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Sea Invocation

by Bernadette Weyde

An extract from Mona Douglas and her Songs by George Broderick.

4.4. The Sea Invocation (Geay Jeh’n Aer)

‘Collected, and the English version of the Manx traditional words by Mona Douglas’. English translation via Archdeacon Kewley.

Douglas (1928, 2-3). Also Jerry (1978, 49).

The singer who gave me this song [Mrs. Shimmin, Foxdale, see below] said it was ‘a girl’s good wish for her lover on the sea, and the girls would be singing it when the boats would be away at the fishing’. She knew nothing of the meaning of the three names invoked, but Miss A. G. Gilchrist [Gilchrist 1928, 100] suggests that ‘Shonest’ may be a version of ‘Shony’, a sea deity known in the Hebrides. The names are pronounced ‘Show-ness’, ‘Loudth-ess’ and ‘Ray’ respectively, and the refrain as ‘Ho ro a-ree a-ro’ M.D. (Douglas 1928, 2).

The song seemingly first appeared in Gilchrist (1924: 99), where it is printed under the rubric: ‘Noted by Miss Mona Douglas. Sung by Mrs. Shimmin, Housewife, Foxdale, 1921’. According to Gilchrist, she wrote to Mona Douglas about this song and received the following reply:

‘The Sea Invocation’ is a girl’s song, but I am not sure that it is a song of labour, though it may quite probably be. The rhythm seems to me a little like a rowing-song, but the old woman who sang it for me [Mrs. Shimmin] only said it was ‘the good wish of a girl for her lover on the sea’, and she did not even seem very sure as to the meaning of what she sang, in detail, anyway. The line ‘Shonest, Leodest, as y Raa’ has puzzled me not a little: Like you, I at once thought of Shoni [the sea-god][Gilchrist’s brackets – GB] but the matter is complicated by the fact that the three names are all farm-names [sic]. Of course three farms would not be invoked, so at a guess I should say that a practice has been followed which I have occasionally come across in connection with certain ‘fairy’ things – charms and so on – that is, a forbidden thing will either have its name altered for common use, or will be referred to under the name of some common place, object, or even a well-known person occasionally. It is a difficult process to explain, but it certainly exists […] (Gilchrist 1924:100).

In her comment on this feature Anne Gilchrist (JFSS VII, no. 28 (1924): 100) wrote:

[…] For further references to Shoni, who was a ‘sea-god in Lewis’ to whom a cup of ale was sacrificed for luck, see the late Dr. George Henderson’s The Norse Influence on Celtic Scotland (1910). Without yielding to further speculation on the signification of Shonest, Leodest and the Raa, a word may be said on the name-disguises found in the language used by Manx fishermen at sea – these haaf-names [ON haf, the sea] [Gilchrist’s brackets – GB] and the superstitions connected with them being related to similar sea-names and customs round Norway, the Faroes, Shetlands, Orkneys, the north-east coast of Scotland, and Yorkshire […] (Gilchrist 1928, 100).

Gilchrist goes on to give some examples from Jakobsen. Manx examples can be found in Roeder (1904, 13, 81, 82, 107, 108), and in HLSM/I: 328-31. Only one stanza is attested.

Wind of the air, my love’s on the sea

Ho ro y ree y ro, ho ro y ree y ro!

Make the weather calm and fine

Ho ro y ree y ro, ho ro y ree y ro

Shonest. Leodest and the Raa

Give good luck and happiness to him

Health and peace and length of life

Ho ro y ree y ro, ho ro y ree y ro!


Geay jeh’n aer ta my ghraih er y cheayn

Ho ro y ree y ro, ho ro y ree y ro!

Jean yn earish kiune as meein

Ho ro y ree y ro, ho ro y ree y ro!

Shonest, Leodest as y Raa

Cur aigh vie as maynrys da

Slaynt as shee as eash dy vea

Ho ro y ree y ro, ho ro y ree y ro!


The vocable refrain ho ro y ree y ro or refrains of this type are not otherwise attested in Manx traditional songs, but are a feature of many Scottish Gaelic traditional songs, e.g. Éile le ho ró ho hù o, Hó ró hùg a hug o, Hì ri ill ù ill ò, Illiù o ro hù o, etc., particularly waulking songs (cf. Waulking Songs from Barra, Scottish Tradition 3, Tangent Records TNGM 111, 1972).[1]

The farm name Shonest is in fact pronounced [‘ho:nəs] (PNIM/IV: 349); a form [∫o:nəs] is not otherwise attested, and so any association with the Norse sea-god Shoni is therefore unlikely. Nevertheless, the farms Shonest and the R(h)aa lie beside each other in the parish of Kirk Lonan, while Leodest lies in Kirk Andreas in the north. Shonest and Leodest appear to be Norse names in -staðir ‘settlement’ (cf. PNIM/IV, 349, III, 144) and the R(h)aa, either a Norse name in ‘boundary (farm)’ or Gaelic ráth ‘fortress (farm)’ (cf. PNIM/IV, 346-7). These names seem to have been chosen at random.

The whole gives the impression of being a composition.

[1] Mona Douglas’s work for the Celtic Congress would likely have brought her into contact with Scottish colleagues, and thereby Scottish tradition, as it seemingly did with Irish tradition. She told me c. 1974, at the time I was working in Edinburgh, that she had come into contact with Scottish Gaelic song material in her visits to Scotland. She added that the traffic was by no means all one way, and that one of the songs that the Scottish Gaels had taken to was the Manx lullaby Ushag Veg Ruy ‘little red bird’. About a year later while still in Edinburgh I heard a Scots Gaelic version of this song (viz. uiseag bheag ruadh) sung in a children’s Gaelic TV programme to the same tune by the then popular Gaelic singer Anne Lorne-Gillies.


(source:  Mona Douglas and her Songs by George Broderick; the full document can be downloaded here; artwork is A Voice from the Cliffs by Winslow Homer http://bit.ly/1jzHlpj)


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