Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sweet Portaferry

In his seminal 1901 volume, Ballads of Down, George Francis Savage-Armstrong included his version of ‘Sweet Portaferry’.

As thy Castle's grey walls in the low sun are gleaming,
Sweet, sweet Portaferry, and the evening draws near,
And I drift on the tide to the ocean down-streaming,
And leave to the night-wind thy woodlands dear,
All, all the splendours of years gone over.
The glad bright life of thy halls of rest,
Like the spell of weird music when fairy-wings hover.
Sweet, sweet Portaferry, sink in on my breast !

Dear home of my sires by the blue waves of Cuan,
Sweet, sweet Portaferry of the ivy-clad towers.
Where in childhood I ranged every dell the ferns grew in,
And gathered in handfuls bluebell-flowers.
Farewell ! I leave thee, afar to wander,
Alone, alone, over land and sea ;
But wherever I roam, O, my heart will grow tender,
Sweet, sweet Portaferry, in dreaming of thee!

It is set to the tune of the same name which was part of Edward Bunting's famous collection The Ancient Music of Ireland, first published in 1796 – and therefore contemporary with the earliest Ulster-Scots 'Rhyming Weavers’. Their work also contains songs and airs but which have never been viewed from that perspective. Perhaps there is a project there for somebody to assemble a similar collection.

There are other, better-known, lyrics for 'Sweet Portaferry’. I am not sure which version came first, but I first heard them on a cassette given to me by the late George Holmes, which he had helped to produce, entitled 'Songs of the Ards', probably some time in the 1980s.

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