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Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'

25 Feb 04 - 01:12 AM (#1123189)
Subject: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: GUEST,Guest L.

Hello all. I've got a bit of a problem. I'm an American Revolution reenactor that fell in love with a version of this song. Unfortunately, the version (Linda Russell), albeit lovely, bears a striking resemblence in parts to PP&M "Gone the Rainbow." I would love to include this song at events, but I am not sure I want to use this version.

After going through the many discussions this board has seen on this particular song, I've concluded that I'm more confused than ever! I would like to know which version you think would satisfy these two requirements:

1. Approximately period-correct. I am just going to assume that the song existed in some form during the American Revolution. I do NOT want to start the debate over its date of origin, etc. Nope, definitely don't want to start that again! I'd just like something that doesn't explicitly refer to a later time period.

2. Easy enough lyrics. Oh, boy. I couldn't do justice to the Gaelic etc, so I'd prefer to avoid all but the most crystalline phonetic translations. For my purposes, it's probably better to be a little 'off' in the lyrics than to go about ruthlessly mangling a beautiful language!

I realize that most versions that satisfy my first requirement run afoul of the second, and vice versa. Suggestions, opinions, and advice all gratefully accepted. Thanks for reading this!

25 Feb 04 - 02:36 AM (#1123213)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: Hrothgar

Try one of the versions called "Buttermilk Hill." I have Weavers LP with Ronnie Gilbert singing it somewhere.

25 Feb 04 - 02:47 AM (#1123216)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: Joe Offer

Hi, L - our best thread on this song is this one (click). We put an "origins" tag on the threads that give the best information about the beginnings of a song. I didn't see anything in the thread prior to about 1840, but there are several from about that time that may actually be older. there are theories that put the song back as far as 1688, but I haven't seen a text and tune that date back to the 18th century. Good luck.
-Joe Offer-

25 Feb 04 - 09:49 AM (#1123445)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: KateG

I agree with you about not mangling the Irish. I finess the issue by crooning the refrain in a mornful manner after the first line.

25 Feb 04 - 10:25 AM (#1123460)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: Stilly River Sage

Have you spoken to Linda about the version she performs? She's a careful researcher, and may well have other information, lyrics, or versions at her disposal.


25 Feb 04 - 01:59 PM (#1123622)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'

Thank you all for your comments!

What I may do (after thoroughly examining the thread Joe mentioned) is use a modification of the version I know. I might change the word 'Buttermilk,' since it seems that for everyone that insists it refers to a battle in the Revolutionary War, there's another who insists it refers to the American Civil War. Maybe I should use 'yonder' instead, just to be safe?

The refrain is the biggest problem of course. I suppose the main decision is whether to use the full translation I've seen floating around that starts "Come, come, come, my love..." Yes, I like the use of 'come' rather than 'walk'. The other option is the sort-of-related, still-kind-of-maybe-authentic one, along the lines of "Shule, shule, shule aroon (agra?), sure, ah sure, and he loves me...". I've eliminated the "only time can heal my woe" refrains, mostly because I prefer the others. Does anyone have a strong argument for the use of one against another in my case?

And then of course, there's the matter of the verses, and now everything has turned into a big old "Johnny's Gone for a Soldier' buffet!

SRS, no, I haven't had the chance to meet Linda, nor have I tried to contact her. I do love the arrangement she does, but I'm leary about using the 'nonsense refrain' - although, all things considered, that may be the best way to go! You're right, though, she might have some information relevant to the time period that would solve the whole problem. Trying to contact her is definitely something to consider. Thank you for that idea!

And to Kate - hee! That sounds like a good idea, too.

25 Feb 04 - 02:15 PM (#1123635)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: Malcolm Douglas

The majority of examples found in tradition seem to have come from non-Gaelic speakers who had no idea what, if anything, those words might mean, and "mangled" forms of the refrain are pretty much the norm rather than the exception in the case of this particular song. In many cases they have undergone considerable change in the course of transmission, and are de facto no less "authentic" than other (rarer) examples which have retained the words in a coherent form. In the case of many variants, attempting to revert to an apparently earlier form or to use "correct" pronounciation would, arguably, be quite inappropriate.

That wouldn't necessarily be true of a lot of songs, but this one is perhaps something of an exception; probably no point in worrying about pronounciation, as it comes, so to speak, "pre-mangled".

25 Feb 04 - 03:39 PM (#1123711)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: Stilly River Sage

Guest L, you'll have to join Mudcat to get PM--I don't want to post her email here in the thread. I haven't seen her in a long time (I don't live in NYC any more) but we have several mutual friends and I just got her address from one of them.


25 Feb 04 - 04:24 PM (#1123758)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'

I'm with Malcolm, don't make yourself leap thru hoops. If you were an Irish-American of that period, you would likely sing it in the real tongue amongst your own friends and family, and translate it the best you could into an English version for the gang around the old soldier's campfire, keeping a few pretty irish words in the refrain.

25 Feb 04 - 05:04 PM (#1123781)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

There are quite a number of songs that legimately belong to the Revolutionary War period and earlier, some very beautiful.
An example is "Over the Hills and Far Away."
Look at the list on Contemplator- not all are verified, but there are many good choices. Popular songs in American History

If you like 'Siul A Ruin' in its many versions and wish to presume its existence in the 18th century, go ahead, but there is no evidence of its lyrics at that time, especially not in America. The tune, perhaps, but not the lyrics.

25 Feb 04 - 07:05 PM (#1123896)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: Allan C.

Something to consider with regard to your proposed revision is that there is no way you can possibly sit on yonder hill in the present tense. Nor could you say, "Here I sit on yonder hill" unless you have a split personality.

26 Feb 04 - 08:31 PM (#1124832)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: LNL

Malcolm and GUEST - That is an excellent point, and I'm kind of smacking myself in the head for not having thought about it earlier! I also probably shouldn't have used the word 'authentic' when I meant 'most appropriate or probable version,' huh?

SRS - Alrighty, I signed up. :) Also, rereading the thread, I hope it was clear that I'm not trying to criticize Linda Russell's research, but I am interested in her sources. We all know that this song is a problem in general, since, as Macolm pointed out, it comes "pre-mangled."   

Q - Ack! The old "Shule Aroon" debate! Thank you for your help. I love I think poking around there is how I found this site in the first place. Also, thank you for the suggestions. Sidenote: Another woman in the regiment really loves "Over the Hills and Far Away," so I don't want to steal her thunder. I do have other favorites, though, like "Katy Cruel" and "The World Turned Upside-down." I think those are a bit less controversial.

Allan - Whoops! Good call. I would be using "I wish I were on yonder hill," from some versions of the song, not just subbing in for "Buttermilk."

All of this talk has got me wondering if anyone had any theories (ideas? wild speculation?) as to why this particular song is so darn slippery. Anyone?

26 Feb 04 - 09:22 PM (#1124852)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: Allan C.

Welcome to the Mudcat, LNL!

27 Feb 04 - 01:07 AM (#1124944)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: Stilly River Sage

LNL, I sent an email to Linda describing this discussion, including a link, and asking if I may send you her email address. Maybe we'll get lucky and she'll join in the conversation here. I recognize this song from my childhood, as one my father sang. So often I didn't learn the complete title to songs, though I learned the words, and this was one of those. As soon as someone mentioned "Buttermilk Hill" I knew which song it was, and the DT confirms it.

I started a post here earlier, but it seems to have disappeared--in it I described how Linda worked for several years at the historic Federal Hall in lower Manhattan. When she appeared in the rotunda to sing it was like a quiet magic descended on the place. I suspect more than a few stock brokers in their three-piece suits slipped in there for some peaceful songs during the day.


02 Mar 04 - 09:16 PM (#1128122)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: Stilly River Sage

LNL--I heard back from Linda--she is as busy as ever and as musical as ever. Here is her web page: She can be contacted through the web page (see the bottom) and she said she'd be pleased to discuss her songs with you.


03 Mar 04 - 02:50 PM (#1128598)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'

No need to be so sensitive about mangling Irish. After all, you'd probably happily sing Frere Jacques without worrying about mangling French - I would, anyway! Or Alouette!

The thing that's really damaging Irish is the reverential attitude to it. As they say: Is fearr Gaelge briste ná Bearla cliste - better broken Irish than too-clever English.

Here's a rough pronunciation of the chorus:

shool, shool, shool aroon
shool guh sucker oggus shool guh kewn
shool guh jee un dhurrus oggus ailig lum
iss guh daren thoo a voorneen slawn.

It's a pity Raidió na Life isn't online: the Dublin Irish-language radio station has various presenters speaking Irish with different accents, including one with a beautiful Spanish accent. Don't be shy. Talk the talk.

09 Mar 04 - 02:44 PM (#1132307)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: LNL

Whoops - sorry for the delay.

SRS, thanks for the info. I'll go check that out soon.

Thank you for the encouragement, JTT. Maybe it is better to fudge my way through it (with a Boston accent!) than to perform linguistic and lyrical gymnastics.

Hmm, I do seem to be developing an arsenal of defenses if anyone takes issue.

Thanks for the welcome, Allan!

03 Nov 04 - 09:06 PM (#1315888)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: GUEST,

Can you tell me what it means in Gaelic, please?? I believe a person named Áine had the original Gaelic verse for 'Siul a Ruin' I would dearly love to know what it means- I have heard renditions of "Johnny has Gone for a Soldier" and the line, "shool, shool, shool a roon" or sometimes, "shool agra" was always inserted. I assumed this was pure gibberish- please explain the whole Gaelic connection or refer me to people who can!! I am so excited! Please reply to me at the e-mail address I have given.

03 Nov 04 - 09:17 PM (#1315902)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: Malcolm Douglas

See the large list of links to other discussions here which have already gone over the subject in great detail. You will see many at the top of this very page. If there is anything you don't understand once you've read through them all, let us know; people will be pleased to help you, so long as you have first tried to help yourself. Don't expect us to do all the work for you and then email you with the results!

04 Nov 04 - 01:09 AM (#1316056)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: dick greenhaus

It's a chorus that's been wondefully mangled over the years. My personal favorite goes:

Shule, shule, shule aroo
Shule a rackshack, shule a barbecue
When I see my libby bibby doo
Come bibble in the lush I Lor-rie.

04 Nov 04 - 04:18 AM (#1316147)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: GUEST,Philippa

siúl a rúin or súil a ghrá both mean walk (or go, travel) my love
I believe "rackshack" is "gibberish", Mark
as Malcolm says, there's loads of discussions in other threads, too much to repeat here

04 Nov 04 - 08:59 AM (#1316324)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: JennyO

I have just come back from a night at my folk club where The Wheeze and Suck Band were playing, and the highlight of the night, without a doubt, was their arrangement of this, with a haunting guitar and violin introduction. They actually called it "Johnny's gone for a soldier", and at the end, went straight into "Over the Hills and Far Away", as an anti-war statement. I don't know how authentic it was, and I don't care, because as far as I am concerned, this was the best treatment of the song I have EVER heard. It's been a long time since a song has given me goose bumps like this one. They haven't recorded it yet, but when they do, I will be the first in line.


11 Aug 05 - 09:13 PM (#1540735)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: GUEST,MsBubbely

All of this talk has got me wondering if anyone had any theories (ideas? wild speculation?) as to why this particular song is so darn slippery. Anyone?

We're talking about a song that may be 400 years old and has been passed down in oral tradition. The melody is beautiful and haunting. The topic is universal. Every culture, every country has suffered wars and lost beautiful young men. Countless singers have probably added or revised verses to fit their own situations. If, starting 400 years ago, one singer gave the song to a dozen people, and each one changed it to suit himself and passed it on to a dozen more.... You get the picture.

As to authenticity, folk music is a living thing that changes and grows and each version is authentic to it's time and place. How you would choose the "authentic" version for any one time or place without a time machine, is beyond me. Have you tried checking the Akashic Record?

11 Aug 05 - 09:57 PM (#1540787)
Subject: RE: Dilemma with 'Siul A Ruin'
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

More nonsene has been written about this song, I think, than any other in Mudcat. There is no evidence of the song prior to the 1830s, under any of its names. I can concede an origin during the Napoleonic wars, that would provide a logical beginning.
The tune should be considered separately with regards to age, but (earliest printing 1825? see Bruce O in the Origins thread) nothing in the 18th C. music collections.

I agree with Guest on his remark about 'authenticity' and time and place; all versions from the 'first' to the one my neighbor might sing in his bath have their right to existence.