An Bóithrín

(C)opyright © 2009 Frank Blair All Rights Reserved.

bóithrín: m; Irish, diminutive form of bóthar (road); a small, rough, usually unpaved and poorly maintained road often found in rural areas.

Fundamentally, I'm a ballad singer and storyteller. That's what drew me to this music and to some of the child forms that it spawned. I was thinking about that while working on this CD. One day while driving around I was looking for common themes trying to find the threads that hold the songs together. I remembered the lines in One Starry Night,

"I'll search the highways, likewise the byways, I'll search the bóithríns, camping places too".

It struck me that these songs are bóithríns - little roads that we walk along while listening. Each takes us on a little journey, sometimes rough and unpaved, through different times and places; each with a different set of traveling companions.

- frankblair

Track List
1. One Starry Night
2. The Reverend Brothers/Scatter the Mud/The Bonus March
3. Stonecutter
4. Six Jovial Welshmen
5. The Moving On Song
6. Jenny Bryce
7. The Beaches of St. Valery
8. No Gods and Precious Few Heroes
9. Gae Bring Tae Me a Pint o' Wine / The Lass o' Pattie's Mill
10. Preston Miller
11. The Parting Glass

1. One Starry Night

Liam Weldon, the hugely influential singer, songwriter, and collector collected this love song from the Traveller/Tinker community in the early '60s.

The common tune is closely related to the tune of "Carrickfergus" and the first lines of verse 4 ("I'm drunk today...") also hints at a common origin. Some people attribute this song to Weldon, who was a prolific writer as well as collector, but I think it was collected. Weldon’s original work tended to be more “activist”, even in a light context. However, like many of the great poet/musician/storyteller/musicologists before him, such as Child, Scott, and Burns, it’s sometimes hard to know where the line is between “collected” and “written”. He had a lifelong interest in the folklore of the travelling people and his work was essential to bridging the traditions.

I learned it from the singing of Sean Tyrell.

A note of terms:
A "boithrin" is a small, rural, badly taken care of bit of road.

One starry night as I lay sleeping
One starry night as I lay in bed
I dreamed I heard wagon wheels a-creaking
When I awoke my true love had fled

I’ll search the highways likewise the byways
I’ll search the bóithríns, camping places too
I will inquire of all our people
If they have tide or tidings or signs of you

Many’s the mile with you I’ve traveled
Many’s the our with you I’ve spent
I dreamed our love it was forever
But now I know, love, you were only lent

I’m drunk today, but I’m oft-times sober
A constant rover from town to town
But when I’m dead love, my sorrows ended
Oh Molly Bán mo stóirín come lay me down

Many’s the mile with you I’ve traveled
Many’s the our with you I’ve spent
I dreamed our love it was forever
But now I know, love, you were only lent

One starry night as I lay dreaming
One starry night as I lay in bed
I dreamed I heard wagon wheels a-creaking
When I awoke my true love had fled

2. The Reverend Brothers / Scatter the Mud / The Bonus March

This is a set of jigs and jig-like substances. My personal style is heavily influenced by bluegrass and the Scottish. A personal foible that comes from that is that I walk a thin line most days between a jig and a 2/4 march. In this set I have an Irish jig that I play in more jig-like way ("Reverend Brothers"), a Scottish jig that I tend to play like a 2/4 march ("Scatter the Mud"), and a tune that I wrote specifically to be a march that plays nicely with the jigs ("The Bonus March".)

I learned "The Revered Brothers" from some friends in Portland -- Brian Walsh and Stewart Delzell. "Scatter the Mud" I learned from Gerald Trimble who was very influential in my early zouk playing. "The Bonus March" I wrote back in 2003. I was tossing about for a name (I'm horrible at naming things) and happened to be researching some things relating to the 1932 Bonus March on Washington, DC at the time. The name lent itself and became my way of playing a part in keeping the memory alive. When power is sufficiently threatened it will turn on the source of the threat, even if the threat is the constituency that power is sworn to protect.

3. Stonecutter

This is a James Keelaghan composition based around the rebuilding of part of the Canadian Parliament building complex after the Victoria tower and part of the central building were destroyed by fire in 1916.

The Peace Tower was dedicated to be a memorial to Canada’s fallen in World War I and originally the walls of the Memorial Chamber were to have the names of the soldiers inscribed. The number of dead (66,000) surpassed the space on the walls so the decision was made to inter the Books of Remembrance there. Now it serves as a memorial to Canada’s war dead for all conflicts. The chamber incorporates stone quarried from battlefields in France (including stone from Flanders field) and Belgium as part of the construction and carved elements.

If you’re down by Queen and Britain streets you’ll find Stonecutters Lane
And the house that my grandfather built, where I was born and raised
My granddad was a mason as was father in his prime
When my time came I signed as an apprentice lad

The early nineteen hundreds were a rich, fat afternoon
We were cutting stone like demons no work was done too soon
Hired out on seven jobs so to take the slack
We put out advertisements for apprentice lads

You’d never find a better crew, they knew what work was
Cornices and lentils they laid stone like they were gods
Hear the hammers ring out, their ring it was a song

Then in August 1914 in the sultry summer heat
They took a vote in Ottawa and drums began to beat
Honor, glory, us or them the stories never change
To a man they all enlisted, my apprentice lads

I can’t say I agreed with them, for I knew what war was
It’s worker-killing work for some politician’s cause
But off to battle they all marched, they were gassed down at Cambrai
The gods of war had gone for my apprentice lads

Then in 1916 fire broke out and Parliament was razed
The call went out for mason’s to rebuild and relay
It was the contract of a lifetime, the house upon the hill

They came out from Vancouver, came down from Montreal
Master masons every one answering the call
But there was no man under thirty, no man who’s work I didn’t know
The fields of France had swallowed our apprentice lads

It’s 1921 now and I’m standing at the peak
About to cap the Peace Tower off and no man here can speak
For with the mortar on that stone we mixed clay from Flanders’ field
Then set it into place for our apprentice lads

If you’re down by Queen and Britain streets you’ll find Stonecutters Lane
And the house that my grandfather built, where I was born and raised
My granddad was a mason as was father in his prime
When my time came I signed as an apprentice lad

4. Six Jovial Welshmen

This song is dedicated to my good friend of many years William Morris. Amongst his many talents, Bill is a fine actor, singer, and guitarist. When I first met him he was playing the character of Solace the Gravedigger at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival - the Welsh master of the graveyard. He did so much research on both gravedigging and being Welsh that as a consequence, I always think of Bill when I come across things Welsh... or having to do with graveyards. I'm mildly surprised we didn't hear this crooning out of the graveyard back then.

This is a mashup, probably 19th century, of two unrelated songs. One is a 17th century St. David's Day carol. The feast of St. David is March 1st, he is the patron saint of Wales and one of his symbols is the leek. The other song is ... well, some other song that has hunting Welshmen in it... sort of... and a jaunty tune. If you listen hard enough and with a little luck you can hear bells.

There is a tradition of inserting a name in the 3rd verse proper, usually someone in politics or popular culture. I tried out a couple before landing on one that I believe would inspire sufficient fear in anyone out on a hunting spree to make them run away.

It’s of six jovial Welshmen
Six jovial men were they
And they would all a-hunting ride
All on St David's Day

Then fill each glass and let it pass
No sign of care betray
We will drink and sing while the bells do ring
All on St David's Day

Oh they rode along a bit further and nothing could they find
But a hedgehog in an open field, and that they left behind
One of them said it's a hedgehog, another one he said nay
But the others all said it's a pin cushion with the pins stuck in the wrong way

Oh they rode along a bit further and nothing could they find
But a natterjack toad in an open field and that they left behind
One of them said it's a toad sir, another one he said nay
But the others all said it's grandma's duck with the feathers all blown away

Oh they rode along a bit further and nothing could they find
But a haystack in an open field and that they left behind
One of them said it's a haystack, another one he said nay
But the others all said it's Ann Coulter, and they all ran away

When crookback Richard wore the crown as ruler of the land
No policy none could weather, his laws none could withstand
A tribute from them he demanded which they refused to pay
Now they wear the leek upon their hat, all on St David's Day

5. The Moving On Song

Between 1957 and 1965, Ewan MacColl collaborated with Peggy Seeger to produce a series of radio documentaries for BBC Radio called “The Radio Ballads.” They were a combination of field recorded speech, collected folk music, and new composition that broke ground in radio production. Thematically based, “The Moving On Song” was written for this series and was first broadcast as part of the show entited “The Travelling People” on April 17th, 1964. The production involved interviews across the British countryside and into Scotland. “The Moving On Song” quickly entered the folk repertoire, sometimes called “Go, Move, Shift”. I’m not sure if my first exposure was from Christy Moore or Eddie Delahunt, an Irish native who played extensively around Kansas City during my time there. Either way, I’ve known the song for a long time.

Born in the middle of the afternoon
In a horse-drawn wagon on the old A5
The eighteen wheelers shook my bed
The policemen came and the little one said
You’d better get born in...someplace else

Move along, get along,
Move along, get along,
Go, move, shift

Born at the tattie lifting time
In a canvas tent in a tattie field
The farmer said the works all done
It’s time that you was moving on
You’d better get born in...someplace else

Born in a common by a building site
Where the ground is rutted by a trail of wheels
A local Christian says to me
You’re lowering the price of our property
Would you mind being born in someplace else?

Born at the back of a Hawthorne hedge
Where the white hoar-frost lay on the ground
No Eastern kings came bearing gifts
But the order came to shift
You’d better get born in...someplace else

The eastern sky was full of stars
But none shone brighter than the rest
The wise men came so stern and strict
And brought the order to evict
You’d better get born in...someplace else

Wagon, tent, or trailer born
Last month, last year, or in far off days
Born here or a thousand miles away
There’s always men nearby who’ll say
You’d better get born in...someplace else

6. Jenny Bryce

This is another song I learned this from the writing and singing of James Keelaghan, a magnificent Canadian singer-songwriter with a knack for writing exceptionally nuanced songs. A lot of his early inspiration is drawn from history (he’s a history graduate from the University of Calgary) but he’s moved into contemporary songwriting and is equally at home there. I’ve loved this song since I heard it the first time although I was never able to get an arrangement that I liked in either DADGAD or standard tuning. Finally, after a couple months of floundering, I figured out that it worked best in open G tuning (DGDGBD) and once I had that, I got a working arrangement that I liked.

This morning I was lost in thought as up the hill I wandered
Sitting there to greet the dawn upon my life I pondered
I glanced across the shaded grove where oft-times I had been
With Jenny Bryce, Jack the Rover’s daughter
Sweet Jenny Bryce, Jack the Rover’s daughter

Some say they were of tinker stock, baptized by flowing water
Old Jack he was inclined to roam and so his only daughter
Being a lad of seventeen I left my parent’s home
With Jenny Bryce, Jack the Rover’s daughter
Sweet Jenny Bryce, Jack the Rover’s daughter

Through wooded glens and heathered moors with Jenny I went roaming
Her voice so sweet made soft the road from daylight to day’s closing
And when at night I laid to rest it was in my true love’s arms
With Jenny Bryce, Jack the Rover’s daughter
Sweet Jenny Bryce, Jack the Rover’s daughter

One day she says "Oh Willy, I grow weary of the road"
So a fine, small house I built for her down in the grove
There with Jenny by my side I lived a settled life
With Jenny as companion and as wife

One day she says "Oh Willy, a child for us I bear"
All the winter long I worked and helped her to prepare
But none but God could help her with a birth such as she saw
She was Jenny Bryce, she bore for us a daughter
Sweet Jenny Bryce, she bore for us a daughter

Six tortured hours she lingered, she never once complained
All there was to do for her, I did to ease her pain
When morning came I formed a cross and carved on it her name
I carved Jenny Bryce, Jack the Rover’s daughter
Sweet, Jenny Bryce, Jack the Rover’s daughter

This morning I was lost in thought as down the hill I ambled
Back along the shaded stream where me and my love did ramble
To greet a girl of seven years that bears her mother’s name
She’s Jenny Bryce, Jenny Bryce’s daughter
Sweet Jenny Bryce, Jenny Bryce’s daughter

7. The Beaches of St. Valery

A lot of people are familiar with the story of a flotilla of "little boats", fishing boats and pleasure craft sailing across the Channel from England and nearby allied countries to rescue the British forces who had been backed against the sea at Dunkirk. Many fewer are familiar with the rear guard action fought at St Valéry-en-Caux which supported that rescue.

In 1940 Winston Churchill had placed the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) including the regular 51st Highland Division under French command to try to bolster the French resistance long enough to allow Britain to adequately prepare for a German onslaught. The original plan had been to evacuate the army from Le Havre and parts of the Highland Division made it there but not without taking severe casualties and fighting through stiff resistance. With the German army encircling their position, the rest of the division which included Cameron, Seaforth, and Gordon Highlanders as well as the Black Watch and French forces concentrated at St. Valéry. They fought there valiantly until they ran out of ammunition and supplies and were ordered by Gen. Fortune to surrender to Rommel on 12 June 1940. One battalion of Seaforth Highlanders commanded by Major James Murray Grant (grandfather of actor Hugh Grant) continued to fight from their outpost outside of town – pointing out that no battalion of the Seaforths had ever surrendered before. Many were killed, many more wounded and captured, including Maj. Grant who later received the Distinguished Service Order.

It’s widely held that Churchill needlessly sacrificed the 51st Highland Division to keep the French fighting. The bitterness of that sacrifice is still keenly felt in many parts of the Highlands. The late Davy Steele wrote this song about his uncle’s experience of being there at St. Valéry. He returned to Scotland at the end of the war but immigrated to Canada shortly thereafter, bitter and saddened by their treatment.

The 51st Highland Division was reconstituted later in the war and fought with distinction. After Normandy, they were given the satisfaction of liberating St. Valéry. There are two monuments to the 51st Highlanders in France: one at Beaumont Hamel (the 51st Highlanders being regarded as the most effective unit in the British army during WWI) and one at St. Valéry-en-caux. Both bear the same Gàidhlig inscription: "La a'Blair s'math na Cairdean" ("Friends are good on the day of battle".)

It was in 1940 the last days of Spring
We were sent to the Maginot line
A fortress in France built to halt the advance of an army from a different time
For we were soon overrun out-fought and outgunned
Pushed further back every day
But we never believed high command would leave us
So we fought every inch of the way

Till the 51st Highlanders found themselves back
On the banks of the Somme one more time
It still bore the scars of that war to end wars
The old soldiers scars deep in their minds
But we couldn't stay long for the Panzers rolled on
And the battle raged west towards the sea
Then on June the 10th when sapped of all strength
I entered St Valéry

And all I recall was the last boat leavin!
My brother on board waving and calling to me
And the Jocks stranded there wi' their hands in the air
On the beaches of St Valéry

So I huddled all night in a hammered old house
As the shells and the bullets rained down
Next morning at dawn my hope was still strong
For we moved to the beach from the town
But the boat that had left on the day we arrived
Was the only one we'd ever see
And with no ammo or food we had done all we could
So we surrendered at St Valéry


When I returned at the end of the war
From the stalag where I'd been confined
I read of the battles the allies had fought
Stalingrad, Alamein, and the Rhine
Wi' pride in their hearts people spoke of Dunkirk where defeat had become victory
But nobody mentioned the Highland Division
They'd never heard of St Valéry


No stories no statues for those that were killed
No honours for those that were caught
Just a deep sense of shame as though we were to blame
Though I knew in my heart we were not.
So I've moved to a country I've come to call home
But my homeland is far o'er the sea
I will never return while my memories still burn
On the beaches of St Valéry

8. No Gods and Precious Few Heroes

Politically I’ve always listed somewhat to port and I’ve never been afraid of accentuating that, especially when I thought a song highlighted something I thought was important and presently germane. I found the years between 2000 and 2008 to be almost physically painful as every day our governing bodies drifted further away from Constitutional principles and true rule of law. During the American election cycle of 2006-2008 my repertoire took on more of that focus and I started playing this song a lot more during that time. Written by Brian MacNeil, it comes out of the Scottish political situation in the ‘80s. I found a lot of concepts that apply just as well to any political climate: rosie-eyed sentimentality should be left to poets and’s not a good basis for making political decisions.

I use the version of the words sung by Dick Gaughan.

A note on some terms:

  • "the Land of the Leal" means "land of the faithful". Caroline Oliphant, Lady Nairne used it to mean "Heaven" in her poem of the same name. It’s often used to refer Scotland itself.
  • "the broo" is the employment bureau or unemployment office.
  • "the factor" is the landlord or land manager.

I was listening to the news the other day
I heard a smug politician who had the nerve to say
He was proud to be Scottish, by the way
With the glories of our past to remember
"Here's tae us, wha's like us", listen to the cry
No surrender to the truth and here's the reason why
The power and the glory's just another bloody lie
They use to keep us all in line

For there's no gods and there's precious few heroes
But there's plenty on the dole in the land o the leal
And it's time now to sweep the future clear
Of the lies of a past that we know was never real

Farewell to the heather in the glen
They cleared us off once and they'd do it all again
For they still prefer sheep to thinking men
Ah, but men who think like sheep are even better
There's nothing much to choose between the old laird and the new
They still don't give a damn for the likes of me and you
Just mind you pay your rent to the factor when it's due
And mind your bloody manners when you pay!

And tell me will we never hear the end
Of puir bluidy Charlie at Culloden yet again?
Though he ran like a rabbit down the glen
Leavin better folk than him to be butchered
Or are you sittin in your Council house, dreamin o your clan?
Waiting for the Jacobites to come and free the land?
Try going down the broo with your claymore in your hand
And count all the Princes in the queue!

So don't talk to me of Scotland the Brave
For if we don't fight soon there'll be nothing left to save
Or would you rather stand and watch them dig your grave
While you wait for the Tartan Messiah?
He'll lead us to the Promised Land with laughter in his eye
We'll all live on the oil and the whisky by and by
Free heavy beer! Pie suppers in the sky!
Will we never have the sense to learn?

That there's no gods and there's precious few heroes
But there's plenty on the dole in the land o the leal
And I'm damned sure that there's plenty live in fear
Of the day we stand together with our shoulders at the wheel
Aye there's no Gods

9. Gae Bring Tae Me a Pint o' Wine / The Lass o' Pattie's Mill

The first tune is an air originating in the late 17th or early 18th century. Robert Burns published a two verse poem by the same name but it appears to be snippets of a longer song or poem and there’s no indication that it’s related to this tune. However, sometimes this tune is used as the melody for the song "Carron Water". There is a verse in "Carron Water" that shares a few lines with what Burn’s published. The second tune is a Highland reel (thankfully on the slow side) that I learned from Tony Cuffe sometime in the late 80s. There are several regional variations of the tune. This one is the one that I like the most.

10. Preston Miller

I first heard this song performed by Tracy Grammer at Pick-a-Thon, an Americana-roots festival in the Portland metro, back in 2005. It was written by Dave Carter, her long time collaborator who passed away suddenly in 2002. I was immediately struck by the imagery and storyline – a modern murder ballad that fit nicely into my usual repertoire of Border ballads and American derivatives.

He was born in miller’s mansion when the mistress was asleep
The secret son of the chambermaid and master
And they sent him into hidin for his schoolin and his keep
With the carlysles and the other lucky bastards

Now his toady tutors fawn and praise the man that he’s become
Though he’s taken to the laudenum and faro
He walks the streets like velvet death with his daddy’s money on his breath
And a shame he cannot shake down in his marrow

When day fades to black you must not listen to the killer
Pretty voices keep you beautiful and bound
Cause the simple, sorry fact of your existence, preston miller
Is enough to bring this house of evil down

One night upon some drunken dare he writes his absent sire
Sayin father i would fain come home to meet thee
And though his worthless friends guffaw this sudden show of fire
Another round of bourbon and it’s easy

And this letter finds his father in his tower far away
And the hoary claw that holds it shakes and trembles
Is it grief over a life misspent, or love or greed or mere contempt
Or something darker stirring in his temples


A week gone by, he’s wakened by a knockin at his door
And he drags himself half-wasted to the threshold
It’s a message in his father’s quill sayin meet me scion, if you will,
At the very stroke of midnight in the meadow

Now he has combed his laggard locks and hired a comely roan
And he’s met his comrade fops around the fountain
And he’s bidden each a grand goodbye and he’s cantered off alone
To meet his aged father in the mountains


Oh father dear come out come out i honor thee tonight
He shouts as he goes weavin in the saddle
And he sees the stars go blinkin by like the twinkle in a trollop’s eye
And six riders riding madly in the shadows

This mornin sailed a ship of fools across a sea of gin
With a blind and grinning reaper at the tiller
And it drove an aging jacob to his lone and bitter end
And a bullet through the brain of preston miller

11. The Parting Glass

This tune is ubiquitous in the Irish repertoire. For a long time I avoided doing it because everyone else was doing it. Now I feel a bit left out since I haven’t done it. Therefore, I give you a simple presentation.

The tune for this song appears at least as early as 1625 in the Skene manuscript, a collection of music for the mandore compiled by or for John and William Skene of Halyard, Lothian, under the name "Guid Night And Joy Be Wi Ye All". It could very well date from the 1580s. The words were added in the late 17th century. The song was very well known throughout Ireland and Scotland as early as 1720 and Robert Burns used the tune for this song “The Farewell To The Brethren of St. James’ Lodge, Tarbolton” in 1786. Neil Gow published a version with the note: "This tune is played at the conclusion of every convivial dancing meeting throughout Scotland." It was the most popular song of parting and friendship in Britain during the period of 1725 to 1850, when Burns’ "Auld Lang Syne" started to surpass it. It remains wildly popular in places to this day.

The Skene manuscript is also important because it contains the earliest known notated Gaelic harp tune ("Port Ballangowne") and the earliest known version of "Flowers of the Forest."

The lyrics I use are from one of the myriad broadsheets printed in the 1750-1770s (and again during a resurgence in popularity in the 1850-1880s.) There are countless variations.

For all the money that ere I had, I spent it in good company
For all the harm that ere I’ve done, alas it was to none but me
And all I’ve done for want of wit, to memory now I can’t recall
So fill to me a parting glass, good night and joy be with you all

If I had gold enough spare and leisure time to sit a while
There is a fair maid in this town, she surely has my heart beguiled
Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips I own she has my heart in thrall
So fill to me a parting glass, good night and joy be with you all

Of all the comrades that ere I had they’re sorry for my going away
Of all the sweethearts that ere I had, they beg me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot that I should go and you should not
I’ll gently rise and softly call, good night and joy be with you all

So fill to me a parting glass, good night and joy be with you all


 "The Bonus March" (C)opyright © 2009 Frank Blair, published by Gabriel's Legacy Music

"Stonecutter" and "Jenny Bryce" (C)opyright © 2001 and 2004 respectively by James Keelaghan, published by Tranquilla Music

"The Moving On Song" (C)opyright © 1964 Ewan MacColl, published by Stormking Music

"No Gods and Precious Few Heroes" (C)opyright © 1994 Brian MacNeil, published by Grian Music

"Preston Miller" (C)opyright © 2002 Dave Carter/Dave Carter Music (BMI), administered by Tracy Grammer Music

"The Beaches of St. Valery" (C)opyright © 1998 Davy Steele, published by Kinmor Music

All other tracks are traditional, arranged Frank Blair.

Recorded during January 2009 at The Magic Closet, Portland, Oregon.
Engineered by Ian Watts
Produced by Frank Blair

All CD art (C)opyright © Used with permission.

Art direction by Frank Blair. Additional creative services by Kurt and Jennifer Roth.

I would like to take some time and space to thank everyone who made this project possible: Kathleen, my wife, Ian Watts, the engineer at The Magic Closet, Kurt and Jennifer Roth, and the many friends who have supported what I do through the years.

For booking or other enquiries, please send email to

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