There have been a number of O'Carolan references and discussions and videos being uploaded recently.

This week, we are learning his first tune, a lovely waltz entitled 'Si Bheag Si Mhor', at our music school in Cincinnati. I found a beautiful recording of the tune played on the uilleann pipes as done by Planxty.  Ed Harris, a TradConnect member, uploaded his rendition of the same tune:  Ed Harris ~ Si Bheag Si Mhor

Since I am just recently beginning to study Irish Traditional Music (two years), it would be helpful to have a place to gather thoughts regarding this composer and his tunes.  It would be interesting to better understand how his compositions fit into the musical history of Ireland and Irish traditional music, and how his art is viewed from the perspective of an international audience.

So, if you have any knowledge or thoughts on the topic of Turlough O'Carolan, please add them here.  Thank you!

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Here are all the thoughts you are ever going to need...............





Thanks for the link Micheal.  It certainly gives a good start on the works of O'Carolan.  I've got a lot to learn!

One thing that I had wondered about was how O'Carolan's tunes are perceived to fit into the envelope of the Irish Trad genre, so I hope someone can expand on that topic.


I can only offer an unqualified opinion - and no doubt a lot of what I am going to say will be the subject of further debate, but since you asked.......


Carolan is a bit of an odd-ball. He was a harper born into the tail end of the original tradition for Irish harping. The continual thread of this aural tradition being broken some time after his death. All of his music survives as "top line" only and we have no idea how, or if, any accompanyment was played with them. He was deeply involved in the "court" music of the time with his sponsors being Irish gentry and was also influenced by other European "court" composers that were contemporary with him. All this leads you to question the native "Irishness" of his compositions to some extent. Its is also clear that he had little to do directly with any contemporary thread of a "music of the common people".


So, with the negative side out of the way, lets move on to the good stuff!!


The mighty weight of Carolan's work singles him out as a key source for anyone interested in Irelands musical tradition. This is the case because his tunes are


a/ So old


b/ So good.


If his music was not adopted by the masses during his lifetime, there is ample evidence since that it has been. At the same time he retains his status as the nearest thing Ireland has to classical composer of the first order.


Even now his tunes are difficult to "pigeon hole" because they dont follow the set routine of Jig, Reel, Hornpipe etc. Similarly, they don't sit entirely comfortably under the "airs" slot either. These tunes however do now sit at the heart of "Irish Trad" and are frequently played in sessions. In this setting I believe that Carolan tunes will continue to inspire and enchant for many generations to come.

Another site which provides his biography, list of complete works, as well as, resources for music scores:


Of additional interest is the fact O'Carolan was blind and made his living by traveling and staying with various nobles and those who appreciated harp music. They would provide him room and board. He is definately known for his compositions more than for his ability as a harpist.

The harp is considered a sacred Irish/Celtic instrument which obviously contributes in the association as well.


Brian Keenan has written a wonderful book named "Turlough", about the life of Carolan, which I highly recommend. I've always thought that Carolan's life in such a troubled period of Ireland's history, would make a great movie. (any suggestions for the lead role?). There are some marvellously funny anecdotes which I've read that suggest that although Carolan was a very devout catholic, he was also full of mirth and had a mischievous humour. I spent many years arranging lesser known Carolan compositions for open-tuning fingerstyle guitar. This may seem strange but, during that time of deep musical study, it appeared to me that the character of the man shone out through his music. I felt the sense of a "W.C.Fields-like" character, with an extremely sharp wit.
Thanks for the information Davy.  Everything I've read about the man says that he was quite a colorful character.  He is definitely someone who would be a pleasure to meet (if I had a time travel machine)!!!  I read an account that he also had quite a love affair with the whiskey drink, and even wrote a few tunes in honor of that! The Life of O'Carolan would make a great movie!!! I hope a movie producer will read this discussion :)! 

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