NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. II, No. 4, November, 1946
UNA BAN: AN IRISH SONG AND STORY
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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