Irish Music in the Seventeenth Century, 1650-1700 (2)

William H. Grattan Flood
Chapter XIX (concluded) | Start of chapter

As an illustration of a splendid air, dating from about the year 1690, "Tigearna Maigeo" may here be quoted. It has frequently been attributed to Turlogh O'Carolan, but the real composer was Thady Keenan, the harper, to words by David O'Murray. This statement is quoted by Hardiman from Walker, on the authority of the venerable Charles O'Conor, of Belanagare. Regarding this well-known tune Dr. Joyce makes a curious slip in his Irish Music and Song. He writes:—"The air was printed by Dr. (then Mr.) Petrie in Holden's Collection of Irish Airs, and also by J. C. Walker in his Irish Bards, who copied it, however, from Petrie." It is merely sufficient to state that Walker's book was printed in 1786, and Petrie was not born till 1789.

Of course, the advent to Ireland of King James II. in 1689 filled the Irish minstrels with high hopes, which, alas ! were dashed to earth in 1691. Two of the best airs of this period are "The Battle of Killiecrankie" and "The Boyne Water." The former was composed by Thomas O'Connellan on the occasion of the battle of Killiecrankie, fought on July 27th, 1689, and is also known as "Planxty Davis." Its Irish origin is sufficiently clear from the fact that in a Northumbrian MS. of the year 1694 this tune appears as "The Irish Gillicranky," and the music of it may also be found in the Leyden MS. in 1692, to which Burns subsequently adapted verses. As for "The Boyne Water," the composer is unknown, but the air certainly dates from before 1690, long before the battle. "Rig Seumur" (printed in the Dublin Citizen in 1842) also dates from this period.

The flight of the Wild Geese in 1691 and 1692 afforded a theme for a really exquisite song, known as "Na Geadna Fiadaine" which Tom Moore amusingly equates as "Gage Fane," and to which he set "The Origin of the Harp," commencing, " 'Tis believed that this harp which I wake now for thee." Both Glover and Mr. Alfred Moffat persist in calling it "Gage Fane," oblivious of the real Irish name, for which Holden, in 1806, was primarily responsible. This exquisite song, printed in 1745, became popular in 1772 when republished in M'Lean's Collection as "Old Ireland, Rejoice," and was a favourite with Tom Moore. Dr. Madden tells us that Moore's lyric was suggested by a visit which the modern bard of Erin paid to Edward Hudson, one of the State prisoners in Kilmainham Jail, in March, 1799, and it was printed in the third number of the Melodies in 1810. Not even Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, in his "restored" edition of Moore's Melodies, has any comment on the absurd title—"Gage Fane." However, the correct title is "Na Géadna Fiadaine," or "The Wild Geese," commemorative of the thousands of Irish who fled to France and Spain after the Treaty of Limerick. Variant forms of the air appear as "Armstrong's Farewell," "The Old Head of Denis," "The Meeting of the Waters," "Todlin' Hame," "My name is Dick Kelly," "An bacac buide," and "An Cána Draigeann éille." Bunting's setting was not published till 1840, and it is very corrupt, though he says that it is the version played by Patrick Quin in 1803.[4] The antiquity of the melody may be guessed from the fact that as far back as the year 1670, John Fitzgerald, son of the Knight of Glin, wrote a song to this air.

We may date "Once I had a Sweetheart" as composed about the year 1695. It is a most characteristic specimen of an Irish air, and yet it is included in Moffat's Minstrelsy of England. Mr. Kidson describes it as "an old and pretty folk-melody taken from Daniel Wright's Complete Tutor for ye Flute, circa 1735, and he adds that no earlier copy is now accessible. Fortunately, the air may be found in the Anglo-Irish ballad opera of the "Beggar's Wedding," produced in Dublin in 1728 by Charles Coffey, and printed, with the music, in 1729.

However, incomparably the finest Irish ballad of the period, 1698-1701, is "Éamonn An Cnuic," or "Ned of the Hill," written in memory of Edmond Ryan, who was an outlaw under King William. Poor Ned Ryan, the scion of an old family, the O'Ryans of Kilnelongurty, County Tipperary, was forced to become a Rapparee, and to do a man's part in spoiling the spoiler. After many vicissitudes he died in 1724, and was buried near Faill an Chluig, in the parish of Toem, in the upper half barony of Kilnemanagh, County Tipperary. Perhaps in the whole range of Irish minstrelsy no melody has been so transformed as "Éamonn an Cnuic." Though the air dates from the close of the sixteenth century,[5] it underwent various modifications between the years 1600 and 1760, and it may be found under a score of different titles, e.g., "The Young Man's Dream," "The Green Woods of Truagh," "Colonel O'Gara," "The Groves of Blarney," "Castle Hyde," "Lady Jefferie's Delight," etc. Beethoven adapted this beautiful melody to words commencing, "Sad and luckless was the season," but from a corrupt version, and it was worked into a fantasia by Mendelssohn in 1829, as Op. 15, from Moore's setting "'Tis the last Rose of Summer," published in December, 1813. Flotow introduced it into his opera of "Martha," and was much enamoured of it.[6]

The subjoined version is the earliest yet discovered, taken from a manuscript of the year 1726, of which a variant was printed by Bartlett Cooke in 1794:—

Ned of the Hill



[4] The oldest printed version of the air is as "An bacac buide" (composed by O'Cahan), in Coffey's ballad opera, 1729.

[5] The earliest printed version was in 1729. A Scotch variant appeared in Johnson's Museum, in 1788, as "I dreamed I lay," with words by Robert Burns.

[6] Berlioz, whilst condemning the opera of "Martha," highly praises our old folk tune as follows: "The delicious Irish air was so simply and poetically sung by Patti that its fragrance alone was sufficient to disinfect the rest of the work.