O'Carolan was born near Nobber in county
Meath, little is known about his family, his father may have been
a farmer, what is known is that when Turlough was fourteen the family
moved to the Roscommon, Leitrim area. There at Aldersford his father
John took employment in an iron foundry,
owned by the McDermott Roe family. Turlough came to the attention
of Mrs McDermott Roe who was impressed by his intelligence, she
had him educated along side her own children, and so began a lifelong
When he was eighteen fate struck him a devastating
blow, he contracted smallpox which resulted in him losing his sight.
In those days music was one of the few options open to the blind.
He spent three years taking lessons, at the end of which he was
given a horse, a guide and some money and took to the road as an
itinerant harper. Little did anyone suspect that setting out on
that first journey, would lead to his visiting and staying as a
guest in many of the great houses of the Irish midlands, composing
tunes for the owners. After his death a plaque was placed in St.
Patrick's Cathedral Dublin honoring him as "the last of the
Irish bards," The man who brought to a close the centuries
old tradition of the wandering poet minstrel
The era in which O'Carolan was born and lived
was a particularly harsh one for Catholics, the penal
laws were being implemented, Irish culture and traditions were
scorned in many quarters. Poets minstrels
and storytellers in previous times were welcomed by king and clan
leader alike. A new class now ruled Ireland, many of these had different
values, why was it then some chose to be entertained in the Irish
tradition, perhaps it endowed on them a confirmation of their lordship.
Whatever the case O'Carolan led a lavish life and was welcome in
the mansions of wealthy landowners, staying for a period of time
entertaining his host and often composing a tune in his or her honour.