Turlough O’Carolan

About Turlough O’Carolan

Harper, composer and singer, Turlough O’Carolan was the last of the Irish Bards.
Whilst in his teens O’Carolan contracted small pox and became completely blind. However, his education and musical studies continued, fostered by Mrs. McDermott Roe, and at the age of 21 she provided him with a guide, a horse and money and thus his life as a wandering harper and subsequently composer began. His livelihood depended on the hospitality of the “big house” and notable among his patrons were the reynolds family of Leitrim, the Maguire’s of Fermanagh, one of whom, Mary Maguire, he married, the McDermott’s and the O’Connor’s of Roscommon.
It is as a composer that O’Carolan is best known. The “Bunting Collection” attributes over 40 songs and airs to O’Carolan, among them the popular O’Carolan’s Concerto.

Many of his works are of particular interest in that they reflect the fusion of major influences in his life. On the one hand the Gaelic tradition and culture around which he was reared and on the other hand, the contemporary music of the day.
In 1738 having a premonition that his end was near, he returned to Alderford where his old patron still lived.
On arrival he called for his harp, composed and played, perhaps his greatest piece “Farewell to Music”. He died soon afterwards and was buried in the old 6th century Abbey of Kilronan just outside Keadue village.
He is the only Irish harper whose music has survived in any quantity with about two hundred pieces to his credit. His music has been the inspiration for countless musical compositions down through the years, including the American National Anthem
“The Star Spangled Banner”. Turlough O’Carolan, the last of the Irish Bards, was unquestionably one of Ireland’s greatest musical geniuses.

Today the O’Carolan Heritage Park in Keadue commerates the life of the man and the O’Carolan Harp and Traditional Music Festival is held in Keadue on the first weekend of August every year which continues for one week celebrating Harp and Traditional Irish Music. The summer school week precedes the festival weekend of the first weekend in August ( when a Bank Holiday falls on the first Monday of August in Ireland)

Harper, Composer and Singer : Turlough O’Carolan (1670 – 1738)
His remains now lie at Kilronan Abbey, Keadue, County Roscommon.