Echlin O’Cathain

by Keith Sanger

In 1779 a short note of the harper Echlin O’Cathain’s life was taken down directly from his own account by a member of the Campbell family of Inverneill in Mid Argyle with whom he seems to have been a frequent visitor.[1] This account, although at variance with those given by Arthur O’Neill and Edward Bunting, clearly must constitute the primary source and states that;—

by his own account was entitled to be the fifth best performer on the Harp in all Ireland — he gave out that he was born in the year 1729, in Culrain in the County of Derry; the son of a Farmer & a fruit & Wine Merchant there. He often visited Scotland, and tho. blind, made a Tour thro Holland, Flanders, France and Spain; and in the course had many wonderful escapes with life.

Both O’Neill and Bunting state that Echlin O’Cathain also went to Rome and played for ‘the Pretender’ and the Pope, while O’Neill also adds that he played for the King of Spain,[2] but it has been suggested that this is suspect since Echlin does not mention it himself.[3] It is noteworthy that the list of countries actually given by Echlin himself are those with which his father’s business of ‘Wine merchant’ was most likely to have had trading connections. Echlin’s own account states that he was taught to play the harp by;—

Cornelius Lyons, a native of Macroom near the City of Cork; a Schoolmasters son and a man of good Education. He was Chief Servant & Harper to the Earl of Antrim and one of the best performers on that Instrument in Ireland in his day.

This is usually understood to have been Randal MacDonnell the 4th Earl of Antrim who died in 1721. However as Echlin by his own account was not born until 1729 and presumably would have received tuition into his early teens, Lyons must have continued in the service of Alexander MacDonnell, the 5th Earl (1713–1755), and lived into the 1740’s. Some evidence for that can be found in a volume of various Antrim manuscripts whose binding appears to have been done in Scotland circa 1727–1738. A note on the front flyleaf thought to have been done shortly after the volume was bound and intended as a record of the whereabouts of two of Antrim’s important manuscripts, mentions that one, a copy of Keating’s ‘genealogy’ had been loaned by ‘Mr Lions’ to Father John McCannon in the parish of Londonderry.[4]

Most of the contemporary references to Echlin occur in Scotland with the earliest on record being on the 9 September 1751 when he appears as ‘Eclin O’Kaine Harper from Coulrain in the County of Derry, Ireland’ among a group of people being admitted as ‘Burgesses, Freemen and Guild Brethren’ of the Burgh of Inveraray in Argyle. Since Echlin would have only been about 22 years of age this indicates some degree of recognition of his abilities as a musician but exactly how much is hard to say. The burgess system had originally been a form of closed society governing who could practice a trade or profession within a Burgh. By the mid eighteenth century this controlling aspect was fading and it was also becoming a form of courtesy recognition of visitors to the Burgh.

The practice at Inveraray of admitting musicians as Burgesses certainly continued later than this since the burgh piper; a John McIlchonnel, who in keeping with many Lowland Burgh pipers had a secondary trade (in his case that of a boat carpenter), was also appointed a Burgess in 1764. The specific entry in the Inveraray Burgess Roll in which Echlin appears included over twenty people ranging from army officers to lawyers, but also included admitting their servants so the harper presumably sat somewhere in the middle status–wise.[5]

At that time anybody travelling from Echlin O’Cathain’s home at Colerain to Scotland would have found numerous boats trading from the North East Ulster harbours to Campbeltown on the sheltered side of Kintyre and even on up through Loch Fyne to Inveraray. It therefore seems very likely that Echlin would have come into contact with William MacMurchy, the Kintyre scribe, poet and musician. There is some circumstantial evidence that the two musicians may have met in one of William MacMurchy’s manuscripts which dates to the period the Irishman appears in the Inveraray Burgess Roll. On one page MacMurchy has noted ‘The Dimensions of an harp’, which although he played harp, pipes and fiddle seem unlikely to be those of his own instrument which he could measure anytime he wanted to. Noting the measurements of a different harp which he found interesting is far more likely.

The same manuscript also has County of Londonderry, O’Cathain’s home county, written twice on one page, probably as a pen trial, done when testing out a newly cut quill nib to see how it will write. The manuscript mostly contains Gaelic verse including some like Oran Connachtach — on Caitlion Ni Uillegan which again suggests an Irish connection. So it is possible that the measurements of a harp are those of Echlin’s instrument although as recorded they require some interpretation irrespective of whose harp it actually was.[6]

Perhaps the best known event from Echlin O’Cathain’s Scottish journeys is the visit he made to Alexander Lord MacDonald during which he was given a harp tuning key. The story has achieved almost a mythical status with the suggestion that the tuning key was made of gold and silver set with a precious stone and had formerly belonged to the harper Ruairi Dall O’Cathain.[7] The claim that the harp key was ornamented with gold and silver and a precious stone and that it was worth eighty or a hundred guineas first appeared in print in James Boswell’s account of his tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson in 1773, published in 1785. The story was told to them by MacLean of Coll and was being used as part of an illustration of Lord MacDonald’s meanness, although Dr Johnson at the time seemed sceptical of the harp key’s value and suggested that it was exaggerated.[8]

It has been suggested that all of these tales had gained considerably in the telling since in response to Boswell’s publication a first–hand account by Lord MacDonald was sent in a letter dated the 26th November 1785 to Boswell.[9] This account directly from one of the parties involved is sometimes mentioned as a footnote in later editions of Boswell’s work and has been published in the edited transcripts of Boswell’s papers. However, the more colourful stories continue to be repeated while this more rational account tends to be ignored;—

O’Kane, the drunken blind Harper ... after having slurred over some tunes for a week at my house under the inordinate influence of Baccus, was dismissed with two guineas in his pocket and a key which he valued more than one hundred Guineas, made of common Agate. His reason for putting so extraordinary a value upon it was that he said it belonged to Roderic O’Kane, a famous harper in King Ch. 2nd’s time; being apprehensive of losing what he deemed a precious relict during his drunken vagaries, I am informed he deposited it afterwards in the hands of a relation of mine, who I am confident would restore it to me if I thought it of importance to claim it.

It is clear that Lord MacDonald, who unlike the harper was not blind and could see the actual harp key and should have been able to recognise gold and silver, had no reason to believe the key held much value. Nor as the owner of the key did he personally consider that it had any previous connection with Ruairi Dall O’Cathain. Judging by many of the comments on the harper, Echlin had a problem with drink which often led him into excess. It is therefore significant that in his own memoir taken down from him in 1779 during a period when he seems to have been sober that he makes no mention at all of an earlier namesake called Ruairi Dall O’Cathain whose harp key he had claimed to have identified at Lord MacDonald’s home.

What may have been one of the last recorded events in Echlin’s life can probably also be attributed to consumption of drink. The story comes from an account of two of the other musicians involved, the Scottish fiddlers Mathew Hall and James MacLachlan during a visit to Inveraray Castle;—

At one time Hall and M’Lachlan were at the Duke of Argyll’s for six months together. M’Lachlan had been there before as footman to Lord John Campbell. It was a time of much festivity; a blind Irish harper, of the name of O’Kane was also among the party of musicians. The harper, conceiving himself to be eclipsed by the violin players, or fancying an insult from the Duke of Argyll, left the party, and bribing some boys to procure materials, actually set fire to the lower part of Inveraray Castle, which would soon have been in flames, but for the timely discovery of the act. The incendiary was taken to Inveraray goal, and no doubt met the punishment he deserved. [10]

This account appears in a number of newspapers during September 1847 as part of a larger article on the death of the Fiddler Mathew Hall which occurred earlier that month. However most of these articles apart from recording the death were copied from The Ballads and Songs of Ayrshire, illustrated with sketches historical traditional, narrative and biographical edited by James Paterson (1805 – 1876), which had been published in 1846.[11] According to that Hall and his ‘partner’ first got together when ‘James M’Lachlan, an highlander, who came to Ayrshire in a fencible regiment and was patronised by Lord Eglintoun’. The newspaper obituaries for Hall state that the fiddler was aged eighty–seven years when he died so there is some information to use in trying to place dates on the harpers fire raising.[12]

Newspaper clipping from The Northern Star and Trade’s Journal

Obituary in The Northern Star and Trade’s Journal.

You may click on the clipping above to view a larger–sized image

Assuming that Mathew Hall’s age at death was correct, then he would have been born around 1760 and would therefore have been just a young man when the first likely contact with James MacLachlan may have occurred between 1775 to 1783; when fencible regiments were raised purely for home service to cover the line regiments being deployed to America to deal with events over there. The next occasion for which fencible regiments were raised was the start of the Napolionic Wars in 1793, but since anyone serving in those would not have been released from the army until the fencibles were stood down in 1799, and post 1799 seems a bit late for O’Cathain to have still been alive then the incident at Inveraray is more likely to fall into the period between 1783 to 1793.

Echlin O’Cathain was, according to Arthur O’Neill’s memoir, said to have died in Scotland and this may be one fact that O’Neill has actually got right since for once he provides a source, saying that ‘I was since informed by General Campbell in Armagh that Kean died in Scotland’.[13] Since O’Neill must have known this before his memoir was dictated in 1808; then the General involved would seem to have been the Brigadier–General Colin Campbell, Commanding the North East Division of the Northern District, who issued a notice of reward for information leading to the capture of Thomas Russell dated at Belfast on the 19th August 1803.[14]

The account of the past and contemporary harpers by Echlin O’Cathain although brief but dated to 1779 is therefore one of the earliest sources of information we have and provides a contrast to the later account by Bunting which was mostly based on Arthur O’Neill’s memoir of 1808. Echlin’s version is titled ‘An Account of some of the Most Eminent Harpers in Ireland within the Two Last Centuries’ and he modestly counts himself as the fifth best performer among their ranks. Arithmetic though does not seem to have been his strong point since he starts with the ‘Oldest Performers by Profession of note were the Four Brothers of the name of Scott who lived in the Province of Munster about two hundred years ago’, (circa 1600), which technically even if they were all joint first in his list must relegate Echlin himself to eighth place.

If O’Cathain is correct about the four brothers Scott then they would appear to have been the John and Harry Scott mentioned by Bunting[15] along with Ned Scott who was Lord Chichester’s harper around 1621,[16] and Darby Scott who was about the same time employed at the Danish Court.[17] Bunting’s information along with two of the earliest of the tunes he published, all came from Hempson; while Ned and Darby Scott have been identified more recently through research among contemporary records. It is certainly feasible that Hempson, who was by far the oldest of Bunting’s informants would have known of only the two members of the Scott family who had remained in Ireland and not the two who had left the country.

With the Scott brothers given first place, Echlin puts John Murphy[18] second with Carolan third, which seems reasonable given that while a prolific composer Carolan was not esteemed to be the complete player having started too late. Echlin’s tutor Cornelius Lyons is placed fourth and then Echlin himself, which since the exercise was designed to establish Echlin’s status, at least in his own estimation, is where the order finishes. However he does then go on to list ‘Second rate Players on the Harp alive in 1779’;—

  • Hugh O’Neil, a native of Connaught [19]
  • Dominic Mungan of Tyrone [20]
  • Alexander Vectory of Meath [21]
  • ... Mahony in the County of Cork a most excellent performer [22]
  • Also one of the name of Dunfalvie in the County of Limerick — a Celebrated performer & a Gentleman [23]

While they may have been alive in 1779, assuming that Echlin O’Cathain’s information was up to date, none of them appeared at the Belfast Harp Festival in 1792, but it is an interesting list for several reasons. Once again some of the details are at variance with those who are also mentioned in Arthur O’Neill’s memoir, the usual source of information on the harpers. For example O’Neill gives Vectory/Victory’s first name as Andrew and states that he was born in County Longford. But despite these discrepancies from what can be gathered about the harpers mentioned what they seem to have in common is that they are among the more affluent harpers at that period, [see individual endnotes for details].

Due to the nature and the amount of contemporary evidence that has survived in Scotland for Echlin O’Cathain it is possible to explore his music in greater detail than most of his contemporaries. He was known to have still played using his finger–nails, something that was becoming uncommon at that time, (of the ten harpers who performed at Belfast in 1792, only one still used nails) and might indicate that Echlin’s tutor Lyons was also a nail player. His musical repertoire was also quite wide according to John Gunn;—

I have frequently heard it related of O’Kane, the celebrated Irish harper before mentioned, in different places where he had been heard, that he very commonly drew tears from his auditors. During my residence at Cambridge, [Antonio] Manini, our first violin, often spoke of the performance of O’Kane with great rapture; assuring me, that together with an astonishing variety of other things, he could, although blind, play with great accuracy and fine effect the first treble and bass parts of many of Correlli’s concertos, in concert with the other instruments. [24]

Echlin was not unusual in playing such a wide variety of music; Murphy ‘The Famousest man in the World for the Irish Harp’ was known to give recitals of ‘Italian, Scottish and Irish music’.[25] The fact that the music collected from the harpers who attended at Belfast in 1792 was catering for the antiquarian tastes of the organisers has tended to obscure the real working repertoire of the harpers involved.[26] Many of the eighteenth century harpers also sang although how many is hard to judge as few contemporary references to the harpers actually mention it. Carolan of course was one prime example especially as he was known for his songs and it is likely that his successors who attended the 1792 festival were also singing the words to the Carolan pieces in their repertoire. The organiser’s original intention to have a Gaelic language specialist there to take down the words while Bunting noted the music would otherwise have been pointless if there were no ‘song texts’ to have been recorded.

Soltau pages 214 and 215

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In the case of Echlin O’Cathain there is one record which does say that he sang to the accompaniment of his harp. Its origin is attributed to the Hugh MacDonald of Killepheder in South Uist whose authenticated testimony of the 12 August 1800, in Gaelic with English translation was included in the appendix of the Report of the Committee of the Highland Society of Scotland appointed to enquire into the Nature and Authenticity of the poems of Ossian published in 1805. Hugh MacDonald had been visited by the Reverend James MacDonald in 1804, at least according to the account published by him in German in 1808[27] and the relevant section is recorded in the form of a conversation between them.

Soltau pages 216 and 217

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James MacDonald was himself from the Uists and so any conversation would have been carried out in Gaelic since the evidence of Hugh MacDonald’s testimony to the Highland Society suggests that he had no English/Scots. However, apart from the question of translation from Gaelic to ‘English’ and then into German, James MacDonald had previously demonstrated a tendency to ‘elaborate’ for effect. James MacDonald had already made a number of earlier ‘Tours’ of the Hebrides among other parts of Scotland and to other countries and these had been written up as a number of imaginary letters describing the scenery and society of the areas visited.[28] Although James MacDonald did make a tour to the Hebrides in 1804, (along with his brother), it is thought that the 1808 publication includes material from the earlier tours, especially in regard to Ossian, so given that background and the multiple translations probably the only solid information contained in this source is that Hugh MacDonald of Killepheder had met Echlin O’Cathain and remembered him singing to his harp accompaniment.

Turning to the music of Echlin there is some more substantial evidence due to several of his patrons copying it down, although only some of the manuscripts have survived. One example appears in some correspondence between Lachlan MacTavish of Dunardry and Sir James Campbell of Inverneil, the elder brother of Duncan Campbell, the man who had earlier recorded Echlin’s biography.[29] MacTavish of Dunardry, at that time living in Edinburgh, appears to have written to Sir James asking for copies of the harpers music. Sir James replied on the 3 January 1791 that;

I am favoured with your letter of the 30th Ult regarding OKains musick and have since receipt of your letter been making search for them among my colection of musick. I find that the best of them have been plundered from me & the Books they were in, by Mess’s Casamaijor & Addison. But shall write them both to send me down Copies of them, such as I have remaining here shall be made out & sent you. When the others come from London they shall be sent.

It is possible to suggest the identities of the two ‘Plunderers’ with some degree of certainty. The second of the two must be the musician John Addison (born in London circa 1766 and died there in 1844), who mainly comes into prominence in 1793 after his marriage to the singer Elizabeth Williams. His earlier career is somewhat vague but the fact that he published Six Sonatas ... for two Violins in Edinburgh in 1772 with dedication to Lord Linton and also My Jamie is a bonny lad– A favourite Scotch Song in London in 1793 certainly points to him having spent time in Scotland prior to the date of Sir James Campbell’s letter.[30] The identity of Casamajor is less certain but it is not a very common name and was used by a family of Spanish origin who had settled in England by the late 18th century. They were primarily merchants with interests in the sugar cane plantations in the West Indies. The only known Scottish link seems to be through a Justinian Casamajor who was one of the parties in a Court of Session case in Edinburgh in 1791, which would certainly be around the right period for the ‘Casamajor’ referred to by Sir James Campbell in his letter. The case involved the inheritance of Casamajor’s wife Mary, daughter of Duncan Grant of Antigua, who in turn was connected to Sir Alexander Grant of Dalvey.[31]

Sir James certainly seems to have received the music books back from London as a second covering letter dated 20th January 1791 was sent to Lachlan MacTavish with the copies of O’Cathain’s music. The letter also added some further biographical details about the harper;—

I have been at the greatest pains to collect O Kains true Irish Airs which I was fortunate enough to obtain from him while he was in good humour which by the bye was seldom the case. The Bases to the tunes now sent you herewith were made by Miss Shean who had a very delicate taste for music and happened to be Governess to my Children at St John’s while OKain was with me. As a proof of her Genius, when she played the tunes over to the Harper upon the Forte Piano he could not resist Swearing, She was a damned Clever Bitch, for she had just produced his own Bases, just as they were handed down by the famous Caroline – the Correllie of the Irish Harpers.
I could not entrust any person with the transcribing of the Tunes, of course did them all myself, there may be several incorrections in the way I pricked them off from our Unruly Harper which can be easily rectified by yourself or any proficient in the pricking off musick. All I can assure you of is that the tunes are genuine, indeed they bear the true marks of their being so, If I can fall in with any more you may depend upon having them sent, but I think you are now furnished with those that O Kain himself considered the best of his collection.

The reference by Sir James to ‘my children’ in the plural dates that particular episode to sometime after his second child was born in 1766 and probably after the third son was born at St John’s in 1771. St John’s was the anglicised name for Killean, about four miles south west of Inveraray.[32] It is also interesting to note that the governess Miss Shean was able to replicate the harpers own basses on a piano and it is a pity that the music which certainly predates Buntings work at Belfast in 1792 has unfortunately not survived.

Fortunately a copy of a different collection of Echlin O’Cathain’s traditional repertoire has survived among the papers of the MacLean Clephane family at Torloisk on the Island of Mull. The MacLeans of Torloisk were a long established Mull family who by the end of the eighteenth century were represented by Marianne MacLean, (1765 – 1843), the only daughter and heiress of Lachlan MacLean of Torloisk (1720 – 1799). Marianne had married William Douglas Clephane from Carsloggie in Fife, (who added ‘MacLean’ to his own family name), and they had three surviving daughters, Margaret, Anna–Jane and Wilmina. The father Major General W. D. MacLean Clephane as he became, was a career military man and died in 1803 shortly after being posted to Grenada as its military governor. This led to Sir Walter Scott, who had acted for the family in a legal capacity becoming an unofficial ‘godfather’ to the girls.[33]

The mother and daughters were all musical, the young ladies in particular having benefited from instruction by Ann Young, the inventor of a patented musical game, and subsequently the wife of John Gunn, the author of the Highland Society Report on the Lude Harps.[34] Between them the Torloisk ladies compiled a large collection of music manuscripts ranging from their native Gaelic songs to the current art music of that period.[35] Among this collection one discrete manuscript contains a number of predominantly Irish tunes along with ten ‘Ports’ copied by Anna Jane in December 1816, according to her initials and date at the bottom of the last ‘Port’ on page 69.[36]

a reproduction of the tune Captain O’Neill from the manuscript in ‘A Missing Carolan Composition?’ published in Ceol April 1983, pages 5 and 6.
You may click on the pictures above to view a larger–sized image

This manuscript although at the front it has been indexed continuously from the first tune on page 1 to the last ‘Port’ on page 69 can itself be sub-divided into three sections. The first section from pages 1 to 39 comprises 36 mainly Irish Harp tunes, and ends with a note;– The foregoing airs are all taken from the playing of O’Kain by Mr MacDonald. The next section from page 40 to page 61 continuous with more predominantly Irish tunes but this time set for a fiddle, and in one case one tune has an additional version for guitar and this section includes some Irish pipe tunes. The final section from page 62 to 69 then has the ten ‘unnamed Ports’ although they can mostly be identified from other sources.

Although only the source of the section with the Harp Tunes is specifically identified as obtained from a ‘Mr MacDonald’ it is reasonable to assume all three sections came from the same source based on the fact that they were clearly copied in one careful and continuous exercise with no sign of corrections or slips in penmanship. This also suggests that the source copies were themselves ‘fair copies’ rather than the original notations, all of which fits with the identification of ‘Mr MacDonald’ being the Reverend Patrick MacDonald, (1729 – 1824), minister from 1756 of the parish of Kilmore in Mid Argyle. The Minister was a noted musician and had published a collection of Highland Vocal Airs in 1784[37] which included both Lachlan MacLean of Torloisk and his daughter Marianne among its subscribers. The introduction to that collection also shows an awareness not just of the harp in Scotland but specifically comments on the changes evident in the playing of The Lady in the desart, (which is the 4th tune in the manuscript), as played by an old harper and the sets then in fashion, probably an indirect reference to having heard Echlin O’Cathain playing.[38]

Extract from Patrick MacDonald vocal airs

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There is clear evidence from well before the date of the manuscript that the Maclean Clephane family and the Minister were in communication in a letter from Patrick MacDonald to Mrs Marianne MacLean Clephane in 1808 which among other matters refers to an invitation from her to visit Torloisk which he at that point was unable to manage. Among other matters he mentioned that ‘hardly for several years past have I handled a musical Instrument only a Guitar at which I thrum a little now & then as it is of a plaintive Tone and suits these highland airs admirably well’, which along with the former expertise for which he was known on the violin, is consistent with the fiddle and guitar settings of the middle section of the manuscript.[39]

In the letter Patrick MacDonald also asked Mrs MacLean Clephane to convey a message to his daughter who it appears was living near to Torloisk at Gribun. It is not clear which one of the minister’s daughters this was but as Gribun, also on Mull, was only some 8 miles from Torloisk by boat, still the easiest method of transport on an island with little in the way of decent land routes, then contact between members of the two families may have been frequent. The minister’s family, his younger brother Joseph and sister Flora should also be considered in connection with the originals of the manuscript copied by Miss MacLean Clephane. Although copied as one complete manuscript the originals may have been three separate sections with the only real dating evidence being for the middle ‘Fiddle’ section. This has for its last tune Jackson’s Morning Brush which would suggest that it had not been compiled before circa 1775.

Patrick MacDonald tells us that the main part of his published collection had been compiled by his brother Joseph and that a copy had been left with their sister when Joseph left for India in 1760. Since Joseph had also spent some time with Patrick at the manse at Kilmore prior to engaging with the East India Company, it is quite possible that the original notation of Echlin O’Cathain’s repertoire may have been taken down by Joseph and later transcribed into the fair copy loaned by Patrick MacDonald to the ladies at Torloisk. While that is of course speculation what does seem more certain is that those three sections of the manuscript which include the harper’s music; since they were written without any sign of hesitation or corrections were made from exemplars which were themselves fair copies of the originals which could have been notated at any time after the harper’s first excursions into Argyle.

[1] Campbell, John Lorne, ‘An Account of Some Irish Harpers as Given By Echlin O’Kean, Harper, Anno 1779’. Eigse; A Journal of Irish Studies. Volume 6, (1948–52) pp 146–148.

[2] O’Sullivan Donal, Carolan, Vol. 2 (1958) p 159; Bunting, Edward, The Ancient Music Of Ireland, (1840), p 78. This section of Bunting’s work was actually written for him by Sir Samuel Ferguson using the Memoir of Arthur O’Neill taken down at Bunting’s instruction by Thomas Hughs.

[3] O’Baoill, Colm. Some Irish Harpers In Scotland. Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness. vol 47, (1972) p 157. where referring to the O’Neil and Bunting accounts he adds the cryptic comment that ‘both these statements are often quoted as being authoritative’

[4] McDonnell H and Ohlmeyer, J. New Light on the Marquis of Antrim and the ‘Wars of the Three Kingdoms’. Analecta ibernica. No. 41 (2009). pp 28 and 31

[5] My thanks to Murdo MacDonald formerly archivist to the Argyle & Bute District Council for an extract photocopy of the Burgess Roll. The roll has since been published by Beaton, E A and MacIntyre, S W, eds. The Burgesses of Inveraray 1665–1963, Scottish History Society, New Series 14, (1990), but the printed work which is in alphabetical name order is not as useful in regard to context.

[6] National Library of Scotland manuscript Adv. 72.2.15. A short biography of William MacMurchy and the harp measurements is in preparation.

[7] The Memoirs of Arthur O’Neill, in O’Sullivan, Donal. Carolan, The Life and Times of an Irish Harper. vol 2, (1983), p160–161; Bunting, Edward. The Ancient Music of Ireland. (1840), p 44 quoting from Gunn and p 68 from Arthur O’Neill and Hempson.

[8] Black, Ronald. ed. To the Hebride, Samuel Johnson’s ‘Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland’ and James Boswell’s ‘Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides’. (2007). Is the most recent and up to date edition which nicely interleaves the relevant parts of both texts close together.

[9] O’Baoill, Colm. Some Irish Harpers in Scotland. Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness. vol 47. (1972) p 160.

[10] The Northern Star and Trade’s Journal, 18 September 1847

[11] Paterson, J. The Ballads and Songs of Ayrshire, illustrated with sketches historical traditional,narrative and biographical. (1846), Introduction p vi.

[12] The burial record also has his age noted as 87. (O.P.R Deaths 578/0001300132 Ayr)

[13] O’Sullivan, Donal, Carolan, (1983) vol 2, p 159.

[14] National Archives of Scotland, GD170/3472. Although this does not quite fit with his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography which only notes his promotion straight from Colonel to Major General in 1805 without mentioning a brevet rank of Brigadier General in between. Otherwise this would appear to be the Colin Campbell (1754–1814) the son of John Campbell ‘of the bank’ who was believed to be descended form the Campbell’s of Breadalbane.

[15] Bunting, Edward, The Ancient Music of Ireland (1840), p 68.

[16] Fletcher, Alan, J. Drama and the Performing Arts in Pre–Cromwellian Ireland. (2001), pp 407 and endnote number 719

[17] See Irish harper at the Danish court painted by Reinholdt Thim circa 1622.

[18] Donnelly, Sean. The Famousest man in the World For the Irish harp. Dublin Historical Record. vol 57. No 1. (2004)

[19] Both Echlin O’Cathain and Arthur O’Neill agree that Hugh O’Neill was a native of Connaught and Arthur O’Neill, who knew him well, paints a picture of someone with a gentlemanly background but through blindness and lack of patrimony having turned to the harp to earn a living. He had a house and farm and lived well enough to actually commission a new harp for himself.

[20] O’Cathain and O’Neill both agree that Dominick Mungan was born in Tyrone, while according to O’Neill’s account Mungan was wealthy enough to have all three of his sons educated for the professions of Church and Medicine.

[21] According to O’Cathain Victory/Vectory’s first name was Alexander and he was a native of Meath, but O’Neill gives his name as Andrew and a native of Longford. O’Neill’s note on the harper is quite short, (in fact in O’Sullivan’s edited version of O’Neill’s memoir Victory is left out of the index all together but can be found in vol 2, p 162). O’Neill states that Victory ‘dressed very well’ which suggests a reasonable income.

[22] This harper is not mentioned at all by O’Neill while O’Cathain describes him as ‘Mahony in the County of Cork’ with no forename and the use of ‘in’ rather than ‘of’ suggesting that Cork was where he lived but was not a native of there. There is however an independent and contemporary source of information about this harper when he appears in the Irish Manuscript Commission calendar of the Kenmare Manuscripts, edited by Edward McLyysaght, (1942), page 245. Loghfarm of Hospital, a part of the Kenmare Estate in East County Limerick had apparently been some of the best land in Castlefarm, but had been turned into a lake by the over flowing of a small rivulet. At the death of the old tenant it was set to one John Ryan of Oldtown who by blasting some rocks and adding several drains had returned it to productive land and so Lord Kenmare had set aside some £300 arrears that he was owed, (presumably for Oldtown), and set Loghfarm to Ryan on a 31 years lease at seventeen shillings an acre, making a rent of £70 per year. However, In less than four year after I was under the necessity of ejecting him for non–payment of rent when he had the impudence to enter an appearance, but after he waved the same, suffered the Sheriff to take possession and the six months to elapse when a blind man, one Mahoney an harper, applied to me in Dublin that Ryan had borrowed upwards of £200 from him on the security of this farm, that he had never informed him of the largeness of the arrear or ejectment, that if I had not compassion on him he should be ruined, but if I had the compassion to give the term in the land which remained unexpired and to take my arrear in different gales he would punctually pay both it and the growing rent. I accordingly closed with his proposal and he has been punctual in discharging it and now holds the land at £70 yearly for twenty–seven years from May 1758. The land is about a hundred acres worth a pound each acre.

A later 1768 rental of the Co Limerick Estate printed at pages 252–3 in the same calendar shows ‘Kean Mahony’s part of the Lough’ at £70, but sub let by the harper to a John Lidwell who also farmed several surrounding holdings. An arrangement which would have provided the harper with an income while not needing to actually farm it himself. This also provides a forename for the harper since ‘Kean’ seems to be a a scrible attempt at the Gaelic forename of Cian which according to ‘Gaelic Personal Names’ by Donnchadh O’Corrain and Fidelma Maguire, was a favoured name among the O’Mahoneys.

[23] This harper presents more of a puzzle. In Eigse—A Journal of Irish Studies. volume XIX : Part 1, (1982), Colm O’Baoill edited two verses on a harper called Donn O Failbhe attributed to Donhadh caech ua Mathgamhna but was cautious about linking that Mathgamhna or ‘Mahony’ with the one mentioned by Echlin O’Cathain, as the poet was active circa 1715, nor had he had seen anything to suggest that the poet was a harper. This can be confirmed by that fact that the harper known to O’Cathain must be Cian Mathgamhna but O’Baoill also suggests that Echlin knew, or knew of, the verses which with the fact that he placed ‘Dunfalvie’ in County Limerick might suggest that was confusing the two ‘Mahony’s’ which would also account for his not giving the harper called Mahony a first name.

[24] Gunn, John. An Historical Enquiry Respecting The Performance on the Harp, (1807). p 19, 59–60.

[25] Donnelly, Sean. The Famousest Man in the World for the Irish Harp, Dublin Historical Record. Vol 57, No 1, (Spring 2004)

[26] Cooper, David. The Musical Traditions of Northern Ireland and Its Diaspora. (2009), pp 105–108.

[27] MacDonald, James, Reise durch Schottlan, seine Insein, Danemark, und einen Theil von Deutschland; aus der Englischen Handschrift ubersetzt von D. W. Soltau. (1808). vol 3 pp 215–216. Translation courtesy of Hans Rehfisch

I, Did Ossian accompany himself with instruments, did one use musical accompaniments in your younger days Hugh MacDonald, people say Ossian accompanied his songs with the harp. I was acquainted with O’Kain an old harper who sang to harp accompaniment, he maintained it was the Gaelic or Irish Harp. I myself do not believe it was our national instrument. I am not sure about it since I never took a great deal of interest in the Instrumental side of it.

[28] The papers of James MacDonald are among the Playfair Collection in the St Andrews University Archives, catalogued as msdep14/1A.

[29] Courtesy of Murdo MacDonald. Argyle County Archive where the letters were deposited with the rest of the MacTavish of Dunardry correspondence. The second letter was subsequently published as part of the collection edited by E. F Bradford as MacTavish of Dunardry, (1991). pp 40–41.

[30] Farmer, H G. A History of Music in Scotland. (1970 reprint), p 337.

Addison’s dates of circa 1766 — 1844 are taken from the entry for him in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography which also notes the set of ‘Six Sonatas’ of 1772 as one of his early works, without any consideration that the ‘circa 1766’ would have made him about 6 years old. In fact evidence that he was in Scotland even earlier than that is provided by a receipt signed by John Addison on the 19th June 1770, for £7– 10sh from the Musical Society of Edinburgh for payment of a half years salary to the first of June.

Even at that point in his career Addison must have been old enough to command a good salary since the same bundle of receipts contains one for Daniel Dow for £5 for a whole year. (National Records of Scotland. GD113/5/209/5 numbers 12 and 14.)

[31] National Archives of Scotland, Court of Session: Unextracted processes, CS235/K/3/2.

[32] Thanks to Murdo MacDonald formerly the Argyle archivist for this suggestion which is confirmed by the birth record for the third son which reads ‘Duncan Campbell Lawful son to Capt Jas Campbell at Killean or St Johns 28th October 1771’. (OPR Births 513/00300109).

[33] Sutherland K, Walter Scott’s Highland Minstrelsy and his Correspondence with the MacLean Clephane Family. Scottish Literary Journal. vol. 9. No. 1 (May 1987).

[34] Sanger K, A Letter from the Rev Patrick MacDonald to Mrs MacLean Clephane, 1808. Scottish Gaelic Studies. Vol 26. (Summer 2010), pp 25–27.

[35] McAulay K E, The Accomplished Ladies of Torloisk. International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music. Vol. 44. No 1 (June 2013).

[36] The manuscript was originally kept at Torloisk House on the Island of Mull, but the owner, A. A. C. Farquharson of Invercauld and Torloisk had given permission at various times for photocopies to be made for research purposes. Some of these are publicly available for consultation, for example the National Library of Scotland where the copy held there is catalogued as MS14949 (b); while other copies, including this authors, are in private hands although one of these is also now in the National Library of Scotland among the papers of the late Francis Collinson. Subsequently in 1993 the original manuscript was acquired from its then owner by Trinity College, Dublin, where it is now catalogued as TCD MS 10615. Some tunes from the manuscript have been published. In Ceol. vol VI(1), (April 1983). Sanger K, Shaljean B and Billinge M included a reproduction of the tune Captain O’Neill from the manuscript in ‘A Missing Carolan Composition?’; while Fleishmann A and O’Suilleabhain M included transcriptions of the opening sections of a number of the tunes in their Sources of Irish Traditional Music, c. 1600–1855, (1998). Complete transcripts of those tunes which according to the manuscript were attributed to Carolan, (not always correctly) have been included in an Appendix to the new edition of Donal O’Sullivan’s Carolan The Life and Times and Music of an Irish Harper published by Ossian in 2001 and again in the Complete Carolan Songs & Airs, Arranged for the Irish Harp, by C Rowsome, (2011)

[37] The first edition has no publication date but 1784 is generally accepted as the year of publication, which tends to be confirmed by an advertisement placed in the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser on the 17 November 1784 indicating that the collection was available and asking ‘subscribers to the work who are resident in or near London, and whose residences are unknown, to send for their copies without delay, as only a few copies are remaining over the number subscribed for, the sale for them in Scotland having been so rapid’.

[38] You may click on the picture below to view a larger–sized image:

Extract from Patrick MacDonald vocal airs

[39] Sanger K. A Letter from the Rev Patrick MacDonald to Mrs MacLean Clephane, 1808. Scottish Gaelic Studies. vol 26. (Summer 2010), pp 25–27

Submitted by Keith Sanger, 13 January, 2014
11 May, 2015 revised footnote number 30 (expanded).

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