Biddy Mulligan the Pride of the Coombe
Biddy Mulligan the Pride of the Coombe (sometimes just called Biddy Mulligan) is a song written by Seamas Kavanagh in the 1930s, and made famous by the performances of the music-hall singer and comedian Jimmy O'Dea, who also took on the persona of the charismatic stall-holder.
History of the Song
The song-writer Seamus Kavanagh collaborated with the scriptwriter Harry O'Donovan, who in turn had formed a partnership with Jimmy O'Dea. Kavanagh based this piece on the song The Queen Of The Royal Coombe, which he had found in a 19th-century Theatre Royal programme. Other similarly themed songs also performed by O'Dea were The Charladies' Ball and Daffy the Belle of the Coombe, concerning Biddy Mulligan's daughter.
The song is in 3/4 time (allegro).
This song is closely related to The Charladies' Ball; both use identical cadences in parts; they both feature Mrs. (Biddy) Mulligan - the persona acted by Jimmy O'Dea in his performance of both songs.
The subject, Biddy Mulligan, sells dainties such as apples, oranges, nuts, split-peas, bananas and sugar-sticks from her stall on the corner of the Coombe and Patrick Street (in Dublin's South inner city - an area known as The Liberties). She has been a street-trader for 64 years, and is a 'buxom' widow.
On Fridays, she sells fish on a board - for 'dinner and tea', and is especially proud of her Dublin Bay herrings. On Saturday nights she sells second-hand clothes from the 'floor of her stall'. She's proud also, of her son Mick, who plays flute in the Longford Street Band, and she watches them march out for Dollymount Strand (north-east of Dublin City) each Sunday. On a Sunday, too, she goes to 'the Park' (probably St. Patrick's Park, next to the cathedral, but more likely the Phoenix Park), wearing her 'Aberdeen Shawle', and basks in the admiration of her neighbours.
The song is a rare musical documentation of the Dublin street-seller - Molly Malone being the only other and most famous example. Street-stalls have long since disappeared from the corner of Patrick Street and the Coombe but a market consisting of street stalls is held on nearby Meath Street every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The song portrays a caricature or stereotype of a Dublin stall-holder, in which the working-class subject is patronised (i.e., gently made fun of and celebrated at the same time.) The meter of the song suggests the use of a strong Dublin working-class accent in its singing, and the respective performances by Jimmy O'Dea and Frank Harte bear this out.
Jimmy O'Dea's performance, at least, shows the song as part of a long music-hall tradition (coming from Victorian England), which made ethnic minorities, the poor and n'er-do-wells objects of fun.
Appearances in Media
In the TV series Derek, a video tape of Lizzie is shown singing the song to Derek in Episode 1 of Season 2. The song is also used in the closing credits of the episode.
- Frank Harte, 'And Listen To My Song', Hummingbird
- The Dubliners, 'The Collection'
- Maureen Potter, Gaels of Laughter
- Tom Donovan, 'Best Irish Pub Songs; Volume 3'
- Tom Donovan, '101 Songs & Ballads from Ireland', Emerald Isle, 1993
- The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Irish Drinking Songs,
- The Jolly Beggarmen, 'Forty Irish Drinking Songs, Volume 1', Dolphin, 2002, ASIN: B000VL7M4A
- Wild Clover Band, 'Behind the Blarney', Wild Clover Band Label, 2006, ASIN: B0016JQGG6
- Harte, Frank, 'Songs of Dublin', (ed.), 1978, Gilbert Dalton, Dublin and 1993, Ossian Publications, Cork. ISBN 0-946005-51-6
- WTV Zone