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Pauline Lerner

Music by O'Carolan for St. Patrick's Day

March 17, 2010 at 7:30 AM

Turlough O'Carolan, the blind Irish harper, composer, and itinerant musician is one of Ireland's best known and loved musicians. He was born in 1670, and when he was 14 years old, his father went to work at an iron foundary owned by the McDermott family -- an unplanned blessing for Turlough. Mrs. McDermott was impressed by Turlough's intelligence, and she had him educated with her children until he was 18. When he was 14, disaster struck him. He was stricken with smallpox and became permanently blind. There were few employment opportunities for the blind in Ireland at that time, and most blind people became musicians. Turlough studied the harp for 3 years and then became a wandering ministrel. He stayed at the home of one nobleman after another, composing and playing his harp for the families he lived with. He often wrote songs for his employers, called Planxty (Name) meaning In Honor of (Name). Living among the aristocracy, he was exposed to Italian classical music, which influenced his compositions. When he died in 1738, he was well known as one of Ireland's greatest bards. (See this website for more details.)

Although O'Carolan wrote for the harp, his music is now played by many people on many instruments, including me on violin.

Celebrate St. Patrick's Day by listening to some of O'Carolan's gentle music. You won't hear this music in Irish pubs.

Here is Planxty George Brabazon on harps and other instruments.



The next two are Planxty Irwin on recorder and then on guitar. I've found that this is a piece that almost everyone likes and picks up quickly. I always get some other instruments playing with me, and I have a lot of fun with that.

Posted on March 17, 2010 at 12:27 PM

Absolutely brightened my day



From Pauline Lerner
Posted on March 17, 2010 at 3:55 PM

Thanks, Sam.  You brightened my day with your comment.

From Anna Meyer
Posted on March 17, 2010 at 8:24 PM

I absolutely love Carolan´s tunes. I have a book with 15 of his tunes and I love playing them, I know most of them by heart now and I always have the sheetmusic in my bag. My favourite tune of his is "Carolan´s dream". I love playing it,

Thanks for posting his music :)

From benny atkinson
Posted on March 17, 2010 at 8:30 PM

Happy Paddy's day Pauline!

Here is a version by Kevin Burke, well known fiddler in Ireland:

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on March 18, 2010 at 12:51 AM

Benny, thanks so much for posting that link.  Kevin Burke added ornaments and variations, so that each time he played the melody, it was different.  I'm going to study that clip and see whether I can figure out what he's doing and try some of it myself.

I heard the band Patrick Street, which includes Kevin Burke, live in concert Monday night at a St. Patrick's Day concert.  Burke played Loftus Jones, which I hadn't heard before, and now I want to learn to play it.  Of course, Kevin Burke was fantastic, and the other members of the band were also great.  We were fortunate to see two girls who compete at the international level perform Irish step dancing while the band played a couple of tunes.  (Here is a link to a video of a world competition of girls dancing at the same competitive level as the ones I saw: .)  The whole concert was a fantastic experience.

I bought the complete collection of O'Carolan's tunes a few years ago, only to find that it is available free online at .

From Randy Mollner
Posted on March 18, 2010 at 4:07 AM

Thanks for the links!  These are great versions.

Just finished a four hour St. Pat's fiddle gig at Tommy Nevin's Pub in Evanston, IL and played the Concerto, Morgan Magan, and Sh'beg n Sh'more.  So, its not entirely unlikely you'd hear O'carolan's compositions at a pub.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on March 18, 2010 at 11:24 PM

Aww, that was great fun (even a day late!). Thanks so much for posting these, Pauline, and sharing the story. And hey, I've played the first tune! Nice to hear its history. 

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on March 19, 2010 at 1:27 AM

Randy, that must be a very special Irish pub where you performed.  I like your choice of tunes. Morgan Magan seems to be a favorite among fiddlers. 

From Randy Mollner
Posted on March 19, 2010 at 5:28 AM

Nevin's is a pretty great pub.  Their weekly Irish session is REALLY great, hosted by the fantastic multi-instrumentalist John Williams and every once and a while attended by fiddler Liz Caroll.

But, you know, I played at 6 pubs over the last week and played a few O'Carolan tunes at each one.  I guess I figure that it's nice to play something pretty after some rousing sets of jigs and reels and since I'm the one whose got the mic, what's anyone going to do about it?  People seem to like it,  after all, there's only so many times you can hear some guy bellowing out "Whiskey in the Jar".

Oh, by the way, another one I love to play is "Lord Inchiquin," a nice waltzy song in, you guessed it, the key of D major.

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