"Róisín Dubh" ([ˈrˠoːʃiːnʲ d̪ˠʊvˠ], "Dark Rosaleen" or "Little Dark Rose"), written in the 16th century, is one of Ireland's most famous political songs. It is based on an older love-lyric which referred to the poet's beloved rather than, as here, being a metaphor for Ireland. The intimate tone of the original carries over into the political song. It is often attributed to Antoine Ó Raifteiri, but almost certainly predates him.
The song is named after Róisín Dubh, probably one of the daughters of Aodh Mór Ó Néill, earl of Tyrone in the late 16th Century. The song is reputed to have originated in the camps of Aodh Rua Ó Domhnaill, O'Neill's daughter being either married or betrothed to the O'Donnell leader in their teenage years.
This song is traditionally sung in the Irish language, with only a few recordings of the English existing. It has been translated from the Irish language by James Clarence Mangan and Patrick Pearse. The following translation is by Thomas Kinsella (The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse, 1986).
A Róisín ná bíodh brón ort fé'r éirigh dhuit:
Is fada an réim a léig mé léi ó inné 'dtí inniu,
Mhairbh tú mé, a bhrídeach, is nárbh fhearrde dhuit,
Shiubhalfainn féin an drúcht leat is fásaigh ghuirt,
Dá mbeadh seisreach agam threabhfainn in aghaidh na gcnoc,
Beidh an Éirne 'na tuiltibh tréana is réabfar cnoic,
Roisin, have no sorrow for all that has happened to you
Far have we journeyed together, since days gone by.
You have driven me mad, fickle girl- may it do you no good!
I would walk in the dew beside you, or the bitter desert
If I had six horses, I would plough against the hill
The Erne will be strong in flood, the hills be torn
Róisín Dubh has been frequently performed and recorded, both in its own native Irish and translated into English. (However, quality of the translations vary greatly, from strict ones to those bearing no relationship to the original Irish.) It has been sung by numerous Irish traditional singers including the late Joe Heaney and Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill, as well as in genres ranging from classical to rock and jazz.
The instrumental range is as wide as the vocal, but the instruments best suited to render this air authentically are the native Irish uilleann pipes, flute, fiddle, and whistle, as these are capable of making the "caoine" ("cry"), the note-shaping and changing that is characteristic of the native Irish music. However, other versions using different instruments are also widely available.
Musicians/composers who have performed or recorded the song include these:
- Joe Heaney, famed Connemara Sean-nós singer
- The Wolfe Tones recorded it in their debut album The Foggy Dew in 1965
- Paddy Tunney- folk singer and lilter from the county Fermanagh in Ulster
- Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill – native Irish singer from the famed Ó Domhnaill singing family of Rann na Feirste, Co. Donegal.
- Phil Lynnot of Thin Lizzy
- Sinéad O'Connor
- Caitlín Maude on her 1975 album Caitlín
- Cherish the Ladies 1993
- Ann Mulqueen
- Seán Ó Riada, whose score for the 1959 film Mise Éire was based on the melody
- The Dubliners. Instrumental, circa 1964. Also the song 'For what died the sons of Róisín'.
- Joanie Madden, leader of Cherish the Ladies, tin whistle instrumental on her solo album "Song of the Irish Whistle" (1997)
- Máire Ní Chathasaigh recorded an instrumental version for solo harp on her duo album with Chris Newman "Live in the Highlands" (1995)
- Thin Lizzy wrote the song "Black Rose" based on the story of Róisín Dubh. This song was covered by Northern Kings on their 2008 album Rethroned.
- Flogging Molly recorded the song "To Youth (My Sweet )" on the album Within a Mile of Home (2004)
- Black 47 recorded a song titled Black Rose for the album Home of the Brave.
- The Rubberbandits begin the Irish language version of I Wanna Fight Your Father with a portion of “Róisín Dubh.”