The Pride of Rathmore & The Girls of Farranfore (reels)

Two reels, named for Kerry townlands (both with stations on the Tralee-Mallow train line… coincidence, or not???), a classic Sliabh Luachra pairing, inextricably intertwined. Both in E minor, the two share similar phrases and motifs, which make for an interesting pairing. The set appears to have originated with a recording of Paddy Cronin made sometime in the 1950s for the Boston-based O’Byrne-De Witt/Copley label when he was still a recent arrival in the States. The set seems to have caught on, and was subsequently played in the same arrangement by a number of other musicians. Con Curtin & Edmond Murphy were recorded playing the set by Bill Leader at The Favourite pub in London in 1968. Maire O’Keeffe played them as the opening track of her album Cóisir in 1993, and the pair have been a popular couple wherever Sliabh Luachra musicians are gathered together.

The Pride of Rathmore was in the repertoire of many of Paddy Cronin’s peers back in Sliabh Luachra, but it’s unclear if it became popular primarily because of Cronin’s recording or if it was played widely before that. It was recorded by Julia and Billy Clifford as The Rabbit’s Burrow on their album Ceol as Sliabh Luachra. It was collected by Breandán Breathnach for his book Ceol Rince na hÉireann, Volume 2, from the Glencollins fiddler Molly Myers Murphy in 1970. As she learned mostly from Tom Billy Murphy, it could very well have been from his repertoire. I have one unconfirmed source that says she was also a student of Pádraig O’Keeffe, at least for a time, so perhaps she could have got it from him, or she could have learned it from another source, including Paddy Cronin’s recording, either directly or indirectly. It can also be found in Martin Mulvihill’s collection, sourced from Anne Sheehy (McAuliffe).

The Girls of Farranfore is known to have been in Pádraig O’Keeffe’s repertoire as well as Denis Murphy’s. It may be Pádraig had it from Ryan’s Mammoth Collection: 1050 Reels and Jigs, printed in 1883 in Boston, Massachusetts (where it is called Paddy the Piper), either directly or through his uncle Cal who may have brought a copy of the collection back with him from his time in the States. However, as printed, the tune lacks the distinctive G arpeggio in the third bar of the A part which is present in Pádraig’s playing and is such a singular detail of the tune as it’s played today. When the G arpeggio is absent, the tune is often called The Game of Love (by which name it goes in Capt. O’Neill’s Waifs and Strays of Irish Melody, 1922), but there are exceptions. Paddy Cronin recorded it again as Paddy the Piper on his LP The Rakish Paddy, but in the place of the usual G arpeggio he plays a wobbling descending figure. It’s a very well-traveled tune; Breandán Breathnach collected it from Clare fiddler Peter O’Loughlin in 1966, and in varying forms it exists in Co. Fermanagh as The Aberdeen Lasses, in Scotland as Rory McNab.

There is an aberration, a mutation, an unnatural progeny of these tunes, often called The Gneeveguilla Reel or Considine’s Grove. (There is a two-part reel in O’Neill’s 1001 called Considine’s Grove, sourced from Edward Cronin of Limerick Junction, Tipperary. It is vaguely reminiscent of Rathmore crossed with The Man of the House. Thanks to Friend of Sliabh Luachra Paul DeGrae for catching that!) It is played as a three-part reel, the first two parts being essentially Rathmore, and the third part being the tasty 2nd half of Farranfore’s A part, played twice. It seems to have caught on in a big way with the “straight trad” crowd, which makes it problematic at best to start the two-part Rathmore in the wrong kind of company. The first appearance of this unholy matrimony in a commercial recording seems to be on Mary Bergin’s Feadóga Stáin 2, released in 1993. One hesitates to lay the blame for such a crime against humanity entirely at her feet; perhaps she was led innocently astray by some unnamed source. To be fair though, we could look on this new development as a logical, if indirect, result of Paddy Cronin’s pervasive influence on these two tunes. It seems each time he was recorded playing them, he altered them in small ways or big, always twisting and turning them, changing them up to suit his fancy throughout the years.

Paddy Cronin plays the set on his 78 rpm recording from the 1950s.

Pádraig O’Keeffe plays The Girls of Farranfore with his setting of The Bucks of Oranmore

Denis Murphy plays Farranfore (listed as The Mountcollins Reel) on an old 78

Paddy Cronin again with a very different setting on his LP The Rakish Paddy