FROM CD #2:
The Groves of Blarney
Words by Richard Alfred Millikin;
air: Castle Hyde
A Portrait of the Artist
While Croker's "Oh Twine Me a Bower" (Track #2), which Uncle Charles sings in the outhouse in Portrait, can be accepted as straightforward praise of the simple, but important, things in life, "The Groves of Blarney" is quite the other thing.
According to Charles Read in his 1903 Cabinet of Irish Literature, Richard Alfred Millikin (1767-1815) wrote "many [songs] on the impulse of the moment and in burlesque on the doggerel flights of the hedge schoolmasters and local bards." The most famous of these is the song at hand, written during a boozy meeting of Anglo-Irish gentry. Patrick W. Joyce, in Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909) describes it as a "vile caricature," and says such songs "did not in any sense represent the people — they represented nothing indeed but the depraved taste of the several writers. Songs of this class...once swarmed in the south of Ireland."
It is clear from the start what one is in for — the now extinct self-contradictory form of humor known as an "Irish bull" is prominently on display (murmuring...silent streams; spontaneous posies planted in order). The central metaphor might be Blarney's "rock close," an early 18th-century assemblage of manufactured scenery given romantic names such as the "Fairy Glade," "Druid's Circle," and "Sacrificial Altar" — all of which were built around, and completely overwhelm, what is probably an actual prehistoric monument.
The song, like the rock garden, offers a stark contrast between an artificial and whimsical fantasy of Ireland's past created by and for her conquerors and the genuine remnants of Ireland's high, indigenous culture — clad in beggar's robes and ridiculed by those who destroyed it.
Joyce quite explicitly references this song in the Wake: "Come to disdoon blarmey and walk our groves so charming and see again the sweet rockelose...."
[CD liner notes by Kevin McDermott]
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