T h e M e m o i r s o f A r t h u r O ' N e i l l
Birth and ancestry - blindness - career begun as itinerant harper - visits to Antrim and Down - anecdote of Thady Elliott and Fitzsimons in Navan - travels in Munster - O'Sullivan of Beehaven - Lord Kenmare's 'Milesian Entertainment' - O'Connor Kerry - MacGillacuddy - Brian Boru's harp played through streets of Limerick - Mr. Nesbitt of Boylagh in the Rosses - end of first tour.
I was born in Drumnastrade, near Dungannon in the County of Tyrone. My father and mother's names were O'Neill, their father and mother's names were O'Neill, and my great-grandfather and grandmother's names were O'Neill, and as far as I can learn their ancestors both male and female were all O'Neills; and at this day I have not a relation from the first to the last degree but all O'Neills. In consequence of which there is a family pride amongst the O'Neills both rich and poor of the County Tyrone, conceiving themselves descended from Hugh, Con and John O'Neill of the Tyrone family, who were in no manner allied to the O'Neills of Shane's Castle [County Antrim].
At the age of two years I was diverting myself with a penknife, which pierced my right eye but did not deprive me of the sight of it. I had a grandmother who loved me to excess, and she conceiving my eye in danger sent far and near for doctors to cure my eye. I had to submit to their prescriptions and the fact is that, in their endeavours to cure one eye, I unfortunately lost the sight of both. and I have no doubt now on my mind that if it was not for quacking I would have the perfect use of both my eyes at present. But there is an old adage in Irish, the meaning of which in English is 'That the grandmother's pet is an unfortunate pet'.
I was about ten years old when I commenced learning to play the harp under Owen Keenan of Augher [County Tyrone]. He frequented my father's house for two years and I attended him in Augher for about half a year, at which time I was considered to play middling well.
When I was about fifteen years I commenced itinerant, and my first adventure was to Ballycastle [County Antrim] where I fell in with Squire Boyd, whom I attended backwards and forwards occasionally. From Ballycastle I went to Shane's Castle, where I was introduced by the agent, Mr. O'Hara, as an O'Neill, where I remained a few days and was very well pleased when leaving that place with the treatment I received from Charles O'Neill, the then proprietor. From thence [I] made my way to Downpatrick, where nothing particular happened me. I went from thence to Newry, Dundalk and Navan, in which last place I met Thady Elliott where he treated me very affectionately, I being but young and he middle-aged and universally known.
On a Christmas Day Thady was to play at the Roman Catholic Chapel of Navan, and a humorous fellow in Navan took Thady to a public house and promised to give him a gallon of whiskey if he rattled up 'Planxty Connor' at the time of the Elevation, which Thady promised to do. Accordingly when Mass commenced on Christmas morning Thady as usual played some sacred airs until the Elevation, and for the sake of the whiskey and [to] be as good as his word he lilted up 'Planxty Connor'. The priest, who was a good judge of music, knew the tune but at that solemn stage of the ceremony he could not speak to Thady. But to show his disapprobation he stamped violently on the altar - so much so that the people exclaimed in Irish, 'Dar Dhia, tá an sagart a' damhsa!', that is, 'By God, the priest is dancing!' However, after playing 'Planxty [Connor]' for some short time he resumed his usual tunes. But when Mass was over Thady was severely reproved and dismissed.
Harry Fitzsimons happened to be at a gentleman's house in that quarter and came that day to Navan to hear Mass, where I met him. On Elliott's disgrace I was applied to by the priest to succeed him in the chapel - which I declined, not wishing to supersede Thady, he being always very civil to me. But I recommended Fitzsimons, who readily accepted the offer; and he borrowed my harp and played during the remainder of the Masses. In the interim Thady, to be revenged of him, went to his lodging and got a long staff and came back to the chapel and offered any one of the congregation half the whiskey if they would tell him when Fitzsimons was coming out, which some of them agreed to. [Elliott was blind.] But on the priest's coming out some fellow cried out in Irish, 'Thaidhg! Dar Dhia, sin é!' ('Tim ! Be God, there he is!') With that, Thady began to lay about him so furiously and made one desperate clipe which struck the top of the chapel door and which if the priest got he would not say Mass for a long time. However, Thady, who was as great a devil as ever lived, was so very much vexed at his mistake that he went and made a public apology on the altar for his behaviour.
After staying in and about Navan I went towards Dublin, from thence to Carlow, then to Wexford, from that to Waterford, from that to Kilkenny, from that to Clonmel, from that back to Carrick-on-Suir, where I fell in with a blind gentleman named Oliver Size, an excellent harper and who lived in great repute in that country. Although an itinerant he dressed very gaudy, such as scarlet and gold and silver lace. He treated me uncommonly friendly. I remained some time in Carrick, chiefly with a clergyman named Thewles. I crossed from Carrick over again to Kilkenny and there became acquainted with the Protestant and Roman bishops. The Protestant bishop, named Doctor Morris, was a native of the County of Tyrone and knew my father and some relations there, and I believe it induced him to be more civil than perhaps he otherwise would. I frequently played in his Palace, and on my leaving Kilkenny he gave me a general recommendation to such of the clergy of his own or other dioceses as he knew, but I never made scarce any use of it.
I next came to Clonmel again, then crossed the River Suir and went to Cappoquin, from that to Youghal, then to Cork, in which places nothing particular occurred to me, not being eighteen years old at the time. Near Cork I went to a gentleman named Coppinger, of great rank and consequence, who treated me as if I was the son of a prince of Ulster. From Cork I went to Kinsale, where I fell in with the great Baron de Courcy, who kept a harper whom I did not meet but played upon his harp, which was a very fine one. I forgot to mention that when I was in Cork I got acquainted with a gentleman of the name of Dowling, who lived in Mallow Lane. He was rich, miserly and an uncultivated boor. He liked music. He had a harp in his house that was made in Belgrade, and though it was as large as mine it did not weigh more than twelve pounds. Not a man in Cork could tell what kind of wood it was made of. I played on it myself and never heard anything like it. I would give him any money for it, but he would not part [with] it. Indeed at that time I had not much money and was as childish as when I set out. I was fond of sweet things, such as raisins, figs, prunes, gingerbread and the like, of which I and my boy used to have our pockets eternally crammed. At this time I'm sure I never tasted whiskey.
I travelled the principal part of the County of Cork without anything occurring worth relating. I spent one Christmas with a gentleman that lived in Berehaven named Murtagh MacOwen O'Sullivan, who lived in a princely style. My boy came to me one morning when in bed, who desired me to bless myself. I asked him why so. 'Och, Sir ! there is a pipe of wine and two hogsheads of some other liquor standing up in the hall with the heads out of them and a wooden cup swimming in each of them for anyone that pleases to drink their skinful.' I mention this merely to record the hospitality of the gentlemen of the province of Munster. Nor was this the only instance of it, as similar occurrences happened to me during the time I travelled through that country.
Lord Kenmare, the principal proprietor of Killarney, the lake and the surrounding country, took it into his head to give a Milesian entertainment, that is, to entertain at Christmas time every Milesian that could be found that bore the name of an Irish chieftain, which names are, the O'Neills, the O'Briens, the MacCarthys, the O'Donoghues, the O'Driscolls, the O'Connors, the O'Donovans, the O'Sullivans, the O'Connor Kerry, the MacNamaras, the O'Keeffes, the O'Meaghers, the O'Learys, the O'Callaghans, the O'Connells, the O'Mahonys, the MacGillacuddys, and some others of the Milesian race that my memory at present will not enable me to mention. At the feast there were one or more of every name (already mentioned) present but an O'Neill, which Lord Kenmare observed and mentioned. 'Och,' says my patron, Murreertagh MacOwen O'Sullivan, 'upon my honour I can soon fill up that gap for you, as I have now at my house a young man from the north who is blind and plays on the harp very well for his years, and from what I can understand from his own lips he has a good claim to represent on this occasion the O'Neills.' 'Well, send for him,' says my lord. I was sent for and was without any ceremony seated amongst them in the Great Hall before dinner. Hundreds of questions were asked me concerning my descent, and on my giving them satisfactory answers I was dubbed and deemed an O'Neill, for they all said I had a very genteel mug (a good face), etc., etc.
When dinner was announced, very near two hundred of the O' s and Mac' s took their seats, and poor self being blind I done what blind men always do - I groped a vacancy near the foot of the table ; and such a noise of cutting, carving, roaring, laughing, shaking hands, and such language as generally occurs between friends who only see each other once a year, I never before or since witnessed. While dinner was going on I was hob-nobbed by almost every gentleman present. But when Lord Kenmare hob-nobbed me he was pleased to say, 'O'Neill, you should be at the head of the table, as your ancestors were the original Milesians of this Kingdom.' 'Oh, my lord,' says I, 'it's no matter where an O'Neill sits, and let it be at what part of the table I am, it should be considered the head of it.' An universal burst of applause ensued, and my arm was almost shaken from my body by all present, and I believe it was in consequence of my reply to his lordship, which they remarked came by instinct to an O'Neill ; and damn the O'Neill that ever was born or that will ever yet be born as well as myself but was drank by all the Milesians then present.
The gentleman who represented 'O'Connor Kerry' after dinner took my harp and to my astonishment he played a few tunes in the first style I ever heard in my life by a gentleman of fortune. He afterwards shifted the harp into my hands. I played some tunes which I received some compliments for ; but if King David came down to the Hall of Lord Kenmare and played his best tunes for that set of gentlemen they would make him cut (stop) the best tune he ever played, to drink to the real Irish, as harmony was lost when the port and claret began to box each other in decanters at all parts of the table when the cloth was removed and the carpet was generally the bed for the principal part of the visitors ; and at that time it was a common thing to take a dram in the morning, to fulfil the saying of 'The dog that bit you a lock of his hair will cure you'.
As I mentioned that a MacGillacuddy was one of the Milesians, I was informed that one time taking his seat in Dublin for the stage coach he gave in his name which was kept by a woman, but she could not understand it and seemed confused. 'Give me the book, my daisy,' says he, 'and I will enter it for you myself.' 'Thank you, Sir,' says the female clerk, who handed him the book, in which he entered the name of Jeffrey MacSheefferoo MacGillacuddy. on which she, on looking over, informed him that the children must pay half price (she thinking that the length of his name would occupy the whole coach).
When I left Lord Kenmare's I heard of the beauties of the lake, which I witnessed in every sense of the word except seeing them ; and as far as my judgement [goes], besides what I have been informed, the lake cannot be sufficiently described. I heard many descriptions of it, but Garrick's (the celebrated actor's) account of it came the nearest to my imagination.
When I left the County Kerry my next tour was towards Limerick and I met with nothing worthy of mentioning until I came to that city. I met a Counsellor Macnamara, then Recorder of Limerick, who invited me to his house about five miles distant, called Castleconnell, where I was very well received. He had a house in Limerick in which was the skeleton of Brian Boru's harp, and in consequence of the national esteem I held for its owner I new strung it and then tuned it. It was made of cedar. It was not strung for upwards of two hundred years before ; which when done Counsellor Macnamara requested me to strap it around my neck and play it through that hospitable city, which I agreed to do, being then young and hearty and had no care, as at that period I was not very rebunxious among the women ; and the first tune I happened to strike on was the tune of 'Eileen Óg', now generally called 'Savourneen Deelish' and 'Erin Go Bragh'. I played several tunes besides and I was followed by a procession of upwards of five hundred people, both gentle and simple, as they seemed to be every one imbibed with a national spirit when they heard it was the instrument that our celebrated Irish monarch played upon before he leathered the Danes at Clontarf out of poor Erin. The Lord be merciful to you, Brian Boru ! I hope in God I will tune your harp again in your presence in heaven. And if it should be the case, upon my honour and conscience I will not play the tunes of 'July the First' nor 'The Protestant Boys' ; but I would willingly play 'God Save the King', and that would be for yourself, Brian !
When I left the City and County of Limerick I went through the towns of Six Mile Bridge, Ennis, Gort, Athenry, Galway, Loughrea, Tuam, Ballinasloe, then crossed over to Castlebar, Ballinrobe, Sligo, Leitrim, Carrick-on-Shannon, Roscommon. Then I crossed Rousky Bridge, which divides Connaught from Leinster, through which bridge the Shannon runs ; then to Longford, Granard, Cavan, Enniskillen, Ballyshannon, Donegal, Mount Charles, to Boylagh to the Rosses (the wildest country I ever was in). I passed through all these towns without anything happening worthy of notice here, but was treated where I stopped to play as well as itinerant harpers generally are.
When at Boylagh I was invited by a gentleman named Nesbitt to go with him to a great wedding (without my harp), where there were plenty of pipers and fiddlers. There was no end of expense to make it a grand wedding. The gentleman bridegroom's name was MacGunnigal and the lady's name was O'Donnell. There were as many people at the wedding as at any fair. All that wished to stay had to stay up all night, the beds being occupied by scores lying trí n-a chéile (that is, 'through other'). Mr. Nesbitt and I stayed, and in the morning he made a remarkable breakfast for the visitors. He burned a large quantity of whiskey in a wooden bowl, put the tongs across it when burning, and then put some canes of sugar candy on the tongs, which was soon dissolved ; and then the party present drank of it with bread, and for my part I never got a breakfast that I liked so well, as I began about this time to lean a little to the native cordial.
When I left Mr. Nesbitt's I was almost tired of rambling through the Kingdom and formed the design of going home to see my father and mother. I must remark that in my travels, through all the parts of the Kingdom in this narrative named, I was always sure when employed by any gentleman to eat of the best the Kingdom could afford, exclusive of the best of wines or liquors when I choosed to take them. And the different gratuities I generally received were handed me in a private manner by the different gentlemen who employed me. And by the time I came to Dungannon where I was born and reared I had good clothes with some little money saved, and finally after this journey through the Kingdom I rested myself with my parents for some time, improving myself in my profession. At this period I was about twenty or twenty-one years of age, being now about sixty-seven ; and of course it was in the year of 1760 I finished my first tour.
Sojourn in County Cavan - Colonel White and Mr. Thompson - Colonel Saunderson - the 'haunted' room - MacAleer and Fitzsimons at Counsellor Stewart's - harpers met in Tyrone - Hugh Higgins - Hugh O'Neill - MacDonnell of Knockranny and the Marquis of Devianne - O'Conor of Clonalis - return home through Leitrim - stay with Charles Fanning - Cavan revisited - the MacDonnells of Antrim.
AFTER remaining some years among my parents and friends in and about Dungannon I felt an itching for rambling once more, and the first place I went to [was] a Colonel White's of Red Hill in the County of Cavan, with whom I remained for seven years, sometimes with neighbouring gentlemen, particularly with a Mr. Norris Thompson who lived within a mile and a half of Colonel White's, with whom I spent every Saturday night during that period. I spent my time very pleasantly between Colonel White and Mr. Thompson. I spent one Saturday night with Mr.Thompson particularly and he was so uncommon fond of the tune of 'Past one o'clock' that we both tête-à-tête finished four bottles of good old port wine, I playing the tune all the time except when lifting my hand to my head.
I formed the idea of remaining with the Colonel during his life, who was a bachelor (and some said a woman-hater). But there was a fellow named William Saunderson who was originally a bastard of Colonel Saunderson's, that conducted all Colonel White's domestic concerns but none other, he being no scholar. This fellow got jealous with me, as the Colonel was very fond of me. He was for evertattling to him, and there was a Munster girl named Winny Burke, a housemaid there, whom Saunderson wanted to debauch, which she resisted very prudently ; and to mortify him the more she told him that she preferred me to him, which exasperated Saunderson the more, and at last he became so disagreeable to me that I determined on leaving the Colonel, sore against his will.
During the time I lived with him I went to Colonel Saunderson's, about two miles from Colonel White's, where I spent about a month, and on my return to Red Hill there was a general report through the house that my room was haunted, which the Colonel himself told me. But I insisted on sleeping in the same room, which I did ; but I was not long in bed when I heard a strong and curious noise in the chimney. I bounced out of bed and groped to the place and thrust both my hands up and caught a large owl which had a nest in the chimney, that by some means fell down and lay quiet all day but endeavoured to get up in the night time, making a frightful noise in the efforts, which confirmed the superstitious servants that it must be a ghost. However I secured the poor bird and brought him down to the Colonel, who seemed so well pleased that he put fifteen guineas into my hand, saying that he would not for any money have it reported his house was haunted.
When I left the Colonel I steered through the chief part of the County of Cavan, from one gentleman's seat to another, without carrying my own harp, as there was scarce a house where I touched at but there was one. The harpers I met in that county were Ned MacCormick, James MacGovern, Owen Clarke, Patrick Maguire, Simon Hunter, Philip Reilly, Francis Reilly, John Clarke, Ned Brady, Michael Duigenan, Nelly Smith, Kate Martin, Paddy Kerr and Owen Corr. MacCormick was the best harper of them all by far.
In the County of Tyrone I met three brothers, named Ned, Frank and James MacAleer. They all played well but Ned was far the best. He was very comical. He lived upwards of five years in France in the Irish Brigades and would now and then assume the title of 'The Celebrated Leeriano from Paris', as poor Ned could speak the French very fluently. He was a slave to that pernicious beverage that generally leaves itinerants in that situation that they will either pledge their own or any gentleman's harp sooner than want it. Pox on you, Carolan ! You certainly must have been half mulvadered when you composed your 'Receipt for Drinking Whiskey' - otherwise I am pretty sure you would never be a composer, as the effects of that cordial had so happy an effect that your ideas floated faster on you than perhaps they might have done if there was no such liquor to be had.
At one time when poor Ned MacAleer assumed the name of Leeriano he went to a Counsellor Stewart's of Bailieborough, in the County of [Cavan], at which time Harry Fitzsimons the harper was there. Leeriano was announced. He was ordered to play in the hall for a specimen. At the time, there were some tailors at work in the hall for the servants, where Leeriano began to play some Irish airs - jigs, reels, etc. Mrs. Stewart after some time came from the parlour to the hall and said she was much disappointed, as some of her own countrymen could excel him. MacAleer, chagrined, started up and exclaimed, 'Madam, as you were pleased to let me play in the hall I played you tailors' and servants' music, which would otherwise be different.' 'Damn your soul, you humping rascal!' says Snip, bouncing off the floor, who was going to destroy poor MacAleer with his goose, and if it was not for some interference he was determined to revenge the mighty insult. Fitzsimons knew MacAleer, who undeceived Mrs. Stewart respecting his foreign descent and probably was jealous of him being the best performer.
When I left the County of Cavan I rambled into the County of Tyrone, where I fell in occasionally with different harpers. The first and best who claimed my attention was poor Paddy Ryan, my ever dear lamented friend next to Hugh O'Neill. His father was a Munster man, an excellent performer, and indeed Paddy was not inferior to any man I ever heard on the harp. He was not blind, and exclusive of what I know of and [was] informed concerning him he was pregnant with sentiments of honour and unlimited friendship to every person, but [these] he evinced towards me in a peculiar manner, being destitute of the low ideas of jealousy which is common amongst itinerant harpers. He taught me several tunes, the names of which I do not remember or practise now.
I met my old master Owen Keenan, who was glad to see me. He in point of playing had the old dog trot, as when I was his pupil. To say the most of him [with] respect to his performance, he was just tol-lol.
I met Hugh Quinn, who was taught by Con Lyons. He was the son of a gentleman and as such conducted himself and was one of the best of Lyons's pupils. He was much superior to tol-lol. He was not blind. I met John MacRory, a harper. He was blind and was, like the generality of harpers, tol-lol. I heard of a Hugh MacNally. He was a kind of professor and teacher of the harp. I never met him, but he and his scholars were just tol-lol.
I met my namesake Peggy O'Neill. She was past child-bearing when I did meet her. She played decently on the harp. If fame don't tell lies of her, it mentioned that she was uncommon fond of playing all Carolan's planxties, such as 'Planxty Connor', 'Planxty Reilly', and about twenty-eight other planxties, which poor Peggy always set to music on her instrument on a C flat.
I met a Charles Byrne, who was taught by his uncle to be a harper. I may be thought too severe when I made use of the word 'tol-lol' in my account of the Irish harpers. Others may say the same of myself, but the fellow, not being blind, had many advantages over those who had not that first of gifts, sight, and as he had a tolerable memory he could recount all that happened to him during the time he led his blind uncle through the Kingdom, and I must conclude my biography of him and set him down a tol-lol. I know myself, besides what I am credibly informed, that he could [play] and sing a good variety of real Irish songs in a pleasing style with a pleasing voice.
Arthur Short was the next and last I met in the County Tyrone. He was spur-blind or pur-blind, and professed the harp. The first specimen I heard of his abilities was in my father's house. He played but indifferent. He was of a hearty, peevish cast. He generally travelled without a guide and the province of Ulster was his chief limits. He was about a hundred times married but I never heard of what number of children he had ; but I am well informed he had one son who was a performer beyond the common.
I knew and often met a Hugh Higgins, and in all his peregrinations he supported the character of an Irish gentleman-harper. I will not set him down with the tol-lols by any means. He was uncommonly genteel in his manners, and as to his dress I am informed that he spared no expense in purchasing clothes. But as a blind man is no judge of colours he was obliged to take his guide's word for his fancy. He travelled in such a manner as does and will do credit to an Irish harper. Hugh was born in a place called Tirawley in the County of Mayo of very decent parents. His mother' s name was Burk, but losing his sight at an early period they had the good sense to put him to music, and they preferred the harp to the bagpipes, on which my dear deceased friend made such a proficiency as to rank him much, and very much, above the description of performers called in the last of my observations, that is, tol-lol.
Whatever loose observation I may have made use of in this narrative I hope there will be a general excuse for me, as every blind man is not gifted alike. It was and I hope will be the custom as was practised in my travels, that wherever any gentleman's child, or simple man's child, showed appearances of blindness, or other symptoms of losing sight, that to retain the national Irish music of the harp they, the parents of such of the blind goddess called Fortune's children, should be and always must be taught the harp, being the only instrument to retain real Irish taste and the real Irish instrument that is recorded on King George's penny, halfpenny, etc., and his farthing.
When I left the Counties of Cavan and Tyrone I formed a notion of going to the County Roscommon to see my dear Hugh O'Neill, already mentioned. We met by appointment at a Mr. MacDonnell's of Knockranny in that county, who saw an immensity of the first company to be had. There was at this time, which was about thirty years ago, a patron or some kind of meeting not unlike a fair held in that quarter, and Mr. MacDonnell's house was full of company when I met Hugh there. Amongst the rest of the guests there was a young nobleman from Germany named the Marquis of Devianne. I was curious to know his cause of coming to Ireland and was informed that he fell in love with a beautiful young lady in his own country, but his parents not approving of the match they diverted his attention from it by sending him over to this Kingdom to take possession of an estate in the County of Roscommon, in right of his mother. From what I myself could guess, and from what an accomplished countryman of my own told me, he was one of the most finished and accomplished noblemen he ever met.
Hugh and I played for a long time our very best things. But the Marquis was at a loss how to call for the tune of 'Past one o'clock' or 'Tá mé 'mo chodladh 's ná dúisigh mé' [I am asleep], and when he perceived me going towards the hall door he followed me and told me he once heard a tune but could not recollect the name of it, but he said he had a man that made boots and shoes for him and that his name was Tommy MacCullough of Dublin. He spoke the name of Tommy MacCullough so broad and the words 'made boots for me' that I readily guessed it was 'Past one o'clock', which I went in and played for him ; on which he seemed uncommonly happy and informed the company all round that it was his choice, etc. This young nobleman was afterwards afflicted with that ugly disease of the smallpox and Roderick O'Conor, the then nominal monarch of Connaght, invited the Marquis to his little palace at Clonalis, where notwithstanding every exertion of the faculty he died between the ages of twenty-two and twenty-three years of that disorder.
At this time I went no farther into Connaught and made my way home again through the County of Leitrim, where I met a John Sneyd, a very indifferent harper. He was purblind, but in consequence of his being a damn thief - that is, thrusting everything into his pockets, so much [so] that he got the nickname of 'long (being very tall), glue-fingered Jack' - I would not have anything more to say to him, and then made the best of my way to Charley Fanning's father's house where I met the father and son, with whom I remained a fortnight or three weeks in happiness, during which time I attended many weddings and haulings-home without anything particular occurring, only that the national customs were well supported with the usual conviviality and humour incident to the circumstances and ability of the party.
I next came into the County of Cavan and went to my old friend's Colonel White, who received me very well ; and my old enemy Saunderson was also there and pretended some friendship for me. When I left the Colonel's I visited my old haunts in that county and got some scholars, one of the best of whom was Biddy Reilly who was blind, and I think she plays very prettily. I next came into the County of Tyrone and made my way to my parents, whom I found alive and well. My mother would put some curious questions to me, respecting my travels and whether I saved any money and so forth ; but my father seemed well satisfied if I came home whole and clean. I was so stationary between the Counties of Cavan and Tyrone that I spent eighteen Christmas Days at the house of a Philip O'Reilly of the County of Cavan without meeting any harper worth notice besides those already mentioned.
I forgot to mention in its proper place - like many other of my mistakes in this narrative - that when I was perambulating the County of Antrim I stopped at a place of several names. I will endeavour to recount them. The Glens, etc. At a little distance from the Glens I called at the house of Michael MacDonnell and Elizabeth MacDonnell (otherwise Stewart), his wife. I was uncommonly well received, and they expressed a desire that their sons Randal, James and Alexander should be taught by me. The hospitality, uninterested friendship and other favours and attention shown me in their hospitable mansion, called 'Veawl Iska' [Bhéal Uisge] or 'Water's Mouth', was not exceeded in all my peregrinations through this Kingdom.
Randal enjoyed all the sporting comforts that that romantic country admitted, and without adulation (not caring a pin into whose hands these unconnected memoirs may fall), he was uncommonly abstemious from the joys incident to the chase, fowling, etc. He made a tolerable proficiency for his time on the harp. James (the now senior doctor) made some proficiency also ; but he then appeared to me to have a partiality for some other study, and which I am now happy to be informed ranks him in the first class of his profession. Alexander (the now junior doctor) made the best attempt of the three in my opinion, his juvenile years being much in his favour. and before I left him he played very handsomely. I cannot account how I acquired the uncommon friendship of the three gentlemen above-named, as it always was and now is exercised towards me in the most unlimited manner.
Murphy and his father - Cornelius Lyons - anecdote of Carolan and Murphy - Carolan's relations with Lyons - Lyons and Mr. Archdall play a joke on Carolan - Lyons and Lord Antrim at Heffernan's tavern in London - Heffernan's retort to the Duke of Argyll - Dominick Mungan - attachment of harpers to modern tunes - Bunting's activities - Carolan's children - Dean Delany and Carolan's only son - Duigenan plays for a bet in the Irish House of Commons - Ackland Keane, the Pretender and the King of Spain - Michael Keane and Governor Dobbs.
LONG before my starting into the musical world there were two performers on harp that almost totally eclipsed everyone mentioned by me heretofore. One [was] Murphy, whose father was a hawker of his instrument and an uncommon poor deabhal [devil] of a player, and as far as I can learn the father and son were both born in Leinster. But as for the son's excellence I never heard in my travels so much praise given to any harper by all the musicians that heard him. He was well aware of his abilities and never spared an opportunity of boasting of them. He was in France in the reign of Louis XIV and Murphy's fame reached the ears of that great monarch, who sent for him and was so well pleased with his performances that Murphy was rewarded in a kingly manner, as himself said. He came home in the dress and style of a great Count. His father heard of his being in Dublin and at last made out the place where young Murphy was in high company, who was so vexed at his father's shabby appearance that he very dutifully kicked the poor old man downstairs.
Cornelius Lyons was the other great performer and a very fanciful composer, especially in his variations to the tunes of 'Eileen Aroon', 'Chailíní, a' bhfaca sibh Seóirse ?' ('Girls, did you see George ?'), 'Green Sleeves', 'Cúilfhionn' and several others. He was a County of Kerry man. By all accounts he was a superior character to Murphy as a gentleman, and in his profession as good a performer. They were both acquaintances of Carolan's, who could never abide Murphy on account of his lofty impudence. Carolan was one night in Castleblayney in a public house and Murphy struts in, and after some acrimonious remarks of his against Carolan he said that his compositions were 'like bones without beef'. 'Aye, aye', says Carolan in a fret. 'Damn me,' says Carolan, 'but I'll compose a tune before I quit you and you may put what beef you please on the bones of it.' With that he left his seat and cautiously stole behind Murphy, then seized him by the hair of his head, dragged and kicked him through the room unmercifully, during which time Murphy's screeches could be heard at a great distance. Carolan saying to him while he was roaring, 'Put beef to that air, you puppy !' ; and it's likely that if it was not through some interference he would not leave a drop in Murphy.
It was quite the reverse between Carolan and Lyons as they were on the most intimate footing, as Lyons admired Carolan and his works ; and by all I ever heard speak of him he was gentlemanly, good-natured, obliging and civil to all descriptions, particularly to brother-harpers. I never heard where either of them died, but it is generally imagined that Lyons died in Dublin.
Lyons was at one time at the house of a Mr. Archdall in the County Fermanagh at which time Carolan happened to be there, and Lyons overheard him composing the tune of 'Mrs. Archdall' ; and, as Carolan could not see, Lyons wrote down the music as fast as Carolan composed it (which was but middling on the harp). Mr. Archdall and Lyons planned the joke, which terminated in the following manner.
There was a harper called Berreen [Byrne] that Carolan detested very much, which Mr. Archdall knew to be the case ; and throwing up the window where they were sitting he exclaimed, 'Upon my word, here's Berreen coming,' which vexed Carolan very much. But upon the expostulation of Mr. Archdall concerning hospitality and the crime attached to the breach of it, Carolan at length consented to his being admitted. Lyons had a servant named MacDermot who could play exceeding well on the harp and [was] a very humorous fellow. Lyons and he went into the hall, Lyons took a harp and MacDermot placed himself behind his master to answer any question Carolan may put to the supposed Berreen, he (Carolan) well knowing Lyons and his voice also. Lyons began to play the tune of 'Mrs.Archdall' in the poorest manner he could, to imitate Berreen's manner, and MacDermot could well counterfeit the voice, and Carolan began to dance and prance about the parlour and roared about to the supposed Berreen, where he got the tune? 'Och,' says MacDermot, 'I have that tune these forty years and upwards.' 'You are a damned liar and villain ! exclaimed Carolan. 'If it was the devil taught it to you, you have it only since last night.'
There was a stocks near Mr. Archdall's house, and Carolan told him that if Berreen was not immediately put in them he would never more come near his house, on which MacDermot made a pretended and loud resistance. He was dragged to the stocks, on which he sat down, and the noise was made of putting in his legs. But Carolan was not yet satisfied without beating the plagiarist and made a great blow of his cane at him - which MacDermot avoided, seeing it coming. Upon the whole, Carolan suspected he was deceived and seemed so unhappy that Mr. Archdall and Lyons had to tell all to Carolan, who seemed well satisfied, shook hands with his friend Lyons and thanked him for his usual good humour.
The present Marchioness of Antrim's great-grandfather and Lyons were almost inseparable. His Lordship was both a wit and a poet and delighted in the system of equality (where vulgarity was not too gross). At one time he and Lyons when in London heard of a famous Irish harper named Heffernan that kept a tavern there. His Lordship and Lyons went there. But beforehand they made the following plan. 'I'll call you cousin Burke,' says Lord Antrim, 'and when Heffernan comes up you may either call me cousin Randal or my lord, no matter which.' After regaling for some time Heffernan was called, who was well aware of the dignity of his guest by the talk and livery of his lordship's servants. Heffernan came into the room and was desired to sit down and bring in his harp, which was done. Heffernan played a good many tunes in a grand style. But his lordship, wishing to astonish the landlord, called upon his cousin Burke to try a tune. The supposed cousin made numerous apologies but at length took the harp and played his very best airs, on which Heffernan exclaimed aloud, 'My Lord, you may call him cousin Burke or what cousin you please, but damn me, but he plays upon Lyons's fingers ! ' And what is very extraordinary, Heffernan never saw Lyons before. My lord undeceived Heffernan and desired them to enjoy themselves together and to challenge the world on the harp, on which his lordship retired.
The Duke of Argyll that lived in Queen Anne's reign heard of the celebrity of Heffernan on the harp, who came to his tavern to hear him play, with a large company. The Duke called for a good Scotch tune, and Heffernan being of a real Irish independent turn of mind played him the pretty tune of 'The Golden Star', which is a soft, plaintive Irish tune. His lordship said it was too melancholy for a Scotch tune. 'Oh, my lord, says Heffernan, 'you must know it was composed since the Union' - alluding to the Duke's being the counterpart of Lord Castlereagh in planning the Union of Scotland and that 'The Golden Star' was the most appropriate tune he could play for such lovers of gold as would barter their country's honour for the temporary use of that tangeant but useful and corrupted metal ! The Duke started up and hastily quit the tavern (with his company) of the plain, blunt Hibernian. I wish I had an opportunity of playing the same tune to Castlereagh, the upstart apostate, whose grandfather was only a clerk to a Jamaica planter.
In my travels I became acquainted with a Dominick Mungan, I may say since I was twelve years old. He was born in the County of Tyrone. He was blind, and a real good harper. He taught me some tunes but [I] now forget them.
There is a great deal of ancient Irish music lost in consequence of the attachment harpers latterly have for modern tunes, and which is what is now chiefly in vogue : the national tunes and airs being confined only, I may say, to a few gentlemen in the different provinces I have travelled through. And, without the most distant idea of any view or interest, I here declare that if it was not in consequence of the unprecedented and, I may truly say, inspired and spirited conduct of a gentleman of Belfast whose name I will have occasion to mention before I conclude this poor production [Edward Bunting], that I again repeat it - that if it was not for his exertions the compositions of a Dibdin and some other composers of similar productions would in a very few years be a very great means of annihilating our dear Irish music. And I again make bold to say that perhaps when the gentleman I alluded to will be no more, his great exertions to recover and revive our dying Irish music should record him in a manner much beyond what my poor blind abilities could dictate. And I hope in God before I die to hear that some person of ability will explain in some public manner how much and to what extent the real Irish are indebted to him ; and before I quit this I will, and can, give good reasons for what I have said respecting the merit of the gentleman above alluded to.
When Carolan died he left an only son and three daughters. There lived in some part of the County of Louth the celebrated Dean or Doctor Delany, who delighted in Carolan - so much so that he took young Carolan (in a manner) by the hand, with the intention of opening a subscription for the purpose of defraying every expense incident to revive and recover his father's music. Young Carolan was but a tolerable performer on the harp, and totally destitute of any capability of composition. However, the Doctor never stopped until there was a subscription to the amount of £ 1,600 or thereabouts collected, on which young Carolan made some attempts to represent his father. But his productions were scandalous, which I often heard, and Master Carolan becoming tired of industry, after humbugging the good-natured Delany for some time, formed an acquaintance with another man's wife in Ballymahon in the County of Longford [and] took her to London, where I am informed he died in obscurity when [the] residue of the £ 1,600 was spent or otherwise disposed of between him and his Dulcinea.
I must say that when I heard a few tunes of the gleanings of young Carolan's I thought some of them tol-lol. But when I heard some of the same tunes played in the style of the gentleman already alluded to I imagined myself in a state of enchantment - so much so that I formed the resolution of never dying without having the pleasure of seeing and conversing with him, and thanks be to God my resolution is accomplished to the utmost of my satisfaction.
There was a harper before my time named Jerome Duigenan, a native of the County of Leitrim, not blind, an excellent Greek and Latin scholar and a charming performer on the harp. I heard numerous anecdotes of him. The one that pleased me most was that when he lived with Colonel Jones of Drumshambo, who was representative in Parliament for the County Leitrim, the Colonel went to Dublin on the meeting of Parliament, where he chanced to fall into company with an English nobleman who brought a Welsh harper with him, who played very well. He played some time before the Colonel, and the nobleman asked him if he ever heard so sweet a finger. 'Yes, I did,' says the Colonel, 'and that by a man that never wears either linen or woollen.' 'I will lay you a bet of a hundred guineas', says the nobleman, 'you can't produce anyone to exceed my harper.' 'Done!' says the Colonel, and the bet was accordingly bound.
The Colonel writes directly to Drumshambo for Duigenan to come with all speed to him to Dublin, and to be uncommonly careful to bring with him a suit of cauthuck [? cáiteach], that is, a dress made of beaten rushes with something like a caddy or plaid of the same stuff. Duigenan came post accordingly, and on his arrival in Dublin came to the Colonel's lodgings. The Colonel in the meantime acquainted all the members of the nature of the bet, who all requested it should be decided in the House of Commons before business commenced. The two harpers performed before all the members and it was decided by all much in Duigenan's favour, particularly by the English nobleman himself, who exclaimed, 'Damn you, why hadn't you better clothes?' 'Och,' says Duigenan, 'I lost my all by a lawsuit, and my old nurse for spite will not suffer me to wear any other.' - 'Damn me, but you shall,' and [he] then put a guinea in his hat and went all through the sitting members, who every one threw in a guinea each, so that the nobleman' s hat was near half full, which he put into Duigenan's pockets. Duigenan was in the full cauthuck dress at the time. He was a tall, handsome man and looked well in it, and wore the cap all the while, which was in the shape of a sugarloaf decorated with tassels of rushes well worked. However, Duigenan contrived to spend the chief part of the money before he left Dublin.
I knew an Ackland Keane, a blind harper, a native of Drogheda who was taught by Lyons and an excellent performer. He travelled the chief part of the Continent, as he informed me. He played for the Pretender in Rome, from thence travelled into France, from thence to Spain, in which last place he was uncommonly well received and treated. He might have been happy there if it was not for his great attachment to drinking, by which means he lost all his consequence. For at first the Irish dressed him out like a Spanish Don in Madrid, with a servant, and [he] was introduced to His Most Catholic Majesty and played for him, and the King had some notion of settling a pension on him in compliment to the Irish ; but in consequence [of] his turning out to be an irreclaimable drunkard the royal promise melted into oblivion. He then came to Bilbao ; he always carried the harp himself. He was strong, tall and athletic and absolutely beat the post in expedition from Madrid to Bilbao, where after staying some time he embarked for Ireland, after which I frequently met him. I was since informed by General Campbell in Armagh that Keane died in Scotland.
I also knew a Michael Keane, a blind harper. He was born in Connaught (County Mayo). He was a decent performer. He left this country for America with a Governor Dobbs (of Castle Dobbs in the County Antrim), who was appointed to the Government of South Carolina previous to the American Independence. Keane returned from America. Sir Malby Crofton tells a story of Keane, that when he and some other officers were garrisoned at Fort Oswego [and] had a party, Keane quarrelled with them and beat them very well, and took a Miss Williams from them all. He left the Governor and came back to his native country, which he longed to see.
Rory Dall Ó Catháin - his visit to Scotland and tune for Lady Eglinton - his retort to King James VI - his tunes - his silver tuning key presented to Echlin Keane - Dominick Mungan and his son's change of religion - O'Gara and other harpers - anecdote of Andrew Victory - James Dungan of Copenhagen originates the Granard Ball - the First Granard Ball - sojourn in Granard and other places - the Second Granard Ball - anecdote of Peter Connell, Jack Hart and Captain Boyers.
RORY DALL Ó CATHÁIN (Blind Roger O'Keane) was born in the County of Derry, a gentleman of large property and heir to an entire barony in that county. He was titled by O'Neill Oireachtaidhe Ó Catháin [Chief Ó Catháin] before he inherited his estate, which was Coleraine, Garvagh, Newtown-Limavaddy, Kilreagh, and several others. He showed a strong inclination for the harp, and at the time he came to his estate he was an excellent performer and lived in a splendid style in them days (James the First's reign). He took a fancy to visit Scotland, where there were great harpers. He took his retinue (or suite) with him. Amongst other visits in the style of an Irish chieftain he paid one to a Lady Eglintoun, and she (not knowing his rank) in a peremptory manner demanded a tune, which he declined as he only came to play to amuse her, and in an irritable manner left the house. However, when she was informed of his consequence she eagerly contrived a reconciliation and made an apology, and the result was that he composed a tune for her ladyship, the handsome tune of 'Da mihi manum' ('Give me your hand'), for which his fame reached through Scotland and came to the ears of the Gunpowder Plot prophet James the First of England (then the Sixth of Scotland). O'Keane delighted him so very much that the crabbit monarch walked towards him and laid his hand upon his shoulder as a token of his approbation, which one of the courtiers then present observed to Roger. 'What!' says O'Keane, somewhat nettled. A greater man than ever James was laid his hand on my shoulder.' 'Who is that?' says the King. 'O'Neill my liege,' says he, standing up.
He composed several fine tunes in Scotland, particularly 'Port Atholl', 'Port Gordon' (port means a lesson in music) and several others. The Ports are uncommon fine tunes. I played them once but now forget them. Roger died in Scotland in a nobleman's house, where he left his harp and silver key to tune it. About forty years ago a blind harper named Echlin Keane, a scholar of Lyons whom I often met and an excellent performer, went over to Scotland and called at the house where Roger's harp and key were, and the heir of the nobleman took a liking to Echlin and made him a present of the silver key, he being namesake to its first owner. But the dissipated rascal sold it in Edinburgh and drank the money. Rory Dall was never married.
I was well acquainted with Dominick Mungan, who was born blind in the County Tyrone and was baptized a Roman Catholic. (I presume my following reasons will plead an apology for mentioning his religion.) I met him very often [and] heard him play, which was excellent. He was a great economist in saving money but would spend a crown genteelly. He had three sons, Mark, John and Terence, whom he educated in the first style. Mark was intended for a priest and finished his education in France in the College of Louvain, where he obtained upwards of forty premiums for his translations of Greek and French. After finishing his studies he came home, and in consequence of his intense application to his studies he fell into a decay and died in his father's house in Strabane.
John, the second son, was bred a physician and practised in and about Monaghan and the adjacent county with good reputation ; and about five years ago, in returning from the races of Middleton to Monaghan in his gig he was upset and smashed to pieces. Terence, the third and youngest son, is now Bishop of Limerick. He was a kind of dunce but had a good delivery. He sung well, obtained good interest, and became one of the Duke of Portland's (Roman Catholic) Protestant bishops, as a priest O'Beirne, who was chaplain to Earl Fitzwilliam, was another. At the time Terence was Dean of Ardagh, in the County of Longford, a lady in a large company asked him if he was fond of the music of the harp, but the conceited dean started up and replied, 'No, madam. I detest it of all other kinds of music' - and then decamped.
Now my reason for mentioning the Roman Catholic religion is this, that the doctor and the bishop read their recantations, the doctor before and the bishop after their father's death, who in his lifetime used to travel the North West Circuit with his harp ; and when playing for one judge at one time his lordship asked Dominick why he declined speaking to his son (the doctor) since he turned Protestant. 'My lord,' says Dominick, 'I spared no expense on him when he was unable to provide for himself and assure your lordship I am no bigot ; but I think it was his duty to consult me before he changed his religion. But it was not for the sake of religion he did so, but he fell in love with a young lady who was a Protestant, who informed him she could not have him as he was a Papist, on which he read his recantation and then demanded her hand ; but to his mortification she scornfully informed him that she would be very sorry to marry a turncoat.'
J. O'Gara. I knew him well. He was a blind man and born in the County of Sligo. He was a very good performer. He was called the Baron of Coolavin, which I was informed by Charles O'Conor the Irish antiquarian, but left the estate by means of confiscation. He was offered part, but declined ; he then forfeited the whole. He was a man of good qualifications. I met him in Bantry.
Ned Maguire was a native of the County of Mayo. He was blind. I was informed he played very well. I never heard anything particular of him. He was drowned in the Shannon in Limerick.
Matthew Ormsby was born in the County Sligo. I never met him but heard he was a good performer, but so peevish a creature that there was no enduring him.
I knew Owen O'Donnell. He was a County Roscommon man. He was blind. He was a very genteel young man but a middling performer.
Andrew Victory was born in the County of Longford. He was blind. I met him in several places. He played well and dressed very well. He told me that he was once in the County of Roscommon at the house of a Mr. MacDermot Roe, who said to him one day, 'Th'anam 'un deabhail [damn you], where were you the day the Battle of Culloden was fought?' (alluding to the name Victory). 'Och, sir,' says Andrew, 'it was well for the Duke of Cumberland I was not, otherwise he would not have the honour of being called Billy the Butcher !'
I knew Nelly Smith, who was born in the County Cavan. She was blind. I often heard her play, which was tolerably well.
I observed in a former part of this narrative that I was almost stationary after my return from Munster and Connaught, in and about the County of Cavan these many years last past. A little before the rebellion of 1798 I formed the idea of opening a school, which I proposed to my dear deceased friend Captain Somerville, of Lough Sheelin in the County Cavan, who readily consented to erect one near his own house and also to get me three scholars, and to live entirely with himself. But by means of the subsequent disturbances and the death of the Captain the plan of course fell to the ground.
At the time I heard of the first Ball in Granard I was at my brother Ferdinand's in Glenart, from whence I pushed towards the County of Longford without meeting anything particular, only touching at some of the gentlemen's houses in my way and met Patrick Carr going to Granard also. I remained in and about Granard for near a month before the first Ball.
These annual Balls originated in the following manner. A Mr. James Dungan, a native of Granard and a very extensive merchant at that time residing in Copenhagen in Denmark, heard in some manner that the gentlemen of Scotland encouraged annual meetings or competitions amongst Highland pipers, where premiums were awarded to the best performers. Dungan by national ardour, in order to retain and support the original instrument of his own country, wrote to his friends in and about Granard and remitted a sufficient sum to defray the expense of the three celebrated Balls held at Granard in the years of (to the best of my recollection) 1781, 1782 and 1783 [recte 1785].
'And it's to be lamented', says Dungan in his letter to his friends, 'that persons placed in high situations, and who have it in their power to do the most good by their rank or wealth for their own country are, I am sorry to hear, the least disposed to do it - I will not attempt to say whether by habit or inclination. I am informed they know nothing of Irish music or Irish misery only by the name, so great are their desires to support and promote modern English music. And I consider my native land half a century behind Scotland in encouraging and rewarding their best performers on the bagpipe, which if preferred to the wired harp, strongly evinces our taste. The Welsh harp is increasing, the Scotch bagpipes are increasing, but poor Erin's harp is decreasing. If I was among you it should not be the case. Farewell, my friends, and I hope you will amongst yourselves support what I make bold to dictate to you.
P.S. Why not make or establish a fund for the above purpose? I don't want you to imitate the Scotch but the ancient Irish. Adieu. Copenhagen, March, 178-.'
First Ball. Harpers present :
|Charles Fanning||Rose Mooney|
|Arthur O'Neill||Charley Berreen|
|Paddy Maguire||Hugh Higgins.|
All played their best tunes. Charles Fanning got the first [premium] for the 'Cúilfhionn' (ten guineas). I got the second for 'The Green Woods of Truagh' and 'Mrs. Crofton' (eight guineas) and Rose Mooney got the third for 'Planxty Burke' (five guineas).
The judges on this first Ball were excellent and there was some deliberation about the first premium between Fanning and me. But in consequence of my endeavouring to appear on the occasion in my best duds they decided in favour of Charley, who was careless in his dress, saying at the same time he wanted money more than I did. However, I received many handsome verbal compliments besides the eight guinea premium. To the best of my information there were at least five hundred persons at the Ball, which was held in the market house of Granard. A Mr. Alexander Burrowes was one of the stewards, who was a tolerable judge of music and who was so angry on the decision of premiums that he thrust his cane through one of the windows. Mr. Patrick Reilly, the innkeeper, prepared the supper.
After this first Ball was ended I became a favourite in and about Granard, where I remained about four months, where my company was much sought for. I will not attempt to say how I deserved such attention, only that I was then more cautious of avoiding inebriation than the other harpers and kept as little of their company as possible. On my return from the County Longford I made my way home and stopped with Philip Reilly of Mullagh in the County Cavan, the gentleman who was the original means of my coming to the Belfast meeting in 1792, with whom I remained some months and then came to Archdeacon Caulfield's of Castle Cosby, with whom I spent a very agreeable fortnight without anything particular happening ; and from thence I visited all the gentlemen alternately, hereinbefore named, in and about the Counties of Cavan, Armagh, Monaghan and Tyrone, where I remained until the approach of the period of the second Granard Ball, in June, 1782.
About the month of March I made my way towards Granard, and as usual touched at all my acquaintances' (gentlemen's) houses. I remained some time with the Rev. Mr. Sneyd, rector of Lurgan, County Cavan, the successor of Parson Sterling the celebrated piper, who composed as already mentioned 'The Priest of Lurgan'. From thence I went to a Captain Fleming of Bellville, County Cavan, where I remained about three weeks. He was a Captain of Volunteers, a lover of music, uncommonly hospitable but not proficient in music. From thence to Lismore, County Cavan, to Cosby Nesbitt's. He was a finished gentleman in every respect, with whom I remained a few days and then went to the County of Longford and went to Captain Boyers of Mount Pleasant, with whom I chiefly remained until the Ball I was preparing for. He was one of the most comical geniuses I ever met. He knew something of music and delighted in the harp, although he played well on the violin.
Second Ball. Harpers present :
|Charles Fanning||Hugh Higgins|
|Arthur O'Neill||Rose Mooney|
|Paddy Carr||Ned MacDermot Roe|
|Charley Berreen||Kate Martin.|
All played their best tunes as usual, but the premiums were reduced this year to eight guineas the first, the second premium six guineas and the third four guineas. Charles Fanning got the first for the 'Cúilfhionn' again. I got the second for 'The Green Woods of Truagh' and 'The Fairy Queen'. Rose Mooney got the third, but I don't remember for what tunes. Higgins got some way huffed and retired without playing a single tune. A Major Smith who knew nothing about music was appointed one of the judges [and he] declared, 'By God, they made me a judge because they knew I knew nothing about it !'
The company on this second Ball were more numerous than the first, and when all was over I just took the same route home and spent my time nearly in a similar manner as is described on my return from the first, only on my second return home I stopped at the house of a gentleman [named] Peter Connell, of Cranary in the County of Longford. He could sing well and compose well, and no end to his hospitality.
Mr. Connell had a humorous servant named Jack Hart, who sung both English and Irish songs as well as ever Mr. Owenson the comedian could ; and one day, taking his master's horses to be shod, he had to pass by Captain Boyers's door, who was accosted by the Captain. Hart was in the meantime humming the song of 'Spéic Seóigheach' [Joice's tune], with the chorus of 'Abair rú rú'. 'Blast you, come in!' says Boyers, 'until I give you a dram' - on which Hart alighted and walked into Boyers's house, who had at that time ten gallons of shrub in it ; and between singing and drinking they never stopped for the space of two days and two nights. They never parted until the shrub was entirely finished.
Mr. Connell in the meantime imagined his man Hart and his horses were lost ; but when the shrub was out Hart brought the horses to the farrier's to be shod and returned the third day. Mr. Connell, of course, brought him to an account for his conduct. Hart without reserve told him the whole story and about the ten gallons of shrub. 'Damn your body,' says Connell, 'did you finish it?' 'Why then, damn me if we did not, with a little help besides us both,' says Hart. 'Why, damn me but I forgive you, and if you left a single drop I never would !' I discovered from Mr. Connell that Boyers was very parsimonious only when seeing company, when he would spare no expense to entertain his guests.
Travels in Longford and Leitrim - making and varnishing a harp - visit to Charles O'Conor of Belanagare - sojourn in Sligo - various patrons - Hugh O'Neill's farm - return to Tyrone and Fermanagh - animadversions on Sir John Stevenson - the third Granard Ball - personal visit of James Dungan of Copenhagen - Rose Mooney and her maid Mary - Mr. Dungan's parting gift - return home through other counties.
ALWAYS on my return from Granard Balls I stopped at Counsellor Edgeworth's Edgeworthstown, where I was always well entertained. I taught two young ladies, Miss Farrell and Miss Plunkett, the harp, who lived in that neighbourhood. Miss Farrell played very handsomely, Miss Plunkett middling.
I next came to a Cormack O'Neill's, of Fardrumman in the County Longford. He was an eccentric genius and kept a house not unlike an academy, such as dancing masters, music masters, classical masters, [masters] of modern languages, he having four sons and three daughters on whom he spared no expense. I next went to Felix O'Neill's of Edenbaun and Toby Peyton's of Laheen, both in the County of Leitrim, where nothing but hospitality occurred to me. Next to a Colonel Gore's of Woodford and from thence to Andrew O'Rorke's of Creevy, County Leitrim, where I got a letter from my friend Hugh O'Neill inviting me to come to him to a Mr. Brown's of Cloonfad (a church land).
I accordingly came to him, and after some time he informed me that a Conor O'Kelly, a harp maker, was making one for him. As this O'Kelly was a very peevish man, Hugh requested me to go and keep him in temper while the harp was making, for fear of disappointment. I attended on Kelly and by means of threats and jokes he contrived to finish it. But [it] had to be taken asunder, as when it was tuned the treble was thought to be too long. It had forty strings, thirty-five in general being considered enough. The harp was a second time put together. It turned out the best one I ever heard or played upon. It then only wanted varnishing to make it a nonesuch, and a Mrs. Keane of Carrick-on-Shannon, a japanner, wanted three guineas to varnish and burnish it, which he declined. I being well acquainted in Longford, I informed Hugh I could get it done there better and cheaper, which he agreed to. I took the harp there accordingly and a Mr. O'Sullivan finished it properly. This O'Sullivan was, like all other mechanics of merit, a harum-scarum, good-natured fellow, with whom I spent a humorous time while he was finishing the harp.
When returning back to Mr. Brown's where Hugh was waiting for me, I met a new-married lady on the road, a Mrs. Hamilton of Killincarra, who invited me to her house. I went to it, where I played several tunes. She was much inclined to detain me but [I] was impatient to see Hugh and never stopped till I came to him ;and he was [so] impatient to try the harp that when he got it in his hands he played the tune of 'Limerick's Lamentation' or Tom Conlan's stolen tune, which he called 'Lochaber' in Scotland. He was so well pleased with the harp that he exclaimed, 'It answers my utmost fancy !' I remained in Mr. Brown's with Hugh about a month, where nothing particular happened but unlimited friendship and hospitality.
I next rambled to Charles O'Conor's at Belanagare in the County Roscommon, the celebrated Irish antiquarian and I may say historian, who was one of the most learned men that Ireland has produced. Hugh and I were invited there, and indeed we exerted our mutual abilities to please that worthy gentleman with our best tunes and airs. Mr. O'Conor was himself an excellent performer on the harp and one of the best amateurs I ever heard. We stopped with him about a fortnight, and in consequence of the uncommon attention that was paid to Hugh and myself in that hospitable mansion we only imagined it like a summer's day. I parted Hugh at Belanagare.
I next came to a Charles White's, of White Hill in the County of Sligo, where as usual in that hospitable province I experienced the highest respect and attention. I remained there a few days at this time, but often visited him from the year 1785 till I795, as he was one of my greatest favourites. He died in I795 and left an only son, Bob White, the real counterpart of his father, whom I also visited until 1803, in which year poor Bob died. I next went to Mr. Jones Irwin's of Streamstown, County Sligo. I am totally at a loss how to describe that gentleman's uncommon manner of living at his own house and amongst his tenantry. He had an ample fortune. He was an amateur [and] had four sons and three daughters, who were all such proficients in music that no instrument was unknown to them. There was at one time a meeting in his house of forty-six musicians, who played in the following order.
|The three Miss Irwins at the piano||3|
|Arthur O'Neill (myself), harp||1|
At the hour this hospitable gentleman's customary meeting was finished, some guests contiguous to their own places went away, but those who lived some miles off remained ; and in order to accommodate them Mr. and Mrs. Irwin lay on chairs that night in the parlour. For my own part I never spent a more agreeable night, either in bed or out of bed.
I next went to the town of Sligo, where I slept that night, and next morning went to Parson Phibbs (a credit to the cloth), of Ardlaharty, near Ballymote. He loved music ; he encouraged it and he himself played well on that wired instrument called the dulcimer. If it was not that I wanted to see my own friends, I could live with him for ever.
From thence I went to Captain Irwin's of Tanrego, County Sligo, a finished gentleman. He was a Captain of Volunteers for sixteen years, and in the Queen of Hungary's reign he distinguished himself as an Irishman not inferior to the celebrated Count Lacy.
From Mr. Irwin's I came to Mrs. Crofton of Longford, the name of her seat in the County Sligo. She was the mother of Sir Malby Crofton. She was the lady for whom Carolan composed the fine tune of 'Mrs. Crofton'. I remained there only a few days and then came to Parson Hawkes of Skreen in County Sligo. He was very like Parson Phibbs in gentility and in every other respect. He detained me a week and from thence I came to Mr. Jones of Ardnaglass, next to Arthur Cooper's of Tanzy Hill, then to William White's of Ballintogher, all in the County Sligo, where I generally stopped a few days and [was] uncommonly well treated, without anything worth mentioning having occurred to me.
I next came into the County of Leitrim and came [to] a Cornelius O'Donnell's of Larkfield, where I again met my dear Hugh O'Neill, who was then there on a visit, being contiguous to his own farm in the County Roscommon and near the boundaries of the Counties of Roscommon and Leitrim. He brought me back to his farm, called Lis Connor or Fort Connor. (Lis signifies a Fort.) He walked me through it and described the beauties, and could point out the best part of it as well as a man that had the gift of eyesight ; and when done, says he to me, Arthur, you are my relation and favourite, and if you should survive me this concern shall be yours (accidents excepted in case I should not make a will). See this field, see that field. Look at all, Arthur, which shall be yours.', I see them very plainly, Hugh, says I, 'and thank you, my friend.' (It's as common amongst blind harpers, blind pipers, blind fiddlers and all other blind musicians to say 'I see this' and, 'I see that' and 'Do you see me?' and 'Do you see?' etc. as those who have that superlative gift of sight.) Hugh then brought me to his own house, where we spent a night very happy.
He then brought me to Mr. Tenison's, his landlord (that good landlord), who would not accept of Hugh's annual rent of £ 20 but also gave him the receipts of a rent charge of £ 20 per annum on the same concern. From thence I went to Tom MacGovern's of Partnaladdin, County Leitrim. No end to his good nature. He was a genteel, substantial farmer and lived in a style beyond the common in his capacity. I next came into the County Fermanagh and spent a few nights with Sir James Caldwell happily. and when I left his house I went into the County of Tyrone and stopped at Ned Conway's near Newtown Stewart. He had a daughter that played the harp uncommon well. Miss Conway and I were closeted together for three weeks exchanging tunes. She gave me 'Dr. Hart' and I gave her 'Madgey Malone' and several other tunes mutually that I cannot remember at present. But I left the house on the best of terms, and from thence to another Ned Conway's, of Montroloney in the County Tyrone, who received me as well as his namesake ; and indeed my intention was to spend my Christmas with a Mr. Blackall of Ballinascreen in the County of Derry, but was prevented in consequence of the snow that fell at that period, so much so that the deepest quarries were level with the high roads, in consequence of which many travellers unacquainted with the country fell victims to their ignorance of the roads.
I went to this Mr. Blackall's next, who excused me in consequence of the fatality of the snow and who rejoiced that I escaped it. This was in the year I785 or 1786. From thence I came to Ballymenagh in County Tyrone, where I was always well received and very well used, etc., and from that friend's I was impatient to go home to meet my brother Ferdinand at Glenart, near Caledon in the County of Tyrone. When resting my bones, between riding and walking I spent near six months going to and visiting Mr. Strong of Fair View, Captain Neville of Mount Irvine, Rev. Dr. Clarke, rector of Cloonfeacle, Captain Houston of Tullydowey, Sir William Richardson of Augher, Dean Keating's of Clogher, who would never let me touch a harp in his house, but indulging him in playing the enticing game of backgammon, whom I always excelled, blind as I was.
From thence I went to a Mr. Stack of Stack's Grove, County Monaghan, where I remained eight or ten days and again returned to my brother Ferdinand's, and continued about that neighbourhood until the time for the third Granard Ball was announced. I heard that that ever respected memory James Dungan, the author and instigator of the three Balls already mentioned, would attend there and came particularly from Copenhagen (amongst other business) to superintend the last and greatest national Irish Ball respecting harpers that ever was held in this country.
I met Mr. Dungan there and will speak of him in course when the third Ball was finished in Granard and endeavour to show in the conclusion of this poor narrative how folly and fashion will intrude upon the real merits of those who take pains, in encouraging the works of a Sir John Plagiarist, or a Sir John Selector, or a Sir John Innovator, or a Sir John S. . p. . . . . n [Sir John Stevenson, arranger of Moore's Melodies]. If my friend hereafter named should seek for the empty title of a Knight Bachelor, if a Townsend or a Rutland were to visit this country again he might be sure of perhaps being appointed to a similar title of honour. But this barren knight should in my opinion confine himself to his business in Dublin and not interfere with Mr. B. [Bunting] or his business, and I will endeavour before I conclude these memoirs to draw (as blind as I am) a contrast between the reviver and restorer of ancient Irish music and any titled upstart that may endeavour to plaster himself or his works upon those who will not take pains to look for Edward Bunting's works.
After remaining with my friends in and about the County Tyrone in the usual manner for about nine months, I then began to prepare myself for the third Granard Ball. I set out accordingly and touched or stopped at almost every house mentioned in going to the first and second Ball, without meeting anything particular worthy of notice, until I got to Mr. James O'Reilly's of Higginstown, County Longford, with whom I remained until the Ball, on which the following harpers attended :
|Charles Fanning||Charley Berreen|
|Arthur O'Neill||Paddy Carr|
|Hugh Higgins||Ned MacDermot Roe|
|Laurence Keane||Rose Mooney and her maid Mary|
|James Duncan||Kate Martin.|
The premiums were the same as the second Ball, that is, eight guineas the first, six the second and four the third. Fanning (deservedly) always got the first. I got the second, and poor Rose Mooney got the third as usual. A gentleman named Miles Keane railed uncommonly about the distribution of the premiums and swore a great oath that it was the most nefarious decision he ever witnessed. I don't know what he meant but heard the expression. Lord and Lady Longford attended this Ball and the meeting was vastly more numerous than at the two former Balls. Quality forty miles around attended and there was not a house in the town but was filled with ladies and gentlemen, and the town was like a horse fair as there was no stabling for the twentieth part that came. There were at least a thousand people at the Ball. In consequence of the harpers who obtained no premiums being formerly neglected, I proposed a subscription, which was well received and performed, and indeed on distributing the collection their proportions exceeded our premiums. This last Ball was chiefly spoiled by means of a Bernard Reilly of Ballymorris, who entertained some antipathy to Mr. Dungan and took every pains to destroy the harmony of the Ball.
Mr. Dungan, the father and promoter of these three Balls, came over from Copenhagen chiefly (amongst other business) to see how this third and last Ball was conducted ; and he got so much disgusted with indecorous manners of the stewards and others who superintended the management of it that Mr. Dungan would not attend during the performance, but attended at supper. There was a very handsome ode composed for Mr. Dungan on his arrival at Granard, but through jealousy or some other motives he never saw either the ode or the composer.
I dined with Mr. Dungan the day after the Ball at the Widow Reilly's in Granard and I cannot account how I deserved his attention, but I should sit next to him and dined with him in different places. He acquired admiration everywhere he visited in consequence of his polished manner and gentlemanly accomplishments. He remained some time in and about Granard and I understand he is now alive and well in Copenhagen. If there was a Dungan and a Bunting in each province in this Kingdom, it's more easily imagined than my poor abilities can describe to what a stage of grandeur the Irish harp and the music incident to it would arrive to.
When the third Ball was over I took my leave of Duncan and Keane (two of the harpers). But I forgot to mention that before the Ball opened Rose Mooney pledged her harp, her petticoat and her cloak. When I make this remark of poor Rose, the faults or ludicrous remarks I make use of respecting her own conduct should be entirely attributed to her maid Mary, whose uncommon desire for drinking was unlimited, and taking advantage of her mistress's blindness she always when money was wanting pawned any article on which she could raise half a pint. Therefore, poor Rose, I acquit you of any meanness on your own account, as your guides and mine have led us into hobbles which we poor blind harpers have to get out of and afterwards laugh at. But we in general think that it's better for people in every situation in life to have about them the rogue they know than the rogue they don't know.
I made it a point to remain in and about Granard till I understood that Mr. Dungan was for returning to Copenhagen, and it may be imagined that I say too much of myself. He took me aside and exchanged mutual friendship on parting, and when done shaking hands I discovered the weight of six guineas in mine, adding that I deserved the first premium (as he was informed, not attending) and hoped that I would not be offended at his making it superior to Fanning's. I never experienced the same feelings on parting with any friend before or since, except Hugh O'Neill.
In coming home I differed in my route from that of the second Ball, as I went through a skirt of the County Westmeath into the County of Cavan to see my dear friend Captain Somerville, where a dozen repetitions of his promises to support me to the last was the chief part of our conversation ; and from his seat, Lough Sheelin Lodge (before named), I pushed into the County of Meath and stopped at the seats of Peter Cruise (nephew to Carolan's favourite, Bridget Cruise) [and] Mr. James Carolan of Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. I was greatly disappointed in speaking to this gentleman and a great number of the Carolans in that county, where the celebrated Terence Carolan the composer was born, that not one of them would claim kindred to him, which in my opinion would be no disgrace to either Orpheus, Apollo or King David. From thence to Mr. Plunket's of Rock Savage, County Monaghan ; from thence to Dundalk, County Louth, to see my relations Owen O'Neill, Captain Byrne of Castletown, George and Harry Byrne ; and although these gentlemen had each separate houses they would never dine asunder, for if the Captain was invited anywhere George and Harry should be present, and if George or Harry were asked to dine the three brothers were sure to be present. They were all married, and their brotherly affection was the theme of the discourse of the surrounding country.
From Dundalk I crossed the Fews Mountains. I had a young man, a guide, named Paddy Ward, who determined to quit me in consequence of the uncommon showers of snow that happened after we left Newtown Hamilton [County Armagh].Poor fellow, he was nearly famished (though a young lad) with cold, and I would not part him till we came to a public house that was kept by a Mrs. MacArdle. We scarcely entered when all our apparent wants were inquired into, and by the uncommon exertions of that good woman we were in a short time relieved from the fatigues of our long and cold journey. In my turn, to gratify her I played till all was blue, and the next morning when preparing for departing I of course called for the reckoning. 'Mr. O'Neill,' says Mrs. MacArdle, 'do you want a walloping ?' (meaning a beating) and then gave me a gentle stroke on the shoulder, saying 'There's a receipt for you !'
I then went to Priest O'Neill's of Ballymanabb, near Armagh, who was a relation of mine and a real O'Neill. It may be imagined that I mean to be partial to his character when I say that in all my travels I never met his superior in point of unbigoted and unprejudiced hospitality of manners. He was a respected gentleman of his order on the altar and in the pulpit, and out of the chapel no person but them that knew him could distinguish whether he was a priest, parson or county squire. I had some difficulty in getting away from him, and when I did I went into Armagh and alternately visited Mrs. Allford, Mr. Jenning, Dr. Hamilton, and others whom I forget. I went from Armagh to Caledon and then again to my brother Ferdinand's, where after polishing off the rust of mind and fatigue my next care was to attend to Ward, my guide, whom I bound to be a linen weaver ; but in consequence of the impression of rambling he got under me for the space of four years he left the treadles and heavy sleighs and enlisted in a regiment then recruiting in Caledon.
O'Neill and his guides - Tom Hannon witnesses suttee - accomplishments of Andrew - O'Rourke of Creevy - Toby Peyton visited - Charles O'Conor and other patrons in Roscommon - Captain Somerville tells O'Neill of the Belfast Ball - O'Reilly's hospitality - Dr. James MacDonnell invites O'Neill to Belfast - Pat Lindon's escapade - the Belfast Ball - sojourn with the MacDonnells of Antrim - return home - meeting with Bunting - visits to Dublin and other places - experiences during the rebellion of 1803 - stay with Colonel Southwell - Bunting's plan for a harp school in Belfast.
AFTER quitting Pat Ward at Glenart I went to the County Cavan and rambled usual and paid my first respects to my dear deceased friend Captain Somerville, who received and treated me as formerly. It was almost like what is termed a house-warming, and I spent about three weeks with him and was used as formerly. From the Captain's I went to Granard, where I parted my guide, who was well known to the two Dr. MacDonnells of Belfast. He in some manner acquired, or deserved, the nickname of 'Grog', and the Captain asked me the reason of his being called 'Grog'. My answer was : 'Grog is insipid, and so is Paddy Fitzgerald' (the name of the boy). The Captain then procured me a guide to lead me to Granard and [I] went to Mr. James O'Reilly of that town, with whom I spent about two months very happily.
He got me another guide, named Tom Hannon. He was about thirty-six years of age and was nine years in the service of the East India Company. and notwithstanding the vices incidental to soldiering, he was the most divested of little dishonest tricks of any other guide I ever had - not excepting Michael Hackett, my present one.
When I was not employed, poor Hannon would amuse me with an account of his adventures ; and indeed he told me some stories by impromptu that were often read to me since, amongst which he told me a story of his being present at the burning of a Hindoo woman, a custom or law practised in that part of the East. That is, when the husband dies the wife is to prepare herself to be burned on a funeral pile, and that all relations and friends attend on this solemn occasion to see that the wife accomplishes the business without cowardice. She is to be dressed in her best attire and then she walks all around and takes leave of her relations and friends. She then eats a fruit that has something of the same effect as laudanum, and when the effect arises she plunges herself on the pile and her nearest friends have bamboo poles in their hands, and when the torch is set to the pile they rush forward to assist in strangling her before the flames can make her screech. This poor Hannon told me. I only mention it in this loose manner, well knowing that it is much better described by modern historians.
Hannon then next led me into the County of Leitrim, to Andrew O'Rourke's of Creevy in that county. He was a gentleman of learning, wit and humour, which three great qualifications he never abused in any manner. As for the first, he was capable of composing, and actually did compose, several songs in Latin, English and Irish, and played very handsomely on the harp. His wit and humour were never in my presence (and to the best of my information and belief) immodestly or indelicately exercised.
From his house I went to Toby Peyton's, for whom Carolan composed 'Planxty Peyton'. This gentleman had a fine, unencumbered estate, and exclusive of the expenses of groceries and spices he spent the remainder of his income in encouraging national diversions, particularly harping and all other wired instruments. He lived to the age of a hundred and four, and at the time he was a hundred he mounted his horse as dexterous as a man of twenty and was the first in at the death of a fox or a hare. This gentleman's age accounts for my observations of him and my visiting him, Carolan's time being before mine.
From thence I crossed the Shannon and went into the County Roscommon again to Charles O'Conor's, the celebrated Irish antiquarian already mentioned. This respected character always took the blind side of me in point of good nature as for when I would order my horse and when I was imagining myself mounting, there was no horse and of course [I] had to return into his house, where laughing and hospitality was the apology he pleaded for my disappointments.
At length I stole away from him to the house of Patrick Brown of Croghan, County Roscommon, about seven miles or under, and got the most uncommon wetting I ever experienced, and Hannon (my guide) was crying with the wet and cold he suffered in that short journey. But my pride in not availing myself of shelter was sufficiently punished, for I was shortly afterwards afflicted with such a severe rheumatism that I lost the power of two of my left-hand fingers, notwithstanding which I went through all my old acquaintances in that county, until I came into Granard again and there tumbled into Jemmy Reilly's, my old and before-mentioned favourite acquaintance.
In consequence of the affliction of the rheumatism I felt myself uncommonly unhappy in not being able to exercise my usual abilities on the harp and resolved to get home to Glenart as soon as possible. But notwithstanding the resolution I formed, I could not resist the temptation of making a short cut to Lough Sheelin Lodge to see my dear (now deceased) friend Captain Somerville, the almost counterpart of Captain Westenra of Bumper Hall in the County Meath. Somerville was in this year (1792) about fifty years of age, and he perceiving my misfortune of the fingers amused me with reading ; and on reading the Belfast News-Letter to me [we found] the advertisement inviting all the harpers in the Kingdom to come to Belfast to attend 'to show their patriotism for their love of Ireland, and to bring their instruments with them'.
When I left Captain Somerville's I next went to Philip Reilly' s of Mullagh, [County Cavan], the eighteen years' constant and unchangeable friend beforenamed ; and for fear I should be hurried I will now make free to describe him and his character. He was about five feet seven inches in height, stout and well made, and left no stone unturned to show himself a real O'Reilly. 'Damn the expense,' says Phil O'Reilly, 'give us a cooper of claret!' And Mrs. O'Reilly was a woman of that good-humoured turn of mind that she was well aware of his frailty, but without contradiction or any expression that might be the cause of an argument, while encouraging the duty on the importation of wine, she indulged him in his loose conduct and expressions, and gently reprimanded him the ensuing morning.
At this time I received a letter from Dr. James MacDonnell of this town (Belfast), and how he discovered where I was I never could learn. But the subject of the letter was to invite me to Belfast to attend on the 9th July, 1792, to assist with other harpers in playing on that national instrument. In consequence of the rheumatism I felt my own incapacity and expressed it to my friend Phil Reilly, as I had not the use of the two principal fingers of my left hand, by which hand the treble on the Irish harp is generally performed. Mr. Reilly would take no excuse and swore vehemently that if I did not go freely he would tie me on a car and have me conducted to assist in performing what was required by the advertisement before-mentioned.
I abided by his advice, and on the Fews Mountains in my way to Armagh I met Patrick Lindon at a public house. He knew me and called out to me and asked me where I was going. I informed him, and he told me he would like to accompany me if he was better dressed. At this time I had plenty of old clothes and I knew him to be an excellent scholar, who could read and write Irish very well ; and [I] wished to have him with me to Belfast, imagining that he would be a great acquisition to this celebrated harpers' meeting at Belfast. He got my old clothes in order to cut them down, and he was so proud when he got them that he rambled through the neighbourhood of Ballynagleragh in the County of Armagh in so volatile a manner that when I expected him (according to our terms on parting) he did not appear ; and indeed, he with his breach of promise and my having the rheumatism still, I found myself uncommonly awkward when I came to Belfast to endeavour to show myself worthy of Dr. James MacDonnell's good opinion of me ; and he, perceiving my bad state of health, thought it necessary to electrify me every day previous to the Belfast Ball.
Dr. James MacDonnell explained to me the nature and purport of this Ball, which was to show a specimen of patriotism and national ardour to the rest of the Kingdom. It was held on the 14th July, 1792, at which time the following harpers attended, with others that I do not now remember, viz. :
|Charles Fanning||Patrick Quinn|
|Arthur O'Neill||William Carr|
|James Duncan||Charles Berreen|
|Hugh Higgins||(Welsh) Williams|
|Denis Hempson||Rose Mooney, etc.|
On this occasion the different premiums were to be kept a profound secret, so much so that one harper was by no means to let the others know what he received, in order to prevent any jealousy amongst them and to excite emulation amongst them to exert their utmost skill and ability in playing Irish airs, etc. This meeting continued four days in the Exchange Rooms in Belfast without the smallest interruption whatsoever, and each harper exerted himself to the utmost of their ability. They played all Irish music, and the judges on the occasion were sufficiently competent to leave no degree of jealousy amongst the harpers respecting the distribution of the premiums.
When the [Ball] was over, Dr. James MacDonnell invited all the harpers to dine with him, which they accepted ; and we accordingly met and dined with him, and if we were all peers of the realm we could not be treated better, as the assiduity of the Doctor and his family to make us happy is more than I can describe. I remained four days with him after the other harpers were gone away, and then set out for home.
I went to Broughshane [and] from that to Cushendall, where I remained two months for the benefit of the water at John Rowe MacDonnell's, the Doctor's half-brother, where I was treated with uncommon care and attention during that time, where I saw my friend Randall MacDonnell very often. I found myself much better by the benefit of the water and then went to Ballycastle to Archibald MacDonnell's, another half-brother of the Doctor's, where I remained about three weeks. From thence I went to New Ferry to Henry O'Neill's, the Doctor's uncle, where I was well received and used. From thence I went to Castle Dawson [County Derry], and stopped a week there with Dr. Shields. From that to Moneymore, which I might then justly call Moneyless, as I was uncommonly bare of money. From that I went to Hugh Stuart's of Ballymena, from thence to Dungannon, and then home to my brother Ferdinand's at Glenart, where I remained in the usual manner as after my different peregrinations.
After remaining with my friends as usual for some time, I left my brother's and came to Mr. Stewart's of Acton, County Armagh, and on leaving that gentleman's house I met Mr. Edward Bunting as I was going towards Newry, where he brought me, with whom I spent as agreeable a fortnight as I ever spent in my life. He took some tunes from me, and one evening at his lodgings he played on the piano the tune of 'Spéic Seóigheach' [Joyce's tune], and I sung with him. There was at that time in Newry a gentleman in disguise who called himself Mr. Gardiner and lodged near Mr. Bunting's, whose lady was looking out of her window and heard us. She spoke to my landlord to induce me to spend the evening with her and her husband, which I did and was uncommonly well used. and on coming away this Mr. Gardiner (who was no other but the Scotch Earl of Galloway in disguise) slipped me a guinea, and what his motives were for disguising himself I never could learn.
I left Mr. Bunting in Newry and went to Dundalk, where a gentleman, a Mr. MacCann, accosted me on the street and asked me where I was going. I told him 'to any place, being invited to no place'. He then took me to his own house in that town, where I remained a fortnight very agreeably and then went to the County Meath and stopped at the house of a Mr. Taaffe's of Smarmore Castle. From thence down to Drogheda, where I stopped one night, and then went to Dublin, where I visited a number of gentlemen for a few days. I then went to Lord Powerscourt's in the County of Wicklow, for whom I had a letter, where I remained some days and then returned again to Dublin, where I met a Miss Ryan of Beresford Street, who played very decently on the harp.
When I left Dublin I returned to the County Cavan but stopped at the following places : Lord Dunsany's, Mr. Barnewall's, Lord Ludlow's of Ardsallagh near Navan, James O'Neill's of Meadstown, John O'Neill's of Kells, a respectable brewer - all in the County Meath ; and then to Philip Reilly's of Mullagh in the County Cavan, the gentleman with whom I spent the eighteen successive Christmas Days already mentioned. Then I perambulated the Counties of Cavan and Tyrone, pretty much in the same manner as formerly after finishing a journey, without anything particular happening to me.
In June, 1803 I took it into my head to visit Dublin once more and passed through the Counties of Cavan, Monaghan, Louth, Meath and Dublin, until I got to the City of Dublin, stopping at all the gentlemen's houses before-named in each county without meeting any matter or thing worthy of notice. I determined to see at this time all my friends in Dublin and spent about three weeks in the house of Mr. John Farrell of Eccles Street. Notwithstanding the uncommon hospitality and good nature I experienced there, my mind was miserable, in consequence of the City being like one universal barrack, such as the clashing of arms, sounding of bugle horns, beating of drums to arms and the like, in consequence of an unexpected insurrection amongst a parcel of country peasants, under the influence of a Mr. Robert Emmet and a few other leaders of less capacity and education.
When the executions commenced after the disturbance was suppressed, I was much surprised to hear of Mr. Emmet's execution, as previous to his receiving sentence he informed Lord Norbury 'that sooner than he would see Ireland invaded by the French he would with his sword in one hand and a torch in the other destroy' etc.
I was so impatient to leave that scene of terror and alarm that I left Dublin as soon as the first emotion of dismay was subsiding. I made off. for the County Tyrone again, and notwithstanding my being blind and of course incapacitated from being useful either in loyalty or treason, I had to get a pass ; and indeed without considering my incapacity the wiseacres on my way home demanded my pass almost every five minutes. I would sometimes say 'Here it is', pointing to my harp ;and because there was no crown on it I was often in danger of being ill-used by the illiterate loyalists, who took pride in displaying their cautious conduct. But I must say that whenever I was examined by superior officers they generally assisted me in facilitating my journey, until I got to Glenart to my brother Ferdinand's.
My headquarters for the last ten years of my life was principally at Colonel Southwell's of Castle Hamilton, County Cavan, brother to Lord Southwell of Rokeby Hall, near Drogheda. He is Colonel of the 14th Light Dragoons. I never knew a more accomplished character. I don 't know how I gave him cause to fancy my company so much as he did during that period, but we were almost inseparable, and our general salutation would be, 'How are you today, O'Neill?' I would answer, 'Very well, Colonel.' I visited a great number of other gentlemen in that neighbourhood, but could not be long out of the Colonel's house.
I am now about sixty-eight years of age and exerted my utmost ability to remember as much of my peregrinations as I thought worthy of mentioning. I cannot avoid expressing my gratitude to Mr. Edward Bunting, to whom principally I am indebted for my ease and comfort in my declining years, by whose means I came to Belfast in consequence of an advertisement I heard read to me, stating 'the gradual decline of the Irish harp, and how meritorious it would be to preserve the music of it, there being only one bard alive capable of teaching it'. The cap fitted me and I accordingly wore it.
I came to Belfast and saw him, and by his uncommon exertions he solicited sufficient co-operation to establish an annuity for me. Let censure, malice or surmise say or rage in what shape it may. It may be imagined that I am saying too much of Mr. Bunting, but I am sorry that I am insufficient to record or describe his real merit. I am also glad that his merit has placed him beyond any mercenary idea of view or interest and I would be far from acting the part of a sycophant, as thank God I am independent of being such a character. But finally Mr. Bunting's plan is that I shall reside in Belfast the remainder of my life, to instruct such twelve poor boys as have a capacity to learn and retain the national Irish music of the harp.
Notes and anecdotes of various harpers - Charles Fanning - his mésalliance and adventures - James Duncan - his lawsuit and fondness for modern tunes - Harry Fitzsimons, senior and junior - Hugh O'Neill - his invention of a gamut - farm held rent - free from Mr. Tenison - death and burial with Carolan at Kilronan - proficiency at hunting - Hugh and Arthur O'Neill with Captain Westenra of Bumper Hall - John Keenan - his adventure in Drogheda - his affair with the gouvernante at Killymoon - Hugh Higgins contrives his escape from Omagh gaol - return to the gouvernante - marriage and departure to America - retort to Mr. Stewart - Kate Martin - her partiality for Parson Sterling's tunes - Thady Elliott's habits - Rose Mooney, her maid Mary, and the French landing at Killala - Thomas and William Connellan.
CHARLES FANNING was born in Foxfield, in the County of Leitrim in the of Connaught. His father, Laughlin Fanning, was a decent farmer and played well on the harp. Charles was principally instructed by a Thady Smith, a native of the County of Roscommon and a tolerable performer on the harp. Charles Fanning in consequence of his performance on the harp became much respected. He never taught any but merely was an amateur, and principally supported himself by the private emoluments arising from his profession.
On his first arrival into the County of Tyrone he got acquainted with a Mrs. Bailie of Terrinaskea in that county, who played on the harp very well. Charles married her kitchen-maid, for which Mrs. Bailie was greatly disobliged, as she frequently had him at her own table and had him introduced to genteel company. She fell out with him and he was not received as usually. Charley and the wife boxed now and then. He visited Mrs. Bailie's generally at three months a time in his professional way. His wife was discharged and was generally sneaking after Charley everywhere. He went from Mrs. Bailie's to Derry and got himself introduced to the Bishop, who seemed to like him well - otherwise he would not keep him. I, Arthur O'Neill, went to Derry, where I met Charley, and when I asked him how he was, Charley replied that I might blow a goose quill through his cheek (meaning he was so poor and thin) ; and this time he had the wife and one or two children to support.
After he left the Bishop's he rambled about the nation awhile. I next heard he fell in with a Mr. Pratt, of King's Court in the County Cavan. He lived a couple of years there and had a house and garden and four acres of land and the grazing of four cows in the demesne. He had a letter from Mr. Pratt that he would give him a lease of his concern ; but on Mr. Pratt's death his brother's son, who was his heir, refused giving the lease and turned him out. Charles consulted Counsellor (now Judge) Fox with his case, who gave an opinion in his favour and said he would make it good. Charles gave Fox the letter, but in consequence of some private influence (as he believed) he never could get it from him again, and it is generally believed he was betrayed. He then rambled as usual. I saw him often afterwards, who told me the above story about Mr. Fox. I next heard of his being in Belfast in 1792 at the time of the celebration of the French Revolution, where I met him [and] where he got the highest prize for his performance on that occasion.
James Duncan. This gentleman was descended of respectable parents in the County of Down and was taught to learn the harp only as a qualifying branch of his education, for which instrument he had a particular partiality. He was principally instructed by a Harry Fitzsimons, a professor of the harp, under whom he made a very considerable proficiency. His embarrassment in life was the chief cause of his becoming an itinerant harper for some years. He was deeply engaged in a lawsuit with some of his family, and the emoluments arising from his performances were the principal means of defraying the expenses of it. The lawsuit terminated in his favour and [he] obtained his property, in the possession of which he lately died. I met him in Belfast in 1792 on the occasion already mentioned, and his gentlemanly conduct induced me to form an uncommon opinion of him ; and I was much grieved when, coming to Belfast afterwards I made his part of the country [on] my way to call on him, I was informed of his death. He was an excellent performer but knew very little of ancient Irish airs. He played a great variety of modern airs very well.
Harry Fitzsimons, a native of the County of Down, and his son Harry junior were both excellent performers. Harry the elder was decent in his line but his son was a great libertine. He stayed at a Counsellor Stewart's of Bailieborough in the County of Cavan for three years. Both father and son are dead.
Hugh O'Neill was born in Foxfield [? Foxford], in the County of Mayo. He lost his eyesight by the smallpox when he was about seven years old. He was descended from parents of respectability on both sides. His mother's name was MacDonnell and [she] was cousin-german to the celebrated Count Taaffe of Curran. At an early period he evinced a strong disposition to learn to perform on the harp and was first taught by a woman of the name of O'Sheil. He afterwards acquired a great proficiency in consequence of a gamut invented by himself by means of wires, in the construction of which he was assisted by a Mr. Caddell, of Harbourstown in Fingal, near Dublin.
His parents dying when he was young, he was left scarce any patrimony and had to play for hire, and in consequence of his genteel descent and parentage he was always received as a gentleman, which character he himself supported, such as keeping a pair of horses, a servant, etc., in which manner he always travelled, and the sums he received for his performances were generally given him more in the nature of a present than as mere payment for his performances, in consequence of which he soon became independent of accepting any pecuniary favours. But his benefactors in return would establish a fund for him which enabled him to turn an extensive grazier - so much so that he could purchase several scores of cattle at a time.
He held an excellent house and farm by lease under Mr. Tenison, of Castle Tenison in the County of Roscommon, at the yearly rent of £ 20, which rent Mr.Tenison never demanded, in consequence of the uncommon esteem he entertained for him. At one time he wanted to sell a horse but a gentleman, a friend of his, prevented him but proposed to have it raffled for, and actually got subscriptions for that purpose to the amount of eighty guineas. The raffle took place, and the winner generously returned the horse to Hugh. This circumstance occurred previous to his becoming grazier.
I have myself been numerous times in his company and am a good deal indebted to him for a good deal of music. I have reason to lament his death, as at one time he declared he would make me heir to his property, as he never was married. He died at a cousin's house named Ned MacDonnell near his own farm, without making any will. His complaint was a fever, of which he died in eight days in the absence of Mr. MacDonnell and his wife, who were from home ; and notwithstanding he was in a manner advised by all the physicians of that part of the country, yet he expired without medical advice, and I am well informed and believe that if any of the faculty had been sent for he would have survived many years longer, being only about fifty years of age when he died. His property descended to two or three brothers that in his lifetime he would not even speak to, which strengthened his partiality for me ; and I am convinced that if his cousin was at home when he died he would have made a will, in which I am well aware I would not be forgotten.
He is buried in the churchyard of Ballyronan [recte Kilronan], near Castle Tenison, and in the very grave where the celebrated Carolan was interred, and it is to me a melancholy reflection that, notwithstanding these two celebrated characters were in their lifetime caressed by people of the first description and rank, some subscription was not set on foot to establish a fund for the purpose of erecting a monument of some kind to record their memories and to point to any amateur or professor of music passing through that country the place of interment of alas ! poor Carolan and Hugh O'Neill.
Notwithstanding poor Hugh being blind, it always appeared to me more extraordinary than all Keenan's capers was to be sure that he would be at every hunt that would happen ; and I am well informed that he crossed the country and came in at the death as well as any gentleman at the chase - only with this difference, that at some very dangerous leaps he would require some guide or other directions to prevent any fatality, and at the meeting of the club to celebrate the chase he was always sure to be one of the company, either with or without his harp. Hugh could not sing a note [of] a song, but was uncommonly witty and pleasant in conversation.
Hugh and I once met together at a Captain Westenra's near Moynalty in the County Meath, at his seat called Bumper Hall ; and Bumper Hall was no nickname for it, as there were twelve hogsheads of whiskey, four hogsheads of claret and two pipes of port consumed every year, together with twenty-three carcasses of beef also, and a sheep for each day's consumption, notwithstanding that Captain Westenra was a bachelor.
One day when dining with a large party of gentlemen, an itinerant blind harper called and his profession was announced, at which time Hugh and myself were at dinner also. Captain Westenra, finding room for a joke, admitted him. When dinner was over, the Captain asked the harper if he ever heard him (the Captain) play. 'No,' says the harper. 'Fetch me over my harp,' says the Captain, which he put into Hugh's hands, who played delightfully, and when Hugh finished the tune he asked the harper how he liked the music. 'Oh ! damnation to my soul, if one of your breed, seed or generation could play in that manner, and damn me again if I ever heard the harp played before, putting all together !' However, the poor fellow was detained for that night, though he would not attempt to play after he heard the supposed music of the Captain. Westenra would in fact keep Hugh and me for life, but in drinking he would kill the very devil himself; and I myself often stole away from Bumper Hall - otherwise I must have long since made my exit. He used to lock up my harp to ensure my coming back.
John Keenan was born in Augher, in the County of Tyrone. [He] was born blind. He was a schoolfellow of mine learning the harp in Augher. He never arrived to any degree of perfection on the harp but [was] an itinerant professor of it. He was of a comical turn and an excellent companion. He was once going through Dundalk and in carrying his harp under his arm he knocked it against the glass of a carriage in the street. The coachman seized him to make good the damage. Poor Keenan had no money and his harp was seized. Keenan then got into a gentleman's house. 'Well,' says he, 'I'll soon settle this affair.' 'How will you settle?' replies the gentleman. 'By the Lord,' says he, 'there is a well in such a place and I will go and pitch myself into it, and that will settle the whole affair.' 'Tut-tut !' says the gentleman, 'why would you do that ?' 'Because', says Keenan, 'my harp is taken from me, and how can I do without that, having no money nor the way of getting it ?' The gentleman then gave him a guinea and afterwards went through the town and got him nine more. He then released his harp.
[Keenan] next went to Mr. Stewart's of Killymoon and fell in love with a French gouvernante that was there, and they became of consequence very great. He next went to the house of a gentleman in that neighbourhood, and in a few nights he contrived to visit madame, and contrived also to come back to Killymoon and brought with him a nineteen-foot ladder and put it up against her bedchamber window, then climbed up and tumbled into bed. However, madame was not in bed but another old woman, who screeched out and made an alarm ; and poor Keenan was taken and committed to Omagh Gaol.
When in gaol, Hugh Higgins before-named came there to visit him, not thinking his crime dishonourable, it being a love affair, and after some conversation Keenan's liberation was planned. Higgins sent out for some whiskey and the gaoler's wife, who doated on it, the turn-key and other prisoners fell to drink and all got drunk, except Keenan and Higgins. The gaoler's wife got so drunk she went to bed, the gaoler being from home, and Keenan got into her room and stole the key of the gaol out of her pocket, then opened the door and took Higgins's boy with him to lead him, and left Higgins behind him in his place. He then crossed the river with the boy on his back and went directly back to Killymoon again to see the gouvernante. He was again committed for the ladder business, but at the Assizes the Judge ordered him out of the dock, thinking it impossible a blind man could himself alone manage the ladder at the window in the manner before-mentioned. Keenan, however, married the gouvernante, and after divers journeys through this Kingdom they went to America together, where poor Keenan died.
I forgot to mention a circumstance that showed the independent spirit of poor Keenan. When he made his escape from Omagh Gaol to Killymoon, Mr. Stewart heard all about him and on meeting him he reproved him very much and commanded him to beg his pardon. 'What!' says Keenan, roaring out, 'beg your pardon ? If I do, damn me ! You yourself that is such a terrible old lecher wants me to beg your pardon ? No, sir ! I will beg my lady's pardon, to whom the offence, if any, was given.' The gouvernante was a Huguenot, and poor Keenan had to read his recantation in the parish church of Kilmore, which oath was dictated to him by a Captain Fleming before the ceremony was performed.
Kate Martin : this female performer was born in the parish of Lurgan in the County of Cavan. Her parents, I am informed, were but poor. I do not know how she became nearly blind, as she could walk without a guide. She was taught the harp by a man named Owen Corr, with whom I had no acquaintance. Kate played very handsomely but had a strong partiality for playing the tunes composed by Parson Sterling, the rector of that parish of Lurgan, who was celebrated for his performance on the bagpipes. This minister composed a celebrated tune called 'The Priest of Lurgan', which tune Kate played uncommon well. She seldom or never travelled out of the bounds of the County Cavan.
Rose Mooney and Thady Elliott. Rose Mooney : this female was born in the County of Meath. I am not sure of what circumstances her parents were. She was blind and [was] taught to play on the harp by Thady Elliott. This Thady was a mixture of every kind of devilment, such as drinking, swearing and an uncommon propensity for women, which we blind men in general are addicted to. He was meanly obscene, pregnant with smutty songs and stories, and in consequence of his drollery he was generally entertained only by the middling order of people, who delight in that kind of mirth. I must digress from Rose's memoirs, of whom I have not much more to say. I was entertained at a Mr. Preston's, near Navan, and [the] same Thady Elliott was there at that time, to offer his usual services. But Mrs. Preston dismissed him for two reasons. One was to pay me a compliment, not to suffer him to intrude on me ; and the other was that she was much prejudiced for his conduct, as he would endeavour to show his wit, no matter in what company. I know nothing more about Thady, but I understand he died one day of an Inishowen epilepsy in the County of Meath, where he was born.
But to return to Rose Mooney. I never heard much about her, only as an itinerant harper, until I was informed that she and her maid Mary were in Killala at the time the French landed there. How she and her maid - and the devil's own maid she was - finished their career is not well known ; but it is generally imagined that when the rebels forced open the loyalists' spirit stores Rose and her maid went into some of them, where the impression Thady Elliott gave Rose in her early days had such an effect that it is generally imagined she kicked the bucket as her tutor did. Rose was at one time much respected, but it is certain that her maid was the principal cause of her falling into disesteem, as she would, and did, sacrifice her mistress's reputation for a glass of whiskey.
Thomas and William Conlan [Connellan]. Thomas Conlan, the great harper, was born before my time. I heard he played very well. He made himself conspicuous in Scotland by means of the tune of 'Lochaber', which he plastered upon the Scotch as one of his own composition, whereas it is well known it was composed by Myles O'Reilly, of Killinkere [near Bailieborough], in the County Cavan, under the name of 'Limerick's Lamentation'. However, Conlan arrived to City honours in Edinburgh, chiefly by means of that tune among others. I heard they made him a bailie or burgomaster in Edinburgh, where he died.
I heard much of his brother William Conlan, who was a famous harper and a fine composer. He composed 'The Golden Star', 'Madame Lestrange', 'The Jointure' and a number of others that I now forget. He died in the County of Waterford.
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