This ballad begins: 'Kathleen Mavourneen, the grey dawn is breaking, / The horn of the hunter is heard on the hill; / The lark from her light wing the bright due is shaking, / Kathleen Mavourneen! what slumbering still?' It was published by Robert M'Intosh of Glasgow.
'Kathleen Mavourneen' is a song narrated by someone imploring his lover to awake before he has to leave her and Ireland for ever. Song of parting were common in broadside ballads, and the narrators were often men facing transportation or preparing to join the army. Here, the narrator's reasons for leaving are not given, but as it is an Irish ballad it is likely that he is being forced to emigrate for economic reasons. Both Ireland and the Scottish Highlands experienced large-scale emigration in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially during periods of crop failure.
Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.
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