Joe Heaney Bob Dylan Eileen Aroon

by elmergantry

Over the last few years, have listened  a great deal to the recordings of the great Irish sean-nos singer, Joe Heaney. Heaney was a close friend of Liam Clancy’s and a source for some of the Clancy Brother’s material. Through Liam Clancy, Heaney was also on the fringes of the Greenwich Village set (he appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in the mid-1960s) and was one of the singers who performed at the Singers Club in December 1962, when Dylan also performed two songs there.This is Heaney’s version of Eileen Aroon, which Dylan performed in concert on a number of occasions (most notably perhaps in Dublin in 1989):

After that concert, according to Sean Wilentz, Bob spoke with Liam Clancy about his sadness at the fact that ‘his audiences, even in Dublin, no longer knew the wonderful old songs’.

Funnily enough, however, the version that Dylan sang is not actually the original one but, in fact, is  derived from a poem by Gerard Griffin, the Nineteenth century Irish novelist and author of The Collegians. While Griffin’s poem is based on the original song, it alters the original words quite a bit and adapts them to Nineteenth Century ‘Romantic’ conventions.To complete the picture, here is Heaney singing the Irish version of the song:

Heaney also recorded the Irish version of ‘Eileen Aroon’ on his Gael-Linn , album (issued under the Irish version of his name, Seosamh O’hEanai) O Mo Dhuchas (From My Tradition).
There is discussion of both the Irish & English versions of “Eileen Aroon” & their place in Heaney’s repertoire in Sean Williams and Lillis O’Laoire’s excellent book on Heaney  Bright Star of the West, 120-27.