PS 147 – Little Prince, he makes me happy

      A Phrionnsa bhig is ait leam thu

Primary Source

C2 Prinsah beg Sate loum a thu C2.63: 142

Notes on the Gaelic Title

Prionnsa beag, ’s ait leam e Prinsah beg Sate loum a thu C2. Little Prince, he makes me happy. Campbell’s title may be shorthand for a verse with alternate line endings. In the following reconstruction, only the text in green is given by Campbell:

Prionnsa beag, ’s ait leam e,
Prionnsa beag ’s ait leam,
Prionnsa beag, ’s ait leam thu,
Prionnsa beag ’s ait leam.

Little Prince, he makes me laugh,
Little Prince makes me laugh,
Little Prince, you make me happy,
Little Prince makes me happy.

These lyrics are a speculative reconstruction fitting the melody of the Ùrlar, first quarter.

Ronald Black suggests that the problematic-looking “a thu” in Campbell’s spelling is the key that explains it. If we accept that “a” is e, pronounced à (which is normal), it wouldn’t be logical to use the vocative case – A Phrionnsa bhig, is aite leum thu – which was Roderick Cannon’s solution in the first edition of these notes (2009). If line 1 ended e, however, and line 3 ended thu, then the first line would set the pattern. This gives Prionnsa beag throughout, aligning with Campbell’s spelling which is identical in the Index and above the music.

If singing this verse to the whole ùrlar, Allan MacDonald suggests incorporating the line Prionnsa beag ’s àill leam (Little Prince is beautiful to me / is my desire). Campbell’s “thu” may represent the sound TU, and in some circumstances thu is pronounced TU, but his spelling could equally represent the normal pronunciation of thu.

The ‘Prince’ in this title is more likely to be a real prince than the composer’s son or his employer’s. It is tempting to associate it with Charles Edward Stuart, born in 1720, but Prionnsa is also a very likely name for a horse or a dog (in this case, a foal or a puppy). There is much incidental mention of dogs in traditional Gaelic verse, always in the context of hunting – coin air éill “dogs on leash”. These were big sleek animals, like Irish wolf-hounds, used for hunting deer. There is the traditional story of MacPhee’s Black Dog which fought and killed the vampire woman, and of the piper who disappeared into the cave, and all that ever emerged at the other end was his dog with its hair singed (R. Black, The Gaelic Otherworld, 2nd edition). There are also two other pieces in Colin Campbell’s Instrumental Book which appear to celebrate dogs (B. Brown, Murdoch’s Black Dog and Sorley’s Black Dog).

Ronald Black and Barnaby Brown, 2017

2 thoughts on “PS 147 – Little Prince, he makes me happy”

  1. aileandomhnullach

    Sorry, I missed the point that the existence of both ‘a’ and ‘thu’ suggested two alternative endings….

    However, I do not think that one would go from ‘a/e’ to ‘thu’ in a song….though it it possible (although I cannot be convinced) that without further evidence, he meant to put in the two forms….’a’ (which is same as Moidarrt pronounciation for ‘e’) and ‘thu’.

    The title ‘Prionnsa beag ‘s ait leam (a) thu’ is clear enough to me (even with the existence of an ‘a’) ‘Little Prince, I like you’. (an exact ‘one translation’ is difficult) The vocative case is often dispensed with in colloquial Gaelic and I see little point in using the vocative case here either – simply because it is not in the title.

  2. aileandomhnullach

    I did suggest this line off the top of my head as an example of what kind of rhythm would come after the first line rather than a simple repetition of the word ‘ait’. However, I find it difficult to accord with the ‘a thu’ becoming ‘e’. There are instances where ‘a’ = ‘au’ = e; but in this case it is hard to understand, given that Campbell has clearly shown his knowledge of the word and orthography ‘thu’, that is becomes ‘e’ with eradication of ‘thu’.
    I suggest that in the dialect of this part of Argll, there may have been hints of an ‘a’ after the ‘loum’ (sic) making Campbell write in an ‘a’ before the ‘thu’. The final ‘thu’ is very clear to me.
    That the the vocative form is not used, is common enough in colloquial Gaelic – especially in this context of a statement ‘Prionnsa beag’ followed by ‘s ait leam thu’. I see a more obvious solution with the dropping of the ‘a’ -something equivalent to a svaravakti or epenthetic vowel – (albeit, not ususally in this context) .

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