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The Reaping of the Rushes Green

[ Roud 3380 ; Ballad Index RcABLtlb ; trad.]

Máire Ní Shúilleabháin (Maire O'Sullivan) of Ballylicky, Cork, sang An Binnsín Luachra (The Little Bench of Rushes) in a recording made by Séamus Ennis and Alan Lomax on the 1955 Columbia anthology The World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: Ireland.

Paddy Tunney sang The Reaping of the Rushes Green in 1975 of his Topic album The Mountain Streams Where the Moorcocks Crow. Cathal Ó Baoill noted:

Re mode. The source of innumerable pieces of roughly the same title is a song called An Binsin Luaichre or The Bench of Rushes. A ‘binse’ is a stone seat or bench once very common outside Irish doors. These benches, thanks to the climate, were either too hot, too wet or too cold to sit on, so that a cushion of sorts had to be put on them. A handful or two of rushes served as an insulator.

The story tells of a young girl who was cutting such a bunch of rushes when the hero arrived. Paddy's English adaptation of the song faithfully follows the Gaelic original. Out of the title came a great number of similar titles such as The Bunch of Rushes, The Bonny Bunch of Roses and the Banks of the Roses. As you can see the titles are related, but though the tune is sometimes retained the words go very far afield, even in one case to the length of taking the Bunch of Roses as an image of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland which Bonaparte wanted to capture.

Philip McDermott sang The Reaping of the Rushes Green on 6 August 1980 to Keith Summers, either in McGrath's bar, Brookeborough, Co. Fermanagh, or at home in Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh. This recording was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology To Catch a Fine Buck was My Delight (The Voice of the People Volume 18, giving the first location), in 2004 on the Musical Traditions anthology of traditional songs from around Lough Erne's shore collected by Keith Summers, The Hardy Songs of Dan.

Rod Stradling noted, while giving the second location for the recording:

This song was included on the Voice of the People volume on hunting songs; however—except for the incidental mention of beagles in the first verse—it has nothing whatever to do with hunting or poaching! It almost goes without saying that any song which includes the phrase ‘reaping of the rushes green’ has nothing whatsoever to do with rushes either! ‘Green rushes’ almost always refers to virginity/purity, and this is certainly the meaning in this song. Paddy Tunney also used to sing it.


Philip McDermott sings The Reaping of the Rushes Green

As I walked out one morning, It being in the merry month of May,
Me and my two white beagles, hoping to find some game to kill.
When I spied no one but Mary; she appeared to me like a virgin queen,
She being at her daily labour at the reaping of her rushes green.

She says, “Young man, be easy! Go on your way, aye, and let me be.
Do not toss or spoil my rushes, hard labour I have toiled by thee.”
“If I toss or spoil them carelessly, a far greener bunch I'll reap for thee.
So sit you down beside me; some pleasant stories I'll tell thee.”
“I know it's hard to refuse thee, although you might lead me astray,
So I'll sit down beside you 'til the morning dew melts fast away.”

As my love and I sat courting, it being 'neath yon green laurel tree,
And the small birds sang melodiously, changing their notes from tree to tree.
The larks sang loud in chorusly while I embraced my virgin queen,
Mary, my love Mary and her bonny bunch of rushes green.

Since my love and I got married great riches she has gained by me.
She has servants to attend her and to keep her from all slavery.
Her waist grew long and slender. This whole wide world I'd reign for her,
For Mary, my love Mary and her bonny bunch of rushes green.