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Sources for Gaelic harp music

Maclean-Clephane manuscripts

Compiled in the early 19th century by the Mull sisters Anna-Jane and Margaret Maclean-Clephane. The manuscripts remain, as far as I am aware, in the posession of Capt. A.C. Farquharson of Invercauld, with the exception of one which was acquired by Trinity College Dublin in 1993. There is also a volume of Gaelic song preserved in Northampton (Margaret married the Marquess of Northampton in 1815)

The National Library of Scotland holds a complete photocopy of 3 volumes, catalogued as NLS ms 14949 a, b and c. The School of Scottish Studies apparently holds photocopies of some other material.

For a recent overview of the different manuscripts, see Karen E. McAulay, Our ancient national airs: Scottish song collecting c.1760-1888. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow, 2009, http://theses.gla.ac.uk/1242/, p.252-4.

Early Gaelic harp music in these sources


The 1808 tune book (a in the NLS catalogue) was compiled by Anna-Jane and Margaret around or before 1808. It contains a miscellaneous collection of songs and tunes including a number of Gaelic airs. The following are of particular interest as examples of Gaelic harp repertory:

p.7 Failte Chlairseach
The other two tunes on this page are both fenian lay tunes and this tune also has that character.
Facsimile:, Sanger & Kinnaird, Tree of Strings, Kinmor 1992 p.189

p.11 Tha mi nam’ Chadal ’s na duisgan mi
Other versions: Táim i mo Chodladh in Bunting ms29; Burk Thumoth , Neal, etc. See also 1816 volume below.

p.36 Cuachag nan Craobh - Ancient Harp air - Mr MacLagan
Other versions: Angus Fraser ms: Cuachag nan craobh (the sylvan beauty). (TnT edition p.73)

p.52 Ancient Harp Airs No. 1 / Failte [...] [...] [....] Mr. MK
Other versions: Dow: the Terror of Death - s eagal leam a mbas by Rorie Dall; see below, 1816 volume, Port 7th.

C’uime an d’thuirt thu am bodach siuir ? by O Katharan
I cannot make out the title properly so the above is only my guess. The position of this tune on p.52 and its attribution to O Katharan (maybe the harper Echlin O'Kane) is why I include it here.

Ancient Harp Music
I don't know the title of this tune and I don't recognise it.

p.53 Ancient Harp Air / Failte bheag [...]
Other versions: Dow: Failte bheag Mhic Leoid - McLeod's less salutation; Bowie: Mc Loud's Salute; This tune is also a version of Lude's Supper in Dow and Oswald.


The 1816 manuscript (b in the NLS catalogue) now belongs to Trinity College Dublin, where its shelfmark is TCD MS 10615. It contains a collection of tunes copied in December 1816 by Anna-Jane Maclean-Clephane from sources including a manuscript of Mr. MacDonald (possibly Patrick MacDonald). Its contents includes all kinds of music, Continental and even Indian, and also 36 tunes from the playing of Irish harper Echlin O'Kane, with basses. There is also a series of 10 ports given as single melody line.

The attributions in the O'Kane section (pages 1-39) are particularly strange, as many of them flatly contradict the other sources. The tunes are all arranged with basses, which seem to be to be very good 19th cebtury style and I would guess they were composed by the MacLean-Clephane sisters. We also don't know the provenance of this music really; though we guess that it really is straight from O'Kane through MacDonald, we dont know for sure, and I am suspicious. O'Kane was a student of Cornelius Lyons, but some of the settings here are notably different from the settings atributed to Lyons by Denis O'Hampsey, collected by Edward Bunting in the 1790s.

The Ports by contrast are a fascinating and as yet not well enough studied group. We do not know their provenance. They are a startling late collection of what seem to be genuine early Gaelic harp instrumental repertory.

p.1 Elan a Run
Other versions: :;
Recommended recordings: , ;
Transcriptions:, p.

p.5 The Merry Maids of Connaught/ by Carolan
Recommended recordings: , ;
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p.349

p.6 Tha mi na m'chadal / original uncertain, improved by Lyons
Other versions: Táim i mo Chodladh in Bunting ms29; Burk Thumoth , Neal, etc. See also 1808 volume above.

p.9 Carolan's Reciept / by Carolan
Other versions: :;

p.10 The Lady in the Desert / By By O'Conilan + improved by Lyons
Other versions: This is a version of the Cornelius Lyons variation set, as collected from Denis O'Hampseyin Edward Bunting's ms29, and as printed by Scottish publishers at the end of the 18th century.

p.12 The Dawning of the Day / By Carolan
Other versions: :;

p.13 Port Gordon / Scottish Highland
Other versions: Bunting: Port Gordon and also called Ballyhaunis; Dow and Oswald: Port Gordon. This is different from the other Port Gordon in Bowie, Balcarres, and the 1808 volume above.
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p.350

p.14 Uilliagan Dubh O / By Carolan according to Mr. MacDonald
Other versions: in Bunting etc.
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p. 353

The Fairy Queen / By Carolan
Includes a 6-time variations at the end called The Fairy Dance
Other versions: :;
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p. 342

p.16 Maillie Bheag O / The original supposed Irish but improved as follows by Lyons
Other versions: :;

p.18 Cuir do Cheann Dileas / Original Scottish Highland but improved by Carolan
Other versions: Ceann Dubh Dilis in Bunting, Neal, Thumoth, Oswald, etc.
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p. 338

p.20 Captain O Neill / By Carolan;
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p. 336
Facsimile: Ceol vol VI no. 1, April 1983.

p.21 Mrs Cole / By Carolan
Other versions: :;

p.22 Mrs. Moore / By Carolan
Other versions: :;

p.23 Farewell to Lough Neaghe / By Carolan
Other versions: Shaljean says it is a version of 'Little Molly O' or ' Molly My Treasure' in Bunting etc.
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p. 344

Miss Grace Nugent / By Carolan
Other versions: :;

p.24 Failte na Miosc / Original Scottish but (?suited to) the harp by O'Kane
Other versions: also known as Port More and found in other Scottish sources...
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p. 340

p.25 Miss O Donnel / By Carolan
Other versions: Mrs Ann MacDermott Roe in DOSC

p.26 Lady Blayney / By Lyons
Other versions: :;

p.27 The Lamentation of Ireland / By Carolan
Other versions: This is Limerick's Lamentation / the Wild Geese, usually attributed to Conellan or to Miles O'Riley, and found in many sources such as Bunting ms33, Neal, etc. etc.
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p.348

p.28 Irish Galloway Tom / by Carolan
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p.345

Righin àlainn aibhinn òg / by Carolan
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p. 351

p.29 Miss Annabell Kelly / By Carolan
Other versions: usually called Mabel Kelly

Lord Mayo / By Carolan
Other versions: :;

p.30 The Battle of the Boyne / By Carolan
Other versions: :;

Crobh Laoidh nam Boddach / Highland Scottish
Other versions: :;

p.31 Lady Lettice Burke / By Carolan
Other versions: :;

p.32 Miss Dillon of Loch Glen, Roscommon / By Carolan
plus giga
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p.347

p.34 Colonel O'Hara / By Carolan
Other versions: :;

p.35 Sorridh Leat a Naomhaig / By Carolan
Other versions: :;
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p.

p.36 Banks of the Shannon / By Carolan
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p. 337

Maids of Derry / By Carolan
Other versions: Planxty Plunkett in DOSC

p.37 Jack O Planxty / By Carolan
Other versions: :;

Jamy Daly / By Carolan
Other versions: :;

p.38 Bob O' Reilly / by Carolan
Other versions: :;
Transcriptions: Bonnie Shaljean, Donal O'Sullivan's Carolan (2001 Ossian edition) p.

p.39 The Irish Cuckow / By Carolan
Other versions: This is 'The Cuckoo', found in Bunting as 'The Bonny Cuckoo' and 'sheebeg sheemore'

p.39, bottom: The foregoing airs are all taken from the playing of O'Kain by Mr. MacDonald

Then follows a section of fiddle music, apareently collected by Mr MacDonald from fiddlers including one called O'Docharty, and one called Murphy at Campletown.

p.62 Port 1st
Other versions: this is the Keiking Glass

Port 2nd
Other versions: This is the version of Port Gordon found in Bowie and Balcarres.

p.63 Port 3rd
Other versions: I am not sure if this is a version of the other Port Gordon as found earlier in thsi volume, and also in Bunting, Dow and Oswald.

p.64 Port 4th
Alasdair Codona says this is Fàilte Mhic Càidh

p.65 Port 5th

p.66 Port 6th
Other versions: Skene: Port Ballangowne; Straloch: Port Rorie Dall.
Recommended recordings: Ann Heymann (early Gaelic harp), Cruit go nÓr, track 8

p.67 Port 7th
Continues on p.68 with a jig.
Other versions: Dow: Terror of Death - is eagal leam am bas by Rory Dall; above, 1808 volume, ancient harp air.
Recommended recordings: Ann Heymann (early Gaelic harp), Cruit go nÓr, track 8

p.68 Port 8th

p.69 Port 9th

Port 10th

p.70 The Irish Cuckoo / By Carolan
Other versions: see p.39 above


Thanks to Keith Sanger for advising on some of these details.

Simon Chadwick