Carolan: In Ireland
about 300 years ago, there lived a harpist, singer and composer by the
name of Turlough 'O Carolan. He was born in West Meath around 1670.
When he was eighteen, he caught small pox, a disease which was usually
fatal at the time. His life was spared, but he was left permanently
blind. Turlough's blindness, in a way, was a blessing because it
awakened in him a hidden gift for music. A local noble woman by the
name of Mary Fitzgerald McDermott Rowe saw to it that he was trained in
the Irish harp, gave him a horse and guide and sent him on his way.
he was not
considered a great musician. (The ancient bards were supposed to have
started their training when they were still young children and Carolan
didn't start until he was an adult.) One of his first patrons, a Squire
Reynolds, suggested that he try his hand at composition. His first
work, "Si Beag, Si Mor", resulted from this suggestion. After he
finished the composition, his fame was spread throughout all of Ireland
and he started his career.
Carolan made his
living, was to travel from big house to big house, from castle to
castle, entertaining the households and the friends of some of the most
famous and wealthy people of Ireland at the time. Often, as a special
favor, he would write a tune in honor of the man of the house, or his
wife or daughter. He called these tunes "Planxties". He was very
successful and people would often delay weddings and funerals until he
could be present to play the appropriate tune.
Carolan was a very young
man, before his blindness, he met and fell in love with a young woman
named Bridget Cruise. Bridget was part of a noble family and Carolan's
family was of skilled laborers, so a match could never be made. And
even though he went on to live a very successful life, he never forgot
Bridget and wrote 3 planxties in her honor. He met her again near the
end of his life, when he was on his way to a religious retreat in
County Donegal. He happened to touch a woman's hand and instantly
recognized that it was hers.
also famous for
his love of drink, especially Irish whiskey. He wrote a tune in honor
of whiskey. As he was dying, he called for one last cup of his favorite
brew. His dying words were said to be "the drink and I have been
friends for so long, it would be a pity for me to leave without one
last kiss." And he died.