“Spanish Lady” for Mountain Dulcimer

This traditional Irish song captured my attention on folk radio. What struck me was the beautiful melody and rhythm in conjunction with the quirky counting chorus, and the story: a young man is smitten by a woman of questionable reputation washing her feet by candlelight on a late-night street in Dublin. I’ve heard different theories about the counting chorus: that it is “mouth music” or score-keeping for a game, but mostly that she is counting money. As always with the old songs, there are many variants of “Spanish Lady,” as well as other traditional songs with the counting chorus and the floating verse of “Round and round goes the wheel of fortune.”

The version I fell in love with is from Maighread Ní Dohmnaill, Tríona Ní Dohmnaill & Dónal Lunny. You can hear it here:

 

They, in turn, got it from Irish source singer Frank Harte (1933-2005):

 

I am now a link in this chain and you can hear and see me sing and play “Spanish Lady” here:

 

I have tabbed this out in D-A-D mountain dulcimer tuning, but I actually play this in C-G-C-C (bass to first string) with four equally-distant strings, one of my favorite ways to play. If you have not experimented with four equally-distant strings, this is a good opportunity to get your feet wet. I play this way a lot, letting the second string drone, forming the chord shapes like I would with three strings, but skipping over what is now the second string. There is something so haunting and lovely about that dronal effect and the rich addition of that extra string—you’ll be hooked!

The quirky rhythm escaped me until I started to tab the song for a student, realizing it is a mixture of 6/4 and 4/4. These are the kinds of fascinating nuances that make songs unique and emotionally compelling. I want to thank bandmates Heidi Cerrigione and Kevin Doyle for helping me understand this rhythm.

My strumming is percussive and strong, and the beginning instrumental part has an intentionally different chord order in one section—a way to mix things up a bit but not necessarily on a conscious level for listeners.

My vocal style, as for any singer, is an expression of my generation, heritage, and creative influences: traditional Appalachian and Celtic styles blended with influences such as Joni Mitchell, Mary Black, and of course, Jean Ritchie. Enjoy! Feel free to write to me at www.atwater-donnelly.com

Printable Version

 

Lyrics to “Spanish Lady”:

As I was walking through Dublin City, about the hour of twelve at night

It was there I spied a fair pretty maiden washing her feet by candlelight

First she washed them, then she dried them, over a fire of amber coals

And in all my life I never did meet a maid so neat about the soles…

Chorus:

She had twenty eighteen sixteen fourteen, twelve ten eight six four two none

She had nineteen seventeen fifteen thirteen, eleven nine seven five three and one

 

I stopped to look but the watchman passed, said he, “Young fellow, now the light is late

And away with you home or I will wrestle you, straight away to the Bridewell gate.”

I got a look from the Spanish lady, hot as a fire of amber coals

And in all my life I never did meet a maid so neat around the soles…

(Chorus)

As I walked back through Dublin City, as the dawn of day was o’er

Who should I spy but the Spanish lady, when I was weary and footsore

She had a heart so filled with loving, and her love she longed to share

And in all my life I never did meet a maid who had so much to spare…

(Chorus)

I’ve wandered north and I’ve wandered south, to Stoneybatter and Patrick’s Close

Up and around by the Gloucester Diamond, back by Napper Tandy’s house

Old age has laid its hand upon me, cold as a fire of ashy coals

And gone is the lovely Spanish lady, neat and sweet about the soles

‘Round and around goes the wheel of fortune, where it rests now wearies me

Oh fair young maids are so deceiving, sad experience teaches me…

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