The Jointure, or the Golden Star

The Jointure or the Golden Star is an interesting old Irish harp tune. In this blog post we will look at Edward Bunting’s earliest notations of the melody and the jig that goes with it.

The 1724 Neal printed edition of air and jig

The Jointure or the Golden Star first appears in a written form, in the baroque volin setting published by John and William Neal in Dublin in 1724. Its title there is “Stary ghed ma lousa Voem”. Ann Willis (dissertation, Cork, 1972) suggests this is for “Staraí Ghoid mo Lúth-sa uaim”, O rogue who stole my strength from me. Nicholas Carolan (facsimile edition, ITMA 2010) suggests “A stáraí a ghoid mo chlú-sa uail”, O rogue who stole my reputation from me.

Download PDF typeset version or mp3 machine audio

We can see that this printed setting is a bit corrupt or incompetently done. The air seems consistently mis-barred all through.

My understanding is that the Neal brothers had these settings made by a baroque violin player, and they published them for classical-style urban or ascendancy amateurs on violin, flute, or harpsichord. So I don’t think they tell us much about traditional performance style or idiom. They are just showing us that the tune was known in approximately that form and under that title.

We know that Edward Bunting had access to the Neal book. The sole surviving copy, which is the basis for Nicholas Carolan’s facsimile edition (ITMA 2000), belonged to Bunting and is now kept with his papers in Queen’s University Belfast, MS4. Bunting has written his name and the date “October 31st 1794” inside the book. However he must have had access to a second copy earlier than that, perhaps as early as 1792, because he copied tunes into his transcription pamphlets (see my spreadsheet for listings). Some of the tunes he copied were from incomplete pages since he writes “tore out” to show where parts of the original pages were missing. His own copy that he got in 1794 is complete.

Bunting’s first notation of the air

It looks to me like Bunting may have made a live transcription of the air of this tune, live from the playing of an old Irish harper. Unfortunately for us, it looks like that live transcription has been lost or destroyed, and all we have left is what looks like the facing-page neat copy. There are many examples in his transcription notebooks where Bunting does the initial live transcription, which he then copies out more neatly and with some interventions and straightening out of the tune, on the facing page. To me this notation on Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 53/49/058/f24r looks very much like such a neat copy of (now lost) facing-page live transcription dots.

If you look very carefully, you can see the stub of a page in between page 52 and page 53.

Normally when I see a notation written by Bunting like this, with neat large note-heads, neatly spaced out, I know he has copied this from another written version – he has not written these notes out live at speed as a harper informant is playing. In the absence of other evidence I think it is likely that this kind of notation may have been copied from a printed or manuscript book – we know that Bunting was actively collecting tunes that were already written down, and I wonder if he preferred to work with these written version over the oral performance versions of the harpers.

However the thing that makes me think this may be copied from his own live transcription dots, is the “B” markings. Bunting seems to use these to notate characteristic swapping of melody notes between the treble and bass register, which seems to have been one of the distinctive features of the old harpers’ performance practice.

So let us look and listen to Bunting’s neat copy. My machine audio plays the first deleted line, and then pauses and plays the rest of the page.

The title is “The Jointure or Golden Star by Conalon” and the text at the bottom says “Era Ghadd[e] Ghud mul Lante wum / you Thief that stole my health away”

Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 53/49/058/f24r
Download PDF typeset version or mp3 machine audio

On the facing page 52, Bunting has written out the final four bars the same again, but with the upbeat and the first note crossed out. There is another neat copy of the same ending frament on MS4.29 page 107 along with the title “Jigg to the Jointure”, beside the transcription notation of Pléaráca na Ruarcach. I don’t know what either of these fragments signify.

The thing that I especially notice about this music notation is how Bunting is struggling to get the rhythm and flow of the tune. Even though he is copying from another notation, he changes his mind at the end of six bars, and scribbles them out, and starts again, simplifying the quick runs of notes to make it more plain and to make it fit better into his chosen (implied) time signature of 3/4.

Why does he change those initial notes? To me this seems more likely if he is copying from his own scratchy incomplete or confusing transcription dots, than if he were copying from a neat version in a manuscript or printed book.

He does not bar the tune very convincingly though!

Bunting’s version of the tune on pages 53 (and 52 and 107) is clearly not copied from Neal, and so it is an independent witness to the tune.

Bunting’s first notation of the jig

In a completely different part of MS4.29, Bunting made what looks to me like a live transcription notation of the jig. You can see this notation on QUB SC MS4.29 page 163/161/170/f80r.

The top of this page is what looks like a live transcription of the tune of Sín Síos agus Suas liom. Then there is the title of our tune: “Jigg to the Jointure”, and the notation on two staves. Then, at the bottom of the page is a neat copy of Sín Síos agus Suas liom.

QUB SC MS4.29 page 163/161/170/f80r
Download PDF typeset version or mp3 machine audio

To me this looks like it could well have been written as dots, live at speed as the harper informant played, with the note stems and beams and barlines added in to try and represent the rhythm. Perhaps because it is a jig and not an air, Bunting may have understood the rhythm and barring of this jig better than a lot of the harp airs; however he still struggles a little to get the bar lines in the right places and to make the note values add up.

It is clear that this is also slightly different from the Neal version of the jig, and so represents an independent witness to the tune.

Bunting’s later piano developments of the air and jig

Bunting made a piano arrangement of the air and jig together. He included them first of all on his spring 1796 proof sheets which are in the British Library (see see Peter Downey, Edward Bunting and the Ancient Irish Music…, Lisburn 2017). The same arrangement was then included in his Autumn 1797 published book, as no.33. You can see that he has included both the air and the jig under no.33, but he has set them as if they were different tunes. You can also see that both are based on his notations in MS4.29 and not on the Neal printed version.

You can also see that the distinctive “B” passages in bars 1 and 2 of the second half of the air, have been carried through into the piano arrangement. Everything else in the piano arrangement of both air and jig are entirely new material, all Bunting’s own classical piano arrangement. This makes me wonder whether the “B” sections in MS4.29 really represent Bunting’s attempt to notate fragments of traditional harp idiom, or whether he was inventing piano arrangement features right there in his transcription booklet. Without having the live transcription dots for that passage, it is hard to say.

Bunting’s title in the 1796 proof sheets is “Era Gaddaigh ghoid mo Sláinte uaim”; for the 1797 print this is expanded to “Era gaddigh goid mo Slainte uaim – The Jointure – Conalon” and then “Jigg”.

Attributions to harper informants

We can check my Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project Tune List Spreadsheet to see what attributions we have.

In his own personal copy of the 1797 printed book, Bunting wrote lots of attributions probably in the early 1840s. (The annotated volumes are London, British Library Add Ms 41508; they were first noticed by Karen Loomis). Against the air Bunting wrote “Harp Higgins” and then against the jig he wrote “Harp”.

Our first question is why he wrote just “Harp” against the jig and not also the name of a harper. Did he mean that Higgins was only his source for the air, and not for the jig? Did he remember that a different harper gave him the jig but forget who?

Given that the arrangement was originally printed (though not published) in the spring of 1796, what we know about Bunting’s collecting tours suggests to me that the initial collecting notation was done in the summer of 1792. And if as I suspect these attributions were written in to the printed book in the early 1840s, that means he was writing the attributions there 50 years after he had been out collecting the tunes and meeting the harpers. Do we believe him? I have seen no evidence of him keeping systematic records of who gave him what tune. I really do wonder if these attribution tags are a kind of fake antiquarianism, putting invented names and sources onto tunes to make them look more authoritative. And after all, by that date who could contradict Bunting? All the harpers were long dead.

Can we get any clues from the groupings of items in the transcription booklets? The neat copy of the air on page 53 is sandwiched in between tunes that are strongly associated with Denis O’Hampsey, and so it is possible that he was the source for the presumed lost transcription dots. Another O’Hampsey tune, Eibhlín a Rún, is represented by a similar neat copy with presumed missing transcription dots, a few pages later on p.59-61.

On the other hand, most tunes from Denis O’Hampsey are not in the form of a neat copy with facing page transcription dots; the O’Hampsey transcriptions seem to be mostly overwritten on top of the transcription dots.

There are also one or two other Higgins tunes nearby as well, though. Perhaps Higgins was the source after all.

As for the jig on page 163, this is also in a section of Denis O’Hampsey tunes. So perhaps he could be the source for this as well. But there are one or two Higgins tunes nearby as well.

Either way, it seems that the air and the jig were notated separately, and not in the same session. Unless of course there was a missing facing page before p.163, which contained the initial transcription dots of the air; and perhaps then page 53 was originally bound next, and perhaps pages 52 and 107 were also originally part of the same group… we really need a much more detailed paleographic and forensic analysis of the pages and binding to be able to say more about the structure of QUB SC MS4.29

The structure of MS4.29

This is not the place to go in depth into the structure of QUB SC MS4.29. You can check my old PDF index which indicates how some of the sections and gatherings are laid out. But we can be fairly certain that MS4.29 was assembled out of a pile of loose small pamphlets that Bunting had used from 1792 onwards, and which were all bound up together in some kind of random order between 1802 and 1805 (see Colette Moloney’s Introduction and catalogue, ITMA 2000). I think the big pencil page numbers were added by Bunting at that point. So we can see that the supposed missing page with the air transcription dots on it, must have been removed or lost (if it ever existed) before this page numbering was done, so probably before 1802-5. And we can be pretty certain that the order of pages that we see now in the manuscript and with the big page numbers, is not how the pages were arranged when the original notations were made.


We have different Irish titles for this tune.

“Stary ghed ma lousa Voem” (Neal 1724)
“Era Ghadd[e] Ghud mul Lante wum / you Thief that stole my health away” (Bunting c.1792)
“Era Gaddaigh ghoid mo Sláinte uaim” (Bunting 1796)
“Era gaddigh goid mo Slainte uaim / The Jointure” (Bunting 1797)

Bunting clearly has “Gadaí” for thief, and “sláinte” for health, whereas Neal’s title is different and more obscure; we have suggestions of “Staraí” for deceiver, or “Stáraí” for a gawker or rude person, and “lúth” for strength or speed, or “clú” for reputation. Either way we have the idea of the criminal, stealing (“goid“) this intangible thing from me. No-one seems to have come up with a plausible suggestion for what “Era” is meant to represent.

We also have two alternative English titles:

“The Jointure or Golden Star by Conalon” (Bunting c.1792)
(Jigg to) “the Jointure” (Bunting c.1792)
“The Jointure” (Bunting 1797)

a Jointure seems to be a kind of legal document. There are other unrelated tunes also titled “Jointure”. The “Golden Star” is another generic title, and other tunes are sometimes called this. There is information from Denis O’Hampsey that “The Golden Star” is an alternative title for another Connelan tune, “Is galar cráidhte an grádh”. (QUB SC MS4.27 p.62, cited in Moloney 2000 p.326). I have not yet collated all these different tunes looking for patterns in titling or looking for relationships between them. There are live harp transcriptions of some of these other tunes, which I will write up here in due course.

I have wondered before, if “The Golden Star” could be an utterly corrupt English misunderstanding of the spoken Irish “A Stáraí Ghoid”.

Attribution to Connellan

The attribution of our tune to Connellan comes from Bunting; he writes “by Conalon” on the MS4.29 p.53 neat copy of the tune, perhaps in 1792 when I assume he made the notation, though he could have gone back and added the title and attribution later. He also prints this attribution in the 1797 published book, though the unpublished 1796 proof sheets has only the Irish title, without the English translation or the composer credit.

Bunting gives a lot of information about Conellan in his 1840 book (intro p.69-70). Bunting tells us that Thomas Connellan was born in about 1640 in Cloonmahon, County Sligo Bunting then cites Arthur O’Neil’s unpublished manuscript Memoirs (now QUB SC MS4.14 page 91), saying that Thomas Connellan went to Edinburgh where he popularised the tune of “Lochaber”, and where “they made him a ‘Baillie’ or Burgomaster”.

Bunting then goes on to contradict O’Neil by crediting Thomas Connellan as the composer of the following tunes:
The dawning of the day or The Golden Star
Love in secret
Bonny Jean
The Jointure
Molly St. George
“as well as of a vast number of airs now lost”

Bunting says that Thomas’s brother, William, was born c.1645 and composed the following tunes:
Lady Iveagh
Saely Kelly
Molly McAlpine

I don’t know where Bunting got this list from; it contradicts Arthur O’Neill (QUB SC MS4.14 page 91) who doesn’t name any tunes composed by Thomas, but who gives the following titles to William:
The Golden Star
Madame Lestrange
The Jointure

There are lots of problems and questions here. Bunting here uses the title “The Golden Star” for the tune “Dawning of Day”, so presumably he means our tune by “The Jointure”. But we can’t be sure of this, since Bunting would have known the other “Jointure” tune in Neal. And we can’t tell which tune Arthur O’Neill is referring to by which title, except he clearly is using “The Golden Star” and “The Jointure” to refer to two different tunes. It is all most unsatisfactory.

O’Neill’s information about the Connelan brothers does not appear in the first rough draft of his Memoirs (QUB SC MS4.46); it seems to have been added right at the end of the neat version (QUB SC MS4.14).

You can read more about these different sources of information about Thomas Connellan’s life, in Colm Ó Baoill’s article, ‘Two Irish Harpers in Scotland’ in James Porter (ed.) Defining Strains: The Musical Life of Scots in the Seventeenth Century. Studies in the History and Culture of Scotland 2, Peter Lang, Berne, 2007; an earlier version of Colm’s article is ‘Some Irish Harpers in Scotland’ Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness 47, 1970-72, p.143-171. There is also some information in Kathleen Loughnane’s book The Harpers Connellan.

Information from Arthur O’Neill

Arthur O’Neill tells a humourous anecdote about a tune called “The Golden Star”. but I don’t know if he is thinking of our tune, or of the tune of “Dawning of Day”.

The Duke of Argyle that lived in Queen Anne’s Reign heard of the Celebrity of Heffernan on the Harp, who came to his Tavern to hear him play (with a large Company) The Duke called for a good Scotch Tune, and Heffernan being of a Real Irish independant turn of mind, Played him the pretty Tune of the “Golden Star” which is a soft plaintive Irish tune, His Lordship sayd it was too melancholy for a Scotch tune, “Oh my Lord,” says Heffernan, “You must Know it was composed since the Union.” alluding to the Dukes being (the Counterpart of Lord Castlereagh) in planning the Union of Scotland, and that the Golden Star was the most appropriate tune he could play for the such Lovers of Gold as would Barter their Countrys Honour for the temporary use of that tangeant <but useful> and Corrupted Metal! The Duke started up, & hastily quit the Tavern (with his Company) of the Plain blunt Hibernian, — I wish I had an opportunity of Playing the same Tune to “Castlereagh” the upstart apostate, whose Grandfather was only a Clerke to a Jamaica Planter,

Arthur O’Neil, Memoirs (rough copy), QUB SC ms4.46 p.22/048

Basically the same text is in the neat version of O’Neill’s Memoirs (QUB SC MS4.14 p.36-7)

Queen Anne ruled from 1702 to 1707, and the Act of Union between England and Scotland was in 1707, which dates this story quite tightly. O’Neil talks elsewhere about Heffernan who was an Irish harper who ran a tavern in London. There is another story about the Earl of Antrim and his harper Cornelius Lyons visiting Heffernan in London.

Arthur O’Neil’s comment about Castlereagh is a reference to the politics of his own time; Castlereagh was one of the Irish lords who pushed through the Act of Union between Ireland and Great Britain in 1800, just a few years before O’Neill was writing his Memoirs.

As I said before we can’t know what tune O’Neil was referring to by the title “The Golden Star” but I like to dreamily imagine it might have been our tune; and that the tune was composed by Thomas Connellan in Edinburgh in 1707 as a political commentary on the Union. Of course that is just wild speculation…

Performance questions

Even though these notations are all corrupt, and I am not aware of any version of the tune surviving in the living tradition, there is plenty enough clarity to be able to make some kind of realisation from either the Neal print or the Bunting manuscripts. There are still plenty of questions though. I suppose I am wondering if the air and the jig automatically go together, or if they are stand-alone alternatives or independent compositions. Perhaps it was Neal’s idea to print them one after the other; perhaps Bunting saw that Neal had combined them and decided to do so himself.

Mícheál Ó Catháin’s project

Years ago, I was involved with a project with Mícheál Ó Catháin, where he interviewed a number of people working on the old wire-strung Irish harp music back in 2012 and again in 2017. He asked each contributor to play the Jointure, and to talk about their approach. I found it very interesting to see how many totally different ways there were of understanding this tune. For myself, my way of playing it in 2012 (or in 2014) is a world away from how I played it in 2017 (or in 2018), and now I would not stand by any of these approaches! You can see fragments of each filmed interview on Mícheál’s website.

Many thanks to Queen’s University Belfast Special Collections for the digitised pages from MS4 (the Bunting Collection), and for letting me use them here.

Many thanks to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for helping to provide the equipment used for these posts, and also for supporting the writing of these blog posts.

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