This is a traditional Irish song arranged by Altan. It appears on Atlan’s second studio album The Red Crow, released in November 1990.
Comment from Geoff Wallis:
Do you have any further information about this song? Edit this page and help us expand this section. ^close
I reckon this is one of those songs which either owes much to poetic licence or has simply been corrupted over the ages.
Apart from the Altan version, which Mairéad says she got from her late father Francie, there are two other recorded Donegal versions in Irish. The first is by Albert Fry (Belfast-born, but with strong Donegal connections) and the second by Caitlín Ní Dhomhnaill from Rannafast in The Rosses. Both versions were available on cassette from Cló Iar-Chonnachta.
As for geography, I don’t think this song has anything to do with Mayo. The River Finn is in Donegal and meets the River Mourne south of Strabane. There is no River Finn in Mayo. Iorras is the Irish version of Erris in Mayo, but also of Urris in Inishowen.
That being said, there’s no possibility that anyone could have stood on the banks of the Finn and ‘been close to the waves’ or watched big ships sailing into the ocean.
The Diarmúid and Gráinne reference is clearly a metaphor for emigration.
The song’s title loosely translates as ‘island fort of the oars’. The island in question is impossible to identify.
King of the universe, that we're not in Iorras
Or over in Inis Dhún Rámha
On the banks of the Finn, close by the waves
Watching big ships go sailing the ocean
Though weary and tired with no one to cheer us
But the leafy branches to shade us
And people would fondly compare our going
To the elopment of Diarmad and Gráinne
Last night she appeared to me in my dreaming
Like I held her in the fold of my arm
This maiden so comely like a blanket of snow
If it were to refrain from thawing
Pride of mankind were she by my side
As bed-pal without any dowry
Her honey-sweet lips would sure my affliction
And ensure my sick body's recovery
If I were a baron, I wouldn't be craving
For horses or kine as a dowry
If I had this maiden to sit down beside me
Or stand there so stately and cheery
The sheen in her skin is far more endearing
Than the rays of the sun at the dawning
It's no lie to relate, but the truth here I state
That she is the fairest of maidens