Siúil, Siúil, Siúil a Rún – a bit of Irish history in a folk song

In order to celebrate St Patrick’s Day I am going to dissect a bit ‘Siúil a Rún’, a traditional Irish song and one of my folk favourites. There will be blood! 🙂

The title translates to “go, my love” (or ‘walk my love’): siúil is an imperative, literally translating to “walk!”, a rún is a term of endearment. Here goes the first verse.

I wish I was on yonder hill 
Tis there I’d sit and cry my fill
Till every tear would turn a mill
Is go dte tu mo mhuirnin slan. (translation: And may you go safely, my darling)

I think the first thing that sticks out about the song that it has mixed English language and Gaelic verses and an Irish language chorus. It is a style known as macaronic, characteristic for 19 century Ireland, in times when English was becoming a predominant language and Gaelic was being used less and less. It also indicates that this song might be younger than its content seems to suggest.

I didn’t manage to find out what hill (if any in particular) the narrator wishes to visit. Is it perhaps the Hill of Tara, the place of a famous battle between British forces and Irish rebels on 26 May 1798? If so, heavy crying would suit it perfectly – the Irish lost. Or is it simply an unknown hill where she used to date her beloved? Who knows? Anyway the woman sounds mighty depressed to me. Now let’s tackle the Gaelic chorus:

Siuil, siuil, siuil a ruin
Siuil go sochair agus siuil go ciuin
Siuil go doras agus ealaigh liom
Is go dte tu mo mhuirnin slan 

English translation of the chorus (preserving the accent and rhymes):

Come, come, come, O love/Quickly come to me, softly move/Come to the door, and away we’ll flee/And safe for aye may my darling be!

Though many period Irish people were multi-lingual, I would find it exceptional for a folk song that would require a bilingual audience to be properly understood.  (There are plenty of period written pieces that do just that, usually French/English/Latin/etc., but it’s not consistent with a “folk” song.)  The origins of ‘Siuil a ruin’ are unknown and it doesn’t make it easier to speculate about the reasons behind these strange, mixed lyrics. Was it a nod toward the occupants to make your plight more understood and their approach more sympathetic? A bit of politics in pretty disguise? Who knows?

I’ll sell my rock, I’ll sell my reel 
I’ll sell my only spinning wheel
to buy my love a sword of steel
Is go dte tu mo mhuirnin slan

Let’s return to our heroine. She pronounces herself willing to virtually go broke in order to support her beloved and his new career. Why? The explanation is hardly simple so it will take a while, bear with  me. We must go back in time to the second half of the 17th century. In 1688, James Stuart II, Catholic and king of England, Scotland and Ireland, and his Queen Mary had a son. Until then the throne would be granted to their daughter Mary, a good Protestant,  married to the Dutch prince William from the House of Orange, also a Protestant. Now there was a very real possibility of creating a Catholic dynasty in England and return to the old religion. For some people it sounded like a recipe for a disaster.

The Protestants reacted. William mobilized the Dutch troops, invaded England and started the Glorious Revolution. The Stuarts left the country, and William and Mary were assigned as new rulers. Still James didn’t want to give up so easily. From his exile in the Catholic portion of Ireland he organized an army (whose members were called Jacobites, or the restorers of “Jacobus”, the latin form of English ‘James’) and started a revolt to what was perceived from their perspective as a coup d’etat . James was again defeated by troops led by William himself and fled to France. His defeat triggered  the departure of the rest of Irish Jacobite army under the command of Patrick Sarsfield from Ireland to France, as agreed in the Treaty of Limerick on 3 October 1691. It was known as the Flight of the Wild Geese. An incredibly poetic name for something ruinous and sad.

Sarsfield sailed to France on 22 December 1691, leading as many as 14,000 of his countrymen, around 10 000 countrywomen, and children to enter the French service in the first phase of the military denuding of Ireland. The new authorities saw this as preferable to the potentially disruptive effects of having large numbers of unemployed young men of military age roaming the country. Men who could be armed and knew how to fight. The English were wrong but how wrong exactly they found out only during the Jacobite rising of 1745 in Scotland – guess what part of the conflict the Irish soldiers sided with. After that point the recruitment for foreign armies in Ireland was officially banned, unofficially limited to a trickle of Irish volunteers who were able to make their own way to France. And, as this song claims, such an illegal endeavour was pretty costly.

A replica of an 18th century dress with a red petticoat.

I’ll dye my petticoats, I’ll dye them red
and it’s round the World I will beg for bread
until my parents would wish me dead.
Is go dte tu mo mhuirnin slan

That particular verse started my search and it also proved the most obstinate. I didn’t understand why the woman had to dye her petticoats red at all and why her family might wish her dead as a result. Out of shame? For any other reasons, like wandering aimlessly instead of marrying a good lad and have plenty of kids?

While surfing the Internet and asking Google for answers about the red petticoat I found many contrary explanations. There were suggestions that the girl might be pregnant, or she felt forced to prostitute herself after selling all her most precious belongings (but why she needed to advertize any of these was beyond me). Others thought she might want to join the Travellers (after all the Travellers refer to themselves in Irish as an Lucht Siúil) and go ’round the world’ with them – also a shameful choice. Finally somebody pointed out that ‘red’ rhymes well with ‘dead’ in English. As simple as that. 🙂

I agree that dyed petticoats, red or of any other colour, would make any ‘going round the world and begging’ easier because the fabric wouldn’t show wear and tear so fast as, say, white or light-coloured petticoat. Also red petticoats were favoured by women who had their periods, for obvious reasons. All this so nice and practical, don’t you think? Still I admit that while all of these arguments were interesting I didn’t find them especially helpful.

Irish House of Commons in 1780, by Francis Wheatley. Notice all those red, red jackets and red accents among the public above.

Then I reminded myself of one scene from ‘Gone with the Wind’ (book and movie), when the ever-gallant Rhett Butler offers a red petticoat made of silk to one of Scarlett O’Hara’s faithful slaves, Mammy. The said woman, even if not exactly young and rather a stickler for propriety, was simply thrilled by that fact. Literally tickled pink. I suppose it is a kind of proof that no, red petticoat didn’t have any negative connotations like indicating its wearer was pregnant out of wedlock or a prostitute. It wasn’t  Rhett’s intention to offend Mammy. He wanted to make her a nice gift and he succeeded. As flimsy as that argument might seem, it indicates that working women actually preferred their petticoats to be coloured – for pure convenience- and I must emphasize the fact that a petticoat was completely visible from under the dress in those times.

Then I stumbled on another tidbit. One of the period painters, Francis Wheatley arrived in Dublin at the zenith of the popularity of the Volunteers and quickly assumed the role of unofficial artist of the movement. His paintings document the engagement of women. Apart from his House of Commons painting, shown above, Wheatley’s ‘Volunteer review’ also includes women in the windows overlooking College Green, wearing Volunteer colours, and one woman can just be distinguished dressed in a female version of a Volunteer uniform. These uniforms were red. Bright red.  Still, an appropriate dress or other expensive accessories like hats or scarves were available just for rich and elegant ladies. If a poor girl couldn’t afford it, she might think of home-dyeing her petticoat any shade of red and show her support to the cause in the cheapest possible way. Practical and patriotic – two sparrows killed with one stone. And then she might go a-begging, how droll.

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain,
I wish I had my heart again,
And vainly think I’d not complain,
Is go dte tu mo mhuinin slan.

But now my love had gone to France,
to try his fortune there to advance.
If he e’er come back, ’tis but a chance.
Is go dte tu mo mhuirnin slan

The song ends on a rather sad but realistic note – the girl hasn’t lost all her common sense because she is pretty aware that her beloved might never return and she wishes she was free of her infatuation. Maybe there is some hope for her after all.

Image By Detroit Publishing Co. – Library of Congress REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LLC-DIG-ppmsc-09892, Public Domain,

My sources:


There are many versions of this song available but I based my analysis on the old Clannad rendition. Don’t be surprised if you hear ‘Siuil a ruin’  sung at different pace and with quite different lyrics. Also any mistakes and speculations made in this essay are mine only. 

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Movie review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi directed by Rian Johnson

Product info:

Luke Skywalker’s peaceful and solitary existence gets upended when he encounters Rey, a young woman who shows strong signs of the Force. Her desire to learn the ways of the Jedi forces Luke to make a decision that changes their lives forever. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren

and General Hux lead the First Order in an all-out assault against Leia and the Resistance for supremacy of the galaxy.

My impressions:

It seemed this installment of the Star Wars saga could do no wrong. It was simply predestined to please the widest audience possible. Older folk? Meet again properly wizened Luke and senior citizen-ish princess Leia, along with the late Master Yoda! Younger folk? You can drool over Adam Driver as Kylo Ren or Daisy Ridley as Rey; isn’t it fun they can speak with each other through Force-Skype? Kids? Look at all these cute, furry Porgs and funny robots! R2 D2 forever! Women? In the plot there are far more female characters which play important role like admiral Holdo (Laura Dern)! Non-Caucasian fans? Fin is black and Rose Tico, a cute mechanic following him to the Casino Planet in the search of cheap fuel, is clearly of Asian origin!

A very Disney fairy tale, don’t you think? Still it left me lukewarm. All I noticed was sluggish pacing, tons of plotholes, a complete lack of character development, or any mystic lore. Overall I feel Johnson didn’t dare go far enough. He kind of flirted with deeper, darker themes, like in the scenes when Luke was explaining Rey why, in his opinion, the Jedi must disappear and he shouldn’t help his own sister facing the forces of Dark led by her and Han Solo’s son. These were very good dialogues but soon the director lost his nerve and returned to those cutesy-cute fighting scenes straight from any fairy tale.

Final verdict:

Meh. As a casual fan I am not impressed. I found this movie structurally uneven and unsatisfactory; even its best scenes failed to engage me properly. And no, I won’t be buying one of those Porg mascots any time soon.

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Movie review: The Shape of Water (2017) directed by Guillermo del Toro

Product info:

1962, Baltimore. Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute, isolated woman who works as a cleaning lady in a hidden, high-security government laboratory. Her life changes forever when she discovers the lab’s classified secret — a mysterious, scaled, humanoid creature from South America that lives in a water tank and resembles roughly a human with gills. As Elisa develops a unique bond with new friend, she soon learns that its fate and very survival lies in the hands of a hostile government agent, a gung-ho general and a shady marine biologist – not the best panel to decide about your life. Will she be able to save her friend?

My impressions:

I do like del Toro’s dark, bitter-sweet fairy tales and this one didn’t disappoint me. It can transport you to the world I suppose people like  Donald Trump would dream about, a world ruled by strong, white, powerful men who can do what they want because the God is also a white man and He looks mighty like them. Women have their place too: if they are pretty and rich, they can be elevated to a status of a wife and a mother of their children. If they are poor, ugly, colored and somehow disabled, they might have to earn their living as cleaning ladies. Or prostitutes.

Anyway the movie was another version of Beauty and the Beast, an emotionally absorbing story with the Beast portrayed as a strong, white, powerful man who likes an electric stick too much for his own good and Beauty being the amphibian humanoid monster. I found that premise elegant and mesmerizing. My only carping: Russian dialogues were delivered with an outrageous accent. Truly outrageous, believe me.

Apart from that: if you want to know more about the latest controversies surrounding this movie follow this link.

Final verdict:

A fantastic movie, highly recommendable especially if you like fantasy fairy tales with a dark twist.

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Movie review: Loving Vincent directed by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman

Product info:

One year after Vincent van Gogh’s suicide, Postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd) asks his son Armand (Douglas Booth) to deliver Van Gogh’s last letter to his brother, Theo. Roulin finds the death suspicious, as merely weeks earlier Van Gogh claimed through letters that his mood was calm and normal. Armand reluctantly agrees and heads for Paris where he finds out Theo Van Gogh is dead as well. So he starts an unofficial investigation leading him further on to  Auvers-sur-Oise and look for Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn) who housed Van Gogh during the last months of his life, after his release from an asylum. What were the real circumstances of Van Gogh’s death? Is it possible to find the truth after a year?

My impressions:

I’d been hearing about this movie for some time and I wanted to watch it but I would never guess how awesome it really was. It was as if the paintings all of the sudden became a part of reality. It was as if portraits and landscapes painted by Van Gogh got a life of their

own. The filmmakers chose classically trained painters, in total 125 artists from over twenty countries, to create this incredibly ambitious and original story. In times where everything has to be ‘instant’, ‘fast’ and ‘immediate’ the production lasted four years.

It began with a live-action cast filming against a green screen. After filming, editors composited Van Gogh paintings into scene backgrounds, and finally cut the movie together. Still it wasn’t over. Once the actual film was complete, they shot each individual frame onto a blank canvas, and artists painted over each image, a truly benedictine work. Still the effect is really jaw-dropping – just look at the trailer. By the way, if this movie isn’t awarded an Oscar, it will be for purely political reasons, nothing else. It deserves every movie award available or so is my highly skewed and personal opinion.

If I had to complain a little bit, and it would be really a rather minor problem, I’d say the actor playing Vincent Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) didn’t look like that painter at all. On the other hand the rest of the cast, especially Douglas Booth playing young Armand Roulin,  was spot-on.

Final verdict:

A highly recommendable movie not only for those who like history of modern art and impressionists. Do watch it if you get a chance.

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Movie review: Alien: Covenant (2017) directed by Ridley Scott

Product info:

A manned spaceship is flying toward an unknown planet with a mission to colonize it when they

intercept an echo of a message sent by humans. The captain decides to land on a far closer planet which has breathable atmosphere and dense forests in order to investigate. Unfortunately, in every forest might lurk a predator…

My impressions:

Meet the most careless colonizing crew in fiction. They land on a foreign planet, check that they can breathe and off they go – without any hazmat suits, without a reliable backup, without practically any precaution. Of course they are attacked by a bunch of aliens – I would attack them myself. And win, I guess, even though I am not the youngest or the fittest.

Ok, I agree, visual aesthetic and design was impressive. Still, you don’t watch those movies to sit back and go “awww, gosh, look at this fantastic interior!” or “say what you might, these ship console control switches are incredibly nice!”. When it came to the plot and the scary aliens, well, there was nothing new, not really. Respectively, I wasn’t properly afraid at all, not even once.  Fassbender’s portrayal of two similar androids with different programming seemed run-of-the-mill decent but nothing else. Katherine Waterston as Daniels, the chief of terraforming for the Covenant mission was a weak echo of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. Oh well.

Final verdict:

For the biggest Alien franchise aficionados and staunchest fans of Fassbender. Watch it at home, with some snacks ready.

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A duology review: The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun (Dreamblood 01 and 02) by Nora K. Jemisin

Products info (from Goodreads):

The Killing Moon

In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers – the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe – and kill those judged corrupt.

The Shadowed Sun

Gujaareh, the city of dreams, suffers under the imperial rule of the Kisuati Protectorate. A city where the only law was peace now knows violence and oppression. A mysterious and deadly plague now haunts the citizens of Gujaareh, dooming the infected to die screaming in their sleep. Someone must show them the way.

My impressions:

I am really impressed and, respectively I will be short. I liked reading this series because Ms. Jemisin somehow knew how to create an interesting plot, three-dimensional characters (which ofteN were POC, exactly like her) and a very decent world build. Fully-fledged, intelligent females? Check. Believable couples? Check. Original magic system, inspired by (but not copied from) ancient Egypt and Nubia? No problem at all. Indeed I might have found my next favourite contemporary fantasy author. A woman. A woman of colour. Sometimes life of a reader is good.

Final verdict:

Highly recommendable. I can’t wait to read more books penned by this exceptional writer.

Rating icon with the words "one brilliant book" and a small butterfly on it.

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Movie review: The Limehouse Golem (2016) directed by Juan Carlos Medina

Product info:

Victorian London is gripped with fear as a serial killer is on the loose; he is leaving cryptic messages written in the blood of his victims and horribly mangled bodies. With few leads

and increasing public pressure, Scotland Yard assigns the case to Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy), a seasoned detective who has a sneaking suspicion that he’s being set up to fail. Faced with a long list of suspects, Kildare must rely on help from a witness to stop the murders and bring the maniac to justice. Still will he be able to believe an actress who is accused of poisoning her own husband?

My impressions:

I didn’t expect anything from that one but it was definitely a good movie – atmospheric, difficult to categorize, with a bunch of original characters. A  rumored-to-be gay sleuth, Lizzy Cree, (Olivia Cooke) an actress who has been accused of poisoning her playwright husband and her only friend, another actor who has become also a theatre owner after the suspicious death of his uncle. Among the suspects you can find even Carl Marx (Henry Goodman) – yes, that Carl Marx, the founding father of communism. Still. If only the characterization was a tad deeper. If only the main protagonists revealed a bit more emotions and their motivations during the investigation. The mystery driving the plot forward relied heavily on misdirection. And was very easy to solve. It was enough to select one major character the director wants you to trust and root for. Sherlock Holmes would laugh out loud.

Final verdict:

Watch this one for great atmosphere of pre-Jack-the-Ripper London and original characters but don’t think too much about the crime mystery – maybe you’ll be surprised at the end. To borrow.

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Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Product info (from Goodreads):

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace: he has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are never apart. Some might call this true love.

Picture this: a dinner party at their perfect home, the conversation and wine flowing. They appear to be in their element while entertaining. And Grace’s friends are eager to reciprocate with lunch the following week. Grace wants to go, but knows she never will. Her friends call—so why doesn’t Grace ever answer the phone? And how can she cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim?

And why are there bars on one of the bedroom windows?

The perfect marriage? Or the perfect lie?

My impressions:

Eh, these bestsellers. They are basically clones of other bestsellers which had cloned even older bestsellers and so on.

I grant it, as a literary debut it wasn’t very bad. I suppose it would be a perfect airport position, something you could read in few hours and leave behind without a second thought. I enjoyed the ride up to a point. Still. I found both main characters, Grace and Jack Angel, rather cartoonish. Their emotions seemed as schematic as road signs. The plot started to bore me pretty soon too. The action was far too predictable for a thriller and there was too little psychological development to talk about a psychological novel. This book was nothing more than a good material for another editing session. And another. And maybe another one. However it seems the publishers wanted to find the next ‘Gone Girl’ or ‘The Girl on the Train’ so badly that accepted that half-baked, improbable story with a set of two-dimensional, bland characters too quickly and the marketing machine did the rest.

No, I didn’t like it. Not even the bit about the Down syndrome sister who saved the day. Sorry.

Final verdict:

Avoid bestsellers and if you are sorely tempted, don’t expect anything good from them.

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Movie review: Therapy for a Vampire (2016) directed by David Rühm

Product info:

1932, Vienna. Dr. Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) helps a depressed vampire aristocrat Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) whose marriage is on the rocks. Or rather on a tip of a wooden stake. After 500 years of ‘happily-ever-after’ it can happen even to the best of couples, right?

In order to appease his more and more demanding wife who needs to be flattered all the time the vampiric Count finds a young painter who is supposed to paint his lady’s portrait and give him more nightly hours wife-free. Soon the girlfriend of that painter, young and tomboyish Lucy, catches the vampire’s eye. Even though she works as a simple waitress, she is a dead ringer for his long-lost love, the divine Nadilla…

My impressions:

Be warned: Therapy for a Vampire might elicit a few ironic smiles but rarely belly laughs. It veers from psychological parody to romantic mix-up comedy to campy horror,  an uneven mess of vampire movies cliches, mistaken identities and misplaced affections. I didn’t regret watching it, far from it; still I can’t shake off a feeling it might have been a lot better and edgier if only the director took risk and followed one of more interesting paths, mentioned in the movie. Like how to face infinite life with dignity.

Final verdict:

Do you really like vampire comedies? Do you thing a dry sense of humour suits you the best? If you answer ‘yes’ on both counts you might want to borrow and watch this one.

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Movie review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri directed by Martin McDonagh

Movie info:

After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes

makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby, the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command, Officer Dixon — an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence — gets involved, the battle is only exacerbated, polarizing the whole community. Will the murderer of Angela Hayes be found? 

My impressions:

It was a movie which could easily fall into ‘boring’ category. And yet it didn’t. Why? The characters were three-dimensional and rather complex, believe it or not. What’s more the cast was spot-on. There was no clear ‘baddies-goodies’ division line, no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ sides. The plot was full of emotional twists and turns. The ending was ambiguous which made it even more real. Finally there were scenes full of peculiar sense of humour. All these features worked for me surprisingly well.

Final verdict:

A completely watchable movie about ordinary people and their choices. I would even call it uplifting. Recommended. 

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