Icham of Irlaunde (The Irish Dancer; Good Sir I Pray Thee)

DESCRIPTION: "Icham of Irlaunde, Ant of the hole lond Of Irlaunde. Gode sire, prey ich (you), For of saynte charite, Come and daunce wyt me In Irlaunde." "I am of Ireland, And of the holy land of Ireland. Good sir... Come and dance with me In Ireland."
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: before 1450 (Oxford, Bodleian Library Rawlinson D.913)
KEYWORDS: Ireland dancing nonballad MiddleEnglish
FOUND IN: Britain(England)
REFERENCES (15 citations):
Stevick-OneHundredMiddleEnglishLyrics 37, "(I Am of Ireland)" (1 text)
Hirsh-MedievalLyric-MiddleEnglishLyricsBalladsCarols #22, "(Ich am of Irlaunde" (1 text, with a much-reduced photograph of the manuscript on page 75)
Sidgwick/Chambers-EarlyEnglishLyrics p. 279, "(no title)" (1 text, included as a dance text rather than a "lyric")
Brown/Robbins-IndexOfMiddleEnglishVerse, #1008
DigitalIndexOfMiddleEnglishVerse #1647
ADDITIONAL: J. A. Burrow, _Essays on Medieval Literature_, Clarendon Press (Oxford), 1984, p. 24, "(Icham of Irlande") (1 text, part of a full transcription of this page of the Rawlinson manuscript)
Kenneth Sisam, editor, _Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose_, Oxford, 1925, p. 166, "The Irish Dancer' (1 text)
Celia and Kenneth Sisam, _The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse_, Oxford University Press, 1970; corrected edition 1973, #67, p. 167, "The Irish Dancer" (1 text)
Rossell Hope Robbins, _Secular Lyrics of the XIVth and XVth Century_, Oxford University Press, 1952, p. 11, "The Irish Dancer" (1 text)
Maxwell S. Luria & Richard Hoffman, _Middle English Lyrics_, a Norton Critical Edition, Norton, 1974, p. 132, #143 (no title) (1 text)
R. T. Davies, editor, _Medieval English Lyrics: A Critical Anthology_, 1963, #31, p. 99, "I Am from Ireland (1 text)
E. K. Chambers, _English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages_, Oxford, 1945, 1947, pp. 77-78, "(Icham of Irlaunde)" (1 text)
Karin Boklund-Lagopolou, _I have a yong suster: Popular song and Middle English lyric_, Four Courts Press, 2002, p. 31, "(Icham of Irlaunde)" (1 text)
J. A. Burrow and Thorlac Turville-Petre, _A Book of Middle English_, second edition, 1996 (I use the 1999 Blackwell paperback edition), p. 236 (no title) (1 text)
MANUSCRIPT: {MSRawlinsonD913}, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson D.13 (Bodleian 13679), folio 1

NOTES [358 words]: Although no tune is preserved, several scholars (Chambers, Greene) are certain that this was sung, probably as a traditional song (Greene, p. xxxvi). Greene is further convinced that it can be divided into stanza and burden, even if all the other stanzas are lost. Wells, p. 493, declares it "perhaps the earliest English dance-song now extant." Chambers, p. 77, is a little more cautious, but says the surviving text "may be the beginning of a dance-song, with its refrain."
It is indexed on that basis, and because of the important manuscript containing it, Oxford, Bodleian Library Rawlinson D.913 (13679). That makes it one of the "Rawlinson lyrics," found on a single strip of parchment in Bodleian library MS. Rawlinson D.913. It has several short poems, in both English and French (Burrow/Turville-Petre, p. 235). Several of the other pieces also appear somewhat "folky"; Wells, p. 492, suggests that the page came from a minstrel's notebook.
This is the seventh piece in the book, by Wells's count; the eighth is the famous "Maiden in the Mor Lay (The Maid of the Moor)"; see that entry for more about the manuscript.
According to Sisam, p, 256, Ireland is called holy because it was "par excellence 'the land of the Saints.'"
John Speirs had a different take, which seems more real to me: "Ireland, the Isle of the Saints because earlier it had been the Isle of the Gods, is here sacred still perhaps in a pagan as well as a Christian sense. The dancer from across the sea -- from a sacred or magical other country -- is still perhaps essentially a faery or otherworld visitant. . . . Essentially, or symbollically, the dancer will stea away or abduct her partner" (quoted on p. 14 of Burrow).
Burrow himself (pp. 14-15) has a much more down-to-earth understanding: he suggests that this is in effect a game song, in carol form, and "Ireland" is the area in which the lead singer stands. The "holy land" is then explained by the fact that the carol singers encircle it in their dancing. But he suspects that the scribe of the Rawlinson Manuscript himself did not know what the poem was about, although he offers no evidence for this. - RBW
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