A Touch of the Poet
There are two songs in O'Neill's story of the Melody family, both sung in the third act at Cornelius Melody's ceremonial dinner celebrating the anniversary of the battle of Talavera. O'Neill presumably had long remembered the songs, but in unidentifiable variants and perhaps with some confusion as to title.
"Biddy O'Rafferty," O'Neill states, is sung to the tune of "Baltiorum," but the rhythm of the words does not fit any of several recorded variants. It is boisterously sung by the hangers-on at Melody's tavern. Its contribution to the general merrymaking as Melody recalls the details of the battle of Talavera lies in its anti-Catholic irreverence which pleases the host. He calls it "a song in the right spirit," and promises the singer, Patch Riley, that he will call for an encore when his wife is in the room. "She still has a secret fondness for priests," he says, and then dismisses the matter, demanding less noise from the singers.
Less casual is the second song that Melody asks for by name, "Modideroo." In modern Irish, "Modideroo," meaning "red dog," is a common term for fox, and the ballad in several variants celebrates the heroic skill and the gallantry of the fox who, despite his prowess as a poultry thief, must face the trial of the hounds and hunters. In one version, with something of the Byronic courtliness of Melody himself, the fox lays his life down at the foot of the "beauty of the meet":
O'Neill's version has macabre overtones. Wearing the brilliant red coat of his army uniform, Melody calls for the song immediately after he quotes Byron's verses about solitude in the midst of a crowd:
The implication of pursuit in the poem perhaps reminds Melody in his red coat of the pursued red fox who shows nothing but contempt for his pursuers, a gay company who cannot know the sorrow the fox feels or the nature of his freedom in death:
Only, as the play will demonstrate, it will not be the pursuers
who lie low, but the free-spirited fox, who will die as surely
as Con Melody's mare and the Byronic soul of the hero of
(bursts into a rollicking song, accompanying
himself on the pipes, his voice the quavering ghost of a tenor but still
true — to the tune of "Baltiorum."
... Roche and O'Dowd roar after him, beating time on the table with
their glasses — "Hurroo, hurroo!
Biddy O'Rafferty!" — and laugh drunkenly.)
Biddy O'Rafferty - words traditional, Tune: "The Irish Washerwoman" ca. 1792
Baltiorum - traditional
Melody — ...Give us
a hunting song, Patch. You've not forgotten "Modideroo," I'll be bound.
Modideroo - traditional
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