This Celtic tune is "An Suiste Buidhe".

An Súiste Buídhe is usually translated as "The Yellow Flail". In Irish, súiste is the handle of a flail, and buídhe is a variant of buígh, which indeed means "yellow", but also means "the corn turning yellow".

Since most of us live in urban areas, me must first ask: what is a flail

It is an instrument used for threshing grain manually. Cut grain is spread out on an even floor, and in a method that used to be common thoughout Europe, it was "flailed", or threshed, with the wooden (sometimes metal) extensions attached to strong sticks. Depending on how much grain there was, this exercise could take some time. At the end one was left with, on the one hand, bushels of grain, and on the other, with bunches of straw.

A more complete translation of An Súiste Buidhe would thus be "flailing the yellowing corn". Now the tune makes a lot more sense.

Top: from Wikipedia

Below: "Threshing Wheat

with a Flail 2010", YouTube

A flail_Wikipedia2.jpg
Flailing 2
Flailing 3

 

Flailing the corn was done by two or more workers who usually developed a good common rhythm. As the flails came down on the grain, sometimes a limping rhythm would evolve between the workers, and sometimes there developed a rapid sequence of beats.

 

This rhythm was clearly the inspiration to the An Suiste Buidhe folk song which alternates between limping and fast passages. It is told that in olden times, many peasants sang this and similar tunes as they carried on flayling.

 

Let's travel back to that time.

 

Here is the An Suiste Buidhe song as recorded in 1873 by P.W. Joyce. It is to be played "playful, but not too fast". I assumed three men thrashing the wheat with their flails, singing or whistling this tune as they worked. I used a strong-sounding oboe to play the main tune.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The original tune

  Sheet music

 

And how about the women? Often enough, they got into the act as well. For them I composed another tune to the same rhythm, but a bit more complex. It's called "Echoes of The Yellow Flail" or "An Suiste Buidhe Echoes". For them, I used a pleasant-sounding oboe to play the melodic line. The bass accompaniment is played on a harp, as was common in Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries. Imagine three women humming or singing this tune again and again as they are flailing the corn.

Eric's composition



MIDI file
Sheet music