Rory Dall

Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin, the Irish Rory Dall1, was born about the late 16th century in North Antrim. He was the son of an Ó Catháin chief. It’s possible he was the son of the high chief of the Ó Catháins, but it seems more likely he was from a branch of the family, and he may have been son of An Giolla Dubh, d.1653, of Dún Sobhairche.

Rory Dall is said to have spent most of his life in the Scottish Highlands, especially around the Atholl area of Perthshire. Very little is known of his life. However we can look at the traumatic political situation in the north of Ireland at that time, to surmise that he fled from his ancenstral lands around Coleraine because of political and religious persecution.

He is said to have played before King James I & VI, perhaps when James was in Glasgow in 1617. Rory Dall is also said to have visited Lude house in Perthshire in about 1649, where he would have seen the Lamont harp and maybe also the Queen Mary harp. We don’t know when he died; perhaps it was soon after 1650. He is said to have died at Armadale, Skye, the house of MacDonald of Sleat.

There are a few anecdotes about him, but really most of what we know of him is his music. Next...

Ruaidhri Dall Mac Mhuirich, the Scottish Rory Dall1, was born c.1656 in Bragar, Lewis. He was the son of a wealthy farmer and poet. He was sent to school in Inverness to train to be a church minister but he caught smallpox there and became blind and scarred. Unable to finish his education he studied music instead, and was sent to Ireland to study the Gaelic harp traditions.

When he finished his training he became an itinerant musician, part of a travelling band of low-status entertainers, which he did not much enjoy. In 1681 he was in Edinburgh, where he met Iain Breac MacLeod, chief of the MacLeods of Dunvegan. Rory was soon securely engaged as harper at Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye, living at Claggan three miles from the castle. It seems that Rory may have unusually held both posts of harper and poet.

However at some point, and for reasons unknown, he was sent away by Iain Breac to live in Glenelg, a kind of exile from the household. When Iain died, his son Roderick spent very little time at Dunvegan. Rory Dall in Glenelg instead spent time with John MacLeod of Talisker. Later, Rory Dall went and lived with his father-in-law in Lochaber. From there he made occasional visits to the houses of chieftains in the Highlands and Islands. At the end of his life he returned to Dunvegan where he died in 1713-4 and was buried there. Next...


1. This summary of the life of Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin is based on Colm O Baoill, ‘Some Irish Harpers in Scotland’, Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness 47, 1970-72, p.143-171, and Colm Ó Baoill, ‘Two Irish Harpers in Scotland’ in James Porter (ed.) Defining Strains: The Musical Life of Scots in the Seventeenth Century. Studies in the History and Culture of Scotland 2, Peter Lang, Berne, 2007 ^

2. This summary of the life of Ruaidhri Dall Mac Mhuirich is based on William Matheson, The Blind Harper - the songs of Roderick Morison and his music, Scottish Gaelic Texts Society, 1970 ^