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Fuigheall mor, Fuigheall beag, Aon-fuigheall

from Edward Bunting, Ancient Music of Ireland (Dublin 1840)


Irish fuíoll mór spoken by Gráinne Yeats
Irish fuíoll beag spoken by Gráinne Yeats
Irish aon fuíoll spoken by Gráinne Yeats

Scottish Gaelic fuigheall mòr spoken by Tony Dilworth
Scottish Gaelic fuigheall beag spoken by Tony Dilworth
Scottish Gaelic aon-fuigheall spoken by Tony Dilworth

Click the play button to hear it spoken. help


These three terms seem to be trying to set the different tunings permitted on a Gaelic harp into a sequence. In the centre is put ‘ Aon-fuigheall’ which is the ‘natural key’ of G, also called Leithghleas, with f sharp. Then there is a tuning set above and below that.

Above is the rare ‘Fuigheall mor’ with f sharp and c sharp; and below is ‘Fuigheall beag’ with all naturals.

It seems likely that the all naturals tuning, a mixolydian scale of G (with a flat 7th) may have been the original default tuning of the Gaelic harp in medieval times, and that the system given here might be a rationalisation of that.

See also Tead leagaidh / Tead leagtha, the bass string which is affected by (or defines) the tuning of the harp.

See also Alasdair Codona's pages on the word Fuáil.

Simon Chadwick 2008


Fuigheall mor - Great sound

Fuigheall beag - Lesser sound

Aon-fuigheall - Single sound

Fuigheall is an old Gaelic word meaning 'remainder, remnant', nowadays spelt fuíoll. The word has no essential musical connotations, and does not mean 'a sound', but some musical use is perhaps arguable. Whatever the meaning, it is then modified by mór, 'big, great', and beag, 'small', and aon fhuigheall (fhuíoll) would mean 'a single fuíoll'.

However, we have another old, mainly literary, word fuigheall, meaning 'an utterance, pronouncement', a meaning which might easily be extended in a musical context (as is the English 'statement').

On p.33 Bunting quotes from the 1792 harpers the forms Fuaidhghel mór ('Great harmony') and Fuaidhghel beag ('Little harmony'), and fuaidhghel might well be pronounced in a very similar way to fuigheall. Also, on p.36 we find Uan fuaidhghail explained as 'A single sound' (Uan therefore doubtless to be understood as aon, 'one'). Bunting's explanations here are not identical to those on p.28, but it is possible that they denote the same 'keys'. This word might be a form of fuagháil (nowadays fuáil), which means 'sewing, stitching', a meaning which again is readily extendable to cover a musical sequence. But in this case we have a serious difficulty in that fuáil is feminine, and therefore its qualifying adjectives would have to be mhór and bheag.

Colm Ó Baoill 2002