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Sources for Gaelic harp music

Daniel Dow, Collection of Ancient Scots Music

Dow facsimile

Published in Edinburgh in 1776

This Scottish printed book contains 16 or so ports (puirt), laments (cumhachan) and welcomes (Fàiltean), some attributed to "Rory Dall"

Editions and Facsimiles

A complete photocopy facsimile (published by the Scottish Music Centre) is now available to order here from the Emporium. Click here for details

Gaelic harp music in this book

Complete contents list from the Wighton Collection catalogue, Dundee

All but one of Dow's pieces are Gaelic and 'ancient'; most of the tunes seem to be fiddle versions of older music. Whether an individual tune was originally a harp tune, a pipe tune or a song air is basically a guess. The following are my guesses for harp music in this book. All of the music has newly composed bass lines for harpsichord or 'cello which do not seem to bear any traces of early Gaelic harp idiom.

pp.2-5 Cumh Ioarla wigton - Earl of wigton's Lament
Other versions: Ó Néill: Earl of Wigton’s Lament
Recommended recordings: Ann Heymann (early Gaelic harp), Cruit go nÓr track 10; Alison Kinnaird (early Gaelic harp), The Silver String track 3
Listen online at the BBC: Bonnie Rideout (fiddle), BBC recording.

p.10 Port Lennox
Other versions: Bowie: Port Lennox; Balcarres: The Duke's Port. ‘Duke of Lennox Port’ also appears in the title list of the lost Blaikie Manuscript of 1692.

pp.11-12 Port Atholl
Other versions: Bowie: Port Atholl; Balcarres: Port Atholl
This is the 'Scottish' Port Atholl, which is a different tune completely from the 'Irish' Port Atholl, attributed to Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin, which appears in Oswald and Bunting.

p.14 Cumh Peathar Ruari - Rorie Dall's sister's Lament
Other versions: Straloch: A Port

p.23 Mari nighean Deorsa - Mary the Daughter of George
Other versions: Fraser

pp.24-25 Da mihi manum
Recommended recordings: Siobhán Armstrong (early Gaelic harp), Cláirseach na hÉireann track 3
Other versions: This is a very florid baroque (violin?) variant of the 17th century set of Da Mihi Manum which appears in Wemyss. Other, less elaborate baroque fiddle variants appear in MacFarlane, and Balcarres. The somewhat different standard 18th century version of Da Mihi Manum appears in Neal, Oswald, Thumoth, & Bunting as well as many other 18th century Irish and Scottish mss and printed books.

p.26 Thug Bonny Peggie dhamhsa Pog - Bonny Peggie kiss'd me
Other versions: MacDonald: 141; Bunting: Burns March / Imbo Agus Umbo / Pretty Peggy; Stamford-Petrie no. 1202: Imbó agas Umbó, a dirge
This is one of the beginners tunes collected from the 18th century harpers Denis O'Hampsey & Patrick Quin.

p.27 Port Gordon
Other versions: Oswald: Port Gordon; Bunting: Ballylaunis / Purth Clairseach; Maclean-Clephane: Port Gordon
This is a different tune from 'Port Gordon' in Balcarres & Bowie.

pp.28-30 Battle of Hara Law
Other versions: This tune first appears in the Rowallan lute manuscript of c. 1620 (see Dauney, Ancient Scotish Melodies, p. 349). There is also a setting allegedly from a lost manuscript, printed in Stenhouse, Illustrations, 1853. The tune survives in the living tradition as the urlar of the pibroch 'The Desperate Battle' or 'The battle of the birds', although the variations are different. It has been suggested that this modern English title came about in the 19th century through a misreading of the Gaelic for the Battle of Harlaw, Cath Ghairbhich, giving a corrupt Gaelic Cath Gailbheach which can be translated 'the desperate battle'.
There is a Gaelic poet known as the 'Harlaw Brosnachadh' which may be fitte to this tune.
There are two other tunes with the title 'Battle of Harlaw', one in a Jacobean English masque manuscript, which has also been used for the Gaelic words (see John Purser, Scotland's Music) and also a Scots ballad telling the story of the battle from the opposite side. The battle was fought in 1411: Wikipedia entry.
Recommended recordings: Simon Chadwick (early Gaelic harp), Clàrsach na Bànrighe track 9
Listen online at the BBC: Bonnie Rideout (fiddle), BBC recording.

p.31 the Terror of Death - s eagal leam a mbas by Rorie Dall
Other versions: Maclean-Clephane: Port 7th, also Ancient Harp Air

pp.35-38 Cumh Easbig Earraghaal or Bishop of Argyle's lament
Other versions: Fraser:
Recommended recordings: Violaine Mayor (early Gaelic harp), Strujenn Haleg
This is a different tune to the Lament for the Bishop of Argyll in MacFarlane.

p.43 Suipair thighear Leoid - Lude's super by Rorie Dall
Other versions: Oswald: Lude's Supper
There is also a family of related tunes titled 'MacLeod's Salute' or similar, e.g. 'Mc Loud's Salute' in Bowie and indeed 'Failte bheag Mhic Leoid - McLeod's less salutation' in this book. It seems there is some confusion between Leod and Lude.

p.45 Fuadh na mfilairan - The fidler's contemt by Rorie Dall
Other versions: Straloch: Port Preist; Wemyss: Port Robart

Simon Chadwick