Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla

Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla

This song is about a boatman who sails frequently between the two remote isles of Inis Ge off the West Coast of Ireland in County Mayo to Galway, and is besotted with a fair maiden. He wishes his love and ‘little treasure’ (a stóirín) her to elope with him. Sadhbh Ní Bhruinealla,  (reduced from Iníon Uí – “daughter of descendant of”).

Perhaps a clue as to what finally happens is in the following verse.

Nuair a théimse ‘un an chomhra ag comhaireamh an airgid
Bíonn an iníon is an bhean is iad caillte le gean orm.

When I go to the chest to count the money,
the daughter and her mother are overcome with fondness for me.

However, we dont know if our heroine Sadhbh ever actually elopes with the man !

The name Sadhbh is a girl’s name of Irish origin meaning “sweet, goodness”. Sadhbh was the name of several real and legendary Irish princesses, including the daughters of Conn of the Hundred Battles, of Queen Medb of Connacht, and of King Brian Boru. It’s also written Sabha. One of the most authentic Irish names for girls, it is also unfortunately one of the most difficult to export. https://nameberry.com/babyname/Sadhbh

This is a sean-nós song meaning ancient or old Irish to be sung in the traditional way which is unaccompanied by musical instruments.

…It’s about a little girl, in fact. In the words of the song, you’d think the girl was a grown-up girl, you know, but she was beautiful – like Peigín Leitir Móir. And everybody was supposed to be looking out for this girl, whoever passed by – she was so beautiful that everybody was looking out for her. Even the fishermen, when they were going to their boats, they used to dip their sails when they were passing her house. https://www.joeheaney.org/en/sadhbh-ni-bhruinniligh/

The islands of Inis Gé or ‘Inishkea’ (North and South) are part of County Mayo, off the West Coast of Ireland, and are now uninhabited. The name means ‘Goose Islands’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inishkea_Islands. This article says there is evidence of habitation from at least 5,000 years ago, pure white sandy beaches and crystal clear water, it was home to fishermen and pirates, and escaped the ravishes of the potato blight on the mainland due to the prevailing winds largely keeping the blight away from Inis Gé !

Sadhbh is a popular Irish girls name but is pronounced as S – eye – v. But in the song it is pronounced as ‘how’. This is because in Connmara, Sadhbh is pronounced as Sow. The name changes from Sadhbh to ‘ a Shadhbh’ in all but the very first line, as this is the common way that the Irish people address familiar friends and family and ‘Sh’ is caused by the Irish language mutation (lenition) of the start of words.  Finally, the S becomes silent with the lenition.

Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla is an old sean-nós song attributed to Labhrás Mac Con Raoi from Mace Head, Co. Mayo, a boatman who ranged the coasts of Mayo and Galway. He is said to have composed it between 1815 and 1821, and the woman in the song is said to have been from Inishkea, Co. Mayo. It is often called “Sadhbh Ní Mhuinghile.” Below are the Irish lyrics and English translation for Liam Ó Maonlaí’s version. This is a classic sean-nós song and is better sung unaccompanied or with simple drone backing.

https://songsinirish.com/sadhbh-ni-bhruinneallaigh-lyrics/
Ní iarrfainn bó spré le Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Ach Baile Inis Gé is cead éalú ar choinníní
Óra a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
A chuisle is a stóirín, éalaigh is imigh liom
I would ask no dowry for Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
but the village of Inis Gé and a permit to hunt rabbits.
Óra, Sadhbh, Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
My heart’s beloved, elope and leave with me.
Máistir báid mhóir mé  a’ gabháil ród na Gaillimhe,
D’fhliuchfainn naoi bhfód is ní thóigfinn aon fharraige.
Óra a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Tabhair dom do lámhín, éalaigh is imigh liom.
I’m the master of a húicéir on the way to Galway,
I’d wet nine sods of turf but would not take any water in.
Óra, Sadhbh, Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Give me your wee hand,  elope and leave with me.
Máistir báid mhóir go deo ní ghlacfad,
Nuair a fhaigheann siad an chóir ’sé is dóichí nach bhfanann siad.
Óra a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Tabhair dom do lámhín, éalaigh is imigh liom.
The master of a hooker I’d never accept,
when the wind is favourable they are not inclined to stay.
Óra, Sadhbh, Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Give me your wee hand,  elope and leave with me.
Níl falach i gcabhail ar Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Ach seanchóitín donn gan cabhail gan muinchille.
Óra a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Tabhair dom do lámhín, éalaigh is imigh liom.
Sadhbh is not wearing a stitch on her body,
except an old brown coat without bodice or sleeve.
Óra, Sadhbh, Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Give me your wee hand,  elope and leave with me.
Fear maith i mbád mé togha fear iomraimh,
Fear sluaisid’ is láí ar dhá cheann an iomaire.
Óra a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
A chuisle is a stóirín, éalaigh is imigh liom!
I’m a good boatman, a fine oarsman,
skillful with shovel or loy on either end of the ridge.
Óra, Sadhbh, Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
My heart’s beloved, elope and leave with me.

https://songoftheisles.com/2013/02/09/sadhbh-ni-bhruinnealla/
Ní iarrfainn de spré le Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla
ach Baile Inis Gé is cead éalú ar choinníní.

Refrain – to add at the end of each verse.
Óra a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
A chuisle is a stóirín, éalaigh is imigh liom.
I would ask no dowry for Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
but the village of Inis Gé and a permit to steal up on rabbits.
Óra, Sadhbh, Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
My heart’s beloved, elope and leave with me.
Fear maith i mbád mé togha fear iomraimh
Fear sluaisid’ is láí ar dhá cheann an iomaire.
I’m a good boatman, a fine oarsman,
skillful with shovel or loy on either end of the ridge.
Máistir báid mhóir mé a’ gabháil ród na Gaillimhe
D’fhliuchfainn naoi bhfód is ní thóigfinn aon fharraige.
I’m the master of a large sail boat (hooker) on the way to Galway,
I’d wet nine sods of turf but would not take any water in.
Máistir báid mhóir go deo ní ghlacfad,
Nuair a fhaigheann siad an chóir ‘sé is dóichí nach bhfanann siad.
The master of a hooker I’d never accept,
when the wind is favourable they are not inclined to stay.
Mhionnóinn naoi n-uaire ar leabhar mór an Bhairéadaigh
Nach scarfainn go deo le Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla.
I’d swear nine times on Barrett’s book
that I’d never part with Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla.
Níl falach i gcabhail ar Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
Ach seanchóitín donn gan cabhail gan muinchille.
Sadhbh is not wearing a stitch on her body,
except an old brown coat without bodice or sleeve.
Nuair a théimse ‘un an chomhra ag comhaireamh an airgid
Bíonn an iníon is an bhean is iad caillte le gean orm.
When I go to the chest to count the money,
the daughter and her mother are overcome with fondness for me.
Nuair a thiocfas lá breá ‘gus an ghaoth ón bhfarraige
Tabharfaidh mé Sadhbh liom go céibh na Gaillimhe.
When a fine day comes and the wind is from the sea,
I’ll take Sadhbh with me to the pier in Galway.
Óra a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
A chuisle is a stóirín, ba rí-mhaith dhuit mise agat!
Óra, Sadhbh, Sadhbh Ní Bhruinnealla,
my heart’s beloved, you would do right well to have me!

Footnote
‘Bád Mór’ – a Galway hooker; a large boat for transporting cargo including the turf, which was used for fuel – (presumably scarce on the islands), from the mainland to the islands, and then limestone, wood, and livestock, wood, potatoes, fish etc. on the way back; through the seas of Galway Bay to Galway: “a’ gabháil ród na Gaillimhe”, as referred to in the song; the largest in its class; to own one was to mean you had status in the community “is Máistir báid mhóir mé “; the roads in Connemara were only few and only fit for donkey and mule carts in those days, so these boats were relied on for transportation of all kinds of cargoe along the coast and to the islands; they slept and cooked in the hold of these boats under the deck, with access through a hatch which acted as a chimney; the line in the song probably means, while some of my sods of turf may get wet (only nine, a tiny amount – ‘D’fhliuchfainn naoi bhfód’), the boat is of a sound construction, seaworthy, and watertight to seawater, meaning its a really great boat that he has (ní thóigfinn aon fharraige) ! so perhaps he is boasting of how good his boat is to Sadhbh, and that he is an important person higher in status than others like tradesmen and fishermen, and presumably wealthy; he has a chest of money right? (Nuair a théimse ‘un an chomhra ag comhaireamh an airgid).

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