Friday, October 12, 2012

Lyric Review: Bonny Portmore



  • This might start to seem like a trend but what can I say, I love Irish music.  This traditional Irish folk song was first published in 1840 in Bunting's "Ancient Music of Ireland."

The words may not make a lot of sense to those either not listening closely or who are unaware of Irish history, so I thought I would break it down for you.


  • Portmore was a castle in County Antrim near Portmore Lough.  Portmore Lough is from the Irish Phoirt Mhoir which means "lake of the great landing place."  It drains into Lough Neagh.  Following is a video of the song with some great footage of Ireland and featuring Loreena McKennitt singing:



The song begins with the repeating chorus:

O, bonny Portmore, you shine where you stand 
And the more I think on you, the more I think long
If I had you now as I had once before
All the lords in Old England would not purchase Portmore

And is followed by:

Oh bonny Portmore, I am sorry to see
Such a woeful destruction of your ornament tree
For it stood on your shore, for many's the long day
Till the long boats of Antrim came to float it away

  • This song is a lament on the destruction of the old Oak and Ash forests of Ireland.  The line "Such a woeful destruction of your ornament tree" refers to a specific Great Oak tree which stood on the grounds of Portmore Castle.  The tree fell in a windstorm in 1760.  "Till the long boast of Antrim came to float it away," is a reference to the use of the oak for shipbuilding.
The remainder of the song repeats the chorus followed by another verse:

O, bonny Portmore, you shine where you stand
And the more I think on you, the more I think long
If I had you now as I had once before
All the lords in Old England would not purchase Portmore

All the birds in the forest they bitterly weep
Saying, "Where will we shelter or where will we sleep?"
For the Oak and the Ash, they are all cutten down
And the walls of bonny Portmore are all down to the ground

As one might imagine, this first part of the last stanza refers to the loss of the bird's homes in the Oak and the Ash.  The last line, "the walls of bonny Portmore are all down to the ground," refers to the castle itself having vanished.  

  • Lough Neagh is now designated a Special Protection Area and Area of Special Scientific Interest as well as being part of the Royal Society of the Protection of Birds nature reserve.  One can only imagine the beautiful forests of Oak and Ash now gone forever from Ireland' shores.  And Portmore Castle is now lost to the world.  The last lines of the chorus echo the message of the song, "If I had you now as I had once before, All the lords in Old England would not purchase Portmore."  Beautiful, natural forests now destroyed for commercial purposes.  If only we could get back what we have lost, we would not sell it again.  This song epitomizes a true lament as the people and the birds long for what is gone yet time has moved on.

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