Songs of the Emerald Isle

Recently I wrote a piece about the timeless beauty of Ireland, “the Emerald Isle”. Part of that beauty is expressed in Irish music. Whether it is a dance melody, a flute lament or a longing ballad, this music has always been about the love of the land, the reaffirmation of traditions, the celebration of heroes, stories of personal triumphs and tragedies. I’ve chosen three Celtic songs from Youtube that embrace some of those themes. All are traditional tunes with sublime melodies. The first two video recordings are accompanied by breathtaking views of Ireland’s landscape. The last song is the all-time classic, Wild Mountain Thymes, also known as The Blooming Heather and Will You Go, Lassie Go?  


Composed by Maurus Ó Faoláin (1853-1931), an Irish Cistercian priest, this song is about the writer’s love of his hometown – the valleys and mountains of Sweet Comeragh in County Waterford, Ireland. He must leave for a while to make a living but he becomes homesick and finds his way home again to his beloved Comeragh. Karen Casey performs this traditional homecoming song in Irish Gaelic. The first and final verse in English are shown after the video.

Lyrics (first and last verse)

My heartfelt blessings
On your valleys and mountains
Sweet Comeragh
And on your cheerful people
So naturally kind
Sweet Comeragh
On your shining streams
And your leafy woodlands
Your honeyed slopes
And your gleaming meadows
My heart fills with love
For all of them surely
Sweet Comeragh.

I was a while away
From your beauty
Sweet Comeragh
Slaving so hard
In a foreign land
Sweet Comeragh
Base work it was
Just making a living
Far from my home
‘Neath the shade of your mountains
So I came back to you
The flower of the Déise
Sweet Comeragh.


From the Gaelic, the English title of this song is The Boatman. The tune is one of the most poignant of old love song, conjuring in the imagination the slap of waves on the bow. A girl is alone on the shore awaiting her love, her boatman, and he a rover. Yet she waits as maidens have done since time immemorial. The last stanza shows that the song is of Scottish origin, though it is popular in Ireland.

Doth thou remember the promise made me,
A tartan plead, a silken gown?
That ring of gold with your hair and portrait?
That gown and ring I will never own.

Alison Helzer, American singer and founder of the Celtic band, Tonna Nua, performs The Boatman (from her 2010 album, Carolan’s Welcome).


Although this is an Irish folk song, it is so popular in Scotland that many think it’s Scottish. In the song, a young man professes his love his “lassie” (a young unmarried girl) and woos her among the sweet flowers of the wild mountain thyme.

I will build my love a tower
By yon clear crystal fountain.
And on it I will build
All the flowers of the mountain.
Will you go, lassie, go?

The song is short but what a song it is. The melody is sublime and its popularity is shown by the numerous artistes who have performed it. This lovely classic is sung here by the incomparable voice of Australian singer-songwriter, Sarah Calderwood.

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