Denis O'Hampsey - his tunes

Denis O'Hampsey
O'Hampsey engraved by Brocas. With permission of the National Library of Ireland.

Denis O'Hampsey learned to play the harp at the age of 12, i.e. in 1707. His first teacher was Bríghid Ní Chatháin. He seems to have played an old fashioned repertory as his music was noticably different to that of other harpers in the 1790s.

According to Rev. Sampson, who collected his memoirs in 1805, 'his favourites' were 'Coolin', 'The Dawning of the Day', 'Ellen a Roon', 'Cean Dubh Dilis' &c.

O'Hampsey did play some of Carolan's music but professed a dislike of it perhaps because it was too modern. He was a great admirer of Carolan's contemporary Cornelius Lyons (c. 1680 - c. 1750) and played a number of fine baroque-style variation sets by Lyons.

O'Hampsey also played a handful of enigmatic older tunes. Burns March was described as one of the tunes taught to student harpers, and with its repetitive figured variations it has parallels with Scottish pibroch as well as medieval Welsh harp music. Scott's Lamentation, or Cumh Caoine an Albannaich, is a formal instrumental lament reputedly composed in 1599, and O'Hampsey also appears to have played a prelude with it - Feachain Gleas or 'try if it be in tune'. O'Hampsey said peevishly in 1792 "What's the use [of playing this]? no-one can understand it now, not even any of the harpers now living", and he 'solemnly averred' that he had forgotten the second half. Bunting's scribbled notations of the tunes in his pocket notebook contain a huge amount of information on O'Hampsey's style, including rythym and measure, gracing and ornamentation, as well as harmony and bass.