Philippe Varlet supplied:
>Meaning: Were you at the rock?
>Background: Refers, as far as I can remember, to the Christian Easter
>morning when the apostles arrived at the tomb of Christ to find the
>rock rolled away from the entrance and the body gone. Hence it was a
>great honour to have been "at the rock".
and kenneth wilson wrote:
>Now,I'm confused! This is what Paddy Maloney says on his linear
>notes for the "Long Journey Home" recording. (excerpt) "It recounts
>a time in Irish history when the celebration of the Mass was
>forbidden. The Mass rock referred to in the song was sometimes no
>more than than a large stone that took the place of the altar. More
>often than not the setting was in some remote part of the
>countryside.The location was not chosen for it's wild beauty but
>rather so that approaching soldiers could be sighted far enough away
>for the worshippers to disappear into the countryside"
and Melissa K. Enger provided:
>That's what I learned. When I was given the English lyrics, I was
>also given a translation of what they meant from Sea/n Williams, who
>got her translation from Joe Heaney, a Connemara sean n/os singer.
>I'll put both below, lyrics plain and translation in parentheses.
>Were you at the rock? Or did you yourself see my love?
>[Were you at the mass? Did you see the Virgin Mary?]
>Or did you see the brightness, the fairness or the beauty of the
>[Did you take communion? And say the rosary?]
>Or did you see the finest apple that came from the healthiest
>[Did you see the chalise? Did you see the sacrifice of the
>Did you see my Valentine? Is she being persecuted as they are
>[Did you practice the faith? Are we being persecuted as they
>O I was at the rock and I did see your love
>[I was at the Mass; I saw the Virgin Mary]
One point that is being overlooked here is that "An Carraig", as well
as meaning "the rock", also is a fairly common name for a town,
usually Englished as Carrick, of which there are several in Ireland.
Not to mention the medieval castle "Crac des Chevaliers" in the
Middle East, among others.
So the song could just as well mean:
"Were you at Carrick, and did you see my Valentine?"
I have yet to see any evidence that a Mass rock is intended rather
than a placename. It seems to me that interpretations that require
the risen Jesus, the Virgin Mary , the priest at a Mass rock, or the
Catholic faith to be referred to as "my Valentine" are straining
credibility a little.
Sometimes these stories are accompanied by the explanation that a
sort of code had to be used in the song, so that the English didn't
find out about the mass. As though the English had
Irish-speaking spies going around writing down suspicious
sean-nos songs! (If they had, it would be a great boon to modern
researchers.) These explanations are unconvincing because:
--there are plenty of political songs from the 18th and 19th century
which are very explicitly anti-English, without any sort of code
--there are only a very small number of sean-nos songs referring to
religion or religious issues
--and, of these, they aren't in code, e.g. "Fill Fill a Run O"
Note that in the translation supplied by Melissa Enger the
"uninterpreted" version is just a straight-forward love song. Even
the reference to "persecution" can be paralleled in other love songs;
not to mention that this doesn't occur in most versions of the text.
I have a very strong suspicion that the whole "Mass rock" or whatever
legend was made up as what my father calls a "touching good story".
I would suspect the likes of Seamus Ennis, Joe Heaney or Paddy
Moloney as having concocted the yarn to make a nice tune a bit more
interesting. Of course, this in itself is an old Irish tradition.
But that doesn't mean we should take it any more seriously than the
story about the black mare of Fanad's tail being bitten off by the
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