Pléaráca na Ruarcach

I made a video demonstration of a version of Pléaráca na Ruarcach, from Edward Bunting’s transcription notation in Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 107/103/112/f51r.

Carolan is said to have composed this tune, for a set of Irish words which were by his friend Hugh McGauran in about 1712:

Pléaráca na Ruarcach, do chualaigh gach duine
dhá dtáinic is dá dtiucfaidh is dá mairionn riabh beo…

For some reason this tune and song became well-known in literate Anglo circles. Dean Swift made his famous version around 1720:

O’Rourk’s noble fare will ne’er be forgot
by those that were there, or those that were not…

In 1724, the tune was published as the most prominent in John and William Neal’s Colection of the most celebrated Irish tunes. The tune in Neal was presented on page 6, titled “Plea rarkeh na Rourkough or ye Irish weding improved with diferent divitions after ye Italian maner with A bass and Chorus by Sigr. LORENZO BOCCHI”. It is the only tune in Neal which is set on two staves with treble and bass.

Many many years ago I tried to play Neal’s setting on the harp, treble and bass, since I was searching for hints of old Irish harp bass style. I think this was totally misghuided; not only is it clear to see that Lorenzo Bocchi’s bass is newly composed for harpsichord or cello, we also have Keane FitzGerald’s eyewitness testimony that “Carolan’s tunes had no bass to them originally”.

This tune also appears in four other 18th century printed music-books: Burk Thumoth in c.1740, Lee in c.1778, Walker 1786, and Thompson in c. 1787. You can see all these with references in my Carolan Tune List Collation spreadsheet.

Attribution of the transcription to a harper

Edward Bunting included a piano arrangement of Pléaráca na Ruarcach in his 1798 “Ancient and Modern” unpublished piano collection (now QUB SC MS4.33.3 and 4.33.2). The tune is in MS4.33.2 p.13. I think this piano arrangement is mostly based on the MS4.29 p.107 transcription, with maybe one or two fragments “improved” by reference to Neal’s printed version. Bunting titles it “Ple Rakeagh na Rourkagh or O Rourke’s noble feast / Translated by Dean Swift” and beneath the tune he writes “From Rose Mooney”.

Bunting published a printed piano arrangement in his 1809 book (p.8), set to Swift’s English lyrics. In his annotated copy of the printed book (BL Add ms 41508) probably in the late 1830s or early 1840s, Bunting wrote “Harp ONeil” beside this tune, implying that he thought then that he had originally collected it from the harper Arthur O’Neill. The 1809 piano arrangement seems also to be based on the ms4.29 transcription, with a few readings interpolated from Neal or other early prints.

So how can we tell who the harper was, who Bunting made the live transcription from? Page 107 is a messy page, with a tune list and other doodles on (transcribed on my ms29 PDF), and with the tune fitted around these other writings, including the title “jigg to the Jointure” and two bars of that tune. This suggests to me that our transcription is later. It seems more competent than some of the earlier transcriptions. There is only one bar line, at the very end; but the rythym is easy to work out from the note stems and beams. Other tunes nearby are tagged O’Neil, but I wonder in this case if it might be Rose Mooney. We have quite a big tune list that is attributed to her, but I have not been finding groupings of transcriptions that can be confidently connected to her.

6 thoughts on “Pléaráca na Ruarcach”

  1. Mike Baldwin notes a traditionary story in the Schools Collection, which mentions this tune. This is traditional information from the local area about the harper Jerome Duignan, who played in the parliament in Dublin as part of a wager.

    Bunting tells the story in “Ancient Music of Ireland” 1840 introduction page 77, taken from the dictation of harper and tradition-bearer Arthur O’Neill. There are differences in detail; O’Neill says Duigenan was an “excellent Greek and Latin scholar” and was not blind. O’Neill talks about the costume of the harper, but our information here gives us different details, including the location of Duignan’s house, and the tunes he played:

    “At first he played a lively air known as “O Rourke’s Noble Feast” but gradually it changed to a low wailing air called “Limerick’s Lamentation” and before he had finished there was / not a dry eye in the audience…”

    O’Rourke’s feast in the transcription I play here is in G. The only transcription we have of “Limerick’s Lamentation” is from Patrick Quin, in QUB SC MS4.33.1 where it is titled “Lochaber” and set in D major. Both of these settings require F♯ on the harp, so they can be played together as a set which could be quite effective.

  2. I have made a new and better video of Pléaráca na Ruarcach. In this video I follow through on ideas developed by Sylvia Crawford, to divide the tune between the hands, placing certain notes into the bass of the harp. You can see that in my original video (above) from 2020, I was already using the traditional Irish harp fingering techniques, but I had not yet cottoned on to the alternation of left hand (treble) fingering techniques and right hand (bass) notes (or I should say, cottoned back on to it, as I had been doing something along similar lines years ago, following Ann Heymann’s much earlier insights).

    I hope you find this an interesting comparison on how my ideas of playing have developed over the last couple of years.

    The second tune in this set is Lochaber, inspired by the story of Jerome Duigenan.

    1. We actually have a very tantalising reference to an independent live transcription notation of this tune, a rare example of someone else (not Bunting) transcribing live from a traditional harper informant. Unfortunately I do not know if the live transcription sheet still exists. Perhaps one day it will be found.

      The transcription is described as being made by John Stevenson (1761 – 1833), and the harper informant was William Carr (1777 – post 1810), who had learned to play the harp from Arthur O’Neill and Patrick Quin.

      The context of this description is a discussion between Mr Spray, a classical singer, and Stevenson, a classical composer.

      “Cahir, an Irish Harper of eminent merit, a native of Portadown, being some time ago in Dublin, was requested by Sir John Stevenson, to go to Mr. Doyle’s in Mountjoy Square, that he might have an opportunity of taking some Irish airs from him… After delighting his auditors with the superior skill with which he executed every piece he touched, he was asked by Sir John to play Plearaca na Ruarca. When he had finished… Mr Spray… pointing out the passage where it rises, as peculiarly formed… I don’t care said Sir John, it is a good tune and I’ll take it down from him”
      The Irish Magazine and Monthly Asylum for Neglected Biography April 1812 p184

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