Illustration by Alice Flynn


lyrics by Seosamh MacCathmhaoil (Joseph Campbell)

Sleep O babe, for the red bee hums the silent twilight's fall,
Aoibheall from the grey rock comes, to wrap the world in thrall.
A leanbhan O, my child, my joy, my love my heart's desire,
The crickets sing you lullaby, beside the dying fire.

Dusk is drawn and the Green Man's thorn is wreathed in rings of fog,
Siabhra sails his boat till morn, upon the Starry Bog.
A leanbhan O, the paly moon hath brimmed her cusp in dew,
And weeps to hear the sad sleep-tune, I sing O love to you.

Faintly sweet doth the chapel bell, ring o'er the valley dim,
Tearmann's peasant voices swell, in fragrant evening hymn.
A leanbhan O, the low bell rings, my little lamb to rest,
And angel- dreams till morning sings, its music in your breast.

Aoibheall - (EE-val) Meaning: the name of the queen of the northern fairies
leanbhan - (LYAN-uh-van) Meaning: little child, baby
Tearmann - (CHAR-uh-muhn) Meaning: tearmann = sanctuary, refuge, or church land, name of village near Lough Gartan
Siabra - (SHEE-vra) a prankster class of trooping fairies, also spelled Shefro or Siofra.

Illustration © Alice Flynn

The Gartan Mother's Lullaby - Comments by Alice Flynn

This is my favorite lullaby. I was introduced to it through the recording by Mary O'Hara.

The song was first published in 1904 in "The Songs of Uladh [Ulster]" by Herbert Hughes and Joseph Campbell. Both were from Belfast, Hughes being a Protestant (Methodist) and Campbell a Catholic. Hughes collected the trad melody in Donegal the previous year, and Campbell wrote the lyrics.

My sources are Irish Country Songs, collected and arranged by Herbert Hughes, vol.one, 1909, and the album notes from Songs of Ireland by Mary O'Hara, written by Liam Clancy, 1958, and information sent to me by John McLaughlin, a native of Donegal.

In the second line, there is a word that sounds something like Eeval, but it refers to "Aoibheal", the fairy who guards the Grey Rock. I have another source, 'True Irish Ghost Stories', which refers to her as a banshee (fairy woman). From 'True Irish Ghost Stories', "The most famous Banshee of ancient times was that attached to the kingly house of O'Brien, Aibhill [Aoibheall], who haunted the rock of Craglea above Killaloe, near the old palace of Kincora. In A.D. 1014 was fought the battle of Clontarf, from which the aged king, Brian Boru, knew that he would never come away alive, for the previous night Aibhill had appeared to him to tell him of his impending fate."

For more information on the meaning of Sheevra (the class of fairies called siabra) and Eevil (Aebinn or Aibell, the banshee) read the page at this site: Mythology : Gods, Goblins, and Phantoms.

My Thanks To John McLaughlin For Sending Me The Following Information

John McLaughlin provided additional information along with the third verse that he emailed to me:

Commonly known as "Aoibhinn the Beautiful" is queen of the northern fairies,
as Cliodhna of Tonn-Cliodhna is queen of the southern. For further
information on this interesting lady see Douglas Hyde's "Literary History of
Ireland", also, Dr Joyce's "Irish Names of Places".

Fear-glas is own brother to the Scottish Bodach-Glas, or Fetch. They say if
you see him in the morning, "no ill follows", but if at night, death or some
other terrible misfortune will surely overtake you. He is sometimes called
Fear-Liath, or the Grey Man. There is a curious fissure in the cliff-face
near Beann--mor (Fair Head) in the Co[unty] Aondruim [Antrim]. It is called
Cosan-fhir-liath i.e. the Grey Man's Path and the fisher people dwelling
about these coasts tell some wonderful stories of the Genius that is
supposed to make it his highway to the sea in his daily journeys from
Cuil-na-locha inland. Mrs. S.C. Hall has recorded a typical one. She
"The Grey Man's path most riveted our attention. 'Did you ever see the Grey
Man?' we inquired of a boatman. 'God forbid it's not that sort I'd be liking
to see. The likes of him only comes to the place for trouble. I heard say,
before the great ship was wrecked off Port-na-Spania, he was known to have
decoyed the vessel in and that when he 'ticed it on the rocks he flitted
away to his own berth up there and clapped his hands, and the echo of that
clap pitched yon rock out to sea from the headland, as you would pitch a
"And was he never seen since"?
'It was a year or two before the troubles that my father, dodging about in
his boat, thinking to run to Baile-Mairge, for it was winter time, saw it
between him and the setting sun, like a wreath of smoke passing over the
water. As it drew near the coast it grew into the shape of a giant, folded
in his cloak from head to foot. Then it went up the cliff and stopped where
that fallen pillar rests. Above the path, there, it made a pause and turning
round spread its arms forward either for a blessing or a curse. Too well it
was proved to be a curse', added the boatman; and then he went on to tell of
the ruin of the neighbouring colliery by the fall of part of the cliff above
its works. 'And who knows' says he in conclusion, 'what might happen if the
Grey man comes to pay us another visit?'
The Fear-liath is cousin-once-removed to that gruesome joker Fear-Dearg
[the Red Man], and some distant relation of Fear-Gorta, the Man of Hunger,
or Famine Spirit:-
"The Brown Man o' the moor, that stays
Beneath the heather-bell"

Did you know that Gartan means "little garden", Tearmann (Termon in
English), a village a few miles north of Lough Gartan, means "sanctuary" (or
church) land. (I'm not an Irish speaker, this info is from ref books). Can
you get the 1:50,000 Irish Ordnance Survey maps over there? If so the
relevant area is covered by Sheet 6 (Letterkenny). I'm not sure if the
Starry Boig is an actual or imaginary place name. Funny thing is that
Campbell never visted Donegal until years after he wrote Gartan. Did you
know that he lectured at Fordham Uni (NY) for ten years in the 20s and 30s?
Gartan was the birthplace of St Columba and was the scene of a terrible
eviction in 1861 when hundreds were thrown off the Derryveagh Estate and
emigrated to Australia with money raised from a public appeal as a result of
the outcry.

Joseph Campbell (1879-1944) came from a fairly well to do Belfast family
of road builders but he gave it all up to be a poet. He had a mystical nature
(as evident in Gartan). In 1906 he wrote, "all things on earth to me are
known, for I have the gift of the Murrain stone" ( a "magic" hollow stone
from which cattle would be made to drink in the hope of preventing them
catching the deadly disease, murrain).

He was an ardent republican but only worked as a sort of medical orderly
in Dublin during the 1916 Rising. During the Civil War (1923) he was
arrested and interned for 18 months. The injustice (he hadn't partook in the
fighting, only supporting the Republicans verbally) and harsh prison
regime sickened him of Irish politics and he emigrated to NY in 1925, earning a
living teaching Irish lit and culture at Fordham Univ.

He wrote hundreds of poems and a number of plays but success on the grand
scale eluded him He spent the last five years of his life living quietly in the Wicklow Hills.
His editor Austin Clarke (himself a major poet, of course) wrote, "In the
spring of 1944 his nearest neighbours in the glen noticed that no turf smoke
was coming from the chimney and became alarmed. The poet was found dead
where he had falled across the hearth stone". As I (John McLaughlin) have
written elsewhere "Appropriately the last sounds Joseph Campbell heard
were those that he loved and which had helped inspire one of his best known
songs, The crickets sing you lullably, beside the dying fire....."

- John McLaughlin

For more information on the meaning of Sheevra (the class of fairies called siabra) and Eevil (Aebinn or Aibell, the banshee) read the page at this site: Mythology : Gods, Goblins, and Phantoms.

Since first posting this page, I have received emails from grateful readers who were searching for an understanding of these lyrics. Because there are other lyrics published with the error of using the word "evil" instead of the Banshee's name "Aoibheall" or "Eeval", and other misunderstandings and mispronunciations of the Gaelic words, I have written an English adaptation that I hope will be used if people are looking for a version different than Campbell's.

Below is the version I wrote without the Gaelic. I hope people take the time to learn the Irish version and understand it, but if not, please don't sing it with "evil"!! A choral music arrangement using my adaptation of the lyrics is available from Santa Barbara Music Publishing. The choral arrangement adapts the traditional tune.

For the original melody collected and used by Herbert Hughes,
click here for page one, page two, page three, and page four.

The Gartan Mother's Lullaby
lyrics adapted by Alice Flynn
published by SBMP ©1999
choral arrangement by Neil Ginsberg

Sleep, O babe, for the red bee hums
The silent twilight fall.
The Banshee from the grey rock comes
To wrap the world in thrall.
My baby-o, my child, my joy,
My love, my heart's desire,
The cricket sings you lullaby,
Beside the dying fire.

Dusk is drawn, and the Green Man's thorn
Is wreathed in rings of fog.
The fairy sails his boat til morn,
Upon the starry bog.
My child-o, the pale half-moon,
Hath brimmed her cusp in dew,
And weeps to hear this sad sleep tune,
I sing, my love, to you.

repeat first verse.


updated June 2, 2002