A brace of Irish reels: The Humours of Ballyconnell and The Drunken Tinker

We finished off the term for the FluteFling Improvers group with two strong Irish reels that are great for building up technique and lifting a session. They both make use of arpeggios to create a riff that drives the music along.

The Humours of Ballyconnell is a three part reel in D that fits well on flute, whistle and uilleann pipes alike. Affectionately known in Scotland as The Humours of Billy Connolly, it is named after a small town in County Cavan that sits on the Shannon waterway near Lower Lough Erne, close to the border with Northern Ireland. It’s a place I have been to many times when traveling to places like Clare and Roscommon and it is often a good stopping off point for getting Euros and lunch.

I can’t recall where I first heard this tune, but there is a great recording of it by Noel Hill and Tony Linnane in 1978 that features Matt Molloy on flute and is highly recommended.

I don’t know much about the history of the tune, but in a discussion on The Session, Aberdeen flute player Kenny Hadden says:

I remember discussing this tune with Fintan Vallely some years ago. He said he’d come across it in “Neil Stewart’s Collection Of Scottish Music”, published around 1765, and that it was called “The Duke Of Atholl’s Rant”, which means it was being played in Scotland over 200 years ago. He plays it on a tape he made called “The Starry Lane To Monaghan”, which also features quite a few other tunes from the same collection.

It’s an interesting thought. Certainly the tune structure is common in Scottish reels of that period, but is it is most certainly an Irish reel now. Also on The Session is a link to O’Neill’s Maggot, a tune that appears to be The Humours of Ballyconnell in jig form. Maggot is word that used to mean a whimsical idea or even an inpiration (look out for the left-handed flute player in the link, original source here).

Incidentally, the word Humours appears in many Irish tune titles and can be taken to mean the ‘spirit’ or character of a place or object.

The Drunken Tinker is a reel that would go well after The Humours of Ballyconnell and it doesn’t get played very much. I first heard it on a recording by Irish band Oisin (not to be confused with Scottish band Ossian) and I think that Altan have also recorded it at some point. Again, it features arpeggios that help drive the tune along.

The resources for these tunes can be found over at The Flow website as usual

Photo of Ballyconnell waterways by Michael Hanisch, some rights reserved.

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