by David Bennett 24 August 2018
A standard tune for many mountain dulcimer players is Southwind, or as we affectionately sometimes call it in Athens Dulcimers, “Anna’s Song“. The original title however is, The South Wind, and is a traditional Irish fiddle tune dating back to the 1700s.
As you probably know that with many songs the tune, or music, is written by one person, while the lyrics may be written by another person at another time. Therefore, in the following account keep in mind that I am relating the stories behind both the melody and the lyrics, and they are separate and distinct from each other.
The “tune” is taken from a song titled, Oh Wind from the South, that was transcribed from the playing of a harper from County Clare in 1792. The song was printed in Edward Bunting’s 1809, Collection of Irish Folk Music. Edward Bunting (1773–1843) was an Irish musician and folk music collector.
From The Fiddler’s Companion, an encyclopedia of fiddle tunes from the Celtic, British and American traditions, an Irish fiddler, Junior Crehan (1908-1998), tells a story about how the air was learned by the west Clare musicians. The tradition tells about a ghost ship bringing back to Ireland the souls of the Irish exiles, called Wild Geese, and mercenaries who had been killed in battle in foreign wars. As the vessel continued around southwest Cork it was driven up the west coast by a southern breeze and the ghosts of the expatriates could be heard intoning this tune, which was picked up by musicians on the coast of Clare who witnessed the event.
In Donal O’Sullivan’s (1893-1973) book, Songs of the Irish, we learn the “lyrics” were originally written in the 1700s, in Gaelic, by Freckled Donal Macnamara (1715–1810) who was homesick for his homeland in County Mayo, Ireland. The text of the song deals with a poet conversing with the wind regarding his longing for his homeland from which he has been banished. O’Sullivan also tells the same ghost ship origins of the melody.
The South Wind
(The Poet speaks)
O South Wind of the gentle rain
You banish winter’s weather,
Bring salmon to the pool again,
The bees among the heather.
If northward now you mean to blow,
As you rustle soft above me,
God Speed be with you as you go,
With a kiss for those that love me!
(The Wind Speaks)
From south I come with velvet breeze,
My work all nature blesses,
I melt the snow and strew the leaves
With flowers and soft caresses.
I’ll help you to dispel your woe,
With joy I’ll take your greeting
And bear it to your loved Mayo
Upon my wings so fleeting.
(The Poet speaks)
My Connacht, famed for wine and play,
So leal, so gay, so loving,
Here’s a fond kiss I send today
Borne by the wind in its roving.
These Munster folk are good and kind.
Right royally they treat me
But this land I’d gladly leave behind
With your Connacht pipes to greet me.
Athens Dulcimers playing Southwind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fzsv0ZA_TE
David B <><