Róis bheag dubh

I made a demonstration video of Róis bheag dubh, based on Edward Bunting’s live transcription from a tradition-bearer in the 1790s:

The transcription is at Queen’s University, Belfast, Special Collections MS4.29 p.62/58/067/f28v. This page from one of Bunting’s little pocket collecting pamphlets, is headed “Rosey Black or Rosh veg Dooy” and “very old”. The transcription seems nice and clear with notes and dots but no barlines. Underneath the transcription Bunting has written […m] McCracken Belfast” – I don’t know the significance of this. Then on the lower half of the same page, Bunting has made a neat edited version of the tune.

The transcription shows the tune written at pitch, either in E minor or A neutral. There is no F in the tune; there is an intrusive C at a few points (the notes of both E minor and A neutral pentatonic mode are E G A B D). Bunting has written a few + or tr marks, and a couple of wee grace-notes in the transcription. The strong notes and pulse of the transcription is ambiguous in places due to the lack of barlines, but we can perhaps use the neat copy to help us understand this, as long as we remember that the neat copy is Edward Bunting’s edition and has been changed in a number of ways from the transcription.

Three different versions

There are many different notations and piano arrangements of Róis or Róisín dubh in Edward Bunting’s notebooks and publications, but we can group them together and see that the various copies derive from just three different performances, and so we can understand that Bunting has in all his many copies, three versions of the tune.

Two of the versions were printed as piano arrangements in 1840: No. 18, “Black Rose Bud” and no.19 “Second Set of Black Rose Bud”.

The hairdresser’s version

The first version is tune no. 18, on p.16 of the 1840 book, titled “Black rose bud”. In the index p.vii Bunting says it was collected from D. Black, Harper, in 1796. But I am questioning this attribution, because the melody of this piano arrangement is clearly derived from a transcription in Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.33.1 p.42. This transcription was made by Edward Bunting from a traditional singer in or around Westport, between Tue 6th and Thur 22nd July, 1802. Bunting had gone out to Co. Mayo to meet with Patrick Lynch, who had been collecting song texts. It seems that Lynch took Bunting to meet his informants so that Bunting could notate the tunes from them.

In Patrick Lynch’s journal QUB SC MS4.27 p.47 he lists the words of “Roisin Dubh” as being collected from P. Lynch Hairdresser in Castlebar, May 26th 1802. Was this P. Lynch Hairdresser also the source for Bunting’s transcription of the melody on MS4.33.1 p.42?

This index entry in Patrick Lynch’s Journal refers to the text of four quatrains written out neatly in Lynch’s song book, QUB SC MS4.7.091, no.58, titled “Roisin Dubh” and beginning “A Roisin na biodh bron ort far eighrigh dhuit”. Colette Moloney (Introduction and Catalogue p.209) says that these words are tagged “Castle Barr” at the top of the page, but I don’t see that on the online facsimile (the image may be cropped).

On the next two pages are 10 more quatrains, tagged at the top of the page “Drogheda”, numbered “59” and titled “Rois Bheag Dubh” and beginning “Beidh eiclips ar na speirigh is doirtear fuil”. This must be a second independent version of the song, inserted by Lynch for comparison. This manuscript is not a transcription notebook, I think it is a neat copy made by Lynch for presentation purposes. There is a second copy of the Castlebar words in QUB SC MS 4.11.

At the moment, I have not done any serious collation of the song airs transcribed by Bunting in QUB SC MS4.33.1 in early summer 1802, and the song words collected by Patrick Lynch on the same trip, presumably from the same informants – that’s a project for someone else. So, I would not say that for sure the lyric beginning “A Roisin na biodh bron ort far eighrigh dhuit” goes with Bunting’s first version of “Black rose bud”, and that the tune and words both come from the singing of P. Lynch, hairdresser at Castlebar, but it looks pretty likely.

The doctor’s version

The second version of our tune was printed on the very next page of the 1840 book (no.19, p.17), with the title “Second set of black rose bud”. In the 1840 index p.vii, Bunting tells us that this second version came from a peasant in Cushendall in 1804; in the introduction p.97 he says it was from the Lower Glens, co Antrim; in QUB SC MS4.27 he says it was from the Low Glens in 1803; and in QUB SC MS4.12 he labels it “Dr. McDonald’s set”. The tune appears in QUB SC MS4.29 p.34/34/043/f16v where it is titled “Doctors set bad good not very”. This notation in MS4.29 is clearly not a transcription but is copied from another written version; the other two tunes on this page are copied from a printed book. My guess is that Dr. James MacDonnell, originally from Cushendall in the Lower Glens, had notated it from a traditional singer in 1803/4, and had sent Bunting a manuscript copy of the tune, which Bunting subsequently copied into a blank space in his pocket notebook.

Bunting gives us more information about this version of the tune, in the 1840 introduction, p.97:

(No.19 in the collection) Roisin Bheag Dubh “Little Black Rose-bud” – Differs only slightly from the preceeding. It is here set according to the version preserved in the lower Glens of the county of Antrim. The cadence at the termination seems to lean so much more to E than A, that the Editor has adopted the former key-note as its tonic. This curious anomaly is frequently observed in these simple airs.

Black’s version?

Donald or Daniel Black is an interesting harper and we have some snippets of information about him. In the context of this tune, Bunting describes him singing with harp accompaniment – a rare eyewitness account of a harper singing to their own accompaniment.

(No. 18 in the Collection) Roisin Dubh. “Black Rose-bud” … It was sung for the Editor in 1792, by Daniel Black, the harper, who played chords in the Arpeggio style with excellent effect. The key-note at the end of the strain, accompanied by the fifth and eighth, without the third, has a wailing, melancholy expression, which imparts a very peculiar effect to the melody.

1840 introduction p.97

Bunting has put descending arpeggios in his 1840 piano arrangement of the Castlebar hairdresser’s vocal version of the tune, but I don’t think this piano bass is anything more than Bunting’s newly composed harmony, inspired by his memory of Black’s playing over 40 years previously.

So we have three conflicting pieces of information. we find the transcription source of Bunting’s first version of the tune in the Westport 1802 notebook; Bunting says that the tune was collected from Black in 1796; and he says that Black sung the song to him with harp accompaniment in 1792.

Perhaps all three are true. Perhaps Bunting prepared his 1840 first version from the Westport 1802 notebook. Perhaps he did collect a version from Black in 1796. And perhaps he did hear Black singing the song with harp accompaniment in 1792.

In which case, is the QUB SC MS4.29 p.62 transcription from Black in 1796? Bunting tells us (1840 intro p.76) that Black’s “chief resort, when in Antrim, was Mr. Heyland’s seat at Glendaragh, near Antrim, where the Editor saw him shortly before his death, in 1796. He sung to the harp very sweetly”. (see my Bunting Collecting Trips post)

It is also possible that some of this information printed in 1840 is wrong, and that we are being led wildly astray by Bunting’s disorganised waywardness… Bunting was telling us about the events of 44 years ago; we can see looking at his manuscripts that his notes are scattered, partial, and full of context-less notes.

Bunting did jot down a tune-list, in QUB SC MS4.29 p.178:

{Peggen a Leaven Daniel Black
+{Brough ne Shannon ditto——–
{Garran Buoy yellow horse Ditto —-
{Collin Fin ——— Ditto ——–
{Black bird & thrush Ditto ——–
{Little hour before Day Ditto ——
{Castle Moon Ditto ——-
{Huar ma fian Ditto ———-

We can see from my Old Irish Harp Transcription Project Tune List spreadsheet, that a lot of these tunes appear in QUB SC MS4.29 between pages 93 and 106. We also have a tune, tagged Black, on p.64 (possibly related to the p.62 Róis bheag dubh). It is not clear to me at the moment how the different gatherings of ms4.29 have been shuffled and re-assembled before their first binding (see my pdf), and whether they may originally have been related.

If the p.62 transcription was written from Black’s performance at Glendaragh House in the summer of ’96, was he singing it? There is no indication in the transcription of “chords in the Arpeggio style” which made such an impression on Bunting. And the structure of the melody as transcribed seems very harp-like. Perhaps Bunting asked him to play the tune on the harp so that he could more easily make a transcription. We really know so little about the details of this process.

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.

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.

Planxty Drury

I made a demonstration recording of Planxty Drury (DOSB 10) (DOSC 42) based on the live field transcription written down by Edward Bunting in the 1790s, from the performance of an old Irish harper.

The live field transcription is preserved in Bunting’s manuscripts at Queen’s University, Belfast, Special Collections. There is a dots and bars transcription at QUB SC MS4/29 page 8/8/17/3v, with a neat full copy of the tune on the facing page, QUB SC MS4/29 page 9/9/18/4r.

The neat copy is titled at the top “Plangsty Drury” but there is other text “[..]arm London / Bonny Shannon Water / Warter [Co????] R[ear]y / Werter or sorrows of we[…] / Sally in our Ally / [?????]”

The dots transcription is in three sections; the first and third are barred. The copy seems to follow the first and third section of the dots. This transcription is a very useful illustration of Bunting’s working method. While it is tempting to ignore the dots and work from the neat copy, I think this is a mistake. I think Bunting was editing as he went, trying to understand and interpret what he heard though his classical piano filters, and so I think the dots are the most important level of content for us, assuming that the dots represent his un-filtered automatic response to the playing of the old Irish harp tradition-bearer. I think that we cannot help but use the copy to inform our reading of the dots, but I also think it is very important to constantly refer to the dots as the primary source for the old Irish harp performance practice.

The transcription shows no key or time signature. The implied metre is 6-time. We can see this more clearly if we look at Bunting’s printed piano arrangement of the tune, in his published book, A General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music (London: Preston & Son, 1797). Our tune is published there as no.10, “Plangstigh Druraidh – Planxty Drury. Carolan”.

The transcription appears to be not at pitch, but transposed one note up. You can see in my Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project tune list spreadsheet, that the first 30 pages or so of QUB SC MS4/29 contain transcriptions written one note up. I don’t yet understand why some transcriptions are 1 up and others at pitch. It may be related to Bunting’s working methods, or it may be connected to different pitch standards in use by different harpers. The transcription, and the facing page copy, are both notated in D major, but this would require c♯ to be tuned on the harp. I think it is much more plausible to consider this as a C major tune with the harp tuned all naturals.

The transcription gives us only the tune, with no bass notes marked at all. The copy similarly does not indicate bass at all. Bunting’s published piano arrangement in E♭ major has a newly composed piano bass.

The transcription includes ornament marks. Bunting notes “tr” twice in the first section of the tune, and repeats these two marks in the same place in the neat copy. There is a third “tr” mark in the second section of the dots. I assume that these marks indicate where the harper played some kind of ornament or grace-note.

In the annotated copy of the 1797 print in the British Library, Add ms 41508, which appears to have been Edward Bunting’s personal copy, he has written “Harp Byrne” against this tune. The implication is that he collected the tune from the harper and singer, Charles Byrne. However these annotations were likely written in the early 1840s, nearly fifty years after the transcription was made, and so I do not know how reliable this information is. The spreadsheet shows that ms4/29 pages 7-11 are all tunes tagged “Byrne” in later piano arrangements, though the tunes on page 7 have other, conflicting attributions in other piano arrangements.

My use of the two reference numbers, DOSB 10 and DOSC 42, tells us where to look for information in Donal O’Sullivan’s editions and indexes. The tune is no.10 in Donal O’Sullivan, ‘The Bunting Collection of Irish Folk Music and Songs’, Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, 1927-39, appearing in part 1 p.36. Donal O’Sullivan prints a typeset edition of the tune from the ms4/29 neat copy, without mentioning the dots transcription. He underlays the words of a Carolan song, “Fáilte romhat go Kingsland, a bhinn-bhean na méar lag” (“Welcome to Kingsland, sweet small-fingered lady …”). However he explains later (p.38) that the words do not come from Byrne in the 1790s, but were collected by Patrick Lynch on his tour of Mayo in 1802. He also explains that there is a different tune called “Planxty Kingsland” or “Fáilte go Kingsland” or “John Drudy”, which the words could be sung to. He says, “in view of the title, perhaps this is the correct air for the words”. Given that the words fit the “Planxty Kingsland” tune, and the titles match, I do not see any rationale for thinking that they should be set to our “Planxty Drury” tune.

Donal O’Sullivan repeats this mis-identification of the tune and its subject in his Carolan, the life times and music of an Irish harper (Routlege & Kegan Paul, 1958) where the tune is numbered 42. In vol.2 p.27 he cites his own Bunting edition, and again matches this tune to the Kingsland words. He also silently changes the title, from “Planxty Drury”, to “John Drury, First Air”. This invented modern title is what the tune has passed back into circulation under. John Drury is the subject of the song lyrics, and again he remarks that the song lyrics could be sung to the “Planxty Kingsland” tune, which he prints as no. 43 with the invented modern title “John Drury, Second Air”.

This seems to be unfortunately typical of Donal O’Sullivan, to mis-match words and air. He wrote so confidently, and his books have had such an influence, that his emended or mistaken titles and word-matches have become accepted as gospel even when they are obviously mistaken, as here. My Carolan Tune Collation spreadsheet helps to untangle the different titles and variants.

When playing this tune on the reconstruction copy of the NMI Carolan harp, I was thinking of two things. First, the way that Bunting transcribed the dots from the playing of the harper informant, with no trace of bass notes, chords or harmony. Many people have suggested that Bunting just ignored or failed to notate the harpers’ basses; but I was also thinking of the tradition reported from Keane Fitzgerald, that “Carolan’s tunes had no bass to them originally”. So I am trying to play just the tune of Planxty Drury, letting the voice of the harp speak the tune clearly and resonantly, with as little bass interference as possible.

Trying to describe the process

On Saturday I presented a talk in Belfast, at the Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich as part of the HHSI Discovery Day events within the Remembering Bunting Festival.

The Discovery Day is a composite event I have been doing for the past year or two, in collaboration with Siobhán Armstrong, Sylvia Crawford, and a sean-nos singer (either Róisín Elsafty or Eibhlís Ní Ríordáin). The format is to have a concert of harp and voice, given by Siobhán and the singer; a talk, given by me, and an introductory class for complete beginners given by Sylvia Crawford. Each lasts for a bit less than an hour and they usually run pretty much back-to-back, to give a kind of complete overview of the old Irish harp traditions.

Every time I do a Discovery Day talk I end up taking a different angle or approach, partly based on where in the country we are doing the event, and partly based on my current research interests and directions. For this event, I wanted to pick up on the work of Edward Bunting in particular, since it was his festival, and other presenters during the festival weekend were talking about the manuscripts in Queen’s University, or Bunting’s corpus of published music.

My talk also picked up on my recent focus of understanding the transcription process as the primary evidence for old Irish harp performance practice; and I wanted to correlate this in to the method of working with replica harps and portraits of harpers.

I was not as confident and articulate as I would like to have been for this talk, but since I had made the effort to film it I thought it might be useful as a record of where I am at the moment.

Róisín Elsafty and Siobhán Armstrong during the concert
Sylvia Crawford during the beginners class

Last Days at Luggala

Garech Browne asked me to come to Luggala two-and-a-half years ago, when Richard Curson Smith and Liam McGrath were filming some scenes for a proposed documentary about Garech. Some of their footage has now been used in a new film, commissioned by RTÉ and directed by Mick Mahon, which was first broadcast last Wednesday.

I knew that playing for this kind of film means the footage will be used in tiny fragments, so I decided to play a sweet simple melody – the tune “Luggala” seemed most appropriate. Garech said afterwards that he was disappointed, he had hoped I would play ceòl mór. Garech was particularly taken with the idea of ceòl mór or pibroch played on the harp; he told me that he had read the idea in William Matheson’s book The Traditional and National Music of Scotland. The previous year, I had played pieces of ceòl mór on the harp for him and a few of his closest friends; he had wept openly, and said he never thought he would live to hear it.

The new film is a very beautiful thing, capturing Garech’s character very well. It is visually stunning of course, thanks to the setting at Luggala, but the memories of Garech’s friends in the documentary are lovely as well.

The film is available on the RTÉ Player until the middle of January. Watch it if you can!

A little history

I have been asked to do a historical overview talk at almost every Scoil na gCláirseach for years and years. Every time I do it, I try to make it new and fresh, to basically come up with a new overview. I think that way, I challenge myself to think about what story I want to tell, what are the important strands that we want to focus on.

Here’s my August 2019 talk, videoed by the Irish Traditional Music Archive.

I only had half an hour allocated, which made me focus even more. In this talk I didn’t speak about the modern revivals; sometimes I would make these an important part of the story. But somehow the medieval museum ambience made this aspect seem less important. And for the week-long participants at the summer school, the revival was what we talked about each day.

I’m always interested in the questions and comments….

Erard Grecian harp

On Saturday I was at Hospitalfield house, near Arbroath. This amazing 19th century country house is now conserved and run as an arts centre. A recent project was to restore the Erard Grecian double-action pedal harp that has been at the house since about 1830.

Saturday’s event was an inaugural concert for the newly-restored harp, and I was asked to give the pre-concert talk on the harp and its place in Scottish music. Continue reading Erard Grecian harp