Dawn of Day

In the 1790s, Edward Bunting made a notation of a tune titled “Dawn of Day”, apparently as a live transcription from the playing of the old Irish harp tradition-bearer Denis O’Hampsey.

In this post we will have a look at the live transcription notation and try to say something useful about it.

The live transcription

The tune is written out on a double page opening which you can see online, at Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 pages 168/166/175/f82v and 169/167/176/f83r. You can check my MS4.29 index PDF to see where this opening sits in the composite manuscript, and why I give four different page numbers for each page.

Bunting has written the tune twice. On the left page 168 is what looks like an edited and over-written live transcription; on the right is a neat copy with a few sketchy additions. Bunting has written a title which we might understand runs right across the top of this opening: “Dawn of Day with variations by Mr Purty ugly”.

Queen's University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 pages 168/166/175/f82v and 169/167/176/f83r
Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 pages 168/166/175/f82v and 169/167/176/f83r
Download PDF typeset version or MP3 machine audio

As usual, I am trying to see the initial layer which I believe was likely written down live at speed as Bunting’s instant reaction to the playing of the harper tradition-bearer. My machine audio plays everything I can see on the first three staves of the left page 168.

I think you can see that even in this initial version, there is a lot of over-writing, where Bunting has written heavy notes presumably obliterating the underlying light live transcription dots. I am interested to see the final passage on the third stave, which Bunting has deleted and re-written on the fourth stave. I always wonder with something like that, whether the re-written version is Bunting trying to get closer to what the informant played him, or whether he is rejecting the informant’s traditional version and re-casting it on the first step in his process to de-traditionalise this music and publish it in classical piano arrangements.

An interesting feature of the neat version on the right hand page 169 is the two little runs of light sketchy notes, as the introductory pick-up and also the alternative reading of the descending sequence at the end of the second bar. I would usually recognise this kind of light dot notation as being possibly live transcription; so can we perhaps imagining Bunting editing his neat copy after listening again to the same (or perhaps a different) traditional informant?

I don’t really understand the text at the top of p.169. I assume “Mr Purty ugly” is Bunting’s pet name for Denis O’Hampsey, but I don’t know what he means by “variations”. I am not finding any Lyons-style variation for this tune. Perhaps Bunting (or O’Hampsey) considered this version of the tune itself to be an instrumental variation of some simpler or different song air version?

I also don’t understand the two symbols above the staff on page 168. The first is a + sign with four dots, and the other looks a bit like the letter θ or Ø.

The very long gap between notes on the second stave on p.168 might tell us something about Bunting’s transcription process. Did he dot down fragments of the tune separately, leaving gaps to be filled in on subsequent performances?

Bunting’s piano developments

My Old Irish Harp Transcriptions Project Tune List Spreadsheet lists later piano derivatives which include attribution tags. I think this is the main use for Bunting’s piano arrangements; I don’t think they tell us anything at all about traditional Irish harp performance style or idiom.

We can see that Bunting made a piano arrangement in his 1798 unpublished Ancient and Modern piano manuscript, QUB SC MS4.33.2 page 15. This piano arrangement is clearly based on the neat copy on MS4.29 p.169. Bunting’s title is “Faineadh an Lae – or dawn of Day”. Above the title he has written a note to himself, “have the words”, and at the bottom of the page he has written “This <is> a hard tune to set – From Old Hempson-“

Bunting finally published a piano arrangement on page 53 of his 1809 Collection. His title there is “Eirghidhe an lae / Eirghidhe an lae – The dawning of day”. The tune is used here as a very Romantic song setting, with a florid instrumental introduction and conclusion, and a lyric “from a literal translation of the original Irish” by Miss Balfour, which begins “The blush of morn at length appears, the hawthorn weeps in dewy tears, emerging from the shades of night, the distant hills are tipp’d with light, the swelling breeze with balmy breath, wafts fragrance from the purple heath…” I think it is useful to bear in mind that this was Bunting’s world, this is what he presented to the public under his name, this is what he was working towards when he was out dotting along to O’Hampsey’s playing.

The “hard tune to set” comment reminds us that the piano arrangements are entirely Bunting’s invention, with no connection to O’Hampsey’s traditional harp playing techniques and style.

Titles and attributions

Unfortunately as soon as we move beyond the live transcription dots, we get completely lost in a jungle of titles, attributions and song lyrics with no apparent end in sight.

Bunting’s transcription title (presumably from the harper informant, who was presumably Denis O’Hampsey) is only in English and reads “Dawn of Day”. In his two piano books he gives two different Irish-language titles, Éirigh an lae, and Fáinne an lae, both being stock phrases referring to dawn. Perhaps they are genuine alternative titles for the tune, or perhaps one or both are artificial back-translations from the harper’s English title.

Our tune title appears in lists of tunes that were played by some of the harpers at the Belfast meeting in 1792, published in contemporary newspapers. I haven’t actually seen these newspapers and I am relying on Robert Young’s summary of the newspaper reports (UJA 1/2, 1895).

Dennis Dempsey (blind), from the County of Derry, aged 68
played — “The Dawning of the Day,” … Carolan.

Wm. Carr, from the County Armagh, aged 15,
played — “The Dawn of the Day.”

Belfast News-Letter, 13 July, 1792

Are these two different tunes, or did both O’Hampsey and Carr play the same tune? We also have the clear attribution “Carolan” for the tune title (though of course we can’t be sure from just a title, what tune is referred to.)

Bunting says in his 1840 book (intro p.69-70) that Thomas Connellan composed “The dawning of the day or The Golden Star” as well as “The Jointure”. I discussed this more in my post on The Jointure or the Golden Star. Now I am starting to wonder if that “Jointure” tune is in some way a distant relation to our tune. It is also not at all clear where Bunting got this information about Connellan.

Soon after finishing the 1840 publication, Bunting went back over his previous published books and started adding more handwritten information. Against our tune in the 1840 print, he wrote “Harp / Hempson”, and at the bottom of the page he added some extra information:

This air called also “The Golden Star” is attributed to W Connallon / but I consider it very ancient, it is a genuine Irish melody, posessing / all the distinguishing Characteristic marks of antiquity. / none of the tones of the Diatonic scale are wanting”.

London, BL Add MS 41508 f56r

There is also a blank sheet of lined paper interleaved between pages 52 and 53 of the annotated book, and on the blank page facing the tune on page 53, Bunting has written “Called also / Breed neen Phadruic”.

The piper James Cody wrote a close variant of our tune into his neat tune book (QUB SC MS4.33.4 p.4) under the title “bríghid ionghíon phádruig”, and Bunting made a piano arrangement in QUB SC MS12.2.18c titled “Dawning of Day – or – Breeden Padruick” and tagged at the bottom “Westport from Redmond Stanton”. The song-collector Patrick Lynch got a set of words from blind Redmond Stanton in Westport in 1802. You can see Lynch’s words, beginning “ca bhfhuil mac righ no ard fhlaith”, at QUB SC MS4.7.110, and Lynch’s English translation is QUB SC MS4.32.139. However I note that in Bunting’s tune notebook that he used on the 1802 collecting trip to Westport with Lynch, there is a transcription of a very different song air titled “Breedeen Fadrick or Dawn of Day” (QUB SC MS4.33.1 p.20-21). We really do need someone to go through Lynch’s song manuscripts and Bunting’s 1802 tune book to collate the song lyrics and airs from this collecting trip!

Another tune also titled “Breed’n fadrick / Dawn of Day” and similar to the MS4.33.1 p.20-21 one, is in MS4.29 p.122, in a pamphlet I think used by Bunting on his summer 1792 song-collecting trip with Kirwan to Mayo. But these are not connected to our tune.

John Lynch also got a song titled “Eirigh an lae” on his trip to Mayo in 1802 from Mrs Connor. You can see his neat copy of the words at QUB SC MS4.10.037, beginning “Nach claoidhte bocht a taimse…” But I would be very hesitant to say what tune Mrs Connor might have sung this lyric to.

Donal O’Sullivan, as usual, piles together a load of different tune variants and lyrics in his Bunting part 6 (1939) p.12-22. He includes a useful list of other tune versions on p.14-15.

Attribution to Carolan

Our tune has often been enthusiastically claimed for Connellan based on Bunting’s 1840 list. However Donal O’Sullivan prints some very interesting traditions about a variant of this tune in his Carolan vol.2 p.54. He gives the tune as no.88, derived from Forde’s manuscripts where it is titled “the Morning Star” (See nos. 118, 121, 712 in the ITMA 2021 edition of Forde, and Joyce no.472). O’Sullivan says “the air is not attributed to Carolan” but he must have missed or ignored the Belfast 1792 list where Denis O’Hampsey is listed as playing The Dawning of the Day, with a clear attribution to Carolan.

O’Sullivan also gives a song lyric for Dolly MacDonough, titled “Réalta na Maidne” (which means, the star of the morning); Douglas Hyde in Amhráin Chúige Chonnacht I-III gives a close variant of the words, and both of them also present a connected pair of stories, explaining how Carolan composed the song for O’Hara, who then sung it under Dolly’s window. The second story tells how Counsellor MacDonough was consulted by his manservant on a legal question – it was against the law for a young man to take a young woman away from her parent or guardian so they could elope together. Counsellor MacDonough’s sage legal advice was that it would not be illegal if the girl was to take the boy away: the boy would be innocent, but this law only applied to boys not to girls so she would be fine as well. Of course the next day Counsellor MacDonough went out to see a girl riding a horse galloping along the street, with a boy behind her shouting to everyone that he was being abducted against his will. At first he was very amused to see his advice being implemented, until he realised that the girl in question was his own niece, who was running away with the manservant. Hyde says (p.40-41) “Measaim gurbh iad Ó hEaghra agus Dollaí Ní Dhonncha an bheirt sin, agus gurbh é le amhrán an Chearbhallánaigh do ghabháil faoina fuinneog fuair Ó hEaghra bua uirthi” / “I believe that the couple were O’Hara and Dolly MacDonagh, and that it was by singing Carolan’s song under her window O’Hara vanquished her”.


Fáinne Geal an Lae is yet another different song and tune, but I’ll leave it here anyway. How many of the people and places do you recognise?

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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