Sources for Gaelic harp music

Pádraig Ó Néill mss

above: My hand copy of the margin inscription on MS44.806/2, p.19

This collection of manuscripts was written in the late 18th and 19th century by the O’Neills of Owning, near Piltown, north-east of Carrick on Suir, and coincidentally just down the road from the HQ of the HHSI. The earliest of them were compiled c. 1780-1800 by Pádraig Ó Néill (1765-1832), a 'respectable farmer' and miller at Owning. For information on the family and their musical and poetic activities, see Eoghan Ó Néill, The Golden Vale of Ivowen, Geography Publications, 2001. For a summary of the manuscripts, see Nicholas Carolan, ‘The Music Manuscripts of Patrick O’Neill (1765-1832) A Preliminary Note’, An Píobaire vol. 5, no. 5, Dec. 2009, p. 18-22

The books remained in the Ó Néill family, and have been known about for some time; Petrie in 1855 copied tunes from them (see Carolan 2009 for 8 tunes), and Donal O'Sullivan in the early 20th century was aware of their existence but never saw them (JIFSS XXVII, 1930/1936, p. 24-25). They appeared at auction on 15th April 2008 Adams, lot no. 606) and were sold for €85000. They are now in the National Library of Ireland, where they bear the shelfmark MS44.806

The auctioneer’s catalogue describes the collection as follows; I have added the current NLI reference numbers:
“four books of tunes in manuscript(1, 2, 4, 5) a goatskin folder of mainly 18th century Dublin-printed music with tunes in manuscript on the backs of many of the sheets (3), a fifth tune-book written probably by his son Conn (6), and some associated items including a range of printed works of literature from the family library”. The approximately 24 printed books which accompanied the manuscripts include engraved music as well as Latin and Greek lexicons, latin and French texts, and an Irish-English dictionary.

The catalogue of the National Library lists 8 items in the collection. This description is based on photographic facsimiles I saw at the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin:

MS44.806/1 is an oblong format song book in an 18th century hand (Pádraig Ó Néill). It is filled with mostly Scottish songs, written with music and text underlay on the right hand page with the words continuing on the left hand pages. Some of the verse pages include decorative borders or flourishes. The titles are elegantly lettered in a display copperplate hand. On p. 28 is an Ogham text which reads:
ᚂᚕᚁᚆᚙᚏ ᚐᚋᚆᚙᚏ ᚚᚐᚇᚏᚗᚌ ᚑᚅᚘᚂᚂ ᚑ ᚑᚅᚔᚅᚌ ᚓᚄᚑ (Patrick O’Neill of Owning’s song book), followed by a line of Irish, Caiṫfe me dul ċum Altóir de (I must go unto the altar of God)
Eoghan Ó Néill describes this ms (p.283-4), and a facsimile of ‘Lochaber’ on p.60-61 is printed in Kathleen Loughnane’s Connellan book.

MS44.806/2 is the most interesting from a Gaelic harp point of view, as it contains a number of Carolan tunes. This book is in a more mature-looking (though still charmingly naive) version of Pádraig Ó Néill's hand. It is an oblong format music book, filled with tunes in bare single melody line only. As well as the titles in a lovely Eglish serif, mixing capitals and lowercase letters, the book also includes some Latin phrases in an elegant copperplate as well as some enigmatic lettering (probably the substitution cipher referred to by Eoghan Ó Néill, p.439-40) written vertically in the margins. The Gaelic harp tunes in this book are as follows:
p. 9 Carelin or King of the Blind This tune also appears in Neal without attribution.
my hand copy
Above: my hand copy of part of page 9
p.12 C Princess Royal
p.15 C Farewell to Music Aurura Musis Amica
p.17 Fasces Sunt Fasces C Fairy Queen Monors est ?Onins
my hand copy
Above: my hand copy of part of page 17
p.19 C Mable Kelly
P.26 Port Gordon
my hand copy
Above: my hand copy of part of page 26
p.44 C Concerto This is the usual modern set, not the harpers’ collected by Edward Bunting also in the 1790s.
p.55 C Grace Nugent
?p.66 Earl of Wigton’s Lament This is the last page of the book and the page number is illegible in the photographic copy I saw. The tune is the same as in Dow and breaks off at the bottom of the page, after the 5th bar of the 2nd variation.

I never saw MS44.806/3. The catalogue describes it as the goatskin folder, of Dublin printed music sheets, which have tunes written on the backs. There seems to be some interesting old Gaelic repertory in this manuscript such as the pipe tunes Cumhadh Eaghainn Ruaidh, Cumha Alasdruim, and some 18th century Irish song airs. Eoghan Ó Néill describes this ms (p.275-83), and I think that Kathleen Loughnane's facsimile of ‘Killacrankie by Connellan’ is from p.39 of this ms. (It is the same setting as in O’Farrell’s Pocket Companion, vol 2 p.102, c.1804-09)

MS44.806/4 is an upright format music book in a 19th century hand, containing a selection of Irish and other tunes. The last page is dated 16 June 1807.

MS44.806/5 is an oblong format book in an 18th cebtury hand that may be Pádraig Ó Néill's. It contains Irish and other tunes and song airs.

MS44.806/6 is a small oblong format book in a 19th century hand. The paper is written on one side only so alternate openings are blank and written. The book contains on p.19 the name “Cornelins O Neill of ONing”, and the music in it is mostly Irish song airs. Conn was Padraig's son.

MS44.806/7 consists of 8 upright format loose leaves in a 19th century hand. Some of the tunes are dated in the second half of the 19th century, e.g. on p.5 ‘January 17th, 1860’ and ‘September 10th 1861’. The music includes tunes from Moore’s Irish Melodies.

MS44.806/8 is an oblong format printed book, missing its title page but titled on p.116 ‘flute companion vol:2’. Some similar loose pages are slipped into the back of one of the other mss (either 5 or 1, I don't recall).

The books by Pádraig Ó Néill are very elegantly written in a charming naive style, with elaborate copperplate or bold serif titles, and decorative flourishes or borders to some verse pages. His son Conn's book and the other 19th century manuscripts are plainer.

Thanks to Nicholas Carolan and the Irish Traditional Music Archive for showing me the photographic facsimile, and to Seán Donnelly for assistance in Dublin.

The new book by Kathleen Loughnane, 'The Harpers Connellan', includes facsimiles of two tunes from these manuscripts.

Simon Chadwick