There once was a girl called Eileen, or was it Elanour, or maybe Aileen? If she only knew how long her memory would endure. If she only new the far flung ports in which her fame was propagated, added to, handed down over centuries and passed from voice to voice-an unbroken chain! The historical characters with whom she is associated include one Elanor Boote. Elanor's grave is in a old cemetery in Wexford. Though Mrs Boote is associated with the song, the actual Eileen remains elusive, in reality, she is most likely to be the object of the affections of Cearbhall ó Dálaigh "Chief Harper of Ireland" in the 14th century. Cearbhall is the first man to be associated with Eileen, but as the centuries progress other lives unfold and weave a mesmerizing shroud around her. A sort of cloud atlas is woven, that is at once, singularly fascinating, and also, completely bewildering. Eileen takes the guise of Eileen Kavanagh, sweetheart of Cearbhall O' Dálaigh, centuries later, she is Elanor Boote, later still, she holds the affections of Gearld Griffin. Gerald was a 19th century Limerick poet and writer, to Gerald, Eileen had become, not a living woman, but rather, a compass and map for human desire (I'm sure he had a few women in mind as he mused!). Indeed, Eileen was this archetypal figure as far back as Elizabethan times-where the song was sung at the interlude of Shakespearean plays, as a sort of airy, romantic, one stop shop for love. It being in phonetic Irish only added to its romantic allure - "Du ca tu non vanna tu Aileen a roon?" Whatever took your fancy could be conjured to the imagination-it being unintelligible to all but Irish speakers-who no doubt would have found it equally confounding sung from the mouths of the Elizabethans. Eileen Aroon continued to be performed on stage in this form for centuries. The song even found itself hummed on the back of a west bound wagon-crawling and creeping across the broad plains of North America, it became part of the traveling shows which followed the people of those great migrations.
|"Killarney Milk Maid," 1847, George McDonald|
Below, is my tuppence ha'penny, my piece of the Jigsaw and part of the unravelling string that is Eileen Aroon. I'm singing Gerald Griffin's version (though I use some of the melody/embellishments of a version recorded by the McPeake family in the 1960's). My recording below is a work in progress. I'm also having troubles with the sound levels too on the mix (the level is a bit low), I'll fix that as soon as I figure out how!