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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. II, No. 4, November 1946

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NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. II, No. 4, November, 1946

UNA BAN: AN IRISH SONG AND STORY
James O'Beirne

MR. GEORGE HERZOG of Columbia University, some time ago recorded several songs in Gaelic from the singing of Gerard M. Degidon of New York. Mr. Degidon has specialized in songs arranged by the late Carl Hardebeck of Dublin, and Hardebeck’s arrangements, despite many faults, are generally acknowledged as the most faithful to traditional music. The setting of this particular song, “Una Ban,” has been criticized by native singers as departing from the original in details of word and vowel emphasis (an Irish singer would never say “O Una,” for example, but would elide the sounds to a long “Una,” stressing the n, not the vowels), but in general structure it conveys some of the beauty of a folk rendition. At any rate, the music does not concern us here. Several versions are available in print; Hardebeck’s is in his Gems of Melody, Part Two (Dublin: Pigott, n.d.). It is still known from tradition by Irish people in New York City, and the printed versions are very popular with Irish-American concert singers.

The story behind the song is one of the folk tales of Ireland, the following version of it being what I recall from childhood in County Wicklow. It tells a tragedy of misunderstanding and love, the story of a man’s pride and stubbornness and a maid’s loyalty and longing. It dates from the time of the Cromwellian confiscations and, as I heard it, was localized in Connaught. The belief is that both words and music were composed by Tomas Costello...


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