Tonight, I went to the Fort Collins String Teachers’ Association meeting, and when I got there I found out that we were supposed to bring our instruments because it was a workshop where we were going to sight read some music. Michael Schaefer was leading the program, and he had a lot of cools stuff to teach us about working with middle school orchestras. And, he was willing to lend me his violin for the evening, a nice old violin with a soft warm tone.
As we were reading through a bunch of middle school orchestra pieces, I was thinking about what I could do for fiddle tune a day, and since Eric Levine was also at the meeting, asking him to join me was a no-brainer. Eric taught me fiddling when I was in Junior High, and Red Haired Boy was one of the tunes he taught me.
Red Haired Boy according to the Fiddler’s Companion
RED HAIRED BOY, THE (An Giolla Ruad). AKA and see “The Duck Chewed/Chews Tobacco,” “The First of May ,” “Gilderoy ” (Ire.), “Giolla Rua” (Ire.), “Johnny Dhu,” “The Little Beggarman” (Ire.), “The Little Beggar Boy,” “An Maidrin Rua(dh)” (The Little Red Fox),” “The Old Soldier (with a Wooden Leg) ” (W.Va.), “Old Soldier,” “The Red Haired Lad,” “The Red Headed/Haired Irishman” (Ky.), “Wooden Leg” (W.Va.). Irish (originally), Scottish, English; Air or Hornpipe: American, Canadian; Reel or Breakdown. A Mixolydian. Standard. AABB (most versions): AA’BB’ (Moylan). ‘Red Haired Boy’ is the English translation of the Gaelic title “Giolla Rua” (or, Englished, “Gilderoy”), and is generally thought to commemorate a real-life rogue and bandit, however, Baring-Gould remarks that in Scotland the “Beggar” of the title is also identified with King James V. The song was quite common under the Gaelic and the alternate title “The Little Beggarman” (or “The Beggarman,” “The Beggar”) throughout the British Isles. For example, it appears in Baring-Gould’s 1895 London publication Garland of Country Song and in The Forsaken Lover’s Garland, and in the original Scots in The Scots Musical Museum. A similarly titled song, “Beggar’s Meal Poke’s,” was composed by James VI of Scotland (who in course became James the I of England), an ascription confused often with his ancestor James I, who was the reputed author of the verses of a song called “The Jolly Beggar.” The tune is printed in Bunting’s 1840A Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland as “An Maidrin Ruadh” (The Little Red Fox). The melody is one of the relatively few common to fiddlers throughout Scotland and Ireland, and was transferred nearly intact to the American fiddle tradition (both North and South) where it has been a favorite of bluegrass fiddlers in recent times.
Bandits, fairies and the tune all come together in an Irish tale, representing the capricious results of humans coming in contact with fairy-induced music. In the tale “The Red Haired Boy” was played somewhat under duress by uilleann piper Donnchadh Ó Sé from Lóthar, one of the best pipers in the parish of Priory. Donnchadh came by some of his music from contact with the supernatural, a not uncommon claim, but this time with a twist. It seems that he and his brother were gathering seaweed at Faill an Mhada Rua when they heard beautiful ethereal music nearby; Dónall stood by, afraid, but Donnchadh followed the sounds up the cliff and was able to commit them to memory. Returning home he strapped himself into his pipes and played the melody he heard, but afterwards was stuck down ill, becoming bedridden for three months before recuperating. Each time he played the tune the same would happen—he would suffer, for illness always followed. One day Donnchadh had the ill fortune to meet with a ruffian, who evidently knew of the circumstance and demanded at the point of a pistol that the piper play the fairy tune. Donnchadh obligingly reached for his pipes, and soon found that the brute was ignorant of the music and so was able to placate him with “An Giolla Rua” (Breathnach,The Man and His Music, 1997, pg. 38.
Sources for notated versions: J.P. Fraley (Rush, Ky.) [Phillips]; learned from fiddler Padraig O’Keeffe by accordion player Johnny O’Leary (Sliabh Luachra region of the Cork-Kerry border) [Moylan]; fiddler Dawson Girdwood (Perth, Ottawa Valley, Ontario) [Begin]. Begin (Fiddle Music in the Ottawa Valley: Dawson Girdwood), 1985; No. 27, pg. 40. Krassen (Appalachian Fiddle), 1973; pg. 81. Messer (Anthology of Favorite Fiddle Tunes), 1980; No. 69, pg. 44. Miller & Perron (New England Fiddlers Repertoire), 1983; No. 132. Mitchell (Dance Music of Willie Clancy), 1983; 115. Moylan (Johnny O’Leary), 1994; No. 300, pg. 173. O’Neill (O’Neill’s Irish Music), 1915/1987; No. 356, pg. 173 (appears as “The Redhaired Lad”). O’Neill (Krassen), 1976; pg. 209. O’Neill (Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies), 1903/1979; No. 1748, pg. 325. O’Neill (Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems), 1907/1986; No. 921, pg. 157. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), 1994. pg. 196. Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; pg. 127. Spandaro (10 Cents a Dance), 1980; pg. 34. Sweet (Fifer’s Delight), 1965/1981; pg. 77. Columbia C 33397, Dave Bromberg Band ‑ “Midnight on the Water” (1975). Sparton Records SP 210, “Ward Allen Presents Maple Leaf Hoedown, Vol. 2.” Smithsonian Folkways SFW CD 40126, Northern Spy – “Choose Your Partners!: Contra Dance & Square Dance Music of New Hampshire” (1999).