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Aileen Lambert and daughter Nellie in full flow

Kid’s book features trad song Clareman made his own

A CLARE version of the first folk song to ever have been mentioned in literature is included in a new illustrated songbook of traditional Irish songs for children.

The song ‘The Frog and the Mouse’ also provides the title for Wexford traditional singer Aileen Lambert’s book, which features the lyrics of 14 songs accompanied by suggested activities, fun facts and other information.

Activity pages include word-searches, a crossword and music notation, all linked to the songs. Primary school teachers will be interested in the curriculum links section so that they can integrate the song into various subjects they are teaching.

The book features a few well known songs such as the Rattlin’ Bog, I’ll Tell Me Ma and Colcannon, however the rest are not so well known.

They consist mostly of songs which Aileen has been singing with children across the country and beyond for the past 15 years as part of the Heritage-in-Schools Scheme and Music Generation.

However, Aileen only encountered the Clare version of ‘The Frog and the Mouse’ while researching County Clare songs which would be suitable for children in the run up to Cruinniú na nÓg in June 2020.

Clare County Council’s Art Office was supporting Aileen to create an online song workshop for the Cruinniú na nÓg Programme and set Aileen the task of finding a ‘Clare’ song to use.

Aileen quickly turned to song-collectors Jim Carroll and Pat McKenzie who have a large collection of traditional songs recorded from Clare singers. Jim suggested a few and Aileen was immediately taken by P Joe’s Hayes singing of the song.

Renowned for his fiddle-playing, P Joe was also a fine singer and was recorded by Jim Carroll and Pat McKenzie singing ‘The Frog and the Mouse’ some years back.

The song, about an unusual wedding between a frog and a mouse, is one of the best known traditional songs in the English language and there are many variations of both the tune and lyrics, such as Bob Dylan’s ‘Froggie went a Courtin’.

It first appeared in ‘Wedderburn’s Complaynt of Scotland’ in 1549 making it the first folk song to appear in literature.

Aileen familiarized herself with many different versions of the song before borrowing some of their verses to add to P Joe’s and this is the version she has included in the book.

“I love the air and the form of the song which P Joe has, with the nonsense words in the second and fourth line, but some of the characters which appear in other versions were missing in P Joe’s song so I borrowed bits and added them in.”

“There’s quite a bit of drama in the song when an unwanted guest arrives at the wedding reception and I wanted to include this. Essentially though it’s P Joe’s version in spirit and character.”

Aileen was in contact with P Joe Hayes’ son, the renowned fiddler Martin Hayes, when researching the song, and more recently when she told him how his song would not only be included but be the title of the children’s songbook.

Martin says “When we had extended family gatherings all of us children loved to get my father to sing ‘The Frog and the Mouse’.

“I’m delighted that a whole new generation of children will get to hear and learn this song along with many other songs that are part of this beautiful collection.”

Each song in the collection is beautifully illustrated by Liza Kavanagh, and Aileen put to use her experience of sharing songs in the classroom to select little nuggets of info to share which readers also.

Aileen says, “From my many years of delivering song workshops with children I know the questions they have about the songs; ‘What does that word mean?’ ‘Did that really happen?’ .

“So, alongside each song are little bubbles which explain the meaning of old words, tell something of the background to the song, or suggest a creative activity inspired by the song.”

Aileen’s experience working as a Creative Associate on the Arts Council/Creative Ireland supported Creative Schools Programme has helped her recognise the value the songs can have in the primary school curriculum, and not just on the subject of music.

Aileen has provided three pages of curriculum link ideas for primary school teachers so that they can see easily how they can integrate the songs into various other subjects such as history and geography etc.

The songbook also links with an accompanying YouTube playlist. For each song there is a subtitled video featuring Aileen singing the songs with her daughters Nellie, Eppie and Nan.

These videos were all made since the first lockdown when singing workshops couldn’t take place and many were commissioned by various County Councils as part of their Cruinniú na nÓg Programmes in 2020 and 2021.

Collated as a playlist on Aileen’s YouTube Channel they are now a terrific resource alongside the songbook to ensure that children can sing these songs for generations to come.

To order the book online go to www.aileenlambert.com or you can pick it up in Banner Books, Ennistymon, Custy’s Music Shop in Ennis, or the Ennis Bookshop.

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