A lot of Turlough O'Carolan tunes carry the name of a person, such as this one. The reason for this is, that the tune was specifically composed for this man or woman. The harpers of Turlough O'Carolan's days were traveling around, usually by horse and with a pupil. The rich used to invite them to their castles to play at feasts, bring news, and sometimes to make a tune for the occasion of a birthday, wedding, etcetera. Nowadays, often all that is left from those people is just that tune.
Turlough O'Carolan was born in 1670 near Nobber, County Meath. O'Carolan's father, John, moved his family to Ballyfarnon when Turlough was fourteen, to take employment with the MacDermott Roe family. Mrs. MacDermott befriended the boy and gave him an education. Around the age of 18 O'Carolan was blinded by smallpox.
Mrs. MacDermott Roe gave him a harp, a horse and some money to begin his career as an itinerant harper. For forty-five years Turlough O'Carolan would travel throughout Ireland.
His first patron, George Reynolds of County Leitrim suggested O'Carolan try composing. With this encouragement O'Carolan composed Sheebeg and Sheemore. Thereafter he composed tunes for his patrons, usually on his journeys. Turlough O'Carolan was never highly regarded as a performer. His gift was in musical composition and poetry. His practice was to compose the tune first and then write the words. This was opposite of the traditional Irish practice.
O'Carolan's music reflects his personality. He was cheerful and gregarious, enjoying ludicrous stories, practical jokes and he was excellent at backgammon. Like many harpers, he drank a great deal and he had a temper.
O'Carolan married Mary Maguire. There is little record of their children. They had seven children, six daughters and a son. His daughter Siobhan married Captain Sudley and his son published a collection of O'Carolan's tunes in 1747.
In 1738, feeling ill, O'Carolan returned to the home of Mrs. MacDermott Roe. His final composition, O'Carolan's Farewell to Music, was to the butler, Flinn, who brought him his last drink. O'Carolan's funeral was widely attended and, in fitting tribute to the man, the wake lasted four days.
Turlough O'Carolan's melodies survived only as single line melodies, without a clue to how he accompanied or harmonized them. The National Library of Ireland has the only copy of O'Carolan's works.This page was extracted from an article, written by Lesley Nelson.
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