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Turlough O'Carolan, (Irish: Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin; Irish pronunciation: [ˈt̪ˠɾˠeːl̪ˠəx oː ˈcaruːl̪ˠaːnʲ]) (1670 – 25 March 1738) was a blind early Irish harper, composer and singer whose great fame is due to his gift for melodic composition.
He was the last great Irish harper-composer and is considered by many to be Ireland's national composer. Harpers in the old Irish tradition were still living as late as 1792, as ten, including Arthur O'Neill, Patrick Quin and Donnchadh Ó Hámsaigh, showed up at the Belfast Harp Festival, but there is no proof of any of these being composers. Ó Hámsaigh did play some of Carolan's music but disliked it for being too modern. Some of O'Carolan's own compositions show influence from the style of continental classical music, whereas others such as Carolan's Farewell to Music reflect a much older style of "Gaelic Harping".
Toridhealbhach O'Cearbhallian was born in 1670 in the town of Manachain, County Leitrim, and know as the blind harpist of Manachain, but in 1684 he moved with his family to Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon, where his father took a job with the MacDermot Roe family of Alderford House. Mrs. MacDermot Roe gave him an education, and he showed talent in poetry. After being blinded by smallpox, at the age of eighteen O'Carolan was apprenticed by Mrs MacDermot 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, O'Carolan journeyed from one end of the country to the other, composing and performing his tunes. In 1720, O'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 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 MacDermot 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, Manachain, on 10 August 1986, and was unveiled by Patrick Hillery, President of Ireland.
Music and style
O'Carolan composed both songs and instrumental harp music, mostly in an Italianate baroque style derivative of the then-fashionable Arcangelo Corelli. Except for one song with an English text, all of his songs are in Irish. Most of his songs were dedicated to and about specific individuals. Many songs do not survive whole; what lyrics survive have only been published in part. His lyrics are rarely learned, whereas many of his tunes are widely performed and appreciated. He typically composed the tune first—as he rode from place to place—then added words later. Many of the tunes attributed to O'Carolan are older traditional melodies that he improved or lengthened. He wrote many "planxties" (tributes) in honor of some person. It is said that weddings and funerals were often delayed until he could arrive to perform.
His music was first published in Neale's A Collection of the Most Celebrated Irish Tunes ... in Dublin, c. 1726. At least 220 tunes which survive to this day are attributed to him, though most were not published or even written down in his lifetime; they survived in the repertories of fiddlers, pipers and the last of the old Irish harpers and were collected and published piecemeal in the late 18th and 19th centuries.
A definitive and comprehensive edition of harp settings matched with the words of the songs has yet to be produced although a number of song settings appeared in The Bunting Collection of Irish Folk Music and Song by Donal O'Sullivan, published in 1958. Few lyrics are included and some of the tunes were edited to make them fit the treble register.
Some of his compositions are performed by many popular Irish musicians, such as Planxty, The Chieftains and The Dubliners. In addition, O'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.
- "Carolan's Concerto"
- "Carolan's Draught"
- "Carolan's Receipt (Dr. John Stafford)"
- "Carolan's Welcome"
- "Carolan's Ramble to Cashel"
- "Dr. John Hart, Bishop of Achonry"
- "Eleanor Plunkett"
- "Fanny Power"
- "George Brabazon"
- "John O'Connor"
- "Mrs Mc Dermott" (alternatively known as "Princess Royal")
- "Lord Inchiquin"
- "Planxty Irwin"
- "Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór"
Complete list (alphabetical order)
- O'Carolan Road in the Tenters area of Dublin 8 is named in his honour.
- Carolan Road and "Carolan Corner" shop are named in his honour in the Ballynafeigh area of south Belfast.
- The Polish band Myslovitz performs a cover of one of O'Carolan's songs called "Peggy Brown", which is arguably one of their greatest hits.
- According to the 5th edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the version "O'Carolan" is "modern and lacks authority"
- Dónal O'Sullivan, Carolan - The Life, Times, and Music of an Irish Harper (1958)
- Dónal O'Sullivan, Songs of the Irish, Browne & Nolan, Dublin (1960)
- Art Edelstein, "Fair Melodies: Turlough Carolan; An Irish Harper" (2001)
- The first commercial recording of the Complete Works has been arranged and performed by Irish pianist: J.J. Sheridan (from Trigon Recordings)
- Recording of O'Carolan's tunes by Garlic Bread and french baroque ensemble "Le concert de l'Hostel Dieu"
- The Complete Carolan: all Carolan's 227 tunes arranged in open tunings for the guitar
- O'Carolan: pages on his life, his tunes, his songs, his harp, with audio files
- Nikolaus Newerkla, Playford Dances & Carolan Tunes, Moeck-Verlag Celle, 2007, tunes arranged for recorders and basso continuo, The Music of an Irish Harper, Bärenreiter-Verlag Kassel, 2012, tunes arranged for recorders and harpsichord (piano).
- Turlough O'Carolan: Irish Harper
- Turlough O'Carolan 1670-1738
- Complete Works of Turlough O'Carolan (musical scores)
- Carolan Fragment: one of the early sources described
- Gaelic harp keys (web article with suggested original keys of all O'Carolan's tunes)
- "Torlogh O'Carolan". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- The first complete recording of the Complete Works of O'Carolan has been recorded and arranged by Irish pianist, J.J. Sheridan
- Free scores by Turlough O'Carolan at the International Music Score Library Project