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Biography of

Turlough O'Carolan

1670 (Nobber) - 25 mar 1738 (Alderford)
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Portrait of Turlough Carolan, from R.B. Armstrong "The Irish and Highland Harps", Edinburgh, David Douglas, 1904.

Turlough Carolan, also known as Turlough O'Carolan,[1] (Irish: Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin; Irish pronunciation: [ˈt̪ˠɾˠeːl̪ˠəx oː ˈcaruːl̪ˠaːnʲ]) (1670 – 25 March 1738) was a blind, early Irish harper, composer and singer whose great fame is due to his gift for melodic composition. He was the last great Irish harper-composer and is considered by many to be Ireland's national composer. Harpers in the old Irish tradition were still living as late as 1792, as ten, including Arthur O'Neill, Patrick Quin and Denis O'Hampsey, showed up at the Belfast Harp Festival, but there is no proof of any of these being composers. Some of Carolan's own compositions show influence from the style of continental classical music, whereas others such as Carolan's Farewell to Music reflect a much older style of "Gaelic Harping".



O'Carolan was born in 1670 near Nobber, County Meath, but in 1684 he moved with his family, to Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon, where his father took a job with the MacDermottRoe family of Alderford House. Mrs. MacDermottRoe gave him an education, and he showed talent in poetry. After being blinded by smallpox, at the age of eighteen, Carolan was apprenticed by Mrs MacDermott Roe to a good harper. At the age of twenty-one, being given a horse and a guide, he set out to travel Ireland and compose songs for patrons. For almost fifty years, Carolan journeyed from one end of the country to the other, composing and performing his tunes.

In 1720, O' Carolan married Mary Maguire. He was then 50 years of age. Their first family home was a cottage on a parcel of land near the town of Mohill in Co Leitrim, where they settled. They had seven children, six daughters and a son. In 1733 his wife Mary died.

O'Carolan is buried in the McDermottroe family crypt in Kilronan Burial Ground near Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon The annual O'Carolan Harp Festival and Summer School commemorates his life and work in Keadue, County Roscommon each year.

A bronze monument by sculptor Oisin Kelly depicting Turlough Carolan playing his harp, was erected on a plinth at the Market Square, Mohill, on 10 August 1986, and was unveiled by His Excellency, Doctor Patrick Hillery, President of Ireland.

Music and style

Carolan as depicted on the £50 note, Series B Banknote of Ireland.

Carolan composed both songs and instrumental harp music. Except for one song with an English text, all of his songs are in Irish. Most of his songs were dedicated to and about specific individuals. Many songs do not survive whole; what lyrics survive have only been published in part. His lyrics are rarely learned, whereas many of his tunes are widely performed and appreciated.

Carolan's musical style shows a mix of traditional and classical elements. He typically composed the tune first—as he rode from place to place—then added words later. Many of the tunes attributed to Carolan are older traditional melodies that he improved or lengthened. He wrote many "planxties" (tributes) in honor of some person. It is said that weddings and funerals were often delayed until he could arrive to perform.


His music was first published in Neale's A Collection of the Most Celebrated Irish Tunes ... in Dublin, c.1726. At least 220 tunes which survive to this day are attributed to him, though most were not published or even written down in his lifetime; they survived in the repertories of fiddlers, pipers and the last of the old Irish harpers and were collected and published piecemeal in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Only in 1958 was his entire repertoire published in one edition by Donal O'Sullivan, and even then few lyrics were given and some of the tunes were edited to make them fit the treble register.

A definitive and comprehensive edition of harp settings matched with the words of the songs has yet to be produced although a number of song settings appeared in The Bunting Collection of Irish Folk Music and Song by Donal O'Sullivan.


Some of his compositions are performed by many popular Irish musicians, such as Planxty, The Chieftains and The Dubliners. In addition, Carolan's Concerto has been used as a neutral Slow March by the Foot Guards of the British Army during the ceremony of Trooping the Colour.

Notable compositions

  • "Carolan's Concerto"
  • "Carolan's Draught"
  • "Carolan's Receipt (Dr. John Stafford)"
  • "Carolan's Welcome"
  • "Carolan's Ramble to Cashel"
  • "Dr. John Hart, Bishop of Achonry"
  • "Eleanor Plunkett"
  • "Fanny Power"
  • "George Brabazon"
  • "Hewlett"
  • "John O'Connor"
  • "Mrs Mc Dermott" (alternatively known as "Princess Royal")
  • "Lord Inchiquin"
  • "Planxty Irwin"
  • "Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór"


Complete list (alphabetical order)

  • All Alive
  • Athlone[citation needed]
  • Banks of the Shannon[citation needed]
  • Baptist Johnston
  • Betty MacNeill
  • Betty O'Brien
  • Blind Mary
  • Brian Maguire
  • Bridget Cruise, 1st Air
  • Bridget Cruise, 2nd Air
  • Bridget Cruise, 3rd Air
  • Bridget Cruise, 4th Air
  • Bumper Squire Jones
  • Bumper Squire Jones
  • Captain Higgins
  • Captain Magan
  • Captain O'Kane
  • Captain O'Neill
  • Captain Sudley
  • Carolan's Cap
  • Carolan's Concerto
  • Carolan's Cottage
  • Carolan's Cup
  • Carolan's Devotion
  • Carolan's Dowry
  • Carolan's Draught
  • Carolan's Dream
  • Carolan's Farewell to Music
  • Carolan's Favourite Jig
  • Carolan's Frolic
  • Carolan's Maggot
  • Carolan's Quarrel with the Landlady
  • Carolan's Ramble to Cashel
  • Carolan's Receipt
  • Carolan's Welcome
  • Catherine Martin
  • Catherine O'More
  • Charles O'Conor
  • Clergy's Lamentation, The
  • Colonel Irwin
  • Colonel John Irwin
  • Colonel Manus O'Donnell
  • Colonel O'Hara
  • Conor O'Reilly
  • Constantine Maguire
  • Counsellor Dillon
  • Cremonea
  • Cuir Do Cheann Dileas
  • Daniel Kelly
  • Dark, Plaintive Youth, The
  • David Power
  • Denis O'Conor, 1st Air
  • Denis O'Conor, 2nd Air
  • Dolly MacDonough
  • Donal O'Brien
  • Dr John Hart
  • Dr John Stafford
  • Dr MacMahon, Bishop of Clogher
  • Dr. Delany
  • Dr. John Hart, Bishop of Achonry
  • Dr. O'Connor
  • Edmond MacDermott Roe
  • Edward Corcoran
  • Edward Dodwell
  • Eleanor Plunkett
  • Elevation, The
  • Elizabeth MacDermott Roe
  • Elizabeth Nugent
  • Faillte Na Miosc
  • Fairy Queen, The
  • Fanny Dillon
  • Fanny Power
  • Farewell to Lough Neaghe
  • Father Brian MacDermott Roe
  • Frank Palmer
  • General Wynne
  • George Brabazon, 1st Air
  • George Brabazon, 2nd Air
  • George Brabazon, 2nd Air
  • George Reynolds
  • Gerald Dillon
  • Grace Nugent
  • Henry MacDermott Roe, 1st Air
  • Henry MacDermott Roe, 2nd Air
  • Henry MacDermott Roe, 3rd Air
  • Hewlett
  • Honourable Thomas Burke, The
  • Hugh Kelly
  • Hugh O'Donnell
  • Irish Galloway Tom
  • Isabella Burke
  • James Betagh
  • James Crofton
  • James Daly
  • James Plunkett
  • John Drury, 1st Air
  • John Drury, 2nd Air
  • John Jameson
  • John Jones
  • John Kelly
  • John MacDermott
  • John Moore
  • John Nugent
  • John O'Connor
  • John O'Reilly, 1st Air
  • John O'Reilly, 2nd Air
  • John Peyton
  • Kean O'Hara, 1st Air
  • Kean O'Hara, 2nd Air
  • Kean O'Hara, 3rd Air
  • Kitty Magennis
  • Lady Athenry
  • Lady Blaney
  • Lady Dillon
  • Lady Dillon
  • Lady Gethin
  • Lady Laetitia Burke
  • Lady St. John
  • Lady Wrixon
  • Lament for Charles MacCabe
  • Lament for Owen O'Rourke
  • Lament for Owen Roe O'Neill
  • Lament for Sir Ulick Burke
  • Lament for Terence MacDonough
  • Lamentation of Ireland, The
  • Landlady, The
  • Loftus Jones
  • Lord Dillon
  • Lord Galway's Lamentation
  • Lord Inchiquin
  • Lord Louth
  • Lord Massereene
  • Luke Dillon
  • Mabel Kelly
  • Major Shanly
  • Margaret Malone
  • Mary O'Neill
  • Maurice O'Connor, 1st Air
  • Maurice O'Connor, 2nd Air
  • Maurice O'Connor, 3rd Air
  • Merry Maids of Connaught, The
  • Mervyn Pratt
  • Michael O'Connor, 1st Air
  • Michael O'Connor, 2nd Air
  • Miss Crofton
  • Miss Fetherston
  • Miss Goulding
  • Miss MacDermott
  • Miss MacMurray
  • Miss Murphy
  • Miss Noble
  • Morgan Magan
  • Mr Malone
  • Mr O'Connor
  • Mr Waller
  • Mrs Anne MacDermott Roe
  • Mrs Bermingham, 1st Air
  • Mrs Bermingham, 2nd Air
  • Mrs Cole
  • Mrs Costello
  • Mrs Crofton
  • Mrs Delany
  • Mrs Edwards
  • Mrs Fallon
  • Mrs Farrell
  • Mrs Garvey, 1st Air
  • Mrs Garvey, 2nd Air
  • Mrs Harwood
  • Mrs Judge
  • Mrs Kell
  • Mrs MacDermott Roe
  • Mrs Maxwell, 1st Air
  • Mrs Maxwell, 2nd Air
  • Mrs Nugent
  • Mrs O'Connor
  • Mrs O'Conor
  • Mrs O'Neill of Carlane
  • Mrs O'Neill
  • Mrs O'Rourke
  • Mrs Power
  • Mrs Power
  • Mrs Sterling
  • Mrs Waller
  • Nancy Cooper, 1st Air
  • Nancy Cooper, 2nd Air
  • O'Briens of Clare
  • O'Flinn
  • O'Hara's Cup
  • O'Reilly of Athcarne
  • O'Rourke's Feast, The
  • O'Rourkes Rebel Rout
  • Ode to Whiskey
  • One Bottle More
  • Owen O'Rourke
  • Patrick Kelly
  • Peggy Morton
  • Planxty Burke
  • Planxty Crilly
  • Planxty Drew
  • Planxty Irwin
  • Planxty Kelly
  • Planxty O'Rourke, 1st Air
  • Planxty O'Rourke, 2nd Air
  • Planxty Plunkett
  • Planxty Sweeney
  • Planxty Wilkinson
  • Port Gordon
  • Princess Royal, The
  • Richard Cusack
  • Righin Aluin Aribhinn Og
  • Robert Hawkes
  • Robert Jordan
  • Seas are Deep, The
  • Separation of Soul and Body
  • Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór
  • Sir Arthur Shaen
  • Sir Charles Coote
  • Sir Edward Crofton
  • Sir Festus Burke
  • Sir Ulick Burke
  • Sorridh Leat a Naomhaig
  • Squire Parsons
  • Squire Wood's Lamentation on the Refusal of his Halfpence
  • Susanna Kelly
  • Thomas Burke
  • Thomas Judge
  • Thomas Morres Jones
  • Tobias Peyton
  • Two William Davises, The
  • Uillagan Dubh O
  • Variations on the Scottish Air "Cock up your Beaver"
  • Variations on the Scottish Air "When She Cam Ben"
  • William Eccles
  • William Ward


  • Carolan Road and "Carolan Corner" shop are named in his honor in the Ballynafeigh area of south Belfast, in northern Ireland.
  • The Polish band Myslovitz performs a cover of one of Carolan's songs called "Peggy Brown", which is arguably one of their greatest hits.


  1. ^ According to the 5th edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the version "O'Carolan" is "modern and lacks authority"
  • Dónal O'Sullivan, Carolan - The Life, Times, and Music of an Irish Harper (1958)
  • Dónal O'Sullivan, Songs of the Irish, Browne & Nolan, Dublin (1960)
  • Art Edelstein, "Fair Melodies: Turlough Carolan; An Irish Harper" (2001)
  • The first commercial recording of the Complete Works has been arranged and performed by Irish pianist: J.J. Sheridan (from Trigon Recordings)

External links

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Turlough O'Carolan. Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.
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