Ruaidri Dáll Ó Catháin

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Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin (Rory Dall O'Cahan; possibly born c. 1580 Co. Antrim - possibly died 1653 at Eglinton Castle; fl. late 16th/early 17th century) was an Irish harper and composer.


As with many medieval and early modern Irish musicians, Ruaidhrí was blind (hence his nickname, Ruaidhrí Dall = blind Rory). Captain Francis O'Neill exhibits some uncertainty concerning his lifetime, stating he was born in the time f 1570 to 1650 All that can be said is that he was alive during the first half of the 17th century..

Unlike the vast number of travelling musicians, he was a gentleman by birth, his family being hereditary allies of the O'Neill dynasty. Their territory was Keenaght (barony), now part of County Londonderry in Northern Ireland. Reflecting his origins, Ó Catháin "traveled into Scotland attended by the retinue of a gentle man of large property, and when in Scotland, according to the accounts preserved there also, he seemed to have traveled in the company of noble persons."


His famous composition is Tabhair dom do Lámh/Give Me Your Hand. In the late 20th century, it was wedded to Raggle Taggle Gypsy in a version by Planxty and has since enjoyed a huge resurgence. He wrote a series of songs with "Port" in the title such as: Port Atholl and Port Gordon

Composition of Tabhair dom do Lámh[edit]

"Proud and spirited, he resented anything in the nature of trespass on his dignity. Among his visits to the houses of Scottish nobility, he is said to have called at Eglinton Castle, Ayrshire. Knowing he was a harper, but being unaware of his rank, Lady Eglinton commanded him to play a tune. Taking offence at her peremptory manner, Ó Catháin refused and left the castle. When she found out who her guest was her ladyship sought and effected a speedy reconciliation. This incident furnished a theme for one of the harper's best compositions. Tabhair Damh do Lámh (or Give Me Your Hand). The name has been Latinized into Da Mihi Manum. The fame of the composition and the occasion which gave birth to it reaching the ear of King James the Sixth, induced him to send for the composer. Ó Catháin accordingly attended at the Scottish court and created a sensation."

"His performance so delighted the royal circle that King James I familiarly laid his royal hand on the harper's shoulder. When asked by one of the courtiers if he realized the honour thus conferred on him, to their consternation Rory replied: 'A greater than King James has laid his hand on my shoulder.' Who was that man?' cried the King. 'O’Neill, Sire,' proudly answered Rory standing up."

Other compositions[edit]

Bruce Armstrong attributed the following pieces to Ó Catháin:

  • Lude's Supperprinted
  • The Terror of Death
  • The Fiddler's Content
  • Rorie Dall's Sister's Lament

O'Neill thought that Port Athol, Port Gordon, and Port Lennox, were all Ruaidhrí Dall's.

"Seabhac Bheal Atha Seanaigh", celebrating the wedding of Charles O'Donnell, son of Manus of Rosturk Mulranny Co Mayo to a Miss More, composed to a tune by Rory Dall O'Cathan printed in Bunting 1840.p13.



O'Neill reports that he died in Scotland:

"It is a curious coincidence that after spending many years with McLeod, of Dunvegan, in the Isle of Skye, O'Cahan should die at Eglinton Castle about the year 1653. In some inaccountable way during his long sojourn in Scotland he became known as Rory Dall Morrison, and this has so clouded his origin and identity as to involve his very nationality in question."

O'Neill was, however, mistaken as their lives didn't even overlap, Morrison being born on the Isle of Lewis around 1656 while Ó Catháin was born in Antrim in the 1580's. Rory Dall Morrison is buried in Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye while Ruaidri Dáll Ó Catháin is buried in Sleat, also on Skye, having spent most of his life in the Scottish Highlands. Maybe this is what confused O'Neill.


External links[edit]