Dominick O’Donnell (fl. c.1790s-1811))

We have virtually no information about O’Donnell’s life.

Edward Bunting gives us tiny snippets of information. In his first field notebook, Bunting wrote a list of harpists and other information, presumably as dictated to him in the 1790s, perhaps at Belfast in 1792. The first item in this list reads “Dominick O’Donnell beside Bellaghy” (Bunting ms29 f114v). Presumably, then, Bunting had heard of O’Donnell but had not met him at this stage.

At some point, perhaps as late as the 1830s, Bunting wrote little annotations beside tune titles in a copy of the 1796 printed book (London, British Library Add ms 41508). Beside the tune “Dá mBeadh Spré Ag An gCat” (if the cat had a dowry), he wrote “Harp O Donnell”. Had he met O’Donnell and collected this tune before 1796? Or was this attribution a mistake? Did Bunting later collect the same tune from O’Donnell? I do not know how reliable these annotated attributions are.

In the 1840 printed book, Bunting says he collected a tune from O’Donnell in 1802, and in his manuscripts of tunes, Bunting tags a number of tunes as collected from O’Donnell, in 1803, 1808, 1809, 1810, and 1811. Bunting also later wrote O’Donnell’s name beside a couple of tunes in the annotated copy of the 1809 printed book.

We have two comments on O’Donnell’s playing on the harp. Bunting says about one tune, that he “noted it down from the performance of Dominick O’Donnell, a harper from Foxford, in Mayo, who appeared totally unconscious of the art with which he was playing.”. (Bunting 1840 introduction p.91).

And in two places, Bunting gives Arthur Ó Néill’s testimony: “A Harper Dominick O Donnell near Bellaghy County Mayo a good Player by O Neil’s account” (ms12 f89r) and “Dominick O’Donnell near Bellaghy County Mayo a good harper by O Neil’s account” (ms5 f41v). However, O’Donnell’s name does not appear in Arthur Ó Néill’s Memoirs, or in the Belfast Public Library manuscript of Ó Néill’s information.