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Turlough O'Carolan.

You can listen to some short clips of O'Carolan's music.

Background Music Molly St George..
Turlough O'Carolan

(1670 - 1738)

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 association.

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.

Visiting these houses O'Carolan no doubt came into contact with classical music, and it is said he tried to emulate it in his own compositions, although using the harp he was at a distinct disadvantage, the harp being diatonic is incapable of playing classical music with its accidentals and key changes. However the music he did compose, was in many ways different from his predecessors, combining some classical elements with the traditional

O'Carolan's gave to his compositions a baroque sound, by dispensing with the traditional idea of having two repeating sections of equal length, he extended the last section adding melodic twists and turns.

A festival is held in his honour in Kedue County Roscommon each summer.
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