O’Carolan – and a Barn Dance

Susie’s beautiful rendering of Sí Bheag Sí Mhór the other day put me in the mood for more compositions from Turlough O’Carolan. So I got out my Anglo concertina and recorded these two. I play them in our Ballydehob sessions very occasionally, and it would be good if more of us took up the repertoire.


First up is a well-known one, Lord Inchiquin. I am playing this in the key of A, which is unusual, but it suits my instrument. This melody is said (by Donal O’Sullivan Carolan The Life, Times and Music of an Irish Harper 1958) to be the only tune that O’Carolan composed while visiting Munster. He stayed with the Wrixon family, Ballygiblin, near Lombardstown, Co Cork sometime before 1720. The Wrixons became the Wrixon Bechers and then the Bechers, who have been extant in West Cork up to present times. Lord Inchiquin, however, is likely to have been the 4th Earl of Inchiquin William O’Brien (1700 – 1777), whose family seat was Dromoland Castle, Co Clare. The O’Briens claim ancestry going back to Brian Boru, the 10th century High King of Ireland. Here he is:

Secondly I am playing O’Carolan’s Planxty Maggie Browne. This jig – in G – has been the subject of much debate, some claiming that it was written by Scottish fiddler Niel Gow (1727 – 1807). No matter – I’m prepared to hand it to Turlough, although I’m probably playing it a shade too fast . . . It would sound more sedate and stately, perhaps, on the harp. I can’t find out who the Maggie (or Margaret) Browne is.


Lastly, it’s back to my melodeon for a request from a Ballydehob Session member. I have been playing this 4-part barn dance, Pearl O’Shaughnessy’s, for quite a while now in our session but with little uptake. Probably, I suspect, because it’s in C, which isn’t a popular key nowadays for musicians (although it once used to be). But I think it sounds good in the range; I learned it from East Clare concertina player Mary Macnamara, whose playing style came down through generations of her family, and is quite liberal in the use of keys. In the session I would play the whole tune through three times: AA BB CC DD etc.