cneasta ó Bhaile Átha Cliath go Gaillimh
ná as sin go Béal an Átha Rí (?)
Nach bhfuil á lúa is á rá is ag tíocht ina taitneamh
ag súil leis an ainnir álainn.]

Siúd é thall mo theach, níl dídean air ach an scraith1
is tá sé ar chúl an bhóthair
Críonna bhíonns a bheach nuair a níonn sí a nead
le grian agus teas bhreá an fhómhair
Nuair a chríonanns an tslat ní fhanann uirthi meas
ach ag súil leis na brainsí óga2
A chailín álainn deas, a dtug mo chroí dhuit gean
mo chúig chéad slán go deo leat.


I have a cow on the hillside, and I’m a long while following her,
until I’ve lost my senses with a spouse;
Driving her east and west, wherever the sun goes,
until she returns in the evening.
When I look across to the place where my love lives,
my eyes fill with tears;
Bright King of the Elements, resolve my predicament:
the dark woman of the glen has destroyed me.

[The dark woman of the glen, it’s the dark woman I prefer,
she’s the woman of the [indistinct] hair;
her cheek like snow and her appearance like the swan,
and her slim, beautiful mouth.
There is no decent young man from Dublin to Galway,
or from there to Athenry,
who isn’t talking about her and coming into her shining presence –
and hoping for the lovely fair one.]

That’s my house over there, with only a scraw for a roof,
standing at the back of the road.
The bee is wise to make her nest
in the sunshine and lovely warmth of autumn.
When the willow grows old,
it is less valued than the young branches.
You beautiful young girl, to whom my heart gave love –
my five hundred farewells to you forever.


1. scraw (scraith) – the section of sod that is used, root-side up, to provide a foundation for the straw thatch.

2. This may be a reference to the use of willow rods (slat, ‘rod’) in basket-making. In former times, most houses would have had willow growing next to the house for this purpose. The rods would be harvested from new shoots, as the branches are not so flexible when the plant gets older.

As Joe explains, this song is more generally known in Conamara as ‘Moll Dubh an Ghleanna,’ although he seems to prefer the Munster title and air. The air he used at the concert in San Francisco is connected with the song as sung in the southern counties of Ireland.

The middle stanza [in square brackets] was not sung at the concert in San Francisco, but can be heard on the tape Joe made for Lucy in April, 1980. Joe used it as a refrain stanza, singing it following the first verse and again at the end of the song. As will be seen from a comparison of its two occurrences, there are a few spots in this stanza where Joe tries out different bits of vocabulary. From this we may surmise that he wasn’t thoroughly secure of this verse, which may explain why he didn’t include it in the San Francisco performance a few months later.

For additional verses and some discussion, see Ríonach uí Ógáin (ed.), Faoi Rothaí na Gréine: Amhráin as Conamara a Bhailigh Máirtín Ó Cadhain (Dublin, 1999), 137-8.