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Music Cape Breton's Diversity in Unity

Gaelic Puirt-A-Beul

Puirt-a-beul (mouth music), like milling songs, are characterized by refrains composed of meaningless vocables and meaningful words, or words alone. The lyrics are light-hearted, but sometimes satirical or even bawdy. They often poke fun at local people or events.

Puirt-a-beul were used as alternatives to instrumental music for the purposes of dancing. Some were composed to assist fiddlers in learning a tune. They may have resulted from the burning of bagpipes after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 or from religious opposition to musical instruments.

The three cryptic samplings of puirt-a-beul are local to Cape Breton but the singer is unknown at this time.

This recording was collected by Kathleen Lamont MacKinnon in 1963.

Puirt-A-Beul, 1963. Unknown singer. T-044. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.

Unknown Singer


1. Nuair chaidh Uilleam dhan taigh fhuar
Cha tug e bonaid idir ann,
Dh’fhàg e ‘m bogadh i ‘s an allt,
Feitheamh air a sgùradh.

Dòmhnall Uilleam leis a’ bhròig,
Ged nach robh a bhonaid agam,
Bha i air a’ chist’ ud thall,
‘S thuit i air a cùlaibh.

A’ bhonaid a bh’ aca ‘m Broad Cove,
Cha dèan i solas idir ann,
Nam biodh i aca ‘s a’ mhèin
Dhèanadh i “balloon” dhaibh.

Tha Aonghas Uilleam an-dràst’
An dèidh dhol air thurraman,
Cha teid e dh’iarraidh gin gu bràth
An dèidh na ban-Dùghlach.

2. Hòro na rogallaich
Tha fuireach aig na lochan,
Cha toir iad ionnsaidh chosannaich
Ged tha iad ro-mhath air an danns’.

‘S ann sud a tha na beigeirean,
Iain agus Alasdair,
‘S Eòghain mòr nan geallannan,
‘S am bodach damaint’ air an ceann.

Truisidh sibh na luideagan
Is cuiridh sibh na giobagan,
‘S thoir dhomh am poca-mine,
‘S cha bhith ‘m ministear nar taing.

3. Tha fir a’ bhaile faramach,
Tha fir a’ bhaile faramach,
Tha fir a’ bhaile faramach,
‘S tha banais air gach taobh dhiubh.

‘S chaidh thu sios na sràide
A choimhead air St. Lawrence,
A dh’iarraidh rud air d’àilgheas,
‘S gum pàigheadh tu ri ùin’ e.

Sin nuair a thuirt Seumas,
‘S e labhairt an deagh Bheurla:
Ma phàigheas tusa fhèin e,
Chan èirich e ri d’ chunntais.

Mouth Music
1. When William went to the cold house
He didn’t take a bonnet there,
He left it soaking in the brook,
Waiting to be cleaned.

Donald William with the boot,
Though I didn’t have his bonnet;
It was on the chest over there
And fell behind it.

The bonnet they had in Broad Cove
Will not provide a light there,
If they had it in the mine
It would make a balloon for them.

Angus William has now
Gone into grief,
He will not go looking for another one
After the MacDougall woman.

2. Hòro the rascals
Who stay at the lakes;
They will not do a hand’s turn,
Though they are good at dancing.

What beggars they are,
John and Alasdair,
And big Ewen of the promises,
And the damnable old man leading them.

You will discard the cast-offs,
You will take off the rags,
Give me the meal-bag,
And the minister will not be indebted to you.

3. The men of the village are merry,
The men of the village are merry,
The men of the village are merry;
There’s a wedding on every side of them.

You went down the street
Looking for St. Lawrence,
Seeking something you desired
And would pay for eventually.

That’s when James said,
Speaking in good English:
“If you pay for it yourself
It will not be held against your account.”