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On Yonder Hill There Sits a Hare

[ Roud 5173 ; Ballad Index RcOYHTSH ; trad.]

George ‘Geordie’ Hanna learned On Yonder Hill There Sits a Hare from his father and his uncle George; there are no other known versions of this hunting song. He sang it in his sister Sarah Anne O'Neill's home near Derrytresk, Coalisland, Co Tyrone, to Robin Morton in 1977. This recording was included in the following year on his and Sarah Anne O'Neill's Topic album of traditional songs of a Tyrone family, On the Shores of Lough Neagh. This track was also included in 1998 on the Topic anthology of songs of hunting and poaching, of songs of hunting and poaching, To Catch a Fine Buck Was My Delight (The Voice of the People Volume 18). John Moulden noted on the original album:

This seems to me the finest of all Ulster's hunting songs and known only from Geordie who has heard it from no-one but his father and Uncle George. Ulster has many songs of hare hunting but they tell of local men’s sport, each with his own dogs, and carried out on foot because the animal hunted is not the English Brown hare but the Irish hare, a variety of Arctic hare, smaller than its cousin the Blue hare of Scottish mountains but like it inclined to lead the chase up mountains, which would not do for horse-men!

Other songs of this kind are The Granemore Hare (Folksongs Sung in Ulster), The Hare's Dream (Songs of the People H172) and The Hare of Kilgrain (Songs of the People H12). Their chief characteristic is the high degree of sympathy the songmaker (often himself a hunter) shows for his quarry. He takes pleasure in failing to kill and if a kill is sung of it is with regret. Apparently it is the chase that counts, or do we have a hint of the old tendency for the hangman to ask his victim’s pardon? The first four notes of the air seem to me to echo a hunting horn call.

Hannah James and Sam Sweeney recorded On Yonder Hill There Sits a Hare in 2012 for their second CD, State and Ancientry, and performed it in November 2011 at the Shed:

Maggie Boyle sang On Yonder Hill, followed by Paul Downes' tune Boxty Bailey, in 2012 on her CD Won't You Come Away. She commented in her sleeve notes:

Some time in the late ‘70s, Oliver [Mulligan of Co. Monaghan] handed me a tape of Geordie Hanna (of Co. Tyrone) singing this single song. In turn, I highly recommend that you find Geordie on YouTube, singing Old Ardboe. It’s rare—and great quality—footage. I wish I had met the man. On Yonder Hill inspired this sweet, planxty-like new tune from Paul; our fearless producer inspired the title!

Sam Lee sang On Yonder Hill in 2012 too on his CD Ground of Its Own.

And Sound Tradition sang On Yonder Hill There Sits a Hare n their 2012 CD Under the Moon.

John Kirkpatrick sang this song as The Hi Ho Hare on his 2017 Fledg'ling CD Coat-Tails Flying, where he noted:

As you'll see later on, I had a bit of struggle getting to grips with what on earth Charlie Wills was thinking in his ramshackle take on The House That Jack Built, and kept repeatedly playing through his track on the CD To Catch a Fine Buck Was My Delight for most of the journey from Shropshire to Cornwall. For a bit of light relief I occasionally played through the rest of the CD, and unexpectedly fell in love with a song called On Yonder Hill There Sits a Hare, recorded from the Irish singer Geordie Hanna in County Tyrone in 1977. He'd learned it from the singing of his father and his Uncle George, but they seem to be the only people who were aware of the song, apart from a mention in an obscure book published in London in the 1820s.

Fans of the Irish style of singing will be appalled to learn that in living with the song for a while I've ironed out Mr Hanna's ornamentations and dramatic pauses. Not only that, but I also felt the heroic hare's exploits needed a couple of extra verses to emphasise the sweet triumph of the tale.

Cambridge and Walker sang On Yonder Hill on their 2019 EP Worry, Grief and Care.

Ye Vagabonds sang On Yonder Hill in 2019 on their River Lea album The Hare's Lament. They noted:

This was the first of Geordie Hanna’s songs that we learned to sing, another hare hunting song in which the singer’s sympathies lie with the hare. Once again we do not appreciate blood sports. If someone needs to hunt to eat that’s another story and an entirely different kind of song is required for the occasion. Geordie Hanna was a fisherman and farmer who lived on the shores of Lough Neagh in County Tyrone. He and his sistet Sarah-Anne O’Neill were both great singers, with a rich, lilting style of singing and a unique local repertoire. Many of Geordie’s and Sarah-Anne’s family keep that tradition going, his grandson Niall Hanna and grand­nephew Cathal O’Neill both performing and recording.

Lyrics

George Hanna sings On Yonder Hill There Sits a Hare

On yonder hill there sits a hare.
Full of worry, grief and care,
And o'er her lodgings it was bare,
    Singing ho, brave boys, hi-ho.
And o'er her lodgings it was bare,
    Singing ho, brave boys, hi-ho.

Now there came a huntsman riding by,
And on this poor hare he cast his eye,
And o'er the bogs halooed his dogs,
    Singing ho, brave boys, hi-ho.
And o'er the bogs halooed his dogs,
    Singing ho, brave boys, hi-ho.

And now she's gone from hill to hill.
All for the best dog to try his skill
And kill the poor hare that never done ill,
    Singing ho, brave boys, hi-ho.
And kill the poor hare that never done ill,
    Singing ho, brave boys, hi-ho.

And now she's turned and turned again,
Merrily as she trips the plain,
And may she live to run again,
    Singing ho, brave boys, hi-ho.
And may she live to run again,
    Singing ho, brave boys, hi-ho.