The hornpipe is a step dance that originated in England in the 16th century and became popular in the 17th century. Over time it became associated with sailors and was often performed on board British ships.
“Belfast Hornpipe” with Belfast meaning “crossing place by a sandbank” is one such dance, which has had its origins listed as Irish, English and Scottish and is known to have appeared under that name in publications such as Allan’s Irish Fiddler and Kennedy’s Fiddler’s Tune Book and been associated with the fiddler Frances O’Neill.
The tune is also known by several other names, however, which include “The Great Eastern”, “The Lass on the Strand”, “Millicen’s Favourite”, “Millicent’s Hornpipe”, “Royal Belfast” and Sweep’s Hornpipe”.
“The Great Eastern Hornpipe” is named after a transatlantic ship built by the English engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
“The Lass on the Strand” has been claimed to have hailed from Northumberland in the North of England and has appeared in several publications of English dances under that name.
“Millicen’s Favourite” and “Millicent’s Hornpipe” has been listed as Northern English and Scottish and appeared in publications from the late 19th century.
“Royal Belfast” aka “Gray’s Opera House” has been credited as being American and a Clog Dance with Gray’s Opera House having been built in Romeo, Michigan by three brothers whose father was a Scottish doctor.
“The Sweep’s Hornpipe” is credited as an Irish hornpipe, which has been linked to the accordionist John O’Leary and the piper Willie Clancy. It has appeared in countless Irish music publications and is the signature tune of the accordionist Joe Derrane. It has also been known as “The Great Western (Lancashire) Clog”.
Over the centuries the tune has appeared in countless British publications and under its various names has been recorded by a huge amount of artists. As “The Belfast” it has been recorded by the Celtic Jazz Collective and The Dubliners played it on their Instrumental, as the “Belfast Hornpipe” Stephen Spalding included it on his recording of Scottish sea shanties Anchor & Thistle, James Galway performed it on the tin whistle on his Dances For Flute and John Rea used it on his Irish Traditional Tunes, as “Millicent’s Favourite” it appears on Angus Grant’s Highland Fiddle and Jimmy Shand’s King of the Melodeon Men and as “Sweep’s” it appears on Daggar Gordon’s Highland Mandolin.
James Galway recordings
RCA 09026-60917 (CD: Dances For Flute)
James Galway- tin whistle
Kevin Conneff – bodhran