I loved this song the first time I sang it. I found it in Ceolta Gael 2, a collection of songs in Irish Gaelic and the melody struck me first with its wonderful, wistful loneliness. The words were strange and sad and infused with a wild imagery. There was no other information given about the song and searches at the time found no recordings or other information. The language gave no clue to what region the song might be from, though I did hear from an Irish friend that the word ‘béasach’ was sometimes used in Donegal to mean ‘gentle’ or ‘kind’. The dictionary definition is ‘well-mannered’. There is also a famous poem called Brídín Bhéasaí (Bridget Vesey) by Antaine Raiftearaí (1779-1835) which led me on a brief wild goose chase, and assuming the song is not based on a real-life character, the title may have been inspired by the Raiftearaí poem. But they’re two very different songs. The Raiftearaí poem is a love song praising Bridget Vesey; Bríd Bhéasach speaks the words of her song herself and it’s the song of a ‘bean siúil’ — a traveling woman — homeless and alone.
We recorded the song on The Life of Riley’s Brother in 1995 and it was only last year that I was able to finally find more information on it.
I found a recording by Áine Ní Ghallchobhair († 1994) of Gweedore, Co. Donegal who appears to have learned it from a neighbor, Síle Mhicí, Bean Uí Ghallchobhair, who had a great store of unusual songs. Apart from the Áine Ní Ghallchobhair version, I know of no other recording.
The instrumentation on the Colcannon recording is a little dark as befits the song. Brian plays the mandocello, which has a darker tone than the guitar. Even though the song is in a major key, to me it has a brooding, melancholy feeling.
I have done a translation which, as is often the case, doesn’t do justice to the poetry of the original Irish but it gives a pretty clear telling of the gist of the song.
It’s my regret and my great grief that the water is not wine, that the root of the reeds is not flour bread, that the tips of the watercress are not bright candIes, where my love comes and goes.
A shame on marriage, a woe to all who undergo it; it’s bright at the beginning and then turns dark. It's many the fine young girl that it has worn down, her head on her knees and her eyes continually weeping.
Poor Bridget said, when she was good and old, 'I will be a hundred and one at the beginning of the month, wandering the roads aIl ‘round the country, oh l am worthless* and will always be so’.
*also means single, unmarried