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On the Druidical Chants preserved in the choruses of popular songs in England, Scotland, Ireland, and France. (Part 2)

I came across this outstanding article featured for the first time by Charles Mackay, LL.D., F.S.A. (Author of the Gaelic Etymology of the English and Lowland Scotch, and the Languages of Western Europe) on The Celtic Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 2, December 1875.

 This Monthly Periodical issues were devoted to the Literature, History,  Antiquities, Folk Lore, Traditions, and the Social and  Material Interests of the Celt at the Highlands and Abroad. I now share with you some revealing excerpts of this large review in two separate posts (Part 1 & Part 2). Enjoy!




Hey, nonnie, nonnie. "Such unmeaning burdens of songs," says Nares in his Glossary, "are common to ballads in most languages." But this burden is not unmeaning, and signifies "Hail to the noon." Noin or noon, the ninth hour was so called in the Celtic, because at midsummer in our northern latitudes it was the ninth hour after sunrise. With the Romans, in a more southern latitude, noon was the ninth hour after sunrise, at six in the morning, answering to our three o'clock of the afternoon. A song with this burden was sung in England in the days of Charles the Second:—

I am a senseless thing, with a hey!
Men call me a king, with a ho?
For my luxury and ease,
They brought me o'er the seas,
With a heigh, nonnie, nonnie, nonnie, no!

Mr Chappell cites an ancient ballad which was sung to the tune of Hie dildo, dil. This also appears to be Druidical, and to be resolvable into Ai! dile dun dile! or "Hail to the rain, to the rain upon the hill," a thanksgiving for rain after a drought.

Trim go trix is a chorus that continued to be popular until the time of Charles the Second, when Tom D'Urfrey wrote a song entitled "Under the Greenwood Tree," of which he made it the burden. Another appears in Allan Ramsay's Tea-table Miscellany:—

The Pope, that pagan full of pride,
He has us blinded long,
For where the blind the blind does guide,
No wonder things go wrong.
[Pg 62] Like prince and king, he led the ring
Of all inquitie.
Hey trix, trim go trix!
Under the greenwood tree.

In Gaelic dream or dreim signifies a family, a tribe, the people, a procession; and qu tric, frequently, often, so that these words represent a frequent procession of the people to the hill of worship under the greenwood tree.

In Motherwell's "Ancient and Modern Minstrelsy," the ballad of Hynd Horn contains a Celtic chorus repeated in every stanza:—

Near Edinburgh was a young child born,
With a Hey lilli lu, and a how lo lan!
And his name it was called young Hynd Horn,
And the birk and the broom bloom bonnie.

Here the words are corruptions of aidhe (Hail); li, light or colour; lu, small; ath, again; lo, day-light; lan, full; and may be rendered "Hail to the faint or small light of the dawn"; and "again the full light of the day" (after the sun had risen).

In the Nursery Rhymes of England, edited by Mr Halliwell for the Percy Society, 1842, appears the quatrain:—
Hey dorolot, dorolot,
Hey dorolay, doralay,
Hey my bonnie boat—bonnie boat,
Hey drag away—drag away.

The two first lines of this jingle appear to be a remnant of a Druidical chant, and to resolve themselves into,
Aidhe, doire luchd—doire luchd,
Aidhe doire leigh, doire leigh.

Aidhe, an interjection, is pronounced Hie; doire, is trees or woods; luchd, people; and leigh, healing; and also a physician, whence the old English word for a doctor, a leech, so that the couplet means:
Hey to the woods people! to the woods people!
Hey to the woods for healing, to the woods for healing.

If this translation be correct, the chorus would seem to have been sung when the Druids went in search of the sacred mistletoe, which they called the "heal all," or universal remedy.
There is an old Christmas carol which commences—

Nowell! Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!
This is the salutation of the Angel Gabriel.

Mr Halliwell, in his Archaic Dictionary, says "Nowell was a cry of joy, properly at Christmas, of joy for the birth of the Saviour." A political song in a manuscript of the time of King Henry the Sixth, concludes—
Let us all sing nowelle,
Nowelle, nowelle, nowelle, nowelle,
And Christ save merry England and spede it well.

The modern Gaelic and Celtic for Christmas is Nollaig—a corruption of the ancient Druidical name for holiday—from naomh, holy, and la, day, whence "Naola!" the burden of a Druidical hymn, announcing the fact that a day of religious rejoicing had arrived for the people.

A very remarkable example of the vitality of these Druidic chants is afforded by the well-known political song of "Lilli Burlero" of which Lord Macaulay gives the following account in his History of England:—

"Thomas Wharton, who, in the last Parliament had represented Buckinghamshire, and who was already conspicuous both as a libertine and as a Whig, had written a satirical ballad on the administration of Tyrconnel. In his little poem an Irishman congratulates a brother Irishman in a barbarous jargon on the approaching triumph of Popery and of the Milesian race. The Protestant heir will be excluded. The Protestant officers will be broken. The great charter and the praters who appeal to it will be hanged in one rope. The good Talbot will shower commissions on his countrymen, and will cut the throats of the English. These verses, which were in no respect above the ordinary standard of street poetry, had for burden some gibberish which was said to have been used as a watchword by the insurgents of Ulster in 1641. The verses and the tune caught the fancy of the nation. From one end of England to the other all classes were constantly singing this idle rhyme. It was especially the delight of the English army. More than seventy years after the Revolution a great writer delineated with exquisite skill a veteran who had fought at the Boyne and at Namur. One of the characteristics of the good old soldier is his trick of whistling Lilliburllero. Wharton afterwards boasted that he had sung a king out of three kingdoms. But, in truth, the success of Lilliburllero was the effect and not the cause of that excited state of public feeling which produced the Revolution."

The mysterious syllables which Lord Macaulay asserted to be gibberish, and which in this corrupt form were enough to puzzle a Celtic scholar, and more than enough to puzzle Lord Macaulay, who, like the still more ignorant Doctor Samuel Johnson, knew nothing of the venerable language of the first inhabitants of the British Isles, and of all Western Europe, resolve themselves into Li! Li Beur! Lear-a! Buille na la, which signify, "Light! Light! on the sea, beyond the promontory! 'Tis the stroke (or dawn) of the day!" Like all the choruses previously cited, these words are part of a hymn to the sun, and entirely astronomical and Druidical.

The syllables Fol de rol which still occur in many of the vulgarest songs of the English lower classes, and which were formerly much more commonly employed than they are now, are a corruption of Failte reul! or welcome to the star! Fal de ral is another form of the corruption which the Celtic original has undergone.

The French, a more Celtic people than the English, have preserved many of the Druidical chants. In Beranger's song "Le Scandale" occurs one of them, which is as remarkable for its Druidic appositeness as any of the English choruses already cited:—
Aux drames du jour,
Laissons la morale,
Sans vivre à la cour
J'aime le scandale;
Bon!
Le farira dondaine
Gai!
La farira dondé.

These words resolve themselves into the Gaelic La! fair! aire! dun teine! "Day! sunrise! watch it on the hill of fire (the sacred fire)"; and La! fair! aire! dun De! "Day! sunrise! watch it on the hill of God."

In the Recueil de Chanson's Choisies (La Haye, 1723, vol. i., page 155), there is a song called Danse Ronde, commencing L'autre jour, pres d'Annette of which the burden is Lurelu La rela! These syllables seem to be resolvable into the Celtic:—Luadh reul! Luadh! (Praise to the star! Praise!); or Luath reul Luath (the swift star, swift!); and La! reul! La! (the day! the star! the day!).

There is a song of Beranger's of which the chorus is Tra, la trala, tra la la, already explained, followed by the words—C'est le diabh er falbala. Here falbala is a corruption of the Celtic falbh la! "Farewell to the day," a hymn sung at sunset instead of at sunrise.
Beranger has another song entitled "Le Jour des Morts," which has a Druidical chorus:—

Amis, entendez les cloches
Qui par leurs sons gemissants
Nous font des bruyans reproches
Sur nos rires indecents,
Il est des ames en peine,
Dit le pretre interessé.
C'est le jour des morts, mirliton, mirlitaine.
Requiscant in pace!

Mir in Celtic signifies rage or fuss; tonn or thonn, a wave; toinn, waves; and tein, fire; whence those apparently unmeaning syllables may be rendered—"the fury of the waves, the fury of the fire."

Tira lira la. This is a frequent chorus in French songs, and is composed of the Gaelic words tiorail, genial, mild, warm; iorrach, quiet, peaceable; and , day; and was possibly a Druidical chant, after the rising of the sun, resolving itself into Tiorail-iorra la, warm peaceful day!

Rumbelow was the chorus or burden of many ancient songs, both English and Scotch. After the Battle of Bannockburn, says Fabyan, a citizen of London, who wrote the "Chronicles of England," "the Scottes inflamed with pride, made this rhyme as followeth in derision of the English:—
"Maydens of Englande, sore may ye mourne
For your lemans ye 've lost at Bannockisburne,
With heve a lowe!
What weeneth the Kyng of Englande,
So soone to have won Scotlande,
With rumbylowe!"

In "Peebles to the Play" the word occurs—

With heigh and howe, and rumbelowe,
The young folks were full bauld.
There is an old English sea song of which the burden is "with a rumbelowe." In one more modern, in Deuteromelia 1609, the word dance the rumbelow is translated—
Shall we go dance to round, around,
Shall we go dance the round.
Greek—Rhombos, Rhembo, to spin or turn round.

The word is apparently another remnant of the old Druidical chants sung by the priests when they walked in procession round their sacred circles of Stonehenge and others, and clearly traceable to the Gaelic—Riomball, a circle; riomballach, circuitous; riomballachd, circularity.

The perversion of so many of these once sacred chants to the service of the street ballad, suggests the trite remark of Hamlet to Horatio:—

To what base uses we may come at last!
......
Imperial Cæsar, dead and turned to clay,
May stop a hole to keep the winds away.

The hymns once sung by thousands of deep-voiced priests marching in solemn procession from their mystic shrines to salute with music and song, and reverential homage, the rising of the glorious orb which cheers and fertilises the world, the gift as well as the emblem of Almighty Power and Almighty Love, have wholly departed from the recollection of man, and their poor and dishonoured relics are spoken of by scholars and philosophers, as trash, gibberish, nonsense, and an idle farrago of sounds, of no more philological value than the lowing of cattle or the bleating of sheep. But I trust that all attentive readers of the foregoing pages will look upon the old choruses—so sadly perverted in the destructive progress of time, that demolishes languages as well as empires and systems of religious belief—with something of the respect due to their immense antiquity, and their once sacred functions in a form of worship, which, whatever were its demerits as compared with the purer religion that has taken its place, had at least the merit of inculcating the most exalted ideas of the Power, the Love, and the Wisdom of the Great Creator.
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