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.

Caitlín Triall, and the Friar and Nun

If we check my Old Irish Harp Transcription Project tune list spreadsheet then we can see that the section of Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 from p. 44 to p.61 seems to be mostly transcriptions notated from Denis O’Hampsey in Magilligan.

However there are two transcriptions in this section which seem to me to be written in a different style, and which I think might be noted from Hugh Higgins in 1792.

Caitlín Triall

The first of these is Kitty Tyrrell. Bunting wrote a live transcription on Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 p.47/43/52/f21r. Bunting has titled his transcription “Cathleen Treeall”. It is a lovely traditional air with many variants, still well-known today in the living tradition. Here is my tentative demonstration:

Caitlín Triall is one of the tunes tagged “Higgins” in the annotated copy of Bunting’s published piano arrangement (1797 no.8). I’m not convinced that his arrangement is really based on the transcription; it might derive from an earlier printed edition.

At first sight , the p.47 notation looks very clear and simple. But, because Bunting does not indicate bar-lines, this transcription does not show what the stressed or strong notes are, which is vital for reconstructing the flow and structure of the tune. Some parts are clear enough, and to help me make sense of it, I have listened to other traditional versions, including Teresa McCormack’s 1930 harp recording, where the tune is titled “Eamonn na Cnuic”, and Máire Ní Arbhasaigh’s sung fragment from 1931.

Bunting has noted “B” at certain points in the tune, which is usually interpreted as an indication of a note played an octave lower, in the bass. I have also chosen to play the low D-E passages in the bass, though that is not indicated in the transcription. This video is perhaps less a “demonstration” of the transcription, more an “interpretation” of it.

The Friar and Nun

Turning over to the next page, QUB SC MS4.29 p.48 shows another tune in the same transcription style, without bar-lines. Here is my demonstration of it:

As well as this transcription, Bunting gives us a fair amount of commentary on this tune. I don’t have copies of the manuscript pages, but they are cited by Donal O’Sullivan in his Bunting (1983, p.199), and Colette Moloney in her Introduction and Catalogue (2000, p.229). There is a little English song text:

A Lovely Nun to a Friar Came
to Confess on a morning early
In what, my dear, are you to blame
come tell me most sincerely
Alas, my guilt I dare not name
but my lad he loved me dearly

There are also three different descriptions by Bunting, all within a few pages in QUB SC MS4.12 which kind of repeat the same information but with different emphasis or detail. Two of the descriptions say

This air is given on Hempson’s authority as being an Irish tune; he had learned it from his first master…

but the third does not mention O’Hampsey. We are told that

Many other harpers had it and played it with the same variation of the Octave to imitate the soft effeminate acute voice of the young lass and the masculine deep voice of the friar at confession

In the video, I am playing the sections marked “B 8ths” in the transcriptions using bass octaves. These sections in the harp transcription don’t match the male and female voices in Bunting’s song text. There is no mention of the harpers singing any words to it.

Bunting also tells us that

This was a favourite tune with the old harpers, and listened to by every auditor with great delight

Bunting published a piano arrangement in 1840 (no. 142), and in the introduction p.100 he writes:

This is the only air admitted into the collection which is not of unquestionable Irish origin; but the Editor has adopted it as Irish, on the authority of all the old Irish harpers with whom he has conversed; it was at all times a favourite tune of theirs… the higher and lower octaves aptly coincide with the alternations of the male and female voices in the song

Bunting’s piano arrangement is very enthusiastically classical piano style; it doesn’t follow the transcription very closely. He includes a division-type variation, and at the top of the page he says “The var[itation] by Lyons in 1698”, but I have no idea where this information comes from and I don’t see it in the transcription manuscripts.

There is some interesting sociological stuff going on here; compared to the beautiful and sophisticated Irish song airs played by many of the harpers, this is a sniggering schoolboy ditty of a song. How are we to understand the harpers and their listeners taking “great delight” in this “favourite”?


All but two of the tunes in QUB SC MS4.29 p.44 to p.61 are tagged Denis O’Hampsey in later piano arrangements. The two exceptions are Kitty Tyrrell on p.47, and A ghadaidhe ghoid mo shláinte Uaim (The Jointure or the Golden Star) on p.53, which are both tagged “Higgins” in the annotated 1797 print. The Jointure is not a transcription, it is a neat edited copy, but we could be missing the facing page (indicated in my ms29 text pdf) which may have contained the transcription which this neat edited copy is based on.

I suspect that the Friar and Nun was also transcribed from Higgins in 1792; the notation style of both it and Caitlín Triall on p.47 of the manuscript looks different from the O’Hampsey transcriptions, but reminds me of Tá mé mo chodhladh on p.28.

Did Bunting carry these Higgins ’92 transcription sheets with him when he visited O’Hampsey in Magilligan in ’96? Did he scribble O’Hampsey’s tunes into spare spaces in the ’92 collecting booklets? Did he ask O’Hampsey’s opinion of the tunes he had collected from Higgins?

Thoughts on the Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project

It struck me that these two raise questions about what my current work is; the manuscript transcriptions can offer different and interesting sets of tunes from what we get from classical arrangements, or from present day living tradition. It depends really what you want to do. I understand more and more that for me, my motivation is to understand how to play the old Irish harp, what is its natural style and idiom, how does a tune become adapted by the harper to sit easily and freely on the instrument.

This Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project developed out of the realisation that the transcriptions “froze” the performing style of the last of the old harpers, and so a detailed study of those transcriptions could reveal subtle aspects of old Irish harp style and idiom that would not be available from any other source.

However, it quickly became clear that the study needed to firstly discriminate, so as to filter out all of the manuscript notations that are not transcriptions at all, but were copied from printed books and other written sources, or are new piano arrangements; then to filter out all the transcriptions that are not from harpers, but are from singers or other instrumentalists; and now the third level of filtering, to recognise transcriptions that are genuinely notated live from the playing of an old Irish harp tradition-bearer, but which are deficient in some way so as to not give us what we need to know, about how the tune was actually played.

A chailíní, an bhfaca sibh Seoirse?

I made a demonstration video of A chailíní, an bhfaca sibh Seoirse, played (with some editorial adjustments) from Edward Bunting’s live transcription from old Irish harp performance in the 1790s.

This interesting tune was published twice by Edward Bunting; he had transcribed it twice, from two different harpers on two different occasions.

The published piano arrangements are no.6 in his 1797 book and no.11 in his 1840 book. Both of these piano arrangements are derived from the same live transcription, made probably in the summer of 1796 from the harper Denis O’Hampsey in Magilligan, County Derry. The transcription of the instrumental tune with variations is spread across pages 46, 48, 49 and 50 of Queen’s University, Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29, in a section of the manuscript (p.44 to about p.61) which is mostly transcriptions from O’Hampsey in 1796.

However, that is not what I am playing. I am working from the other, independent transcription of the tune which Bunting made, on QUB SC MS4.29 p.32/32/41/f15v. This transcription which I am working from is in the second, “difficult” section of the manuscript, which mostly seems to have been written in the summer of 1792 (see my tune list spreadsheet). Previous tune transcriptions on p.26 and 28 are tagged as being from Hugh Higgins in 1792; I am wondering if the transcriptions on p.30 and this one on p.32 are also from Higgins in ’92.

Bunting has written other information around the notation of our tune on p.32. At the top of the page in a cartouche, he writes a note to himself: “get Molly bawn the first tune learned on the harp”. The only transcription we have of Maíli Bhán is from Patrick Quin, probably between 1802-1806, in QUB SC ms33.1 p.62/71/f31v. Bunting also writes two other tune titles, “Rosh veg Doo or Rosey Black” at the top of the page, and “Hugar M’ Fean” at the bottom. These might not be relevant or contemporary notes. Both these tunes were later transcribed in QUB SC MS4.29. On p.86, in the other main group of Higgins ’92 transcriptions, we find a transcription of Thugamar féin an samhradh linn; but the copies of Róisín Dubh in the manuscript appear to date from 1796 (p.62, maybe from Black) or from a manuscript copy of 1803-4. (p.34)

Then Bunting writes information about our tune. He writes: “Shalena <Callena> vacca sheo shorse or / Chooheeir a Chur heava / McCabe’s verse’s on Carolan to the same tune”. This information relates to different titles and/or song texts connected to the tune.

Song texts and airs

Bunting’s phonetical titles refer to song texts, even though both of the ms4.29 transcriptions are clearly harp instrumental settings.

A chailíní, a’ bhfaca sibh Seóirse

We have a song text collected by Patrick Lynch from Denis O’Hampsey in 1802/3, and preserved in Lynch’s manuscript QUB MS4.26 p12/2j. Under the page header “Fragments from Denis Hempson”, Lynch has written the title “A chailinigh bhfaca sibh seorse” (Girls, have you seen George?) and four lines of text beginning “A chailinigh chailinigh bhfaca sibh Seoirse”. This text must relate to our tune, both the harp version on QUBSC MS4.29 p.46-50 transcribed from Denis O’Hampsey, and the harp version I am playing transcribed perhaps from Higgins. Both of these harp instrumental versions are titled with phonetic spellings of the title “A chailíní, a’ bhfaca sibh Seóirse”.

Above the transcription of Denis O’Hampsey’s harp instrumental set of the tune, (QUB SC MS4.29 p46), Bunting has titled the tune “Callena Vacca Sheo Shurse / with English words”. It may be that O’Hampsey gave Bunting a metrical English version of the song, like he did for Burns’s March (QUB SC MS4.29 p.51). But if he did, it does not seem to be in the manuscripts any more. Patrick Lynch made an English translation; on QUB SC MS4.36.48 f144v, a page headed “Fragments from Dennis Hempson”, he has written four English lines, starting “Girls O girls have you seen George”. This would have been done in 1802/3, so it seems less likely that the note in MS4.29 p.46 refers to Lynch’s translation.

Conchubhar Mhac Coiréibhe

James Cody’s song air and words: facsimile of QUB SC MS4.5 p.20 with the text transcribed from ms4.6 p.63. Published by Charlotte Milligan Fox in the Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, vol VI, 1908, p.26

We have a song-air version of the tune in James Cody’s manuscripts, written between 1805 and 1810 (QUB SC MS4.5 p.20, and QUB SC MS4.6 p.53/62). Cody’s title for the tune is “Connchúbhar Mhac Coirhéibe”. Cody also wrote down the words of the song in QUB SC ms4/6, p.63. As well as Charlotte Milligan Fox’s version, shown above, Donal O’Sullivan printed this text in his Bunting (1983 p16); I haven’t seen this manuscript page. O’Sullivan’s text begins: “A chnochúir, a chnochúir, a chnochúir ‘ac coiréibhe, buin a’ chluig ins a’ ghoirt agus déanamuíd réidhteach”.

On the preceeding p.62 is the title “[Conchubár] mhc Coirhéibe le seumus mhac párlaín air eilínóra iní ruarc”. The song text on that page begins: “Tá gach glaoighe dá mongaibh, is a loinne mar ghlan pheúrla”; Collette Moloney in her Introduction and catalogue (ITMA 2000, p.201) lists this as the song of Conchubhar Mhac Coiréibhe, but I think it must belong to Cody’s previous tune on p.53, Siobhán Bhán Ní Dhónaill. The Irish Song Project at Queen’s just adds to the confusion by transcribing the Siobhán Bhán Ní Dhónaill text from p.62, but offering as a “translation” Donal O’Sullivan’s translation of the Conchubhar Mhac Coiréibhe text from p.63, and stating incorrectly that Bunting “significantly ammended” Cody’s vocal melody “for publication in 1840”.

In general I think that Cody’s manuscript QUB MS4/6 with song lyrics and their matching tunes written on adjacent pages has been very much neglected; Bunting does not seem to have used it very much in his piano arrangements, and I am not aware of any attempts to re-combine these lyrics and melodies. This is a potential PhD or Masters project for someone!

We also have a version of the words of Conchubhar Mhac Coiréibhe written down by Patrick Lynch in 1802 (QUB SC MS4.17 f52v-53r, as listed in Moloney 2000 p.280). I haven’t see these pages. Thomas Hughes made a copy of the translation in QUB SC MS4.14.222.

McCabe’s verses on Carolan

Bunting writes above the p.32 transcription (perhaps from Higgins), “McCabe’s verse’s on Carolan to the same tune”. It is not entirely clear to me what this tag refers to. Charles McCabe was a very good friend of Carolan, a poet and a harper; Donal O’Sullivan, in his Carolan (1958 vol 1 p.67 on) gives us information about McCabe.

There is a story about McCabe playing a practical joke on Carolan, pretending to bring news of his own death; Carolan took the news very seriously and composed a lament for his friend McCabe, which begins “Ní Cathaoir mar chathaoir an Cathaoir fó ‘gcaoiniom” (QUB MS4.7 no127/191). but Donal O’Sullivan suggests (Bunting 1982 p.17) that Carolan’s lament for MacCabe should be sung to the tune Sgarúint na gCompánach / have you seen my Valentine (DOSB 25/57). He says that is a variant of our tune (which I don’t think is true) and suggests that Bunting’s tag is the wrong way round and should say “Carolan’s verses on McCabe”. This is a whole tangle in itself and deserves its own blog post.

There is another story of a practical joke (Donal O’Sullivan, Carolan vol 1 p.72-81) where, after a drinking match, Carolan tied McCabe up in a sack, and so the two poets exchanged satirical verses against each other. But there is no information about whether these improvised flyting verses were sung.

McCabe also composed a fine elegy after Carolan died, which begins “Nach í so an chuairt easbhach a laguidh mé réis mo shiubhail” (Donal O’Sullivan, Carolan vol 1 p.106). Is this what the tag “McCabe’s verse’s on Carolan to the same tune” refers to?

Carolan’s Elegy on the death of his wife Mary Maguire

Carolan’s wife, Mary Maguire, died in 1733, and he composed a lament for her, which begins “Intleacht na h-Éireann na Gréige ‘s na Róimhe” (Tomás Ó Máille, Amhráin Chearbhalláin p. 161). We are told by Joseph C. Walker (Irish Bards 1786, Appendix p.93) that the lament is sung “to the Irish Air of Concovar Mac Curely”

Interpreting the transcription and reconstructing the performance

The transcription of the tune of A chailíní, a’ bhfaca sibh Seóirse, perhaps from Hugh Higgins, on p.32 appears at first sight to be very clear, but there are problem bits which need addressed. The notation is at pitch, and the tune is in E minor, with a prominent and intrusive C (the notes in an E minor pentatonic mode are E, G, A, B, D). The tune is in 6-time, but Bunting has written the first three bars with only four beats. We can imagine that the E-G quavers at the start of these first three bars should be crotchets. Also, the bar count is off; Bunting has 9 bars in the first part of the tune. I think that Bunting’s bars 4 & 5 should be just one bar; his barline seems to be inserted.

In the second and the third section of the tune, Bunting has crossed out bars. I think he has deleted one bar in each section; I assume this is to do with the repetitive nature of the division-style music in these sections.

An interesting thing about this transcription is that it seems to represent a different class of transcriptions from many those I have discussed previously. A tune like Planxty Drury or Diarmaid Ó Dúda has the dots written first and then a neat copy on the facing page or lower down on the same page. But this transcription has the neat copy written over the top of the dots, almost entirely obliterating them. I think this can be more difficult for us, because we cannot see all of the changes that Bunting makes from his initial quick dots reaction to the performance, when he begins to think and make a neat edited version.

In the first two bars, the 4-note semiquavers a-g-e-d have a two-note quaver motif e-d written directly beneath. I wondered at first if this is a bass motif transposed up an octave, but it doesn’t seem to make sense like that. I feel that it is more likely to be an alternative way of playing that bar, if the a-g quick notes are a kind of optional extra. It is also possible that the e-d quavers represent how the tune might be sung – but that presumes that the rest of the notation is vocal, which I doubt. The transcription from O’Hampsey has this same feature.

The second section of the tune has double bars with repeat dots at the beginning and end, as if the tune were to be played as a four-part tune, 1 – 2 – 2 – 3.

The last section of the tune has a word written above the first bar. I cannot properly make this word out. I wondered at first if it might read “Sym” but there is a second tail, as if other letters have been inserted over the top. This final section is like a division variation, and can be compared to Denis O’Hampsey’s version which has a full set of division and other variations.

The same process of reconstruction can be done with O’Hampsey’s version, from Bunting’s transcription on QUB SC ms4.29 p.46-50. I did some work on that version 10 years ago but I wouldn’t now agree with a lot of my conclusions from back then! The O’Hampsey transcription has a lot of bass notes in the transcription, and is an important witness to old Irish harp right-hand (bass) practice. But the Higgins (perhaps!) transcription I am working from has no bass notes at all, and so I am playing it with no bass for this demonstration.

Other instrumental versions

As far as I can tell, this melody is not current in the living tradition of Irish music, but it does appear in one other old source. There is a baroque fiddle version in John and William Neal’s “Colection of the most Celebrated Irish Tunes proper for the violin, German Flute or Hautboy”, printed in 1724, p.18-19, where it is titled “Challeeny vacca shu sheorshe”.

facsimile edition by Nicholas Carolan, Irish Traditional Music Archive 2010, p.72-73

It seems to me that there is some kind of parallel between the sequence of variations in the Neal print and the sequence of variations transcribed by Bunting from Denis O’Hampsey, and indeed the single division variation transcribed by Bunting from Hugh Higgins (I think), which I am playing in this demonstration video.

Cornelius Lyons

On p.98 of the introduction to his 1840 volume, Bunting writes:

(No. 11 in the Collection) Chonchobhar Mac Areibhe. “Connor Mac Areavy”, known also by the name of Calleena bhacha su Seorse, “Girls, have you seen George?” – The melody is extremely ancient, and the variations by Lyons (Lord Antrim’s harper) are excellent. The modern musician will be surprised to find such an admirable arrangement by a person ignorant (as it is presumed all the Irish harpers at the beginning of the eighteenth century were) of modern musical science.

Cornelius Lyons (usually given as c1670-1740) was a contemporary of Carolan. He was harper to the Earl of Antrim. I think our main information about him comes from Arthur O’Neill’s Memoirs. O’Neill says “Cornelius Lyons was the other Great performer and a very fanciful composer especially in his Variations to the Tunes of Ellen a Roon, Calleena a Voch a thoo Shoarsha (Girls did you see George) Green Sleeves, the Cooleen, and several others. He was a County Kerry man” (QUB SC MS4.14 p.25). O’Neill also recounts some anecdotes of Lyons writing down a tune from Carolan’s live performance (the very first Old Irish Harp Transcription?) and travelling to London in the entourage of his patron the Earl of Antrim.

O’Neill tells us the names of two students that Lyons taught the harp, Hugh Quinn and Echlin O’Kane. Echlin went to Scotland and some of his repertory made its way into classical keyboard or pedal harp arrangements, including versions of some of Lyons’s compositions or variation sets.

It is not clear to me how we should understand Lyons. He was sighted, literate, and moved in cosmopolitan Anglo circles, including going to London. The works attributed to him in Bunting’s notes are mostly in the form of variation-sets, supposedly on traditional airs, but there seems some confusion about this even in our sources. Lyons’s variation set The Lady of the Desert is said by Bunting to be based on the traditional song air The Coolin, but there are clear differences and it is not immediately certain in my opinion whether this is true. Perhaps there is a parallel, in that A chailíní, a’ bhfaca sibh Seóirse might be Lyons’s instrumental variation set, which he composed based loosely on the traditional song air Conchubhar mhac Coiréibhe.

It is not clear to me how much this music is consciously based by Lyons on older traditional airs, and how much it is new composition with a traditional form and style. There is a lot of “classical” harmonic structure and content in these variation sets as well, especially the baroque “division” variations. It is not impossible that Lyons could have got some formal classical European music training in London as well as learning the old Irish harp traditions back home.

O’Hampsey played a number of Lyons variation sets, including Lady of the Desert, A chailíní, a’ bhfaca sibh Seóirse, and Eibhlín a Rún. Other harpers also had Lyons’s music; Hugh Higgins is listed as the source for Bunting’s transcription of Sliabh Gaillean, and also as one of the multiple sources for Lyons’s tune Miss Hamilton.

Untangling strands

As you can see there are a lot of tangled strands to this tune. One of the things I am trying to do here is to untangle things, to try and be more specific and to follow each thread and look to each specific fragment of the old tradition at a time on its own terms, to make genuine connections and to look sideways to make comparisons.

For this tune, Donal O’Sullivan has been clear and helpful, printing both of Bunting’s ms4.29 harp transcriptions alongside Denis O’Hampsey’s words of A chailiní, a’ bhfaca sibh seoirse (DOSB 6 and 6a); and printing Cody’s words and tune together of Conchubhar mhac Coiréibhe (MOSB 11).

Bunting himself has been unhelpful; he printed two different piano arrangements, both derived from the Denis O’Hampsey harp instrumental transcription, but under different titles in 1797 and 1840. Ann and Charlie Heymann were perhaps influenced by Bunting’s 1840 title when they sang Cody’s words of Conchubhar mhac Coiréibhe, to a synthetic combination of the two different harp instrumental versions of A chailiní, a’ bhfaca sibh seoirse, on their CD Cruit go nÓr (2006).

In this blog post I have tried to lay out all the different strands, the three different notations of Lyons’s version of the tune with variations; the song air from Cody, and the various sets of lyrics that are said to be related to different variants of the tune. I think that we can always learn new insights into the old tradition if we carefully separate out different threads, different versions passed down through different lineages and shown to us by different witnesses. And we can learn a lot also, if we can identify and then contrast versions that come through harp tradition, song tradition and fiddle tradition, because I think that each different instrumental or vocal tradition will take the material in its own idiomatic direction. I even think that different harpers had different regional styles, or different styles inherited from their teachers, so that if we have multiple variants transcribed from different harpers we might gain insights into how different individuals’ performance styles differed or were similar.

But in my playing in the demonstration video I am following my principle in this Old Irish Harp Transcription Project, in trying to make a realisation of one particular transcription of one particular version as notated live from one particular tradition-bearer at one particular point in the summer of 1792. I think we still have a long way to go to understand this tradition and this music before we can dive in and start creating new variants based on a deep insider knowledge of the old Irish harp tradition. But, I also feel that we are getting closer…

Tá Mé Mo Chodladh, from Hugh Higgins in 1792

I made a demonstration video of Tá Mé Mo Chodladh, from Edward Bunting’s live field transcription of the playing of old Irish harper Hugh Higgins in 1792.

Edward Bunting wrote his live field transcription into a little collecting pamphlet, which is now bound up with a lot of other collecting pamphlets into Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 28/28/37/f13v.

We can check my transcript of the text in ms29 to see that, above the notation, Bunting has written the title of the tune:

Ta me ma halla / Im[..] asleep and
na russkin me / dont waken me

Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin suggested to me that this can be understood as a phonetic attempt at “Tá mé mo chodladh, nár dhúisce mé” (I am asleep, may I not awaken).

Below the notation, Bunting has written

from Hugh Higgins
in 1792

It’s very unusual for Bunting to give us provenance or date information in his transcriptions. Normally we have to collate provenance information from later piano arrangements or indexes, which can be contradictory or unreliable. Of course, we can’t be sure that this title and attribution were written onto the transcription page at the time – nothing is certain in Bunting’s manuscripts!

Bunting’s notation on p.28 is unusually detailed and clear for a 1792 transcription. He has not barred the tune, but he has written in note stems and beams to indicate the rhythm. Unfortunately he seems to switch his note durations, sometimes writing crotchets and quavers, and sometimes writing quavers and semiquavers. He clarifies his thinking on the facing page 29/29/38/f14r. This edited copy is perhaps a little closer than usual to the transcription, but he has still made edits, omitting some of the notes, and expanding some of his “tr” or “+” marks into little notated note clusters, which may reflect Higgins’s harp practice, or may alternatively reflect Bunting’s piano imagination.

In my demonstration, I have used two different fingerings for these trills or ornaments. The trills or ornaments on E (bars 7, 15, & 31) can easily be fingered 2-1-2, which is cúl aithris in the table of “graces” (1840 intro p.25). However, I found this less convenient for the trills or ornaments on B (bars 4 & 12), and there I have used 3-2-4 which is not in the table of graces. I rationalised it to myself as a variety of barrlúdh, although the bárrludh gestures seem to rise up to finish on the upper note. Interestingly, the very next page on ms4.29 shows a live transcription of Burns’s March, which also includes a similarly shaped ornament (system 2, notated f-a-f) which is in a position where 2-1-2 fingering (cúl aithris) does not work very well. We have usually assumed this notation of Burns’s March is transcribed from Denis O’Hampsey, but I am now thinking that it is not in an O’Hampsey group, and it is noted one note up, whereas all of O’Hampsey’s transcriptions are noted at pitch. I have wondered before if this transcription of Burns’s March might be from Higgins; and so it is notable that this unusual ornament matches.

Bunting made a little note to himself on p.29, writing “major” above bar 17 where the flat 7th first appears. I am starting to seem more of Bunting’s naivety about this music in 1792 transcriptions, and a greater confidence in the 1796 transcriptions. (see Bunting’s collecting trips for more about these different tours).

Bunting did not take this transcription any further; as far as I can see he did not develop this version of the tune into a piano arrangement in any of his manuscripts or books.

Hugh Higgins

According to Bunting (1840 intro p.64), Hugh Higgins was 55 years old in the summer of 1792, so he must have been born c.1737. He is said to have died in 1796.

Higgins was later described by Arthur O’Neill, in his Memoirs: the first draft is QUB SC MS4.46 p.16, and the neat revision is QUB SC MS4.14 p.20. The two texts are slightly different, and O’Neill seems to be talking a bit sideways, but he tells us that Higgins was from a respectable family in Tirawley, Co. Mayo. His mother’s name was Burke; he was blinded early on and his parents sent him to learn to play the harp. He did extremely well at his studies and became an excellent harper: “one of the best I ever heard” says O’Neill in ms4.14. Higgins had “genteel manners”, and travelled in the style of a gentleman, with a servant boy; he “spared no expense” on his clothes, but because he was blind he had to trust his boy to choose the colours.

The young William Carr said in 1807 that Higgins “played very well and had an elegant harp”. (ed. Angela Byrne, A Scientific, antiquarian and picturesque tour – John (Fiott) Lee in Ireland, England and Wales, 1806-7 Routlege 2018)

I have not yet properly investigated Hugh Higgins. From looking at my ms29 text transcript and my tune list spreadsheet I notice that there are groups of tunes transcribed live from Higgins by Edward Bunting in 1792. (Higgins died in 1796, so presumably missed Bunting’s ’96 collecting tour). There is this possible group around Tá mé mo chodhladh on p.28, including Toby Peyton on p.26, and perhaps also Burns’s March on p.30 and A chailíní, an bhfaca sibh Seoirse on p.32. There is another group from p.78-90: Mild Mable Kelly, Sliabh Gaillean (Slieve Gallen), Cupán Uí Eaghra (O’Hara’s cup), Caitlín Ní Uallacháin (Kitty Nowlan), Thugamar féin an samhradh linn (with variation), Rois Dilloun / Young Lady Dillon, and Dr. Hart.

This group also includes a tune list on QUB SC MS4.29 p79, titled “From Hugh Higgins”:
John Jones Carolan ill
Grah ga miste very old
Cathleen ne Oullahan
Anthony [Mo] [Sonav-]
Slumber Maggenis Carolan

Perhaps most intriguing is the notation of Sliabh Gaillean on page 80-81. Page 81 has the unusual variation with a melody played in the bass register. Underneath this, Bunting has written the scale of a harp, and marked out the “sisters”, and the “right hand” in the bass and the “left hand” in the treble. Does this give us the gamut of Higgins’s harp, and did Bunting note down this scale as part of noting down Higgins’s bass variation to Sliabh Gaillean?

Other versions

Tá Mé Mo Chodladh is a lovely traditional song air. There are variants known in Scotland, and there are other related tunes and songs. For our purposes it might be worth noting two other variants of this tune.

As well as his live transcription from Hugh Higgins in 1792, Bunting also made a live transcription, apparently from the playing of Denis O’Hampsey, possibly in 1796. This transcription is on Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 171/169/178/f84r. It is titled “Tame ma Collad na Duss”, which Pádraigín suggests represents “Tá mé mo chodhladh ná dúis…” (I am asleep, let me not…)

You can see that it is done in a very different writing style, which suggests to me Bunting’s 1796 collecting trip(s). It is also in section 3 of MS4.29, but I don’t know that the sections of the manuscript are organised chronologically at all. This transcription has a lot of notes marked “B” which represents bass notes. In 1798, Bunting developed this p.171 transcription into a piano arrangement (QUB SC MS4.33.3 p56-7) and he writes there, “This setting is exactly set <copied> from Hempson – both Bass & Treble”. Of course it isn’t, as it is a piano arrangement in the key of f major, but it does have spare bass octaves in exactly the places where he has “B” marked in the transcription. There is a more developed piano arrangement frim the 1830s in MS4.27, where it is tagged Dennis a Hempson, Magilligan, 1796; and the published piano arrangement in 1840 is labelled in the index Hempson, Magilligan, 1792. (for all the fame of Bunting’s published books of piano arrangements, there are very few recordings of his arrangements being played on the piano, and I can’t find one at all of Tá Mé Mo Chodladh, no.100 in 1840)

I also was interested to consider a traditional recording of Tá Mé Mo Chodladh as an instrumental slow air. This is Willy Clancy in 1969:

Charlotte Milligan Fox published notation of a similar version, collected by her from “Piper Kelly, an old musician who wanders round the North of Ireland… he said this lament was given to him by “ould Jimmy Joyce, a Galway piper” who had been to the Belfast Convention of Harpers in 1792″.

Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, volume 1, [1904], p.16

I would say that Higgins and O’Hampsey are much closer to each other, but rather different from Clancy & Kelly, who are much closer to traditional song versions. But I think that O’Hampsey is also “squarer” than Higgins, that Higgins has potentially more of the flavour of Clancy & Kelly. The main difference I am hearing between the harp versions, and the pipe versions, is that the pipers have a sharp 7th whereas the harpers have a flat 7th. I don’t know if this is because of the pipe scale, or if the pipes are following singers, or what the reason is.

Again, I wonder what the connection is between the performance style of our harpers a bit over 100 years ago, and this piper, a bit over 50 years ago. If Bunting tried to make a transcription of Willie Clancy’s playing, and then worked up his transcription into a piano arrangement, what would he end up with? Should we try to understand and interpret the 1792 transcription from the playing of Higgins, through an understanding of Clancy’s recording?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Bunting’s collecting trips

As part of my Old Irish Harp Tunes Transcriptions Project, I have been looking at where and when Bunting collected tunes. My interactive map shows the dates and places he tells us he was collecting.

See full screen. You can toggle the different years on and off. Click on a dot for commentary.

Belfast Harpers Meeting 11-13 July 1792

The gentlemen of the Linen Hall Library organised the meeting of the harpers in July 1792. They organised to have a “Skilful Musician to transcribe and arrange” the music of the harpers (advertisement, Dec 1791, Linen Hall Library Beath Collection). Edward Bunting attended, and he does seem to have written down music from listening to the harpers, later describing “the Irish Airs, the notes of which I took at the late performances of Harpers… Ed Bunting Belfast March 29th 1793″ (cited in Downey p57). I have not yet identified any of these July 1792 transcriptions in Bunting’s manuscripts at Queen’s University, Belfast.

However, the focus of the organisers was not particularly on transcribing the music played, so much as getting hold of written copies of tunes, from whatever source. In the introduction to Bunting’s 1797 printed collection, it describes the purpose of the meeting “to procure, while yet attainable, the most approved copies of tunes already in the hands of practicioners, as well as to revive and perpetuate a variety of others extremely ancient, of which there were not copies extant, and which were therefore likely soon to become extinct.”.

I think we can read this as meaning to get hold of sheet music (printed or manuscript) already in the hands of “practicioners” i.e. classical musicians on piano etc; and then to transcribe from tradition-bearers the tunes “of which there were not copies extant”. The fashionable and wealthy Belfast people who came to listen to the meetingmay well have brought along music-books from their private libraries, to share with the meeting organisers. The social and cultural gulf between the Anglo middle-class Belfast attendees, and the Irish-speaking country harpers, must not be under-estimated.

1st tour in 1792

The introduction to Bunting’s 1840 printed book (p4) tells us about his collecting activity in the summer of 1792: Bunting “travelled into Derry and Tyrone, visiting Hempson, after his return to Magilligan … and spending a good part of the summer about Ballinascreen and other mountainous districts in [Tyrone], where he obtained a great number of … airs from the country people. His principal acquisitions were, however, made in the province of Connaught, whither he was invited by the celebrated Richard Kirwan of Cregg, … obtaining tunes from both high and low.”

The introduction to Bunting’s 1797 printed collection, gives fresher detail. We are told that he “made a tour through a principal portion of the kingdom, for the purpose of comparing the music already procured, with that in possession of harpers in other parts, and of making such additions as would render the work complete.”. This is interesting, in that the first aim given is to compare written copies of tunes, with what he heard on tour. It seems that his live field notating was only done to fill in gaps.

What were the written tunes that Bunting took with him on his 1792 tour? Some may have been live transcriptions from harpers at the Belfast meeting in July, but I suspect many were copied from printed books. Bunting’s pocket notebooks (now bound together as Queens University Belfast Special Collections MS4/29) contain a significant number of tunes copied from written exemplars. I have identified tunes copied from printed books by Walker, Neal, and Carolan; others of these neat copies may be copied from manuscripts now lost.

Bunting only mentions seeing Denis O’Hampsey in the summer of 1792, though I think he must have met other harpers on his travels. I think that parts of QUBSC ms4/29 parts 1 and 3 were carried by Bunting on this trip.

There does seem to have been a focus on collecting songs from country singers. The 1797 introduction says “several of the airs in the following collection were not taken from the Irish harp, but from songsters, and therefore as they now stand, are not always adapted to that instrument.”

As far as I can tell at the moment, parts 2 and 4 of QUBSC ms4/29 (pages 111-143 & 237-258 (B numbering)) represent songs collected with Kirwan in Mayo in the summer of 1792. We have a nice description of Kirwan and Bunting touring together from Donegal to Galway, in Annals of the Irish Harpers (1911) p217.

I count approx. 50 tunes tagged “1792” in later piano arrangements

I count 5 tunes tagged “1793” in later piano arrangements
I count only 1 tune tagged “1794” in later piano arrangements
I count only 1 tune tagged “1795” in later piano arrangements

How reliable are the dates given in these later piano arrangements? Some of them seem to be scribal or typographic errors, giving the wrong date. But I also wonder if Bunting occasionally collected a tune from an informant, or a correspondent, or a printed book, at home in Belfast.

2nd tour in 1796

In May 1796, Bunting went to London and entered some proof sheets of his printed piano arrangements at Stationers Hall, to claim copyright. These are detailed in Downey’s book.

In the summer of 1796, Bunting was out collecting in the North of Ireland. He went to Magilligan and collected tunes from Denis O’Hampsey. In the 1840 introduction p6 he says he was “frequently” there but it is not clear whether this means he went back every day for a week, or every year for a few years (I suspect the former).

Bunting also went to Glendaragh House near Crumlin, the seat of harper Daniel Black’s patron, Mr. Heyland. Bunting took down tunes and songs from Black. Bunting tells us that Black “sung to the harp very sweetly” (1840 intro p78).

There are a few other hints that he might have also been to Coleraine and other places in North Antrim on this trip.

In October 1797, Bunting was again in London to enter the complete published 1797 book into Stationers Hall for copyright protection. I think that the summer 1796 tour must have provided some of the material incorporated into the 1797 book.

I count about 20 tunes tagged “1796” in later piano arrangements

I count 7 tunes tagged “1797” in later piano arrangements
I count 1 tune tagged “1798” in the mss
I count 6 tunes tagged “1799” in later piano arrangements

Newry in 1800

In his later piano arrangements, Bunting tags 3 tunes as coming from Arthur O Neill in Newry in 1800. Arthur himself describes meeting Bunting on the road, and being taken to Bunting’s lodgings in Newry, where he stayed a couple of weeks. Arthur O’Neill says, “he took some tunes from me” (QUBSC MS4/14 p71, also Annals p197)

I count 22 tunes tagged “1800” in later piano arrangements

I count no tunes tagged “1801” in later piano arrangements

Westport with Lynch in 1802

In 1802, Bunting’s interest seems to have shifted decisively, and he became very interested in the Irish language texts of songs. This may be connected to a wider interest in Irish language matters amongst the Belfast literary and cultural set who Buning mixed with.

Bunting engaged the scribe, Patrick Lynch, and paid him to go West in the summer of 1802, to collect song words in Mayo. Lynch kept a journal describing his travels and difficulties (QUBSC ms4/24). Lynch eventually ran out of money and had difficulty communicating back to Belfast, so Bunting set off and eventually they met together in Westport. They spent Tue 6th July to Thur 22nd July 1802 together in Westport, and it seems that Lynch took Bunting to meet the singers who had given him song texts, so that Bunting could transcribe the song airs from their singing. QUB SC MS4/33.1 appears to be Bunting’s notebook which he used to transcribe the song airs live from the informants’ performances.

I count 41 tunes tagged “1802” in later piano arrangements, most of them from singers and musicians Westport.

Quin, perhaps 1802×1806

Upside-down at the back of the Westport 1802 notebook, are tunes apparently notated live from the playing of harper Patrick Quin. These are perhaps the clearest and most important group of transcriptions, but they are not dated or localised. They may have been done in 1802, on the way back from Westport, or at some subsequent date. One of the tunes transcribed in this group is tagged as being collected from Quin in 1806 (1840 tune index).

I count 21 tunes tagged “1803” in later piano arrangements
I count 2 tunes tagged “1804” in later piano arrangements
I count no tunes tagged “1805” in later piano arrangements
I count 8 tunes tagged “1806” in later piano arrangements
I count 2 tunes tagged “1807” in later piano arrangements

The completion of ms29, 1802×5

According to Colette Moloney’s index and catalogue, the loose pamphlets and pages of ms29 were bound into a completed book in or after 1802. It looks like Bunting may have continued to write transcriptions and copy notations into the completed book after it was bound; he also numbered the pages almost consecutively and wrote in some cross-references using these page numbers.

On the new end-paper he writes “This volume was began in the year 1792 and finished in 1805 by EB”.

2nd or 3rd tour in 1808

A notisce in the Dublin Evening Post, 12 Sep 1808, p.3 (Downey p50) says “We understand that Mr Bunting is at present on his second or third visit through different parts of this kingdom, in order to give the last finish to his important work on the ancient music of Ireland”. Charlotte Milligan Fox, in Annals of the Irish Harpers (1911) p.218-223 prints some correspondence from Bunting describing his work in 1808. He was in Dungannon, and then Sligo, and finally Dublin. He seems to be looking for tunes in manuscripts, and trying to meet collectors or scholars who would help with the completion of his 1809 published book.

I count 3 tunes tagged “1808” in later piano arrangements, as well as 3 named in the letters.

Dates after this in the piano arrangement tags seem to refer to tunes that were sent to him by other collectors or antiquarians. In 1815 he moved to Dublin; in 1819 he married and started a family. It does not seem to have been until 1838 that Bunting took up his work on the old Irish music again, and started preparing for the publication of his 1840 volume. After that he seems to have been working on trying to re-edit the 1797 and 1809 volumes, but he died in 1843.


Creating a detailed chronology like this helps to understand the transcriptions that I am looking at in the manuscripts. I think more and more that Bunting was not in our world, he was not concerned to accurately report what the tradition-bearers were doing. He was concerned to get the “best sets” of tunes. That may well have involved copying the tune out of a printed book, and then taking that copy out to meet a harper, and listening to see if the harper’s version was “better”.

His lack of metadata in the transcriptions is consistent with this. We have to assume that the names and dates in the piano arrangement tags are a kind of nostalgic antiquarianism, perhaps created from memory. And we know his memory is wayward, because of the way he consistently mis-represented the publication date of the 1797 volume.


Queen’s University, Belfast, Special Collections MS4
Peter Downey, Edward Bunting and the ancient Irish music: the publication history of ‘a general collection of the ancient Irish music… adapted for the piano-forte’ (London: Preston and son). Downey Editions, 2017
Charlotte Milligan Fox, Annals of the Irish Harpers, Smith, Elder & Co, London 1911
Colette Moloney, The Irish Music Manuscripts of Edward Bunting (1773-1843): An Introduction and Catalogue. Irish Traditional Music Archive, 2000
My Old Irish Harp Transcription Project Tune List is a work in progress, but you may find the raw data useful.