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Lyr Req: The Ballad of Biddy Early

Susan-Marie 10 Aug 01 - 01:47 PM
Sorcha 10 Aug 01 - 01:54 PM
GUEST,Susan-Marie (at home) 11 Aug 01 - 09:33 PM
Jim Dixon 16 Feb 11 - 10:11 PM
McGrath of Harlow 17 Feb 11 - 04:05 PM
Midchuck 17 Feb 11 - 04:32 PM
Jim Dixon 17 Feb 11 - 05:44 PM
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Subject: Song REQ:Ballad of Biddy Early
From: Susan-Marie
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 01:47 PM

Hello All

Guy in our band wants us to learn something he's heard called "The Ballad of Biddy Early". It's not in the DT or Forum under that title - does it ring a bell with anyone?

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From: Sorcha
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 01:54 PM


"I've an empty stomach, you've an empty purse.
You feel your fingers freezing? Outside it's ten times worse,
So listen to my story. Forget the wind and rain.
It's time for bed," the tinker said, "but pass the cup again.

"I sing of Biddy Early, the wise woman of Clare.
Many's the man admires her carrot-colored hair,
And many those that come to her on horseback or by cart,
For she can heal a broken leg or a broken heart.

"She keeps a magic bottle in whose majestic eye
A tiny coffin twinkles and if it sinks, you die.
It rises, you grow better and slip out of pain.
It's time for bed," the tinker said, "but pass the cup again.

"She covers the great bottle and runs to fetch the small,
Filled with a bright elixir, honey and sage and gall.
She'll take no gold or silver but maybe a speckled hen.
It's time for bed," the tinker said. "Let's pass the cup again.

"Follow the stream," she told me. "Go where the salmon goes.
Avoid mischievous bridges for even water knows
If you should drop this bottle-" He turned and spoke no more.
Biddy Early's shadow was listening at the door.

From here:

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Subject: RE: Song REQ:Ballad of Biddy Early
From: GUEST,Susan-Marie (at home)
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 09:33 PM

Thank you thank you Sorcha. Does anyone have a melody?

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Ballad of Biddy Early
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 16 Feb 11 - 10:11 PM

The poem THE BALLAD OF BIDDY EARLY was written by Nancy Willard. It's in Swimming Lessons: New and Selected Poems by Nancy Willard (1996) and A Nancy Willard Reader: Selected Poetry and Prose (1991).

There is also a book titled The Ballad of Biddy Early by Nancy Willard (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989). "A collection of poetry that retells legends about Biddy Early, the 19th century Irish wise woman of Clare."

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Ballad of Biddy Early
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 17 Feb 11 - 04:05 PM

Look for the great Eddie Lenihan's book "In Search of Biddy Early"

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Ballad of Biddy Early
From: Midchuck
Date: 17 Feb 11 - 04:32 PM

I put my own melody to the poem "How the Queen of the Gypsies met Trouble-and-Pain," from the same poem cycle, and we perform it. A few years ago I was in correspondence with Ms. Willard about getting her permission to record it, but never really pursued it.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Ballad of Biddy Early
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 17 Feb 11 - 05:44 PM

From an article: "Recollections of a Country Dispensary" by M. J. Malone, M.D., in The Irish Monthly, Volume 6 (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, 1878), page 76:

I cannot omit some notice of a remarkable woman who had lived in the district; and a very remarkable one, indeed, for a quiet, out-of-the-world Munster village—I allude to Biddy Early, then recently deceased. No doubt that name has never been heard or read by the majority of those who may read these notes, but nevertheless, it was one to conjure by in many a cottage and cabin for a radius of fifty miles, and more, from the place where she dwelt. Biddy Early was a sorceress, a local witch of Endor, in fact, who lived, with the venturesome man, who had dared to become her third husband, in a lonely little house that seemed to shun the companionship of all other little houses, though it stood within a few yards of the high road. There was scarcely anything of the nature of a mystery or secret that Biddy was not supposed to be capable of throwing light upon. Missing cattle, stolen or strayed, and butter or crops spirited away by the charms of dishonest neighbours, were matters on which she was frequently consulted; but it was as a worker of wonderful cures that her fame was chiefly established, and persons suffering from many kinds of injury or disease went, or were brought to her, literally in crowds. Now, I had never seen Biddy Early, but her name had been familiar to me from boyhood, and I had heard, on indisputable authority, many a story of her extraordinary powers that seemed to me quite inexplicable; so I resolved to collect as much information concerning her as possible amid the scenes of her labours.

I was aware that Biddy seldom took money from strangers; she preferred to be paid in kind. The presents which were laid before her were equally useful as cash down, and she thus protected herself from a possible prosecution at law for receiving money under false pretences. Amongst those presents a bottle of whiskey was almost invariably to be found, there being no attempt made to conceal the fact that Biddy, like many another erratic genius, had a weakness for strong drink. A very intelligent and respectable young man, with whom I was well acquainted, told me that on one occasion he was induced by some friends to consult Biddy for chronic disease of a joint. He looked upon the matter in the light of a frolic rather than otherwise, and set off on a drive of some hours, accompanied by a few companions. Of course a bottle of the best whiskey was put in the well of the car; but as the day was cold and the road long, he decided on reserving it for the use of his party, and procured at a village through which he passed another, of presumably inferior quality, as his offering. But when he was admitted into the presence of Biddy, and in an off-hand manner deposited his gifts on her table, she fixed her keen eyes on him and said: "Take your trash out of that, young man, and bring in the bottle, instead, that you have hidden in the car." She even named the shop at which the whiskey was purchased, and so impressed her patient with this exhibition of her wonderful knowledge that, though he came prepared to scoff, he went away a believer. The fact that his disease remained uncured was a matter of no moment so far as Biddy's fame was concerned; and, indeed, such in general is the impressionableness of the human mind. If the fairy-woman could not ''give her walk" to the farmer's wife, crippled with rheumatic gout, or sight to the eyes of his scrofulous child, she could generally, at least, tell them where they lived, and how many cows they milked, or display such an intimate acquaintance with their domestic life as to command their devout belief that she was in immediate and everyday communication with the other world. But Biddy was said to have frequently worked cures—real, good, unquestionable cures—and I am persuaded that there may be some truth even in this assertion, as I shall immediately proceed to explain.

I have said that I never saw Biddy Early, and the principal portion of my information concerning her was derived from the estimable priest of the parish in which she resided, who has since gone to his reward. He described her to me as an uneducated peasant woman, but one possessed of great natural ability and much shrewdness; such a one as would inevitably come to the front in any position in which she might be placed. She had been a nurse in some infirmary in early life, and had thus acquired an idea of medicine that frequently enabled her to judge, in a general way, whether persons brought before her, suffering from disease, were curable or not. Then a few simple remedies, the use of which might be said to amount to what physicians call an expectant line of treatment, and the great faith that her votaries reposed in her would be sufficient, indeed, in many varieties of disorder, to effect a notable improvement in the condition of the patient.

When people waited on Biddy, it was but rarely that an immediate audience was granted. They were allowed to wait to the full extent of their patience, and the apology most frequently offered for the delay was, that she was sleeping off the little extra drop she had imbibed from the last bottle. This display of carelessness served to enhance her importance, and also gave time for the collection of several persons who would explain to one another pretty minutely the nature of their business with her, or speak upon general matters connected with their farming. If any persons of a better class had arrived on a "side-car," the driver was well plied with drink, and as much information as possible got from him concerning his passengers. Of course this was all conveyed to Biddy by her watchful staff, and the moment it was announced that that estimable woman had just awakened and asked, to have some one sent to her, she was generally able to astonish her visitor by such a salutation as "You're welcome, Mrs. Quilligan; sit down, ma'am. How are ye all in Ballynamuc these times?" The worthy Mrs. Q., having never in her life, probably, been within twenty miles of her present position on the map, has her breath taken away by this greeting, and is quite prepared for anything now; and so when Biddy goes on to say that she fears she cannot keep the child alive that has been so long wasting away—they did not come to her in time for that—but that she will try to do something for the sick cow, or the failing supply of butter, the woman feels that she is in the presence of might and mystery, and, muttering her thanks, departs. And so the fame of Biddy Early spreads from parish to parish, and from county to county; and I was assured by my reverend informant that it was within his knowledge that she even had persons in collusion with her in distant places who persuaded others to consult her, anticipating their visits by full particulars of their business, duly forwarded. But Biddy was never believed in, in her own parish. The good people there laughed at her; and laughed still more heartily at her dupes. This, you will say, is the fate of all prophets; but in this particular instance it was very much brought about by the confidence of the people in their worthy pastor, who did not fail to explain to them the sin and the folly of encouraging such a person.

But fairy doctors as well as dispensary doctors must die themselves, and Biddy at last felt that her hour was approaching. With feelings of inexpressible pleasure the good priest received a summons to her bedside, and he was not slow in obeying the call. When he entered her room, she smiled gratefully on him and said: "So you have come to bring back the lost sheep." He treated her with gentleness, and replied, that he was much pleased with her beautiful expression, and that it was, indeed, his privilege to represent the Good Shepherd who never forgot the lowliest member of his flock, however far it may have strayed from the fold. She then, in the presence of a gentleman who accompanied the priest, as a representative of the parishioners, expressed great regret for the life she had led and the scandal she had given, and shortly after received the last sacraments. In a few days the village beheld the funeral of the last of Irish witches, and her name is seldom mentioned now.
When Biddy Early's house was being emptied out, the whiskey bottles were removed, and placed outside against one of the walls in a pile that nearly reached to the thatch. They had been taken away in donkey-loads by persons in the neighbourhood, and yet those that remained, with the fragments, made a heap on which I gazed in astonishment several months after. Nobody, at that time, would venture to live in the deserted dwelling; and though half a decade of years has since done much, no doubt, to lay the troubled spirits that frequented it, it probably remains deserted to this day—a haunted house.

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