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The Bunch of Rushes / The Bonny Bunch of Rushes Green

[ Roud 831 ; Master title: The Bunch of Rushes ; Ballad Index RcABLtlb ; VWML HAM/3/11/13 , GG/1/7/377 , FK/19/91/1 ; Bodleian Roud 831 ; Mudcat 169020 ; trad.]

John Holloway, Joan Black: Bunch of Rushes O! Later English Broadside Ballads Frank Purslow: The Bonny Bunch of Rushes Marrow Bones James Reeves: Gathering Rushes The Everlasting Circle

O.J. Abbott of Hull, Quebec, sang The Bonny Bunch of Rushes Green to Edith Fowke in 1957. This recording was included in 1975 on the Leader album Far Canadian Fields which is a companion to Edith Fowke’s Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs. She noted:

Gathering rushes is a familiar symbol for sexual adventures in many countries. Not only is it found in several English and Irish songs, but in the popular French song Jeanneton prend sa facille and even, according to James Reeves, in a fourth-century Chinese love song translated as Plucking the Rushes.

This ballad is an English version of a widely known Gaelic song An binnsin luachra (The Little Bench of Rushes). Mrs. Clandillon quotes this note from O’Daly’s Reliques of Irish Jacobite Poetry: “The meaning of the word ‘beinsin’ (little bench) is mistaken by some of our most eminent writers, who suppose it to mean a ‘bunch’. In our youthful days it was a general custom with the peasantry to go on Midsummer Eve to the next bog and cut a ‘beart luachra’ (bundle of rushes), as much as a stout lad could carry home on his back; and this they strewed on benches of stone made for the purpose inside and outside their cottages; where the youth of the neighbourhood spent the evening in the usual pastimes.”

The original ballad follows the familiar pattern of the maid seduced and deserted, but Mr Abbott’s version turns it into a song celebrating the delights of true love.

Miss Broadwood collected two bilingual versions in Waterford in 1906, in which the singers sang alternate English and Gaelic stanzas, with the English ones being practically translations of the Gaelic. When she printed them in the Journal of the Folk Song Society she noted: “Dr Douglas Hyde writes that the Irish words are ‘famous’” and that “Mr Kidson has kindly sent me a ballad-sheet printed by Such, The Bunch of Rushes [VWML FK/19/91/1] , which is evidently a paraphrase of a common Irish original, but is distinct from the Irish ballad here printed.” H.E.D. Hammond collected another version in Dorset in 1905 [VWML HAM/3/11/13] , and James Reeves gives one collected by George B. Gardiner in Southampton in 1906 [VWML GG/1/7/377] , both obviously springing from the same Gaelic original but based on still different translations. Sam Henry has one, The Tossing of the Hay [Henry No. 635], which is closer to Mr Abbott’s, although none have anything corresponding to his final stanza, which makes me suspect that he may have added it himself. The only other trace of it in North America is a fragment found in New Brunswick.

Peta Webb sang The Bunch of Rushes Green on her 1989 Musical Traditions album The Magpie’s Nest.

Steve Turner sang The Bunch of Rushes in 1984 on his Fellside album Eclogue. This track was also include in 2006 on Fellside’s 30th anniversary anthology Landmarks.