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Irish speakers' help, please

17 Apr 17 - 05:07 PM (#3850885)
Subject: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Stower

I'd be very interestsed to know what Irish speakers make of claims about a 16th century song.

There are claims about a song popular in England in the 16th and 17th century with the variously spelt allegedly transliterated title and refrain, Callin o custure me, Calen o Custure me, Caleno custure me, Callino Casturame, etc.

I'm aware of various claims for an original Irish and am enquiring about their credibility:

Cailín ó Chois tSiúre mé = I am a girl from beside the [river] Suir
Cailín óg a stiuire me = my dear little girl
Cailín og a stuair me = Colleen oge astore = young girl of my heart forever, or young girl, my treasure.

My questions for speakers of Irish ?
Are these translations of the presumably phoenetic English back into Gaelic and then the Gaelic into English credible, in your view?

Do you think the pronunciation of any of these Gaelic phrases can be credibly transliterated into Callin o custure me? Not being an Irish speaker, I know nothing of Irish pronunciation, either currently or, more to the point, in the 16th/17th century. If any reader is a historian of the Irish language and its pronunciation, I'd really like to hear from you.

There is a 17th century John Playford song, An Irish Tune, whose entire words are, "Callino Callino Calino Castore me, Eva ee, eva ee, loo, loo, loo, loo, loo". I've read that this too can be seen as a transliteration from Irish. I am sceptical. What do you think?

Any views of Irish speakers will be much appreciated.

17 Apr 17 - 07:53 PM (#3850903)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: keberoxu

My contribution won't be worth a lot,
but this does put me in mind of a thread I started.
My subject was the popular song "Eibhlín a rúin,"
also known as "Eileen Aroon."

And what catches my attention, is that
"Eileen Aroon," as is claimed of your song,
was popular during the same time period,
also with people who had no Gaelic whatever.
You can see the proof of this in documentation from the 17th and 18th centuries.
And this documentation is attested to in Mudcat's Digital Traditions,
where there are something like SEVEN Eileen or Aileen Aroons, and a number of them
are much the same as your "callin o custure me," written out phonetically as though with Italian vowels and consonants.

The song presented in the OP is entirely unknown to me.
But after what can be observed of "Eileen Aroon,"
it sounds like you are on to something.

17 Apr 17 - 08:00 PM (#3850906)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Felipa

yes, they are credible. I would go with Cailín ó Chois tSiúre mé

previous discussion Callino Casturame

18 Apr 17 - 03:05 AM (#3850937)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Mr Red

river Suir

If this was transliteration might we make a connection with the English river Soar?

In the process of Anglicising or Irishing - would they not try to use the most familiar.
Or lacking a reference to the river Soar - it would tend to favour the Irish origin.

Just saying.

A case in point is "Horses Brawle" aka "Nonesuch"
There was an inferior tune knocking around France 250 years ago called "Les Bouffant" which clearly had the same roots. As someone, of this parish, pointed out - it was the world-wide hit of 1751 - hence published by Mr Playford as HB.

Asking if "Horses Brawle" is in the key of Gg is a favourite bon mot of mine at sessions, but the real joke is that it should go from G to G minor - but DG melodeons have to cheat on that.

18 Apr 17 - 04:18 AM (#3850950)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Stower

keberoxu, thank you. I knew Eibhlín a rúin / Eileen Aroon had been 'translated back into Irish', but I didn't know it had similar interpretation issues as Calleno. Since there are multiple ways of doing this, a part of me does wonder if it is akin to listening to a record backwards - we can hear lots of sentences in there, since we pick out things that make sense to us - but they're not really there, as really we're just hearing a stream of syllables.   

Felipa, I take it you are an Irish speaker. Do you know anything of the history of the language, 16th century pronunciation in particular? If I could find such a person I'd be striking gold for this question. Since there are so many ways of interpreting Calleno, my guess is that interpretation is always making compromises with the language to make it fit, so a specialist in 16th century Irish pronunciation would know, I expect.

Mr Red, I'm not clear. In English there wouldn't be any connection with the English river Soar, as the 'English' isn't English - it's Caleno custure me. Horses Brawle aka Nonesuch? They're entirely different tunes. Les Bouffant? Do you mean Les Bouffons? That is contemporaneous with Horse's Branle, both in Orchesographie, 1589. And Playford's Dancing Master was 1651, not 1751. And the relevance of this to Calleno?

18 Apr 17 - 12:04 PM (#3851034)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Mr Red

the relevance is the that tunes traveled pretty fast even then. And they morphed. And the experience with chapbooks and songsellers was that an older known tune was usually referenced, rather than using staff notation. Folk process.
I just tried to highlight mechanisms and similarities. Speculation is just that, but surprises are common!
And often with these things, you are told "No, the dance is Horses Branle, the tune is known as Horses Brawle, but is really Nonesuch" and you bow to superior ignorance! Yes "the Behives" is the tune. And Calleno is one of my unknown knowns, if I may quote another ignoramus.

PS BT (notso) Hotspot precludes lengthy research.

18 Apr 17 - 05:32 PM (#3851073)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Stower

Mr. Red, I don't know where your confusion comes from.

Horse's branle , from Orchesographie, France, 1589.

Nonesuch, from Playford's Dancing Master, England, 1651.

They are clearly not the same. Horse's branle is not really Nonesuch. Different sources, different countries, different dances, different tunes, different era.

This thread is about neither of them.

19 Apr 17 - 06:28 AM (#3851186)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Felipa

Stower and Mr Red - if you read the mudcat thread (link in my previous message, Callino Custurame) and this article I think you will learn what you need to know.

I dont think the River Soar needs to be evoked; there was a tune named for the Suir, and it seems likely that the other proposed Gaelic derivations for Callino Custurame were made up by people who had the language but didnt recognise the place name.

No, I wouldnt know how Irish was pronounced in centuries gone by, but present day pronunciation of "[is] cailín ó Chois tSuire mé" is close to Coleen - o- coshturamay [the lenited c is difficult for English speakers and tends to get reduced to a plain c]

19 Apr 17 - 06:28 AM (#3851187)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: GUEST,Beachcomber

How did the rest of the lyric go ?

19 Apr 17 - 12:00 PM (#3851247)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: GUEST,Emily

/* copied for reference
Callin o custure me, Calen o Custure me, Caleno custure me, Callino Casturame, etc.

Cailín ó Chois tSiúre mé = I am a girl from beside the [river] Suir
Cailín óg a stiuire me = my dear little girl
Cailín og a stuair me = Colleen oge astore = young girl of my heart forever, or young girl, my treasure. */

Unfortunately my Irish language knowledge does not extend to early modern Irish, which is where the 16th/17th centuries would fall. But based on my knowledge of modern Irish and old/middle Irish, I would say that these are all credible translations. My preference would go to cailín ó Chois tSiúre mé just because it is more in line with the conventions of Irish syntax. As Felipa pointed out, the lenited c (/ch/) tends to be reduced to /c/ by most English speakers, which accounts for the variance in those characters.

However, by the same token, in old/middle Irish, and presumably in the transition to early modern Irish, /g/ often was pronounced like /c/, as evidenced by the appearance of the conjunction "and"--agus in modern Irish--spelled "acus" and "ocus" in old/middle Irish texts. So I am somewhat hesitant to dismiss the translation cailín óg based solely on variations in the orthography. What is throwing me off is the me in the latter two translations. In order for the translations back into English that you have suggested to work, the me has to serve as a possessive, and I am not sure if me can be used in such a fashion. I know in modern Irish, the possessive is mo, as is also the case in old/middle Irish, and I can't recall ever seeing me used as a possessive. Which of course does not mean it has never happened, merely that I have not encountered it in my reading, which is mostly limited to the epic cycles.

Now, the pronunciation of me can vary, i.e. pronounced like "may", "meh" as in met, and "muh". And mo is also pronounced "muh" so the two could feasibly be conflated with each other. But if me were serving as a possessive, I would expect it to precede the noun it is modifying. And again, I can't recall ever seeing the possessive mo appear after the noun it modifies. So I would have to do some research to say for sure, but my initial impression is that the latter two translations are syntactically unlikely.

As a caveat, this is all just my interpretation of the language itself. For a more thorough exploration of the history of the song itself, I can do no better than to refer you to the link Felipa shared above. I can't figure out how to get it into my text box here, but it was in her first reply.

Hope this helps you some.

19 Apr 17 - 02:15 PM (#3851267)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Stower

Felipa, thank you. I know of the contents of the Mudcat thread and Bruce's page. Some of the information on the latter is often repeated but questionable, overclaiming as fact what is only possible by inference. A song title, for example, as referenced in 'A woman is wooed with few strings', does not give us the identity of a song, as songs may have different lyrical content but the same title ('The Croppy Boy', for instance, of which there are two, 'As I Roved Out', of which there are two), or start with the same words. That manuscript is a century after the English 'Calleno', so cannot claim primacy. Of course, it may be a reference to an earlier song, but we don't know that and, without the lyric, we don't know which song.

Felipa and Emily, thank you so much for your advice on Irish language usage. Much appreciated.

Beachcomber, the earliest known lyric is a broadside registered in 1582, which hasn't survived. The only version of the lyric to survive (the same words? We don't know) is 2 years later, 'A Sonet of a Louer in the praise of his lady. To Calen o Custure me: sung at euerie lines end' in 'A Handefull of pleasant delites by Clement Robinson and divers others', as follows (edited highlights:

When as I view your comly grace, Ca. &c
Your golden haires, your angels face :

Your azured veins much like the skies,
Your siluer teeth, your Christall eies.

As all the Muses for a space :
To sit and heare do giue you place.         

Within my self then can I say :
The night is gone, behold the day :

Behold the star so cleare and bright,
As dimmes the sight of Ph?bus light :

And thus amazed as I stand,
Not feeling sense, nor moouing hand.

20 Apr 17 - 06:58 AM (#3851399)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Felipa

I agree with Emily re the various pronunciations of "mé"
A good reason to prefer "Cailín ó Chois tSiúre mé" as the Irish from which the nonsense names are derived, is that it was an actual tune name.

20 Apr 17 - 11:21 AM (#3851438)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Stower

Felipa and Emily (and others who may come across this), there are 2 songs in Scottish Gaelic that sound to my ears just like Callin o custure me. They are in recordings of 1946 and 1951 respectively and are 2 different songs (or at least 2 different tunes - my ears aren't attuned enough to the language to hear any similarity or difference in the words). I don't know how similar or different Irish and Scottish Gaelic are, but is it possible you could translate the meaning of the following, please?

Chailin Òig as Stiùramaiche

Cailin Òg as Stiùireamaiche

20 Apr 17 - 01:00 PM (#3851457)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Stower

... just to be clear, above I just mean the titles - the links are to further information and the songs being sung. And also, please, the meaning of Chailin òg nach stiùir thu mi. Thank you.

21 Apr 17 - 04:32 AM (#3851560)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Thompson

And since that nasty little quisling the Earl of Ormond, a cousin of Anne Boleyn's and a close friend of Elizabeth I, was the person most likely to bring a huge household in his train to London, it's very likely that a girl from the banks of the Siur would be the subject of London love songs.

21 Apr 17 - 05:01 AM (#3851568)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Thompson

From The Irish Times:

Sir, ? In "Wherefore art thou, Irish rat?", (Weekend Review, August 25th, 2012), Fintan O'Toole did not need to go back as far as Edmond Malone (1741?1812) to explain Shakespeare's "Calen o custure me". Malone was on the right track with "Cailín óg a stór", but it is a syllable short of the English form. When not shortened to "Callino", the title is spelt fairly consistently in literary sources and in lute and keyboard manuscripts, dating from 1582 to 1667: "Callin o custure me", "Calen o custure me", "Callino casturame", "Callino Castore me", and is also shortened to "Callino". The title remained relatively stable because it was sung as a chorus to the second four bars of each eight-bar line in the tune.

The original Irish was "Cailín ó chois tSiúire mé" ("I am a girl from beside the [river] Suir"), as the Irish scholar Gerard Murphy pointed out in 1939.

He noted that it occurred as Cailín ó chois tSiúire, the title of a piece of harp music, in Mealltar bean le beagán téad, a 17-century Irish poem. The title/chorus passed into Scottish Gaelic, in which it is found as the chorus of a walking song. Naturally, the Suir meant nothing to speakers of Scottish Gaelic, and the chorus became "Chailìn òg an stiùir thù mise" ("Little girl will you guide me"), or "Chailìn òg an stiùrmachaì" ("The helmsman's little daughter").

Distant descendants of Cailín ó chois tSiúire mé are the airs of The Newry Highwayman (New Lynn originally) and The Butcher Boy, both Irish versions of English traditional songs. The Croppy Boy, by "Carroll Malone" (Dr William B McBurney), first published in 1845, is sung to a version of the original air. This song was republished in 1858 in a collection that included a transcription of Callino from the Ballet Lute Book in Trinity College. The two were not associated in any way, but someone subsequently noticed that the words would fit the tune, and put them together.

Given the subtle references to Ireland in Henry IV, Shakespeare is likely to have known that the song was Irish in origin, but to most of his contemporaries it was just another foreign title. For example, John Davies of Hereford wrote in The Scourge of Folly (ca 1610): ". . . like the burden of the song Call'd Callino,/Come from a forraine Land,/Which English people do not understand." Ironically, the Callino Callino Callino Castore Me published in London in 1667, and subtitled An Irish Tune, is a different piece of music.

It has been suggested that the appearance of Cailín ó chois tSiúire mé in London owed something to the frequent presence at the Elizabethan court of Thomas Butler (1533?1614), 10th earl of Ormond, the famous "Tom Duff", who had been reared and educated with the future Edward VI, and who was very close to Elizabeth I. Besides the complement of professional musicians expected of a Tudor aristocrat, Ormond also had a famous Irish harper in his service, "Blind Cruise", and Cailín ó chois tSiúire mé is said to have been a harp tune in Mealltar bean le beagán téad. ? Yours, etc,


Decies Road,


Dublin 10.

21 Apr 17 - 11:07 AM (#3851664)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: leeneia

There's a beautiful YouTube video of this piece on YouTube with recorder and guitar. The original air is short.

The old song 'Callino Casturame' (presumable with variations) is number 158 in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.   Apparently that's to be found on Wiki's IMSLP site, but I haven't managed to beat my way through to it yet.

Simpler forms can be obtained from

21 Apr 17 - 02:43 PM (#3851710)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: leeneia

The IMSLP is in old typography. Forget that!

21 Apr 17 - 05:00 PM (#3851734)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Thompson

Funny thing is that it sounds so much like a traditional Irish tune with an overlay of Elizabethan English, which is obviously what it is!
As for the Wiki, here you goes-o.. It was just a matter of searching the IMSLP for "Callino".

22 Apr 17 - 11:55 AM (#3851867)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: leeneia

Thanks for the link, Thompson. We may be playing this tomorrow.

22 Apr 17 - 12:10 PM (#3851868)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Thompson

My virtual ears will tingle as you play. Another
nice version.

23 Apr 17 - 03:53 PM (#3852047)
Subject: RE: Irish speakers' help, please
From: Stower

Thompson, thanks for The Irish Times article paste. It has lots of good information but also states as fact some notions that are really circumstantial conjecture, such as that the original Irish was "Cailín ó chois tSiúire mé". It may have been, but this cannot be proven, and the manuscript Murphy uses to suggest this is a century after the English broadside. Was it the title/chorus that passed into Scottish Gaelic? Again, conjecture, as the waulking song is (I think) late 19th century, and lots of songs use the same phrases and have the same titles but are unrelated, as with songs called As I walked out, or The Croppy Boy, or The Unconstant Lover, etc. etc.

leenia, the Callino in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book is variations by William Byrd. It was common for lute, cittern and keyboard composers to write variations on broadside melodies.