An Irish Jig on dulcimer for St. Patrick’s Day

“Smash the Windows” is a lively jig to play on the mountain dulcimer. It is a traditional Irish dance tune with many variations and several other names including “Roaring Jelly.” With St Patrick’s Day coming up soon, I have another excuse to arrange and play an Irish tune for the dulcimer.

We owe much of our knowledge of Irish tunes to Irishman, Capt. Frances O’Neill. Although his name is not as familiar as other Irish musicians, O’Neill provides us with a valuable resource to traditional Irish music. I used his book for a starting point to transcribe “Smash the Windows” for dulcimer for my St. Patrick’s Day tune.

O’Neill’s Music of Ireland

Capt. Francis O’Neill (1848 – 1936) was born in Ireland, emigrated to Chicago and was a collector of Irish music. O’Neill has an interesting history. He was born in in Tralibane, County Cork of Ireland in the last year of the potato famine. Rather than following his family’s choice to become a teacher, at age 16 years he seemingly ran away from home to became a cabin boy on an English merchant ship. On one voyage he met a young Irish female emigrant. They eventually married, settling in Chicago raising ten children. O’Neill joined the Chicago police force. Due to his intelligence and political savvy, he quickly rose to the rank of General Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department serving in that capacity from 1901 to 1905.

O’Neill was also a proficient musician playing flute, fiddle and pipe. He was an integral part of the Irish music scene in Chicago at the time. He never forgot his Irish childhood. In addition to playing, O’Neil was very interested in collecting Irish tunes and found them in a variety of sources — other Irish musicians, printed music, wax cylinders sent to him from his nephew in Ireland. When O’Neill heard of an Irish musician emigrating to this country, the story goes that he would place them on the police force. He discovered tunes by listening to folks singing on streetcars and in shops. He’s stay until he memorized the tune.

After O’Neill retired, he became immersed in publishing all the music that he collected over the years and by some accounts was obsessed with this activity. All total, O’Neill collected around 3,500 Irish tunes.

One of O’Neill’s tune books is entitled, “O’Neill’s Music of Ireland.” It contains eighteen hundred and fifty melodies including airs, jigs, hornpipes, song dances, marches, etc. Now that’s enough to keep my busy for transcribing music for the dulcimer for many years! Mel Bay Publications, Inc. has re-published the book in its entirety. It is a valuable resource for Irish music and we are fortunate that O’Neill had such a passion.

In the dedication to the book, O’Neill says: “To the multitude of nonprofessional musicians of the Gaelic and English speaking races all over the world, who enjoy and cherish the melodies of Ireland, this work is respectfully Dedicated.”

Playing “Smash the Windows” on Mountain Dulcimer

“Smash the Windows” is a good example of a traditional Irish jig and is probably in the repertoire of most Irish musicians. Like many Irish tunes, “Smash the Windows” has multiple variations with minor differences. I used “O’Neill’s Music of Ireland” as a starting point for playing the tune on the dulcimer, but changed the “B” part to more closely resemble several variations which I heard on You-Tube recordings. My variation also makes the tune easier to play on the dulcimer.

The tune is found in manuscripts in the Key of D, so using the DAD tuning on the dulcimer works. (The tune also sounds nice when played on a baritone dulcimer which places it in the Key of A.) I suggest using a dulcimer with a longer fretboard which is easier to play at higher frets and one that does not have 1-1/2 and 8-1/2 frets (these get in the way of fingering). The sustain is often better with dulcimers with longer fretboards, too.

As with many Irish flute and fiddle tunes, the notes of the tune’s melody range over almost two octaves. Playing the tune solely on the melody string of the dulcimer means that the “B” part goes up to the 12th fret. And this is not comfortable for many dulcimer players. So I arranged the song playing the tune across the strings. It begins on the bass string making the highest note the 5th fret on the melody string. For added interest, I also made a version for playing mostly on middle string and a third variation to be played on the melody string. These arrangements are more challenging. Good luck.

Jigs

A jig originally was an English or Irish dance tune. Since it is a dance tune, it is predictable and the tune is typically eight measures to a part. Unlike O’Carolan harp tunes where the melody seems to drift and float along, jigs have more repetition in the melody. Jigs are written in 6/8 time with six notes per bar or 2 groups of three notes.  Double jigs have three notes per beat, and every other beat is a downbeat. Double jigs are the most common type of jig. On the dulcimer, for efficiently it helps to strum in a back and forth manner across the strings on the groups of three notes. Jigs typically are played in a lively and spirited manner.

This is a great tune to play on dulcimer and I am enjoying it (still working on the higher variations). A new tune for the month of March and for the St. Patrick’s holiday! Enjoy all three variations.

References

https://interactive.wttw.com/a/chicago-stories-francis-oneill

https://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/AMusic/FrancisONeil.html

https://thesession.org/tunes/101

https://tunearch.org/wiki/Annotation:Smash_the_Windows_(1)

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