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Arthur Ó Néill (c.1737 - 1816)

Arthur Ó Néill

In 1792, Edward Bunting met Arthur Ó Néill at the Belfast harpers’ meeting. In the years after that, Bunting took down a number of tunes direct from the playing of Arthur Ó Néill.

Unfortunately we seem to be missing the original field draft notations of a lot of these tunes. I presume Bunting used a notebook to take down the first drafts, which is now lost and not part of the Bunting manuscripts preserved in Queens University Belfast.

To understand the music of the old Irish harpers, it is always best to go straight to the draft field notation. If that is lost, then we have to rely on later piano arrangements, which is much more difficult, because the piano arrangement includes many changes from the original harp setting. However with care, and with familiarity with Bunting’s working methods, and by comparison with the tunes collected from other harpers which do survive in field draft, it is possible to start reconstructing Arthur Ó Néill’s music.

A few of the tunes appear also in ms29, Bunting’s first field draft, and these may represent live transcription from Arthur Ó Néill’s playing. Otherwise we have to look at piano arrangements. Generally, the ms33(1) and ms33(3) and (2) piano arrangements seem simpler and more harp-like than the ones in the published books, and the 1796 arrangements seem more harp-like than the 1809 and 1840 ones. I am sure that a good source-critical analysis of the different tune-settings in Bunting’s manuscripts could draw up connections between the different notations, allowing us to understand more of Arthur Ó Néill’s harp style. However this kind of work has not yet been done.

To understand his music on a practical level, we need to get a replica of a big 18th century Irish harp, strung with brass (and perhaps iron) strings, we need to play it in a left orietnation with left hand in the treble and right in the bass, and we need to use our fingertips to play. (In the old tradition, the early Irish harp was traditionally played with long fingernails. However, by the 18th century, the use of long nails was very old-fashioned and almost obsolete, and so Arthur Ó Néill played on the brass wire strings of his early Irish harp using the tips of his fingers.)

Here is a list of tunes said by Bunting to have been collected from Arthur Ó Néill:

Title and attribution in ms Bunting ms ref & folio no. Collette Moloney index item number
Lady Iveagh
Lady Iveach / Ancient Air, author and date unknown, from O’Neil the harper in 1796 ms27 f8r p322 27/16
Lady Iveach / By Thos Connallon about 1660 / From O Neil the Harper in 1792 ms13 f3r p249 13/6
Bantigherna Iveach. Lady Iveagh / very ancient / from Arthur O Neil ms33(2) f20v p384 33(2)/38
Lady Iveagh / Thomas Connallon, 1660 / O’Neill, harper / 1792 1840 index p.ix & notation p.2
Seabhac na h-Éirne
Seabhac na hEirne, or Hawk of Lough Erne, or Miss Moore / From Arthur O Neil - with words English & Irish by Carolan ms33(3) f5v-6r p390 33(3)/11
(video demo of this version)
Seabhac na Ierne. The Hawk of Ballyshannon, or O Moore’s Fair Daughter / By Carolan / From O Neil the Harper in 1792 ms13 f4r p249 13/8
Seabhac na hIrne. The Hawk of Ballyshannon, or “O Moore’s Fair Daughter” / By Carolan / From O’Neil the Harper in 1792 ms27 f10v p323 27/22
The hawk of Ballyshannon / Attributed to O’Caghan, in 1605 / A. O’Neill the Harper / 1792 1840 index p.x & notation p.13
[keening]
The Caoinin, or Irish Cry / Caoinin Bheg, or little cry / 2d Goll / Caoinin More, or the Great Cry / Lamentation More, or Chorus of Sighs and Tears / From O Neil the Harper, and at Armagh from the hired mourners, or keeners and an ancient M.M.S above a century old ms13 f32r-33v p.255 13/72-76
The Caoinin, or Irish Cry / as sung in Ulster, First Goll, Sung by the principal Singer and recounts the birth of the deceased & parentage / Caoinin Beg, or Little Cry / sung by two women keeners - from O’Neil the Harper at Belfast in 1799 / 2nd Goll / 1.st or principal Keener rehearses the deeds of the defunct, Semi chorus, Lamentation by the 1st & 2nd keeners / Caoinin More, or the Great Cry / ‘Ogh Hone ogh hone ogh hone’, This part was sung twice or thrice by the whole multitude at pleasure, the words sung to it ogh! hon! ogh hon ogh hon a nee / Lamentation More, or chorus of Sighs and Tears, performed by the relative of the dead person, Bass very soft, sung by the 1.st or principal singer only, Bass extremely soft lightly touched ms27 f.1v-3r p.321 27/2-6
Irish cry / Very ancient, author and date unknown / O’Neill, harper, and from the hired mourners or keenes at Armagh; and from a MS. above 100 years old / 1799 1840 index p.viii & notation p.59
Da Mihi Manum (More...)
Da mihi Manum / Composed for Lady Eglington by O Caghan called Riree dall in the 17th century / From O Neil the Harper in 1806 ms13 f42r p.257 13/98
Da mihi Manum / by Rory Dall O Caghan / From O’Neil at Newry in 1800 ms27 f48v-49r p329 27/113
Give me your hand / O’Caghan, 1603 / A. O’Neill, harper / 1806 1840 index p.viii & notation p.46
Síle Ní Chonnalláin
Shella Bheg Ni Conallaun, or Jane Conolly / very ancient, From Arthur O Neil & set in the same key as he played it in ms33(3) f6v p390 33(3)/12
Shela ni Connallon / Supposed to be by Thos Connollan about 1660 / From Arthur O’Neil in 1792 ms13 f41r p257 13/96
Sheela Ni Conlan / by Thomas Conolan / From O’Neil in 1792 ms27 f20r p324 27/43
Celia Connallon / Thomas Connallon, 1660 / A. O’Neill, harper, 1792 1840 Index, p.vii & notation p.37
Fanny Power
Plangsty Trench, or Fanny Power / by Carolan / From O’Neil the Harper at Newry in 1800 ms27 f31v p.326 27/73
Fanny Power / Carolan / A. O’Neill, harper / 1800 1840 index, p.viii & notation p.49
Sliabh Bán
Slieve Bain, or White Hill / From Arthur O’Neil ms33(2) f17v p383 33(2)/32
Cailin Donn
Callin Don / in the 1st Vol to another Air / This Air Arthur O Neil says is the same as the Rocks of Pleasure but it is in my oppinion totally different ms33(2) f21r p384 33(2)/39
Fáilte go Kingsland
Faulte goh Kingsland, or Plangsty Kingsland / from Arthur O’Neil ms 33(2) f22v p384 33(2)/42
Did you see the black rogue
Did You See the Black Rogue Looking for a Woman. Bhacca Dubh en Starrae Dubh Geram Mna / From Arthur O Neil & also from an Old printed Collection ms 33(2) f28v p385 33(2)/55
Vaccatu an Starrae Dubh / ‘Vaccatu an starrae dubh giaradh na’ / did you see the blck Rogue looking for a woman / From O’Neil in 1800 at Newry ms 27 f42v p327 27/95
Coillte glas an Truigha
Chuilte Glasa an Trucha, or Green Woods of the Trugh / from Arthur O Niel & Patrick Ward of Drogheda ms 33(3) f3v p389 33(3)/7
Green Woods of Triugha / Harp Bass as performed by Hempson and O’Neil etc. ms 12 f33v p233 12/101
1781 - first ball at Granard... I got the second [prize] for “The Green Woods of Truagh” and “Mrs Crofton”, eight guineas Memoirs: Charlotte Milligan Fox Annals p.174; Donal O’Sullivan Carolan p.163 no notation
Second ball [at Granard]... I got the second [prize] for the “Green Woods of Truagh” and the “Fairy Queen”, [six guineas] Memoirs: Charlotte Milligan Fox Annals p.176; Donal O’Sullivan Carolan p.164 no notation
Tigearna Mhuigh Ó
Tiarna Mhiagheo, or Lord Mayo / by Thady Keenan / From Arthur O Neil ms 33(3) f10v p390 33(3)/19
Súd é Síos a’ Rod a d’Imigh Sí
Sud Siar a Ród a dImighsy. There’s the Road She Went / very ancient / This tune to be sung slow from B. Billy / From Higgins also from Arthur O Neil ms 33(3) f30v p392 33(3)/46
Peggy Na Leavien
Pegy ni Sléibhe, or Peggy Na Leavien / From Arthur O Neil ms 33(3) f31r p392 33(3)/47
An Cuachin Mhaiseach (More...)
The Bonny Cuckoo / ‘My Bonny Cuckoo I tell you true’ / from O’Neil in 1793 ms 27 f5v p322 27/11
Miss Hamilton
Miss Hamilton / by Cornelius Lyons sometime Harper to Earl of Antrim in 1702 / From O’Neil in 1803 ms 27 f12v p323 27/26
An Spailín Fánach
The Girl I left behind me / From O’Neil in 1804 ms 27 f15v p323 27/33
The Girl I left behind me / Author and date unknown / A. O’Neill, harper / 1800 1840 index p.x & notation p.43
O’Donnell’s March
O’Donnell’s March / from O’Neil in 1800 ms 27 f24v p325 27/54
Planxty Miss Burke
Plangsty Miss Burke / from O’Neil in 1802 ms 27 f25r p325 27/56
Planxty Miss Burke / Carolan / A. O’Neill, harper / 1800 1840 index p.ix & notation p.43
Táim mé mo chodladh ’s ná dúisigh mé
Ta Me mo Collad, or I’m Asleep etc / [the lines marked with numbers] from Hempson and [the lines marked with] * from O Niel ms 20 f8v-9r p291-2 20/9
Mr Thompson was so fond of the tune of “Past one o’clock” that we both tete-a-tete finished four bottles of good old wine, I playing the tune all the time, except when lifting my hand to my head Memoirs: Charlotte Milligan Fox, Annals p.152; Donal O’Sullivan Carolan p.150 no notation
The Marquis was at a loss how to call for the tune of “Past One O’Clock” or “Thaw me ma Cullagh naur dhourska me”, which he heard played somewhere before. He percieved me going towards the door, and followed me, and informed me that there was a man that made boots for him whose name was Tommy MacCullough, and it was like the tune by saying “Tommy MacCullough made boots for me”... I went in with him and played it. Memoirs: Charlotte Milligan Fox, Annals p.157; Donal O’Sullivan Carolan p.154 no notation
Drimmin Dubh
Dear Black Cow / very ancient, author and date unknown / A. O’Neill, harper, 1800 1840 index, p.viii & notation p.32
The Princess Royal
Princess Royal / composed by Carolan for McDermot’s Daughter who were princes of Coolavin / from Cody and O Neil ms 5 f31v p.190 5/31
The Princess Royal / Carolan / A. O’Neill, harper / 1800 1840 index p.xi & notation p.35
Eilí Gheal Chiúin Ní Chearbhaill
Harp O Neil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1809, p. 1, London BL Add ms 41508
Pléaráca Na Ruarcach
Harp O Neill Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1809, p. 8, London BL Add ms 41508
Planxty Reilly
By Carolan / Harp O Neil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1809, p. 19, London BL Add ms 41508
Bumper Squire Jones
Harp O Neil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1809, p. 26, London BL Add ms 41508
Colonel Irwin
O Neil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1809, p. 39, London BL Add ms 41508
Madame Abigail Judge
Carolns certainly / Harp O Neil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1809, p. 62, London BL Add ms 41508
Cailín Deas Crúidhte Na mBó (pretty girl milking the cow)
Harp O Neil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1809, p. 59, London BL Add ms 41508
Harp O neil / set in 1809 Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1796, p. 29, London BL Add ms 41508
An Sean Triúcha (The Old Truagh)
Harp O Neil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1809, p. 67, London BL Add ms 41508
Harp O Neil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1796, p. 7, London BL Add ms 41508
The Fairy Queen (More...)
Harp O Neil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1796, p. 3, London BL Add ms 41508 (video demo of this version)
Second ball [at Granard]... I got the second [prize] for the “Green Woods of Truagh” and the “Fairy Queen”, [six guineas] Memoirs: Charlotte Milligan Fox Annals p.176; Donal O’Sullivan Carolan p.164 no notation
Grádh Gan Fhios (Love in Secret)
Connallon / Harp O Neil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1796, p. 8, London BL Add ms 41508
Fosgail an doras go ciúin, O! (open the door softly)
Harp Oneil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1796, p. 8, London BL Add ms 41508
Madame Cole
Harp Oneil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1796, p. 9, London BL Add ms 41508
Rose Dillon
Harp Oneil / set in 1809 Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1796, p. 13, London BL Add ms 41508
Rioghan I n-Uaigneas (The Forlorn Queen)
Harp Oneil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1796, p. 19, London BL Add ms 41508
A rún, fan agam is fuirigh go ló (my dear stay with me)
Harp oneil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1796, p. 21, London BL Add ms 41508
Carolan’s Concerto
Harp Oneil / set in 1809 Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1796, p. 23, London BL Add ms 41508 (video demo of this version)
Seóinín Ó Raghallaigh, fear gasda (John O’Reilly, fine fellow)
Harp Oneil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1796, p. 27, London BL Add ms 41508
Ógánaigh Óig (young lad) (The blossom of the raspberry)
Harp Oniel Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1796, p. 28, London BL Add ms 41508
Grace Nugent
Harp O neil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1796, p. 36, London BL Add ms 41508
Planxty Dillon
Harp O neil Manuscript annotation in Bunting 1796, p. 36, London BL Add ms 41508
’S a mhuirnín dílis
[c.1760] “Counsellor Macnamara, then Recorder of Limerick... had... Brian Boru’s harp... I new strung it and then tuned it... Counsellor Macnamara requested me to strap it around my neck and play it through that hospitable city, which I agreed to do... the first tune I happened to strike on was the tune of Eileen Og, now generally called Savourneen Deelish and Erin Go Bragh. Memoirs: Charlotte Milligan Fox, Annals p.149-50; Donal O’Sullivan Carolan p.149 no notation
Port Atholl
The Purths are uncommon fine tunes... I played them once, but now forget them. Memoirs: Charlotte Milligan Fox Annals p.170; Donal O’Sullivan Carolan p.160 no notation
Port Gordon
The Purths are uncommon fine tunes... I played them once, but now forget them. Memoirs: Charlotte Milligan Fox Annals p.170; Donal O’Sullivan Carolan p.160 no notation
Mrs Crofton
1781 - first ball at Granard... I got the second [prize] for “The Green Woods of Truagh” and “Mrs Crofton”, eight guineas Memoirs: Charlotte Milligan Fox Annals p.174; Donal O’Sullivan Carolan p.163 no notation
Madge Malone
I next came into the County Tyrone, and stopped at Ned Conway’s, near Newton-Stewart. He had a daughter that played the harp uncommon well. Miss Conway and I were closeted together for three weeks, exchanging tunes. She gave me the tune of “Dr Hart”, and I gave her the tune of “Madge Malone” and several other tunes mutually, that I cannot remember at present Memoirs: Charlotte Milligan Fox Annals p.183; Donal O’Sullivan Carolan p.168 no notation
Dr Hart
She gave me the tune of “Dr Hart”... Memoirs: Charlotte Milligan Fox Annals p.183; Donal O’Sullivan Carolan p.168 no notation

In the Memoirs, Arthur Ó Néill mentions a number of other tunes by name, which he obviously knew, but here I have only listed tunes specifically said to have been played by him.