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Turlough O'Carolan

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Planxty ConnorTá mé 'mo chodladh
Turlough O'Carolan, (Irish: Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin; Irish pronunciation: [ˈt̪ˠɾˠeːl̪ˠəx oː ˈcaruːl̪ˠaːnʲ]) (1670 – 25 March 1738) was a blind Celtic harper, composer and singer in Ireland whose great fame is due to his gift for melodic composition.
Although not a composer in the classical sense, Carolan is considered by many to be Ireland's national composer. Harpers in the old Irish tradition were still living as late as 1792, and ten, including Arthur O'Neill, Patrick Quin and Donnchadh Ó Hámsaigh, attended the Belfast Harp Festival. Ó Hámsaigh did play some of Carolan's music but disliked it for being too modern. Some of Carolan's own compositions show influences of the style of continental classical music, whereas others such as Carolan's Farewell to Music reflect a much older style of "Gaelic Harping".
Carolan was born in 1670 in Nobber, County Meath, where his father was a blacksmith. The family moved from Meath to Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon in 1684. In Roscommon, his father took a job with the MacDermott Roe family of Alderford House. Mrs. MacDermott Roe gave Turlough an education, and he showed talent in poetry. After being blinded by smallpox at the age of eighteen, Carolan was apprenticed by Mrs. MacDermott Roe to a good harper. At the age of twenty-one, being given a horse and a guide, he set out to travel Ireland and compose songs for patrons.
For almost fifty years, Carolan journeyed from one end of Ireland to the other, composing and performing his tunes. One of his earliest compositions was about Brigid Cruise, with whom he was infatuated. Brigid was the teenage daughter of the schoolmaster at the school for the blind attended by Carolan in Cruisetown, Ireland. In 1720, Carolan married Mary Maguire. He was then 50 years of age. Their first family home was a cottage on a parcel of land near the town of Manachain (now Mohill) in County Leitrim, where they settled. They had seven children, six daughters and one son. In 1733 Mary died.
Turlough O'Carolan died on 25 March 1738. He is buried in the MacDermott Roe family crypt in Kilronan Burial Ground near Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon. The annual O'Carolan Harp Festival and Summer School commemorates his life and work in Keadue, County Roscommon.
A bronze monument by sculptor Oisin Kelly depicting Turlough O'Carolan playing his harp was erected on a plinth at the Market Square, Mohill, on 10 August 1986, and was unveiled by Patrick Hillery, President of Ireland.
A statue was erected to him at his place of birth (Nobber, Co Meath) in 2002, during the Annual O'Carolan Harp Festival, the first of which was held in Nobber in 1988.
Carolan composed both songs and instrumental harp music, reflecting various styles of composition. About a third of Carolan's surviving music has associated Irish lyrics that survive to this day. Largely these lyrics are unknown to the musicians of today, who have for the most part adapted Carolan's repertoire to the currently popular Irish fare of jigs and reels.
Modern Irish was the majority language in Ireland during Carolan's time. As Carolan did not speak English very well, he composed only one song in English, "Carolan's Devotion". These lyrics can be heard on the album "Carolan's Harp", by The Harp Consort, 1996. Most of Carolan's songs were dedicated to and written about specific individual patrons. Many of his tunes are widely performed and appreciated today, and a handful of the songs with known lyrics have been recorded by singers. Among these are Gráinne Yeats (Belfast Harp Festival, 1992) and the singers of Garlic Bread ("O'Carolan's Dream", 2007) and Ensemble Musica Humana ("Turlough O'Carolan: a Life in Song", 2013).
Carolan's activities during his career are only partially documented historically. This has led to a lack of accurate information about Carolan and his music, even among Irish musicians. Sometimes, alternate titles or incorrect titles have been applied to songs, creating confusion as to whether the song is Carolan's or someone else's. Also, some of those who have written about Carolan and his music have made up facts or repeated unfounded stories. For instance, Edward Bunting, who began the work of collecting Carolan's pieces, referred to a "very ancient air" the Fairy Queen, saying it "seems to have been the original of Carolan's Fairy Queen." He also reported that "the Fairy Queen of Carolan was not intended by him for words, but as a piece of music for the harp." While it is true that Carolan did not write the traditional Fairy Queen words, which indeed do exist, the words are not ancient (nor is the entirely different traditional Irish air The Fairy Queen), and the words do in fact fit perfectly the original music which Carolan composed for them.
Carolan is said to have typically composed the tune first, as he rode from place to place, then added words later. Many of his songs are designated as "planxties", an obscure word that Carolan apparently invented or popularized to signify a tribute to a merry host. In return for writing songs in honour of wealthy patrons, Carolan was often welcomed as an honoured guest to stay on their estates. It is said that weddings and funerals were sometimes delayed until he could arrive to perform.
Most of Carolan's compositions were not published or even written down in his lifetime. They survived in the repertoires of fiddlers, pipers, and the last of the old Irish harper/singers. They were collected and published during the late 18th century and beyond, largely beginning with the work of Edward Bunting and his assistants in 1792.
A small sampling of Carolan's music was published during his lifetime. One of the first such publications was in Neale's A Collection of the Most Celebrated Irish Tunes ..., Dublin, 1724.
The definitive work containing all 214 of Carolan's tunes as identified by Donal O'Sullivan (1893–1973) is the 1958 edition (2001 reprint) of Carolan: The Life Times and Music of an Irish Harper. Partial lyrics (and all known sources of lyrics) are mentioned in the text description of each piece, but are not matched to the written music. O'Sullivan does not include any of the handful of alleged Carolan songs that he considers to be erroneous, such as: "Dermott O'Doud", "Planxty Miss Burke", and "The Snowy-Breasted Pearl".
A comprehensive edition of Carolan's Songs & Airs containing new arrangements for harp of all 214 airs, along with an additional 12 airs from the Appendix of the 2001 edition was published by Caitríona Rowsome in 2011. This book includes an instance of each of Carolan's undisputed surviving lyrics and metrically sets the lyrics note-for-note to the sheet music airs. Each of the 226 harp settings in this book are played by the author on a neo-Irish harp (book and 4-CD set). This is the first time that all of Carolan's lyrics have been set to the airs and has been welcomed as "a task that has needed doing for many years". The 4-CD recording is of harp music without vocals, but the book includes the sheet music for interested singers. The book also includes an English interpretation for each of Carolan's 72 Irish song lyrics. Five of these interpretations take the form of new English lyrics set metrically to the sheet music of 'Hewlett', 'Colonel John Irwin', 'John O'Connor', 'Kean O'Hara (3rd Air)' and 'Sheebeg and Sheemore'.
Since 1967, when Seán O’Riada and the Ceoltóirí Chualann released Carolan’s Concerto and 2 other Carolan compositions, there have been hundreds of recordings of Carolan songs released by dozens of artists. Many of these recordings are by such well-known performers as The Chieftains, Planxty, Patrick Ball, and Joemy Wilson, others by less well known artists. Occasionally, an artist who is popular in another area will record a single Carolan song for variety, such as Steeleye Span's Sheebeg and Sheemore, John Renbourn's Lament for Owen Roe O'Neill, Richard Thompson's Morgan Mawgan [sic], Stefan Grossman's Blind Mary, John Williams' Mrs. Maxwell, and many others. Several popular collections by multiple artists have also been issued, including The Music of O’Carolan (1993), Deluxe Anthology of Carolan (1995), Celtic Treasure (1996), and Celtic Treasure II (2001). The sheer quantity of these recordings has greatly expanded the number of Carolan pieces known to the public, but the performers do tend to come back to certain songs again and again. Among the most frequently recorded pieces are the following:
Carolan’s Concerto (at least 35), Blind Mary (at least 23), Planxty George Brabazon' a/k/a "Isle of Skye"' (at least 23), Sheebeg and Sheemore (at least 22), Planxty Col. Irwin (at least 19), Fanny Power (at least 19), Eleanor Plunkett (at least 18), The Princess Royal a/k/a "Miss MacDermott" a/k/a "The Arethusa" (at least 18), Carolan’s Farewell to Music (at least 18), Carolan’s Draught (at least 17), Hewlett (at least 16), and Stafford's Receipt (at least 16). In addition, innumerable musicians have performed many of Carolan's tunes learned from such books as The Fiddler's Fakebook, which contains some of the above tunes plus Morgan Magan and Planxty Drury. Also, O'Neill’s Music of Ireland (1903) is still in print and contains over 60 of Carolan's tunes, of which far too many to list have made their way into the repertoire of musicians around the world.
In addition, Carolan's Concerto has been used as a neutral slow march by the Foot Guards of the British Army during the ceremony of Trooping the Colour. Also, some of Carolan's compositions have appeared in the role-playing game FATE.
Carolan's music has frequently been adapted for fingerstyle guitar (primarily steel string acoustic), often by altering the tuning from standard (EADGBE) to DADGBE (drop D), DADGAD, and CGDGAD, among others. This allows strings to ring out and results in a more harp-like sound. Duck Baker has recorded many Carolan songs in drop D tuning. El McMeen performs almost exclusively in CGDGAD, and has recorded many Carolan songs.
The complete list of the 214 Carolan compositions identified by Donal O'Sullivan (see References) are, in alphabetical order, as follows:
Many of these pieces have alternative titles, as fully documented by Donal O'Sullivan. O'Sullivan's preferred titles are the ones generally accepted as standard, though quite a few of these titles were devised by O'Sullivan himself after exhaustive research into the identities of the patrons for whom each song was written.
Additionally, a manuscript compiled in Scotland in 1816 by the MacLean-Clephane sisters was discovered in 1983 and includes at least five other pieces credited to Carolan and other annotated pieces that were "improved by Carolan" or "consistent with Carolan's writing to warrant consideration". These airs are included in the Appendix of the 2001 edition of Carolan: The Life Times and Music of an Irish Harper along with detailed research notes. These pieces came to light a decade after the death of Donal O'Sullivan in 1973, so he never had an opportunity to subject them to the same analysis that he used on the original 214 airs that he originally compiled in 1958. However, to date, no one has disputed the attributions presented in this manuscript. Newly composed harp arrangements for each of these and all the other airs (as well as new Carolan repertoire numbers 215 to 226 for each of the MacLean-Clephane tunes) are included in The Complete Carolan Songs & Airs by Caitríona Rowsome. The five pieces that are said to be composed by Carolan rather than simply "improved" are: