Lochaber is a well known Scottish folk song, but I was intruiged by the references to the tune in the 18th century Irish harp tradition, where there was argument about whether it was composed by the Irish harper Thomas Connellan, or the Irish Harper Myles O’Reilly. There was, however, no doubt in the old harpers’ minds that it had been taken over to Scotland in the 1690s by a harper, and had then become very popular.
I don't see this as inherently implausible, since the earliest settings come from Glasgow viol manuscripts of the 1690s, and the title it is given there, King James’ march to Ireland (or to Dublin), tie it very closely in to the Jacobite wars in Ireland of the early 1690s. After it became a popular tune in Scotland, it was used for Allan Ramsay’s lyrics “Lochaber No More”, and under this title it went back to Ireland and was taken up again by the harpers - my setting of this version comes from Edward Bunting’s manuscript transcriptions from the playing of one of the last of the old harpers, probably Patrick Quin from Co. Armagh. On the next page in Bunting’s manuscript is a field draft of the Wild Geese, a distinctively baroque instrumental variant of the tune which first appears under its Irish title Géidhe Fiáine in Neal’s printed book.
I find that the three settings go very nicely together as a set, and that the Wild Geese forms a lovely baroque variation to Lochaber. The whole set becomes a lament for the end of the old Gaelic order.
© Simon Chadwick 2012 - earlygaelicharp.info/laments