“An Buinnean Bui”


(Gaelic.) The singer laments to see the dead buinnean (bittern) upon the shore, and conjectures "Not want of food," but rather lack of liquor, killed the bird. He laments the bird. His wife wants him to drink less, but he cannot live without drink


This has to be the feeblest excuse for alcoholism I've ever seen.

The poet allegedly saw a dead bittern by a frozen shore around 1700, and this song is the result. It seems to have been variously translated. It's worth noting that human interference extirpated bitterns from Ireland. - RBW

Tunney-StoneFiddle includes Paddy Tunney's English translation (no Gaelic).

TBell/O Conchubhair: "One hard winter's morning, perhaps 'hungover' after a night's or even many nights' carousing, he [Cathal Bui] came across a yellow bittern, lying stiff and cold; lost for a sip from the water of the frozen lake." - BS


  1. SHenry H830, pp. 64-65, "The Yellow Bittern/An Bunnan Buidhe" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Tunney-StoneFiddle, p. 170, "An Bunnan Bui" (1 text)
  3. ADDITIONAL: Bell/O Conchubhair, Traditional Songs of the North of Ireland, pp. 88-90, "An Buinnean Bui" ("The Yellow Bittern") [Gaelic and English]
  4. Kathleen Hoagland, editor, One Thousand Years of Irish Poetry (New York, 1947), pp. 235-236, "The Yellow Bittern" (1 text, translated by Thomas MacDonogh)
  5. Donagh MacDonagh and Lennox Robinson, _The Oxford Book of Irish Verse_ (Oxford, 1958, 1979), pp. 117-118, "The Yellow Bittern" (1 text, translated by Thomas MacDonogh)
  6. ADDITIONAL: Thomas Kinsella, _The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse_ (Oxford, 1989), pp. 200-201, "The Yellow Bittern" (1 text, seemingly translated by Kinsella)
  7. Roud #5332
  8. BI, HHH830


Alternate titles: “Buinnean Bui”
Author: Gaelic: Cathal Buidhe MacGiolla Gunna (or Cathal Buidhe MacElgun, or Cathal Bui Mac Giolla Gunna) (Tawny Charlie) (1680-?) (source for date: Tunney-StoneFiddle)
Earliest date: 1939 (Sam Henry collection); Hoagland gives the author's date as c. 1750
Found in: Ireland