It is unusual to hear Gaelic lyrics on UK adverts and my Sassenach friends have quizzed me about the dramatic music on a TV advert by the optician chain “Specsavers.” Their strapline is “should have gone to Specsavers” and their rather clever advertising shows optical mishaps experienced by those who haven’t. Their “Shepherd” ad (video below) stands out from the crowd by being in black and white and with the haunting music of the Gaelic song “Mo Ghile Mear.” The advert uses cinematography and music to evoke the remoteness of Saksun in the Faroe Islands, one of the most spectacular places in Europe, between the Shetland Islands and Iceland. Actual Faroese shepherd, Peter Andreas Petersen, along with Border collie Jim, gather the sheep for shearing.The piece shows the grizzled shepherd haplessly mis shearing his sheep because he can’t see what he is doing without his glasses – he should have gone to Specsavers! Unfortunately for Border collie Jim he gets sheared as well and ends up looking somewhat worse for wear with an expression of doggie bewilderment on his face! The ad works because it is funny and different.
Many will be surprised that the musician is Irish but may not be known to them as she often appears as a talented session musician or vocalist on other artist’s tours or records. Una Palliser is a violist, violinist and vocalist now based in London. Born in Cork, Ireland Una began her music studies at the Cork School of Music at the age of 4. She won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London where she was awarded the Wolfson Trust award by the Academy, a Royal Philharmonia Martin Musical Scholarship Award, and was a string finalist in the RTE Millennium Musician of the Future Competition before graduating with a First Class Honours Degree in Performance.
She is currently Shakira’s solo violinist / backing vocalist / multi-instrumentalist on Sale El Sol world tour. Una has performed and toured with many major artists including Gnarls Barkley, Moby, Take That, P Diddy, The Killers, Patrick Wolf and is the singer on the Specsavers ‘Sheep’ advert. She has a particular interest in cross overs between Folk Music traditions and regularly collaborates as special guest with BBC World Music Award winners Terrafolk and is the lead vocalist/violinist in Una And The Balkan Bears.
Here is Una Palliser’s MySpace page and website;
“Mo Ghile Mear” (My Gallant Darling) is an old Irish song, written in the Irish language by Seán Clárach Mac Domhnaill in the 18th century. Composed in the convention of Aisling poetry, it is a lament by the Gaelic goddess Éire for Bonnie Prince Charlie, who was then in exile.
Aisling is a Gaelic word for a vision or a dream and usually a goddess appears in that dream with the message that Ireland will be freed from foreign rule. It was an allegorical device used in Irish Poetry and song under English rule when to speak of Irish “Freedom” directly would be treated as sedition. “Mo Ghile Mear” differs from more “conventional” Aisling poems. Whereas Aisling poetry normally has the poet asleep or otherwise minding his own business when he experiences a dream or vision of a fair maid, in this poem the poet personifies Éire/Ireland, the country itself, as a woman who once was a fair maiden but is now a widow. Her husband, the “Gallant Boy”, is not dead but far away. As a consequence the land is failing and nature itself is in decline.
A poetic translation of the first verse is:
Once I was a maiden fair
Now it’s widow’s weeds I wear
My husband lies not in the grave
But far from me he ploughs the waves
A Jacobite song originally composed by Seán Clárach Mac Domhnaill (1691-1754), in which Éire laments her love, Bonnie Prince Charlie Stuart, then in exile. It has been called “one of the most powerful lamentations of the 17th century,” and while it is usually rendered by a male voice in a martial fashion, it is in fact a woman’s lament for her love, a war hero, who was killed in battle. The verses have been reworked in the folk process and there is a modern chorus to the song. As “Air Bharr na G-Cnoc ‘s an Ime G-Céin” it appears in Edward Walsh’s Irish Popular Songs (Dublin, 1847).
In the folklore of Glencolumbkille in Co. Donegal there is a story that Bonnie Prince Charlie was secreted in Malinmore while ‘on the run’ after the defeat of his Highland Army at Culloden and that he later embarked in a French frigate from Poll-an-Uisce, near Glenlough.
The facts of history are otherwise (the Prince and his retinue sailed from Loch-nan-Uamy in the West of Scotland on 20th September 1746 and laying course to the West of Ireland arrived at Roscoff nine days later) but, nevertheless, the story must have some foundation and, in any event, highlights the Irish support for the Jacobite Cause.
To see where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard in Scotland in 1745 see;
The French did come to Donegal, but later. Across the expanse of Donegal Bay from Malinbeg, three frigates of the French Navy, flying British colours and commanded by Admiral Savary, arrived off Killala in August 1798. General Humbert and over one thousand troops disembarked at Kilcummin, joined the Irish Revolutionaries, established the Republic of Connaught and added a short but colourful page to Ireland’s military history.
My own favourite version of “Mo Ghile Mear” is strangely by Sting, of all people! It appears on The Long Black Veil an album by the traditional Irish folk band The Chieftains released in 1995. It is one of the most popular and bestselling albums by the band where they teamed up with well-known musicians such as Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones and Van Morrison. Credited collaborators include Marianne Faithfull, Mark Knopfler, Mick Jagger, Ry Cooder, Sinéad O’Connor, Sting, The Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, Van Morrison, and Arty McGlynn.
The album includes the most wonderful rendition of the “Coast of Malabar” by Ry Cooder and Sting’s version of “Mo Ghile Mear” is subtitled “My Hero” and has the lyrics rewritten both in Gaelic and English. Sting learnt it phonetically (you can tell by the “joins”) so it is not quite as fluent as the hugely talented Una’s equally excellent version but it is is powerfully sung with the complexity of the Chieftains backing track, as a group they are unequalled musicians with a true collaborative spirit.
I’ve set out the original Gaelic and English lyrics below followed by Sting’s version – the rewriting of the song to distil the sense in two languages is very much in the iterative tradition of folk music. There is an Irish connection with Sting (aka Gordon Sumner) as his first wife was the Irish actress Frances Tomelty.
As Gaeilge (Irish version)
Sé mo laoch mo Ghile Mear
‘Sé mo Chaesar, Ghile Mear,
Suan ná séan ní bhfuaireas féin
Ó chuaigh i gcéin mo Ghile Mear.
Seal da rabhas im’ mhaighdean shéimh,
‘S anois im’ bhaintreach chaite thréith,
Mo chéile ag treabhadh na dtonn go tréan
De bharr na gcnoc is imigéin.
Bímse buan ar buaidhirt gach ló,
Ag caoi go cruaidh ‘s ag tuar na ndeór
Mar scaoileadh uaim an buachaill beó
‘S ná ríomhtar tuairisc uaidh, mo bhrón.
Ní labhrann cuach go suairc ar nóin
Is níl guth gadhair i gcoillte cnó,
Ná maidin shamhraidh i gcleanntaibh ceoigh
Ó d’imthigh sé uaim an buachaill beó.
Ghile Mear ‘sa seal faoi chumha,
‘S Éire go léir faoi chlócaibh dubha;
Suan ná séan ní bhfuaireas féin
Ó cuaigh i gcéin mo Ghile Mear.
My Gallant Darling
He’s my champion my Gallant Darling,
he’s my Caesar, a Gallant Darling,
I’ve found neither rest nor fortune
since my Gallant Darling went far away.
Once I was gentle maiden,
but now I’m a spent, worn-out widow,
my consort strongly plowing the waves,
over the hills and far away.
Every day I’m constantly enduring grief,
weeping bitterly and shedding tears,
because my lively lad has left me
and no news is told of him – alas.
The cuckoo doesn’t sing cheerfully after noon,
And the sound of hounds isn’t heard in the nut-tree woods,
Nor a summer morning in a misty glen
Since my my lively boy went away from me.
Gallant Darling for a while under sorrow,
And Ireland completely under black cloaks;
I have found neither rest nor fortune
Since my Gallant Darling went far away.
Here is the version sung by Sting with the Chieftains on The Long Black Veil, arranged by Paddy Maloney
‘Sé mo laoch mo Ghile Mear (He’s my champion my Gallant Darling)
‘Sé mo Chaesar, Ghile Mear (He’s my Caesar, a Gallant Darling)
Suan ná séan ní bhfuaireas féin (I’ve found neither rest nor fortune)
Ó chuaigh i gcéin mo Ghile Mear (Since my Gallant Darling went far away)
Grief and pain are all I know
My heart is sore
My tears afloat
We saw him go an buachaill beó (We saw him go lively boy)
No word we know of him, mo bhrón (No word we know of him, my sorrow)
A proud and gallant cavalier
A high man’s scion of gentle mien
A fiery blade engaged to reap
He’d break the bravest in the field
Come sing his praise as sweet harps play
And proudly toast his noble frame
With spirit and with mind aflame
So wish him strength and length of day
For those who want to hear the original version of Mo Ghile Mear all the way through in Gaelic here is probably the best version by the Irish singer Mary Black. She has wonderful phrasing and intonation and (though a native Dubliner) this is sung in the softer Munster Gaelic allowing the lyricism and beauty of the language to be apparent even to non-Gaelic speakers.