Toby Peyton

I made a demonstration video of Planxty Toby Peyton, from Edward Bunting’s live field transcription of the playing of an old Irish harper in the 1790s.

Donal O’Sullivan lists a load of different versions of the tune of Toby Peyton, in his 1958 Carolan – the life times and music of an Irish harper. The tune is no. 148 in his book.

I was wanting to work from the live transcription written down by Edward Bunting in (most likely) 1792. It is in Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 26/26/35/f12v. The dots and bars here look competent and clean, but as usual for this “difficult” section of the manuscript, we have pitch or transposition problems. It seems to me that the first half is notated a 4th too low, but the second half is notated at pitch. I don’t understand why Bunting was doing this!

Bunting wrote a neat edited copy of the transcription on the facing page, p.27/27/36/f13r. There are interesting changes made by Bunting in his facing-page neat copy, which round off a few of the odd features of the tune.

The tune is in A neutral mode. This is related to G major mode, but Toby Peyton is obviously not in G major; apart from the way it finishes on A, there are other A passages in it, which point to the kind of “double tonic” effect that we expect from neutral-mode tunes. An A neutral pentatonic mode tune skips C and F, and Toby Peyton has them as occasional notes. They are placed oddly, which perhaps explains the “crooked” nature of the tune. Other things that make this tune “crooked” are the uneven line lengths and bar counts.

We can look at my Old Irish Harp Transcription Project tune list spreadsheet to see how Toby Peyton on p.26 sits in a group of transcriptions which may have come from Hugh Higgins in 1792. The only one I would be sure about is Tá Mé Mo Chodladh on p.28 which is tagged Higgins 92 in the manuscript. An Róise Bheag Mhodhamhar on p.23 is tagged Higgins in Bunting’s annotated copy of his 1797 piano book, though this is a synthetic arrangement combining features of two independent transcriptions, the other one on p.103 may be from Black in 1796.

In his printed piano book The Ancient Music of Ireland (1840), Bunting prints a piano arrangement of Toby Peyton, and in the index he says that he collected the tune from Higgins in ’92.

I don’t understand why Bunting has written “Jolly Begarman / Lame” at the top of the transcription page. Is this a reference to the theme or words of this tune? Or is it a reference to a completely different, unrelated tune?

Bunting titled the neat copy “Plangsty Peyton (or Toby)” and at the foot of the page he has written “Carolan rode Crooked”. This must refer to an anecdote which he published in the 1840 book (introduction p.99) about how Toby met Carolan on the road. Carolan was riding his horse and Toby said to him that he was riding “crooked”. Carolan responded by composing a “crooked” tune for Toby.

Harper and tradition-bearer, Arthur O’Neil, says he knew Toby Peyton. “I went to Toby Peyton’s <in Co. Leitrim> for whom Carolan composed “Plansty Peyton”… He lived to the age of 104 years, and at the time he was 100… This Gentleman’s age accounts for my observation of Carolan’s time being before mine, and my visiting him.” (Arthur O Neill, Memoirs, Queen’s University Belfast MS4.14.1 p.65). Donal O’Sullivan says (Carolan v2 p.93) that Toby Peyton died in August 1768, so we can tentatively give his dates as c.1664-1768, and place Arthur O’Neil’s visit to c.1764.

Song lyrics

There are two different song texts connected to Toby Peyton, but neither of them seems to go with our tune.

There is a song for Toby Peyton in Tomás Ó Máille, Amhráin Chearbhalláin (1916) p.134, edited from two different manuscript originals:

Plé-ráca Phadhton

Láimh leis an gCéis ta’n siollaire sásta,
Tobóid óg Padhton isé tá mé rádh
Is uasal ‘s is saoitheamhuil is grúagach ‘s is gnaoidheamhuil,
Ní léighfeadh sé a mhasladh choidhche air cáirde.

Go mnu búanach é & saoghlach ina shláinte,
Ó fuair se buaidh air a námhuid
Dá sgiúradh dá ngredadh dá mbúalad a’s dá lasgadh
Más cloidheamh bata nó lamha.

Bromaígh dhá gcioradh do ló & do oidhche
& bhainfeadh as buic dhíomasach’ léimneach
Na céadta fíona dá n-óladh na saoithe
Sé Tobóid óg Padhton do dhíolfadh.

A similar version of these words are in Hardiman, Irish Minstrelsy vol. 1 p. 42, with a facing page verse translation. Hardiman and one of the manuscripts attributes the verses to Carolan, but the other manuscript says “not by Carolan, but by Terence Kelleher, who being naked was clothed by T. Peiton” (Ó Máille p.291)

Donal O’Sullivan (Bunting 1983 p.186) (MOSB 127) says “these laudatory verses are presumably intended for the tune, but they are extremely poor and are not worth printing or translating”. However he also says (Carolan 1958 p.92) that no “extant version of the tune gives a satisfactory correspondence with the words”. I don’t see that a poem by Carolan to Toby Peyton should necessarily go with a tune by Carolan to Toby Peyton; it seems quite possible that the poem was sung to a different tune, and that our tune (DOSC 148) was intended from the start as an instrumental piece. Perhaps we should look for another tune for the song text.

In his notes to this poem, Hardiman (v1 p. 118) says “For the air of our lively planxty, see Irish Melodies no.V, p.18, – The young May moon”. Thomas Moore’s song, The Young May Moon, in vol. 5 of his Melodies states “air: The Dandy O”. The tune was published in Thompson, Hibernian Muse, 1787, No. 38, p. 23 with the title “Irish Air in Robin Hood”. This needs more chasing! Una Hunt, Sources and Style in Moore’s Irish Melodies (Routledge 2017) p.160 would be a good start. Have we just discovered another previously unrecognised Carolan tune?

The second set of words is in Hardiman v1 p.117, as part of the notes to his poem on p.42. These words seem to be addressed to Bridget. Hardiman says that Bridget was the daughter of Toby Peyton, and his words begin “Tá inghín aérách ag Tubóid Péaton”, but the words printed by Ó Máille (p.132) start “Tá cailín aerach aig Tobóid Padhton” (i.e. “Toby Peyton has a gay girl” against Hardiman’s “Toby Peyton has a gay daughter”). Donal O’Sullivan (Carolan v2 p94) says she was a servant-maid in Toby Peyton’s household. I don’t know what air might go with these words.

Broderip & Wilkinson, the Compositions of Carolan

One of the source books used by Donal O’Sullivan for his Carolan in 1958 is the enthusiastically titled A Favourite Collection of the so much admired old Irish Tunes, the original and genuine compositions of Carolan, the celebrated Irish Bard. Set for the harpsichord, violin, and German-flute, published by John Lee in Dublin. There is no date on this book, and O’Sullivan suggests 1780.

I have never actually seen a copy of this John Lee edition used by Donal O’Sullivan; I assume it is this one at the National Library of Ireland (though the catalogue says it is lacking its title page). On my Sources page at I listed other editions or reprints of this book, of which there seem to be rather a lot. None of them are dated and no-one seems to know which was first, or who was responsible for assembling and editing the collection. My understanding is that at this time there was no copyright in Ireland, so as soon as a book was published, other publishers could rattle off their own editions.

Southampton University Library uploaded a large combined album of sheet music to three and a half years ago, but I never saw it up until now. Buried in the middle of a whole load of piano scores is the Broderip & Wilkinson edition of our book. They seem to have been active from around 1799 to 1808; The NLI catalogue suggests this edition was published c.1804.

There are “issues” with this edition. Perhaps most pressingly, Broderip and Wilkinson don’t give the tune names, only numbers. Even more irritatingly, they have changed the order of the tunes so they don’t even match the numbering scheme I have been using based on the Hime edition.

I will go into my Carolan Tunes Collation Spreadsheet and add a column for the B&W numbers, so that you can navigate your way around the facsimile.

Seabhac na hÉirne, or the Hawk of Ballyshannon

I was very pleased to discover what seems to be a traditional sung version of a Carolan song.

I first read about the singer Máire Ní Arbhasaigh (Mary Harvey or Harvessy) (1856–1947), from Clonalig, near Crossmaglen, County Armagh, in Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin’s book, A Hidden Ulster (2003), p.391-2. Pádraigín explains there how Mary had made audio recordings in 1931. I first heard one of the recordings on Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin’s web research article, Carolan in Oriel, where Pádraigín includes the audio of Mary speaking or reciting 10 lines of Carolan’s song-poem in praise of Caitríona ní Mhórdha (Catherine O’Moore). I subsequently followed Pádraigín’s references and found more information about the recording, and a number of slightly varying transcriptions of the song words, in Róise Ní Bhaoill, Ulster Gaelic voices: bailiúchán Doegen 1931 (Belfast, 2010), p.332-3, and on the Royal Irish Academy’s Doegen Records Web Project, and also on Ciarán Ó Duibhín’s web pages.

In September 1931, Karl Tempel was in Belfast making audio recordings of Irish-speakers. Tempel was working as an assistant for Dr Wilhelm Doegen (1877-1967), Director of the Lautabteilung, Preussische Staatsbibliothek (the Sound Department at the Prussian State Library), Berlin. The project was organised by the Irish state, to gather samples of spoken Irish from different regional dialects. The Belfast sessions brought speakers from counties Antrim, Derry, East Tyrone, Armagh, Cavan and Louth up to Queen’s University, where they spoke into recording machines. The wax originals were sent back to Berlin, where they were transferred on to shellac discs, which were lodged with different institutions in Ireland.

Máire Ní Arbhasaigh was the only person from County Armagh to go to Queen’s to be recorded. She made two single-sided records on 25th September 1931; each record was accompanied by a sheet of personal information. Record LA 1224 was made at 5:30pm, and record LA 1225 was made at 6pm. The indexes list the contents of each record by the first line of the poem or words spoken. It’s not clear to me how or why the tracks are separated on the discs. Were the three tracks made as a single take, and separated by Tempel? Were they separated in Berlin? Or were they done as three separate takes one after the other?

LA 1224 contains three tracks; the first two are two sung extracts from the famous song Úirchill an Chreagáin (part 2), and the third track is a spoken version of the words of another song, Aige bruach Dhún Réimhe. Both these songs were composed by Art Mac Cumhaigh (1738-1773), who Mary claimed to have been related to.

The second disk, LA 1225, contains four tracks. They are listed in the online archive as the sung version of an otherwise unknown song, Tá mé buartha, the spoken words of the Carolan song (Seabhac na hÉirne), Caitríona Ní Mhóra, an óigbhean mhaiseach, the spoken words of another song sometimes associated with Carolan, (Kitty Tyrrell) Sé mo léan go bhfacha mé (although she starts to sing this one, but switches to monotone speaking after the first line), and then the sequence of numbers from 1 to 20.

Pádraigín explains that Doegen and Tempel were “generally more interested in recording the spoken word, and did not usually encourage singers to sing, but rather to recite the song” (Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, Carolan in Oriel)

I was listening to the first track on LA 1225, the song “Tá mé buartha…” and I kept thinking I should recognise the tune. It took me a wee while to realise it is the tune of Seabhac na hÉirne, or the Hawk of Ballyshannon, Carolan’s praise song for Catherine O’Moore (DOSC 134).

The first and second track of LA 1225 are not independent song texts. They follow straight on from one another, and form a sung part and a spoken part of the same song. The original handwritten record sheets confirm this, listing disk LA 1225 as containing “(1) Tríona ní Mhórdha, an óigbhean mhaiseach; (2) Tríona ní Mhórdha (fortgesetzt); (3) ‘sé mo léan, etc.” (fortgesetzt means continued)


  1. Tá mé buartha tréanlag claoite
    I am perturbed, thoroughly weak
  2. fá rún mo chléib, Is níl mo leigheas insa tír
    and subdued by my dearest love, And nothing in the land will cure me
  3. amar bhfaighidh mé do póg Rachaidh mé faoi fhód,
    if I don’t receive your kiss, I will go to the grave;
  4. chuala mé, a stór, gur chlaon tú,
    I heard, my dear, that you refused,
  5. A Dhia gan tú agam in mo líontaí,
    Oh God, without you in my clutches,
  6. is mé a fháil bás de do ghrá (…) (sínte),
    and I am dying of your love (…) lying down (?),
  7. Dar a labhraim le mo bhéal is tabhair leigheas ar mo chéill,
    By all I say, and cure me of my disease (?),
  8. Ó, is cha déanfainn do mhalairt achoíche.
    Oh, and I would never replace you.”


  1. Ó, a Chaitríona Ní Mhórdha an óigbhean maiseach
    Oh, Catherine O’Moore, the lovely young woman,
  2. a thug barr deise ar Venus
    who surpassed Venus in beauty,
  3. ‘s í seo an cúilfhionn mhúinte bhéasach,
    she is the fair one of good grace and deportment,
  4. a gile gan smúid a fuair clú ban Éireann,
    bright without stain, famed above women of Ireland
  5. an fhaoileann óg is milse póg.
    The fair maiden whose kisses are sweetest
  6. Is gur Caitríona Ní Mhórdha a tráchtfaí,
    It is to Catherine O’Moore they would refer
  7. in ainm na mbruigh-bhan láidir,
    in the name of the strong fairy-fort women
  8. is minic a thug cíos ins an áit seo;
    who have often paid their due in this place
  9. ó, an lon dubh an t-éan atá gnaíúil daite,
    Oh the blackbird is a pretty coloured bird
  10. is é siúd atá mé a ráitigh.
    It knows that it’s to her I’m referring

Image, audio, text and translation © 2009 Royal Irish Academy, used under Creative Commons BY-NC License.

Carolan’s song

Carolan composed his song-poem on the occasion of the wedding of Catherine O’Moore, to Charles O’Donnell. The poem names her, as O’Moore’s fair daughter, and names him as son of Manus, and Hawk of Erne and of Ballyshannon.

I have been assured by an old Fin-Scealuighe that “O’More’s fair daughter” or “The Hawk of Ballyshannon” was composed for Charles O’Donnell the brother of “Nanny” … This information I find corroborated by accounts derived from the McDermott Roe family

Hardiman Irish Minstrelsy 1831 (vol I p. li)

I have been collating different texts of the song to try and understand how Mary Harvessy’s text fits in here.

Donal O’Sullivan includes Seabhac na hÉirne in his Carolan as no. 134, and he lists sources for the text. I have also tried to find other sources.

The earliest text I have found was collected from a traditional singer in County Mayo in 1802, by Patrick Lynch. You can see Lynch’s three verses in his manuscript copy book at Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.10.115-116.

In 1829, Thady Connellan published two independent texts of the song in his Duanaire Fonna Seanma. On pages 11-12 is a long version of the song, with 9 verses. Donal O’Sullivan printed the text and his own translation of the first two of these verses in his Bunting 1983.

On page 44 of Duanaire Fonna Seanma, Connellan prints two verses of the song along with a metrical English translation written in Irish orthography.

There is a version with three stanzas printed along with a melody, in Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, vol. VII p.21. The caption says “collected by Capt. Ricky of Mount Hall, Killygordon, Donegal.” However the text seems to be the same as Lynch’s , and Charlotte Milligan Fox who was editor had Lynch’s manuscript at that time, so it seems likely that only the melody was collected by Ricky. Fox also gives an English translation.

Tomás Ó Máille prints a version of 8 verses in Amhráin Chearbhalláin (1916), p.135-8, no.23, Seabhac bhéal átha seanaidh, assembled from different 19th century manuscripts. Two of the verses he gives seem to be variants of each other.

We can see that lines 13 to 18 of Mary Harvessey’s text match lines 3 to 8 of the first verse given by both Lynch and Connellan; Ó Máille also has this verse later in his edition. Here is Lynch’s text, with Milligan Fox’s translation:

  1. Ag so feairin deagh mna aílle
    Behold here a gift of female beauty
  2. O Chonchubhuir O Reighlligh go sleibhte I mhaille
    From Connor O’Reilly to the mountains of O’Maily
  3. An rioghuin og is milsi póg
    A young lady of the sweetest kiss
  4. Sar inghin I mhordha a tractaim
    I speak of O’Moore’s fair daughter
  5. Siur na righ bfear laidir
    Sprung from princely heroes
  6. as minic chuir ciosa ar naimhde
    who often laid their enemies under tribute
  7. Phlanda an tseain sna ceraobh folt taite
    You prospering plant with delightful branches
  8. Is tusa ta me raidhte
    it is thyself I speak of

The beginning of Mary Harvessey’s spoken section (lines 9-12 of her text) is harder to place. There is a couplet in Connellan’s and O’Máille’s texts which refer to Venus or Deirdre. Connellan has

  1. Súil mar dhruacht an tsamhraidh,
  2. Cosamhuil le Deirdridhe a dealradh,

O’Maille has this verse in two different forms,

  1. A súil mar dhrúcht ré dealradh,
  2. Cosmhail í lé naomh as Párthar


  1. Thug rí bárr sgéim air mhnáibh na cruinne
  2. Ó Venus as ó Dhéirdre

Mary’s sung text is the hardest to reconcile with any of the other versions though. It seems to be slightly different in tone, directly addressed to the woman by a rejected lover. Mary’s lines 3 and 4 are vaguely reminiscent of lines in a verse given by Lynch and Ó Máille. Again, here is Lynch’s text and Fox’s (slightly corrupt) translation:

  1. Racha me san uaidh
    I shall descend into the grave,
  2. Se is dual dom aicid
    It is due to my comp
  3. Ma ngluaiser seal mbiomsa.
    If you do not hasten shortly to where I am

Lynch’s text seems defective here, with 14 and 15 appearing to be one line broken over two. Ó Máillie has

  1. Rachad insa n-uaigh mar budh dúal do m’aicme,
  2. mur dtige tú seal go dtí mé.

Not very similar at all really! And this is the closest couplet I can see.

However, I don’t think this is necessarily a problem. In the two hundred plus years of oral transmission from the wedding of Catherine and Charles, we might expect words to be swapped out, verses to change order, and entire couplets or verses from metrically similar songs to be inserted. That is part of the living song tradition. Of course Mary was not singing the exact same words which Carolan sang at the wedding two centuries earlier, but no-one would expect her to be.

Incidentally, I find it interesting that Mary’s text is the only one which names Catherine. Everywhere else she is only referred to as the daughter of O’Moore.

Carolan’s tune

We can check my Carolan Tune Collation spreadsheet to see how the melody has been transmitted. There are a number of printed and manuscript settings of the tune from 18th century classical musicians.

Perhaps the earliest version of the tune was published in Burk Thumoth’s Twelve Scots and Twelve Irish Airs (no. IX, p.42-43) in c.1742-5. The tune is titled “Mr. Creagh’s Irish Tune” and is in Thumoth’s usual format, of an arrangement for harpsichord, or for violin or flute with figured bass. Thumoth also gives his usual over-elaborate variation on the facing page.

in this recording, Anna Besson plays Burk Thumoth’s setting, but she omits the variation and substitutes a “traditional” setting of the tune for her second half.

I don’t know who Mr. Creagh was. Burk Thumoth’s titles are often way off beam, like he heard them third hand and didn’t understand them and wrote them all wrong.

Our tune appears a little later in the Caledonian Pocket Companion (book 8 p.45). John Purser in the introduction to his CD-ROM edition (p.4) implies that Book 8 may have been published c. 1757-60.

As is usual with Oswald’s editions, this is a baroque violin or flute re-working of the basic tune. The title, Port Atholl, is very interesting, and links in with the tradition reported from the old Irish harpers in the 1790s, that the tune was not originally composed by Carolan, but is Ruaidrí Dall Ó Catháin‘s Port Atholl. We can also check my Rory Dall Tune List PDF to see other appearances of the tune. This is not the place to go into the question of whether this tune actually goes back to Rory Dall. There are two tunes called Port Atholl, and this is one of them. I mention this question on my page about the other one.

In Lee, our tune is called Mrs. O’Donnell, clearly referring to Carolan’s wedding song. I don’t know Lee’s source for the tune; he gathers tunes from all kinds of previous written sources including from John Carolan’s book of his father’s compositions. Anyway, Lee’s harpsichord setting of Mrs O’Donnell looks, frankly, corrupt.

This is Hime’s c.1798 reprint, A Favourite Collection of the much Admired Old Irish Tunes, the original and genuine compositions of Carolan the celebrated Irish bard, set for the Harpsichord, Piano Forte, Violin and German Flute.

Edward Bunting has a version of our tune in his 1798 unpublished piano book, Ancient and Modern Irish Music (not published)… where it is titled “Seabhac na hEirne or hawk of Lough Erne or Miss Moore / from Arthur O Neill with words English and Irish / By Carolan”.

© Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.33.3 p.10-11, used with permission

Unfortunately I have not yet found a live transcription from a harper or singer in Bunting’s field notebooks, so all we have are his piano arrangements. It is an open question as to how much of this 1798 piano arrangement represents Arthur O’Neill’s playing on the harp, or indeed his singing, or how much is Bunting’s piano invention. It is even possible that Bunting made this piano version primarily by reference to the earlier published scores, and merely added the “Arthur O’Neill” tag to indicate that O’Neill had played it or given lore about it.

When Bunting came to publish the tune in 1840, he did give some traditionary information about the tune, perhaps from Arthur O’Neill. Bunting tells us

(No. 13 in the Collection) Seabhac na h-Eirnè. “The Hawk of Ballyshannon”, or “O’Moore’s Daughter”; an altered composition of Rory Dall, being his “Port Atholl” somewhat varied by Carolan, who composed words to it for Miss Moore. It was uniformly attributed to its proper composer by the harpers at Belfast.

Bunting, The Ancient Music of Ireland, 1840 introduction p.91

After that we get more and more notated versions, not all of which I have seen. Many of these are derived from Bunting’s published piano arrangement.

All of the tunes we have looked at so far have the same form, with two eight-line halves. If we were to try and sing Carolan’s lyrics to any of these tunes, we would need two verses to fill the tune. However, some of these classical settings (including Bunting’s 1798 piano arrangement) put repeat marks in between the two halves.

in this video, Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin sings Thady Connelan’s first two verses, to her own Irish harp arrangement based on Edward Bunting’s manuscript piano version of the tune.

Traditional versions of the tune

In my Carolan Tune Collation spreadsheet I have not paid much attention to 19th and 20th century traditional instrumental versions of Carolan’s tunes, since I was there focussing on trying to identify and collate traditional old Irish harp settings where they survive. But we don’t have a traditional harp setting of this tune – we don’t have a live transcription from an old harper in Bunting’s manuscripts. So perhaps we should look at some of the traditional instrumental versions of the tune. Below is the version “taken down by Forde, in 1846, from the playing of Hugh O’Beirne, a professional fiddler of Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim” (Joyce p.296), and published by Joyce in Old Irish Folk Music and Song, (1909), p.298

O’Beirne’s traditional fiddle setting follows the same general pattern as the classical instrumental arrangements discussed before, having two halves each of 16 lines (though without a repeat mark in the middle). There are other traditional settings listed by Donal O’Sullivan (Carolan vol 2 p.83) which I have not tracked down yet. O’Sullivan mentions a setting taken down by Forde from a piper, Patrick Carey of County Cork, which is titled “Port Atholl”.

Song-air versions of the tune

There is one printed tune I know of which derives from traditional sung performance, and interestingly, just like Mary Harvessey’s recording, it only gives the first half of the tune. This is the same page in the Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, vol. VII p.21 which gives Patrick Lynch’s text and Charlotte Milligan Fox’s translation which I referred to above.

This version was collected by Capt. Ricky, of Mount Hall, Killygordon, Donegal. He states the air was known and sung by different members of his family. The air was composed by the great harper, Rory dall O’Cahan. Carolan wrote an ode to Miss Moore, and it was set to O’Cahan’s air, and known as “O’Moore’s Fair Daughter”. For other versions see Dr. Joyce’s “Old Irish Folk Music and Songs”, page 298, and Edward Bunting’s 3rd Vol. Bunting took down his version from the harper, O’Neill, in 1792. C.M.F

Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, vol. VII p.21

In comparison to Mary Harvessy’s tune, this version shows classical touches – the sharp 7th at the end of bar 2 especially, but also the way it fills in the gaps in the pentatonic scale. Mary’s tune, by contrast, is perfectly in the pentatonic minor mode, in that she studiously avoids the gaps in the scale (2nd and 6th). Her intonation is very wayward though – she starts with almost a major 3rd which shrinks each time she sings it towards the minor 3rd.

Future work

My Catherine O Moore Song Text Collation spreadsheet tries to line up matching verses from different versions of the text, including Mary Harvessey’s. There are more texts we could consult, to try and get a clearer picture.

I need to listen more to the recording, to understand how the tune curls. I should learn the words. We need to consider the implications of this for giving us an insight into a potential style to look towards in playing Carolan tunes and song airs on old Irish harp.

Most of the versions of this tune which we pay attention to, have come through the classical tradition. I assume the present day oral tradition versions of this tune mostly derive from Donal O’Sullivan’s 1958 edition, which is “slightly altered” from Edward Bunting’s 1798 piano arrangement. I think a proper study of non-classical sources of this tune as represented in the 19th century collections from fiddlers and pipers, would be a very useful contrast to the study of the 18th century classical settings.

We need to look for more relevant traditional music and song performances and recordings of other old Irish harp tunes, which could usefully inform our understanding of the old Irish harp repertory and traditions. My Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project has been seeking out notated traditional old Irish harp performance versions of tunes, but there are many tunes which we don’t have these live transcriptions for, like with this one; and even when we do have a live field transcription, it could be useful to be able to compare it to other traditional performances of the same tune.

We need to think hard about the old Irish harp tradition, style, and idiom. Where do we want to situate old Irish harp performance? Do we want to be closer to Burk Thumoth on the harpsichord? Edward Bunting on the piano? To Hugh O’Beirne on the fiddle? To Máire Ní Arbhasaigh singing? These are political questions about the worlds we want our music to live in.

Header image: Creggan River above the Liscalgot Road bridge, cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Eric

Edward Dodwell

Edward Dodwell is another of the tunes in the “difficult” section of Edward Bunting’s field notebook between pages 14-40. You can see in my tune list spreadsheet that Ned Dodwell, on p.40, is at the very end of that section. In fact, since the next facing page from p.40 is p.43, I think we are missing a page here, and I think the missing page had a neat copy of Ned Dodwell.

Often when Bunting does a dots and bars transcription, he makes a neat copy on the next page. I think it is quite likely that the neat copy of Edward Dodwell was on page 41, which is missing from the manuscript.

Edward Bunting wrote down the tune of Ned Dodwell “live” at speed from the performance of a tradition-bearer. Later tags in 5 different piano arrangements credit this tune to Charles Byrne, and four of them give the date of collection as 1792.

The live transcription of Edward Dodwell on QUB SC MS4.29 p.40/38/47/f18r is written just as dots and bar-lines. There is one trill mark, and there is some crossing out towards the end, and there are some doodly little dots after the end of the tune. The entire page does not tell us that this tune is Edward Dodwell; we know it is by recognising the tune from elsewhere. The title written at the top of the page, “Plangsty Reynolds Lough Skur”, refers to a completely different tune that appears in the manuscript on p.201/199/208/f99r.

Although it seems pretty clear and straightforward, there are problems with this transcription towards the end. From bar 27 Bunting seems to lose his way; he re-writes the bar line between 26 and 27, he writes two different versions of bar 28, and he completely deletes bar 29, and writes it again afterwards, and he finishes one bar short, on 31. Then after the final double bar line he tries to re-notate the end of the tune. First he re-writes it a bit wrongly, with too many notes. Then on the next blank stave he writes it out more clearly, but he has transposed this last little section of the tune a 4th higher. It is not entirely clear what he heard, because there are so many reworkings of this part of the tune in the transcription. In the different piano arrangements he seems to let his composing creativity free reign and comes up with all kinds of interesting conclusions to the tune.

Bunting made a piano arrangement of Edward Dodwell in about 1798, in his unpublished “Ancient and Modern” piano manuscript (QUB SC MS4.33.3 p.21, where it is titled “Emon Dabhal or Ned Dodwel by Carolan / from Charles Byrne”. Bunting also made piano arrangements much later, in QUB SC ms4/13, and ms4/27, though I don’t have copies of these pages and haven’t studied them. The tune was finally published in a piano arrangement as no.104 in Bunting’s 1840 book.

The transcription of Edward Dodwell is notated in C. We can see from the notes of the tune that it is a neutral mode tune; C neutral has as as its main notes C, D, F, G, B♭. Ned Dodwell includes the other two “out of mode” notes, E and A, except I think it is obvious that it needs E♭. We can check this with the piano arrangements; both the “Ancient and Modern” and the 1840 piano arrangements put the tune one note higher, in D neutral; both of them show one flat in the key signature, but both of them systematically cancel every single B♭ in the tune with natural accidental signs (Bunting’s piano world did not recognise neutral pentatonic modes, and minor is the nearest classical equivalent).

Bunting’s live transcriptions are usually notated at pitch, although there are groups notated one note higher than they would have been performed. This tune cannot work at pitch on old Irish harp, since tuning two flats on the harp is not part of the old tradition; putting the tune one note down to B neutral or B♭ neutral only makes matters worse. There are only two places we could position this tune on an old Irish harp using the traditional tunings, either one note up in D neutral (with the harp tuned all naturals), or a 6th higher in A neutral (with the harp tuned with F♯). We can’t drop the tune two notes down since that would make it run below na comhluighe on the harp.

In five different piano arrangements, the tune is tagged as being collected from Charles Byrne, and four of them give the date of collection as 1792. Byrne was a harper and also a singer, but we know that he was not a very good harper and had not been formally trained in the old Irish harp tradition, but had taught himself. I suppose it is possible that Byrne was so unlearned and incompetent that he tuned his harp in non-standard tunings, and played this tune in C neutral on the harp; but perhaps it is more likely that Bunting collected this tune from Byrne’s singing.

If we check my Carolan tune collation spreadsheet, we can see that Donal O’Sullivan gave this tune the number 40, and he suggested that the song lyrics beginning “Slán linn siar go bruach an chuain” go with this tune. He prints (vol 2 p.26-7) the text from Thady Connelann’s Duanaire Fonna Seanma (1829), where the words are headed “Eadbhaird Dodbhaill. Edward Dodwell, Esq., County Sligo: By Carolan”. There is a slightly different text in Tomás Ó Máille, Amhráin Chearbhalláin (1916) p.141 titled “Éamonn Doduel. Edward Dodwell – Carolan cct” and beginning “Go mbu slán duit fá bhruach an chuain”, though I don’t know the source for Ó Máille’s text of the song. We also have the song lyrics collected by Patrick Lynch in Mayo in 1802, in QUB SC ms4/10 p.10 titled “Planxty Dodwell” and beginning “go ma slan beo buan / an thaoibh a chuain”. All of the texts have the same length, 16 lines, which would fit the tune once through pretty well.

One of my aims in my Old Irish Harp Transcriptions project is to identify notations that are not transcribed live from old Irish harp performance. By ruling certain notations out, it narrows down the field of what notations are significant for the study of old Irish harp repertory, style and technique. For that reason alone, I am not going to make a Youtube demonstration of Ned Dodwell. This would be a good one for a singer to tackle, to try setting the different song lyrics onto Bunting’s dots-and-bars transcription.

Diarmaid Ó Dúda

I made a demonstration video of Diarmaid Ó Dúda (DOSB 37) based on the live field transcription written down by Edward Bunting in the 1790s.

The live field transcription is preserved in Bunting’s manuscripts at Queen’s University, Belfast, Special Collections. There is a dots transcription at QUB SC MS4.29 page 38/36/45/17v, and there is a neat copy of the tune on the same page.

The page is headed with “dermot O Doudy very old dirty” and then there are two pencil texts, one seems to be a phonetical title “Slack Dermot yeoudy” and the other at the bottom is harder to read but may say “James Mr Murphy” (I suppose it could equally be “James Mc Murphy”)

If we look at my Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project tune list spreadsheet, we can try to understand how Diarmaid Ó Dúda (page 38) sits in the different sections of the manuscript. Page 40 is the final page which has inside margins; there is a missing leaf (p.41-2) and then p.43 starts a whole new section with outside margins. The run of live transcriptions taken from Denis O’Hampsey in 1796 starts on p.44. These different sections on different papers were likely not assembled into their current order until 1802-5.

Pages 3 to 40 of the manuscript are nonetheless not necessarily all one coherent section. My ms29 index and transcript PDF shows Siobhán Armstrong’s notes on the gatherings, and we can see that there seem to be three gatherings in this part of the manuscript, all using similar paper with inside margins.

Pages 3-12 form a single gathering, containing a nice run of slightly rough transcriptions all noted one up, and which I have mostly done Youtube demonstrations of: Casadh an tsúgáin, old way of Molly Astore, the Beggar and Planxty Irwin, Planxty Drury and Planxty Kelly. Maybe these were all done on Bunting’s 1792 trip to counties Tyrone and Derry.

Then pages 14-40 seem to include maybe two gatherings, or maybe they are just one composite pamphlet. These pages contain a real mixture of neat copies, perhaps from books or other manuscripts, mixed in with difficult or problematic transcriptions, at different pitch levels or transpositions (sometimes different transpositions within a single tune). Anna MacDermot Roe is a typical example. Our tune, Diarmaid Ó Dúda, sits towards the end of this difficult section on page 38. Do these pages represent another pamphlet made by Bunting in the summer of 1792?

The dots transcription of Diarmaid Ó Dúda appears to be noted quickly and confidently from the performance of the tradition-bearer. It seems to be at pitch, showing a tune in G neutral mode. This is quite unusual, as G tunes tend to be in major pentatonic mode. G neutral would be related to F major, and neutral mode tunes typically tend to show elements of the “double-tonic” style. The G neutral scale includes G, A, C, D, F, and skips B and E. Diarmaid Ó Dúda has no Bs in it, but there is an E passing note. In the copy it is marked as a grace-note at the end of bar 7, but in the transcription we see it as a slightly smaller dot just before the trilled F. In my realisation I play it as the “grace” called barrlúth béal in airde from the list on p.25 of Bunting’s 1840 book. The grace-note on the final note of the tune is also similarly marked by a little dot very close to the final note in the dots transcriptions. There are quite a few crossed out or misplaced dots in the transcription – did Bunting struggle to notate it cleanly? It seems a simple tune. Was it being played really badly?

I am paying much more attention to the dots, as representing Bunting’s instinctive live response to what he is hearing; I would consider the neat copy to be the start of his classical piano editorial process, with him normalising and correcting the tune according to his classical piano expectations or needs. Nonetheless we have to use these edited neat copies to help us understand a transcription especially as here, when we have only the dots with no barlines or other guides to rhythm and measure.

Bunting published his completed piano arrangement as no.37 in his 1797 printed book. I wondered if this tune being absent from the Spring 1796 proof sheets described by Peter Downey, implied that Bunting may have collected this tune in the summer of 1796; but I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t have had it in ’92 already and just not used it until he was preparing the final edition presumably over late 1796 through to early 1797.

In the annotated 1797 book preserved in London (BL Add ms 41508), Diarmaid Ó Dúda is tagged “Byrne”. Presumably this means that in the early 1840s, almost 50 years after making the transcription, Bunting thought that he had collected the tune from the harper and singer, Charles Byrne. Whether we can rely on Bunting’s memory I do not know. But if we give Bunting the benefit of the doubt, we have a slight problem. Charles Byrne is said to have been a poor harp player; he was not properly taught, but was the guide and harp-carrier for his uncle also called Charles Byrne. He is said to have taught himself to play not very well. However he is also said to have been a fine singer, and Bunting tells us he got lots of songs from him. I wonder how many of the transcriptions in ms29 are from Byrne’s singing, especially the more problematic ones.

The transcription of Diarmaid Ó Dúda is not problematic from a harp point of view; it fits very well on the harp in the old modal system. So, perhaps it was taken from Byrne’s harp playing. But then we remember how Arthur O’Neill (in an unguarded moment perhaps) described Byrne’s playing as “worse than tol lol” and we wonder how useful to us, the live transcription of a really bad harpist, is.

Does Bunting’s text “very old dirty” on the transcription, relate to a song lyric associated with this tune? Donal O’Sullivan printed an edition of Bunting’s neat copy from ms29 in his edition of Bunting’s tunes (JIFSS XXIV 1930 / The Bunting Collection Part II, p.7). He underlays the text of a song which mentions Diarmaid Ó Dúda. The song text was collected by Patrick Lynch in 1802, from Mrs. Gavan, at Drummin, near Westport in County Mayo. Lynch’s neat copy is QUB SC MS7 no. 115 including the risqué third verse which O’Sullivan censored in his edition. O’Sullivan also prints two more O’Dowd songs collected by Lynch, one from co. Sligo in 1802 (QUB SC MS4/7 no.16) and another from Denis O’Hampsey in 1802-3 (transcription QUB SC MS4/26.6 p.6, neat copy QUB SC MS4/26.2 page 5). O’Sullivan remarks that “it is curious that … three different songs about the O’Dowds, collected in three different counties, should be written in the same meter, employing the same rhymes for the most part, and being presumably intended to be sung to the same air”. However I don’t see any grounds for supposing that the specific tune we are looking at is what these words would originally have been sung to. Unless we can find a relevant tune in Edward Bunting’s 1802 Westport notebook (QUB SC MS4/33.1) then we have to conclude that the airs to these songs are lost. It is quite possible that the airs to these songs was a version or variant of our tune, but even if they were, it seems to me that they would be handled very differently, as we see in the living tradition with the difference between a vocal version and a fiddle or pipe instrumental version of the “same” tune. It seems very forced to set one version of a text, to an instrumental tune collected in a different part of the country.

Diarmaid Ó Dúda also appears in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland, 1903, under the section “O’Carolan’s Compositions” (no. 653 on p.117). But O’Neill seems to have included all kinds of odds and ends in this section and so people generally don’t believe this attribution.

The incredible shrinking harp

When my replica of the Queen Mary harp was new, Keith Sanger suggested to me that I should measure it repeatedly over time, to see if and how much it changed shape and size over the years.

The idea is to get some idea of how reliable the measurements we take of the old harps in the museums are, and how much the old harps might have changed shape from when they were new to how we see them now.

I went to Belfast to meet Davy Patton and get the harp on 1st April 2007, and so yesterday was marked in my diary to measure the harp again.

I did not measure it as often as I had originally intended and there were gaps in my spreadsheet. I also gave up on the idea of taking measurements of all the wooden components, because it was obvious to me that the error and ambiguity of hand-measurements was greater than the change over time. But I thought that measuring string lengths was worthwhile and so I have kept doing this. I decided that the numbers were interesting enough to make a chart to show you.

My chart shows the most shrinkage happening in the first day or so after stringing and bringing the harp to tension (the 3rd April 2007 measurements were with the harp unstrung as delivered). I am sorry now that I did not re-measure between 7th May 2007 and 9th August 2015, because there was clearly some movement and shrinkage over that time period, and it would be nice to know when. I took the harp to Natalie Surina in March 2015 to have the inside carved out, and it was pulled apart at that time.

You can see from the chart that the harp has continued to shrink since August 2015. The high treble strings have not changed, but the belly of the soundboard has pulled up (not surprising after being thinned a lot). But the lowest bass strings have also kept shrinking more than the margin of error. I estimate all measurements here +/-1mm.

The next date in my spreadsheet is 1st April 2030. Check back then for an update!

Mrs. Anne MacDermot Roe

Edward Bunting made what looks like a live field transcription of a tune titled “Mrs McDermottroe” or “Nanny O Donnely” on p. 18/18/27/f8v of Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections MS4.29. Bunting made an edited neat copy on the facing page, and he published a piano arrangement in his 1797 book (No.53, Anna ni ciarmuda ruaidh / Nanny McDermotroe / Carolan). There don’t appear to be any independent variants of this tune, so the only way to understand it is to analyse Bunting’s very unsatisfactory notations.

Carolan’s patron at Alderford was Mary née FitzGerald (c. 1660-1739), wife of Henry Baccach MacDermot Roe (c. 1645-1715). Their oldest son, Henry (d.1752), married Anne, daughter of Manus O’Donnell of Newport, Co. Mayo, and I assume that this Anne is the person whose name is referred to in Bunting’s manuscript and printed titles: Nanny O’Donnell, whose married name was Anna MacDermot Roe.

Donal O’Sullivan includes this tune in his Carolan and his Bunting; we can use his numbers to refer to this tune (DOSB 53) (DOSC 82). O’Sullivan connects the tune to a song-poem, which seems to be a wedding song addressed to Anna when she married Henry. The song does seem to share meter and structure with the tune, and so I think in this case we can accept Donal O’Sullivan’s suggestion.

There are two independent versions of the the song lyric. One version (QUB SC MS4.10 p. 33/41-34/42) was collected from oral tradition by Patrick Lynch on his tour of Mayo in the summer of 1802. Lynch’s title is “Madam McDermud Roe” and his text reads:

Toig do mhion.. & seol do chiall
mar ordaigeas dia.. dean dreacht is dáin
agus labhuir do mhian… dar an og-mnaoi sgiamhach
do shliucht na Niall.. is riogha fail

brón no tuirse… riamh ni roibh na haice
is fior gur deas. a piob is a leaca
Anna nín Mhánuis… sár mhac Rudhruigh
an ard fhlaith cluiteach.. nach ndiultadh a nglea

Ni breag a dubhairt me fan thrathsa
le geug na lub sna bhfainneadh
gur geaneamhuil a suil.. a déad sa cúl
is leir liom sud.. gur sugach a glóir

Is gurab aoibhin.. don oigfhear críonna
fhantaigh inghion na scoirbhriathar saimh
Ta si momhar caoidheamhuil ceol mhar saoidheamhuil
blath geal deas dílios gach uair is gac am

Hanrai mhac searlus se tá me radha
dar dual bheith treigheach ae arach tapuigh
aithnighean a mhion ag an ti da mbiadh se
is eol don tír a ghniomh gur breagh e

da mbiadh fíon an mo laimh se
doluinn fein do shlainte
go mbeannuigh dia an dis se anna & heanrai
lastar a piopa & liontar a dram

A similar version of six stanzas is printed in Tomás Ó Máille’s Amhráin Chearbhalláin (1916) p.130-131, edited there from two related versions in RIA ms 23A1 and 23I8, which contain poems written down by “Daniel Malone, a schoolmaster,who travelled through the counties of Leitrim, Roscommon, etc., in the years 1827 and 1828 and collected all these songs from the recital of the people” (AC p.46). Ó Máille says (p.289) that “the melody is given by O Neill, Music of Ireland, p,118”. This version seems to be a slightly garbled and slightly more classical adaption of Bunting’s piano setting, with the intrusive f sharps, and the substiution of bars 13 and 14 with material repeated from 9 and 10.

The tune seems to have three sections, each of eight bars; We can suppose that each bar of the tune would take half a line of the poem, so that three verses of the poem would fit the whole tune; the six verses noted by Lynch would fit onto two repetitions of the air.

The main problem with the tune of Anna MacDermot Roe is the key and the accidentals. Bunting’s live field transcription from the tradition-bearer on p.18 is noted at pitch in A minor. In bar 6, the tune seems to pass through F, but the transcription is ambiguous, and the note head is positioned slightly above the line, and could be read as either F or G. In bar 11, the F is clearly noted and is marked with a ♯ in the transcription. There is an f in bar 12, but it is not marked with an accidental – should we assume it is also f♯? In bar 13 there are two fs, as the musical line ascends and descends. Again neither is marked with an accidental. The ascending one is clearly notated, but the descending one is deliberately elongated as if it has been changed from f to g (or from g to f).

In the third section of Bunting’s live transcription, it all goes horribly wrong. Bunting has not inserted bar-lines into the notation after the first two lines, which is often a sign that he no longer believes in what he has written. Bunting starts the third line by apparently transposing his notation down a 4th, so that he writes the first note of this line as g, when we expect it to be c. This is confirmed, as the ascending passage g a b c♯ d shows an accidental sign on the c (we would expect to see c d e f♯ g). After the first two bars, he goes back to notating at pitch in A minor, by writing high c. In the 5th bar of this section, we again have f, without an accidental. In bar 7 the notation comes to a stop.

The fourth line of Bunting’s live transcription represents him trying again to notate the third part of the tune. This time he has transposed his notation down a 5th, so that he starts by writing f, and he writes the ascending sequence f g a b c. He continues to notate the whole of the third section of the tune at this new pitch level. In bar 5, the “questionable note” is now transposed to b, without an accidental mark; but he has also written a note a 3rd lower, g, lined up with the b, as if he was unsure which should be right.

Bunting made a neat copy of the tune on the facing page, p.19. I assume that he wrote this based on the previous live transcription; however it is possible that the two notations were the other way around. We know that Bunting sometimes copied tunes neatly into ms29 from printed books or from other manuscript sources, and he mentions that his collecting tours were at least partly for “comparing the music already procured, with that in possession of harpers”. So, it seems possible that the p.19 neat copy was copied into the little loose-leaf pamphlet out of a printed or manuscript tune-book, and then later when he was out with a tradition-bearer and heard their version, he tried to notate their version on the previous page to capture the differences. I don’t know how likely that is in this case, because the neat copy is very close to the the transcription. At the moment I am working on the assumption that the p.19 neat copy is derived from the p.18 transcription.

The neat copy shows some interesting changes from the transcription. The neat copy is set in D minor, the same as the final line of the transcription. Although there is (as usual) no key- or time-signature, Bunting marks some of the b notes as b♮, implying a key signature of one flat. The 1797 printed piano arrangement follows the ms29 neat copy closely, except the tune is transposed into G minor with two flats; the E is marked natural in the same places as the Bs in the ms29 neat copy, except for bars 12 and 13, where the neat copy doesn’t show accidentals and the piano print does. Are we to assume the naturals in the neat copy?

In any case, this switching between sharpened to flattened 6ths in the minor scale seems to me to be an interesting and curious thing. Is it connected to Bunting’s process of listening to the tunes with a classically-trained piano ear? Can he not help himself but to add in accidentals? Or, is this something that could come from within the Irish oral tradition?

It seems to me that there are three possibilities for reconstructing Anna MacDermot Roe.

  1. We could consider the transcription as being noted from instrumental harp performance, played on the harp in A minor, with the harp tuned with f♯. All of the fs in the tune would be played sharp, although there are places (bar 6, 13, 21) where we could omit the f♯ and play another note suggested by the transcription (g in bars 6 & 13, d in bar 21). We would pass lightly over the f♯ in bar 21, and we could suppose that Bunting only indicated the ♯ accidental where it struck his classically-trained ear as unusually prominent and distinctive.
  2. We could consider the transcription as being noted from instrumental harp performance, played on the harp in A minor, with the harp tuned with f♮. All of the fs in the tune would be played natural, and we would explain the ♯ accidentals in the transcription as being inserted by Edward Bunting as part of his editorial process to “correct” or “normalise” the tune for publication.
  3. We could understand the transcription as being a fair representation of performance, including the sharp and flat 6ths. Obviously this would not be a harp performance, since the old Irish harp does not give the possibility of having sharpened and flattened versions of the same note, and so we can imagine this as a sung performance.

The only metadata we have for the transcription is a tag in the annotated copy of the 1797 printed piano arrangement (London, British Library Add ms 41508, where the tune is tagged “Harp Mooney”, suggesting that the tune was notated from the harp playing of Rose Mooney. These tags were likely written in by Edward Bunting in the early 1840s, almost 50 years after the transcriptions were made, so I don’t know how much weight we can put on them.

If we look at my tune list spreadsheet, we can see that Ann MacDermot Roe is not closely associated with a group of transcriptions. In the previous gathering there are two Carolan tunes that are notated similarly, with dots on the left page and a neat copy on the right page, Planxty Drury and Planxty Kelly. Both are tagged “Byrne” in the annotated 1797, but both are notated one note higher than we expect, which mitigates against Mrs MacDermotroe being associated with them. There are other “mixed pitch level” tunes in the same gathering and after Anna MacDermot Roe, and there is also the Rambling Boy which is later tagged Charles Byrne, and which appears to be a vocal setting.

Charles Byrne was not a very good harper, but he was praised for his singing and Bunting says he got a lot of songs from him. Should we understand the transcription of Anna MacDermot Roe to be noted down from Charles Byrne singing the song? Did Byrne get to the third section and realise he had pitched his voice too high, and switch down to a more comfortable lower pitch level, confusing poor Bunting?

We can also use this transcription to think about issues of tune transmission. Anna MacDermot Roe does not fit very easily into the pentatonic modes of traditional old Irish harp music, but many of Carolan’s tunes break the traditional rules or systems. Does this unease about the nature of the 6th in this minor mode tune reflect Carolan’s grappling with baroque/classical sounds from within old Irish harp tradition? Or does it reflect ambiguity in oral tradition as the tune and the song were passed down the three generations or so between the wedding and the transcription?

My header image shows an old map of Greyfield House, near Keadue, where Henry and Anna lived.