Being of Irish decent, I suppose I am naturally kin to those Celtic sounding tunes. Perhaps this is why I have always been drawn to folk and bluegrass music. There is a whole river of such music flowing through many of those songs. I will come back to this in just a minute.
The other day I was watching the TV news about the back to back hurricanes bearing down on Hawaii. I remembered the last time we visited there was 1988. We stayed at the Coco-Palms Hotel on Kauai. This was also the place where Elvis Presley starred in the movie “Blue Hawaii”. Coincidentally, that hotel was destroyed by another hurricane some years ago.
There was a nice Hawaiian man there who played the Ukelele. He had the job of entertaining guests with his fine singing and Uke playing. He had done his job well for over 35 years when I met him. He also had two very beautiful daughters who were happy to give tourists like me lessons on how to play the Ukelele.
I jumped in the rental car and drove down the highway to a music store and bought a nice “Aloha” Uke. Since I already knew how go get around on guitar, it only took a couple of hours and some encouragement from those pretty island girls, before I was sitting at the outside bar near the pool, jamming and singing harmony with their Papa. The cost of the instrument and lessons were covered because I could not buy a drink for myself all weekend.
So what does all this happy Hawaiian vacation stuff have to do with Irish tunes or Bluegrass? It ties in like this… I found my Ukelele in the top of a closet the other day and started plucking on it. “Down In The Willow Garden” is a traditional Appalachian murder ballad about a man facing the gallows for the murder of his lover: he gave her poisoned wine, stabbed her, and threw her in a river. The song may have derived from Irish sources from the early 19th century. There are lyrical similarities to W. B. Yeats’ 1899 poem “Down by the Salley Gardens”, which itself probably derives from another Irish Ballad.
While there are a great many lyrics and stanzas to this song, I chose to make a short instrumental intro with the Ukelele, playing the traditional theme of “Down In The Willow Garden” followed by a full version of “Sally Garden Reel”.
“Salley” or “sally” is a form of the Standard English word “sallow”, i.e., a tree of the genus Salix. It is close in sound to the Irish word saileach, meaning willow. The grassy material used to place a roof on many houses in Ireland, and in Hawaii!