An bhfaca tú mo valentine?

I made a video demonstration of the song air “did you see my valentine”. I am trying to follow what I think is a live transcription made by Edward Bunting from a traditional harp performance, in the summer of 1792.

I’m playing from the notation in Queen’s University, Belfast, Special Collections MS4.29 p.102 which is not really as straightforward as it looks, because Bunting has overwritten his original notation with heavy editorial changes. I am trying to ignore the emendations and play just the earlier lighter notes, but it’s hard to be sure what they are. In most cases you can see the slender “tail” of the underlying earlier note even if its head is obscured by a later heavy editorial note. I suspect the tails were likely added in a second pass onto headless live transcription dots. There are a couple of dots without tails, including dots before the first note; they might represent a pickup or anacrusis but I am ignoring them, supposing that the light tails represent the proper first layer, and that abandoned tail-less dots represent errors or mis-hearings in the live transcription process. I may be wrong there.

It is possible that this is a transcription of a sung vocal performance, but I think it has enough traditional harp features to think it may be from a harp instrumental performance.

There are a hundred questions and problems about this notation in particular, and this tune in general. I can’t possibly deal with them all on this blog post, but I will try and flag up some of the issues.

Title and song lyrics

There is a song which matches the transcription title, “did you see my valentine”? and whose melody is similar to our harp transcription. It is well enough known in the tradition, under the titles “An raibh tú ar an gCarraig” or “An raibh tú ag an gCarraig” (were you on the rock / were you at the rock). There are lots of different versions that you can find to listen to:

The words that are sung are basically the same as those collected in Connaught by Patrick Lynch in the summer of 1802, which you can see in his neat copy at QUB SC MS4.10 p106. Donal O’Sullivan prints a normalised transcription and translation (Bunting part 3 p.50):

An raibh tú ar a’ Charraic nó a’ bhfaca tú féin mo ghrádh?
A’ bhfaca tú gíle na finne nó sgéimh na mná?
A’ bhfaca tú an t-ubhall is cumhartha, deigh-mhilse bláth?
Nó a’ bhfaca tú mo Valantin, nó ‘bhfuil sí gá claoidh mar táim?

Bhí mé ar a’ Charraic agus chonnaic mé féin do ghrádh,
Ní fhaca mé gíle na finne nó sgéimh na mná?
Ní fhaca mé an t-ubhall ba cumhartha, deigh-mhilse bláth?
Ach chonnaic mé do Valantin, is níl sí gá claoidh mar táir

i.e. Were you at Carrick / the rock, and did you see my love? the brightest beauty, the fairest woman, the most fragrant apple of sweet bloom? Did you see my valentine, and was she pining for me? Yes I was at Carrick / the rock, yes I saw your love, I didn’t see the brightest beauty, the fairest woman, the most fragrant apple of sweet bloom, I did see your valentine but she is not pining for you.

Portrait of Eliza Blacker (1739-1822), by
Gainsborough, via Wikipedia

The word “Carraig” could be translated as “rock”, i.e. the mass rock, which is how it is understood now in the tradition; some people explain that the answer as to whether she is or is not pining for you is a code for whether it is all clear to go up to the rock for a mass. But it could also be a place-name; O’Sullivan (p.51) cites a tradition from an 1850 book that the song was composed by harper Dominic Mungan (c.1715-?), for Miss Eliza Blacker, of Carrickblacker near Portadown.

Here’s Éamonn Ó Bróithe, with extra verses, and with the Eliza Blacker story:

Association with harper, Daniel Black

In his annotated copy of the 1797 piano book, Bunting wrote “Black” against the piano arrangement no.57 “A bhaca tu mo bhalentine – Have you seen my Valentine”, which seems at least partly derived from the MS4.29 p.102 transcription.

Elsewhere, Bunting tells us that he met Black in Summer 1796. However, I don’t think that we can accept the p.102 transcription as being made in Summer 1796 (see below). Therefore, it must date from Bunting’s first collecting tour in Summer 1792. Did Bunting also meet Black on the summer ’92 tour? Or is the annotated tag wrong? Did Bunting make the p.102 transcription from a different harper? Bunting wrote these tags in the 1830s, 40 years after his collecting tours, and I don’t trust them.

If we check my Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project Tune List Spreadsheet we can see that this tune sits at the start of a set of tunes that may well be from Black in 1796. However this tune, “have you seen my Valentine” at the top of p.102, looks like it may belong to an earlier sequence of use, than the possibly ’96 tunes entered on the bottom half of pages 102-103 and the top of page 106, as if these ’96 tunes may have been entered into spaces in a partly-used transcription notebook. The more we start to get a grip on the dates of items in the notebooks, the more we can untangle these layers. But at this stage I can’t be at all certain about any of this section.

Bunting’s other versions

Peter Downey discusses Bunting’s handling of different versions of this and closely related tunes, in his Publication History… (2017). Downey’s chapter 4 is titled “The influence of earlier published collections of Irish music on Edward Bunting’s early collecting and publishing activities 1792-1797”, and our tune is one of his case studies. Downey is concerned to emphasise how many of Bunting’s manuscript notations are not transcriptions, but are copied out of earlier printed books.

However the situation is much more complicated than that! It is clear to me that Bunting’s “process” of notating, arranging and publishing has at least three “inputs” and has two “outputs”. The difficulty is looking inside the black box of Bunting’s process, to untangle everything.

The three “inputs” that I know of are the live performances of two different harpers on two different occasions, and an earlier printed book. One harper was Denis O’Hampsey, and the live transcription of his performance is in QUB SC MS4.29 p.167, titled “Scarroon na Gompanagh”. The other harper was possibly Daniel Black, and the live transcription of his performance seems to be the first underlying layer of writing on QUB SC MS4.29 p.102, titled “have you seen my Valentine”. The third “input” is a printed melody published in Walker’s Irish Bards (1786) No.VIII, and titled “Abair a chumain ghil”, which Bunting made a direct copy of into MS4.29 p.34.

The two “outputs” are two different piano arrangements. One of them was published as 1797 no.25, titled “Scarfuint na ccompanach – The Parting of Friends”; the other was published as 1797 no.57, “A bhaca tu mo bhalentine – Have you seen my Valentine”. You can listen to performances of Bunting’s classical piano arrangements on Fiachra Ó Corragáin’s Bunting Archive website: no.25 and no.57.

At first sight it seems very straightforward to work out the direct line from “input” to “output”, and sometimes even to see intermediate steps. For 1797 no.25 “Scarfuint na ccompanach – The Parting of Friends”, the relationship is clear and simple: this piano arrangement derives from the live transcription from Denis O’Hampsey, MS4.29 p.206 “Scarroon na Gompanagh”.

For 1797 no.57, “A bhaca tu mo bhalentine – Have you seen my Valentine”, the piano arrangement has less straightforward origins. There are a few elements of the p.102 transcription in it, but Downey (p.37) says “it is clear, however, that Bunting has employed Walker’s melody as the model for his own published tune”. Bunting had made a hand copy of Walker’s tune “Abair a chumain ghil” into one of his transcription pamphlets, at the bottom of MS4.29 p.34., though I don’t know how we can date this page. Downey points out (p.41) that the Linen Hall Library had a copy of Walker by 1794 which Bunting could have used, or he may have access to a privately-owned copy as early as 1792. Downey also points out how Bunting had made later editorial emendations to his p.102 transcription, apparently to change it to bring it closer to the Walker printed melody. (It may not be a co-incidence that Bunting has copied two other Walker tunes onto the previous page, p.101). The piano arrangement 1797 no.57 seems to be some kind of combination of features direct from Walker, and from the amended p.102 transcripton.

However, no.57 in the 1797 published book is not the earliest appearance of this piano arrangement. Downey details with exact precision, that before Bunting’s first Collection was published in October 1797, Bunting had gone to London in May 1796 with proof sheets of some of his arrangements, which he deposited in the British Library. These Spring 1796 proof sheets are basically the same as the Autumn 1797 published pages; the differences in the ’97 published versions are mostly the addition of English translations to the titles, and the addition of expression marks and minor changes to a few tunes. However, one of the tunes had its title completely changed between May 1796 and October 1797… yes it is our tune, 1797 no.57.

In May 1796 it was titled “Eug na ccarad & Scarfuint na cCompanac”, but in October 1797 it was titled “A bhaca tu mo bhalentine – Have you seen my Valentine”

I tried to make a chart to show how these different notations relate to each other, starting with the three “inputs” at the top, and finishing with the two “outputs” at the bottom.

Hopefully this chart makes clear how I understand all these different items relating to each other, and helps clear a little of the confusion around this. I think that it is vitally important when dealing with this material, to try and be really clear in our minds about the massive gulf between the traditional oral performance context of the informants, and the literate classical urban world of Bunting’s collecting and piano arranging. The live transcriptions are the “interface” between these two worlds, and so we desperately need to build reliable tools to be able to identify and classify and analyse the transcriptions, and to distinguish between live transcriptions and other notations.

For this tune, there is still plenty of other stuff that needs dealt with, such as the Mulholland version mentioned by Downey, and its later transmission history, but all of that is moving a long way beyond what I want to do in studying live transcriptions from old harpers. Perhaps I should add “have you seen my Valentine” to my list of potential PhD research projects


We can use the fixed dates for some of the items in the chart above, combined with the influences from one thing to another, to work out some possible or likely dates for the undated parts of the chart.

I have assigned the transcription on p.102 to 1792 simply because it seems to have fed in to the May 1796 piano arrangement; and if we check Bunting’s collecting tours the only known collecting before Spring ’96 was in the summer of ’92.

Charlotte Milligan Fox (Annals p.21-22) tells an interesting anecdote about the departure of Wolfe Tone in 1795, as a political exile. There was a final gathering in Belfast on the eve of departure, and Bunting played “the Parting of Friends” on the piano; Tone’s wife “was overcome by the pathos of the music, and, bursting into tears, left the room”. Fox was confused by the titles in the 1797 book, but it seems clear now that we have Downey’s analysis of the 1796 proof sheets that the tune Bunting played on this occasion must have been our tune, no.57.

No.25 is tagged “Hempson Harp very ancient” in Bunting’s annotated copy of the printed book. The transcription on MS4.29 p.167, is near other O’Hampsey transcriptions, but none of them is securely dated. The style of writing makes me think it might be summer 1796, and the absence of this tune from the May 1796 proof sheets would be consistent with this.

Here is a speculative chronology of the different items:

I imagine that in Summer 1796, Bunting may have heard O’Hampsey playing his version of the tune with the title “Sgaruint na gCompanach”; Bunting transcribed it from the live performance, and then decided to use it in his 1797 publication as no.25; and that this would force him to revert to the original “Valentine” title for no.57.

A quick note on the other titles

Presumably the 1792 harper informant (whether Black or not) called the tune “Did you see my Valentine” as written on the p.102 transcription. Walker’s printed book called the tune “Abair a chumain ghil”. But Bunting, making the piano arrangement that was finished by May 1796, disregarded both those titles and instead chose to use the title “Sgaruint na gCompanach”. There must have been other information available to Bunting about the different tunes and titles in this family of tunes, to make him choose to use the “companions” title in his 1796 proof-sheet arrangement.

The title “Sgaruint na gCompánach” refers to a song lyric. Donal O’Sullivan (Bunting part 1 page 8182) prints transcriptions and translations and explains how the line “no éag na gcarad agus sgarfúint na gcompánach” (the death of friends and the parting of companions) is the last line of a quatrain, which he cites from Patrick Lynch’s 1802 notebook, QUB SC MS4.26 no.29; he says that either the whole quatrain or just this line is sometimes attached to the end of Carolan’s lament for Charles MacCabe, which begins “Ní cathaoir mar chathaoir an Chathaoir fo gcaoiniom”. I discuss this lament further in my notes for the related tune, A chailíní, an bhfaca sibh Seoirse?

There is another different variant of the tune in QUB MS4.21, a Lynch 1802 notebook, where Bunting has written tunes upside down in the back. One of the tunes is titled “Na Cummun or Scarroon na Gompanach” and tagged “sings to McCabe’s verses on Carolan”. (Moloney, Introduction and catalogue p.296). I haven’t seen this manuscript.

Walker’s title, “Abair a chumain ghil”, seems to mean “say, fair comrades”. I assume this is somehow related to “sgarúint na gcompánach”.

Séamus Ennis

Our harp versions still don’t sound like this. Are we still missing something vital?

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