Sources for Gaelic harp music

the Bunting song manuscripts

The Bunting manuscript collection at Queens University Belfast includes a very important series of Gaelic song manuscripts which were written down for Bunting by his secretaries Cody and Lynch.

The organisers of the harpers’ meeting in Belfast in 1792 originally intended to have three musicians to write down the tunes, and a gentleman scholar to write down the Gaelic song words. However in the end only Bunting showed up, and though he was an excellent musician and music notator, he had no Irish at all so he could not deal with song texts at all.

Patrick Lynch’s song books

In 1802, Bunting hired Patrick Lynch as an Irish-speaking scholar, and the two of them toured Connacht in 1802, Lynch first collecting texts and Bunting following collecting tunes.

MS24 is the journal of Patrick Lynch, describing his travels and song-collecting.

MSS 15, 16, 18 and 25 are the notebooks in which Lynch made his field drafts of the songs he collected. In total Lynch collected over 400 song texts in Irish

MSS17 & 21 contain English translations that Lynch made of the Irish songs he had collected. MS28, 32 and 36 contain copies of Lynch’s English translations, mostly written by the secretary Thomas Hughes.

MSS 7, 10 & 11 plus part of MS24 contain most of these songs written out neatly by Lynch in a very elegant Gaelic script.

By 1803 there was a serious political and personal disagreement between Lynch and Bunting, and their collaboration seems to have come to an end. Bunting does not seem to have used any of Lynch’s texts or translations in his later published books.

BMS7 f83v
MS7 f83v, facsimile from JIFSS VI, 1908, p.20. The words of Domhnall Meirgeach, as written down by Patrick Lynch.

James Cody’s song books

From c.1805-9, Bunting employed James Cody to collect both texts and tunes. Cody collected the tunes and texts of over 30 songs. MS6 contains his notations of tunes and texts. He also wrote a couple of tune books for Bunting.

MS26 is loose sheets containing miscellaneous Irish song texts.

Simon Chadwick