Saturday, March 12, 2016

Two for St. Patrick's Day -- "Boys of Bluehill" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling"

Our regular "third Thursday" session of the Clayville-Prairieland Strings at Peace Lutheran Church falls on St. Patrick's Day. So it's a grand occasion to play some of the Irish songs in our repertoire (and anything else you want to play when it's your turn to call a tune). And I'm linking below to a couple of tunes that have been requested -- or that I've been reminded of.

One, a hornpipe called "The Boys of Bluehill" is traditional Irish. The other, "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," is as American as corned beef and cabbage or pouring green dye in the Chicago River.

Same time, from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, and in the same place -- but with a new name for the church at 2800 West Jefferson. The new congregation is made up of Lutherans from the former Atonement, Faith and Luther Memorial parishes (ELCA) in Springfield.

Here's some background, clips and links to lead sheets, dulcimer tab, etc., on the songs.

"Boys of Bluehill"

Lead sheet with dulcimer tab at pn the website. Nothing I could say about this standard session tune comes near renowned Irish fiddler Kevin Burke's note-by-note breakdown of how to play it, and ornament it, on a fiddle:

"Boys of Bluehill": Fiddle Lesson by Kevin Burke

Here it is in its natural habitat, a pub performance. Says YouTube user belljarbelfast: "Locke 'O the Irish playing a traditional set of hornpipes, Boys of Bluehill, Harvest Home and the Belfast Hornpipe."

Locke 'O the Irish -- Boys of Bluehill/ Harvest Home/ The Belfast Hornpipe

And Ben Seymour, luthier of Tryon, N.C., plays "Boys of Blue Hill" and "Harvest Home" on the dulcimer. Says Ben: "Two of my favorite Celtic tunes. I play these on my old "warhorse" dulcimer that goes everywhere with me :) I hope you enjoy ..."

"When Irish Eyes Are Smiling"

The Three Rivers Dulcimer Society of Richland, Wash., has dulcimer tab with chords (courtesy of Shelley Stevens) on its website at, and Jessica Comeau, a teacher who coordinates the Pensacola Mountain Dulcimer Wildflowers, which she describes as "my volunteer public outreach project for creating awareness about the mountain dulcimer," has a nice finger-picking arrangement at

Jessica Comeau and Rhiannon play "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling"

Here is the familiar refrain of "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" in celebration of St. Patrick's Day. The lyrics of the song were originally written by the Americans Chauncey Olcott and George Graff, Jr., and the melody was composed by Ernest Ball. The song premiered in 1912 in a musical called "The Isle of Dreams." I am playing this piece on my new McSpadden dulcimer that I named Rhiannon. :-)

The song needs no further introduction. It's hardly Irish, but it's beloved by an entire generation of Irish-Americans, and musicians who play the tourist pubs in places like Dublin and Killarney learn it rather quickly because it's so often requested. Here's Bing Crosby's version of the Irish Folk song, recorded in 1939.

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