The Gaelic harp tradition was intimately connected with Gaelic song, yet the music credited to Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin is instrumental. Perhaps he did compose songs, but none survived; perhaps he performed other peoples' songs; perhaps he worked with a professional singer; perhaps he was an unusual innovator performing only instrumental music.
The 18th century Irish harpers did attribute one song to him; that is "Bacach Buidhe na Léimne". However it is so unlike his other work - the air is a common Gaelic song air, and the words are set in Ireland, especially the South - that we may doubt this attribution.
Ruaidhri Dall Mac Mhuirich composed seven songs which survive today. They use traditional Gaelic meters and song airs. The songs have been published with English translations: William Matheson, The Blind Harper, SGTS 1970.
Rory Dall would have played the harp to accompany his singing, presumably simply by playing the same melody as the song text. He possibly also improvised or worked out long, complex variation-sets similar to those played by pipers, perhaps as instrumental interludes between verses. We still know very little however about how the old Gaelic song was performed with harp accompaniment.
Perhaps his most famous song is the humourous Féill nan Crann, about a harper who loses his harp key, but he also composed songs in praise of his patron, McLeod of Dunvegan.
Listen to the first two verses of Oran do MhacLeòid Dhùn Bheagain sung by William Matheson. From his double CD Gaelic Bards and Minstrels, Scottish Tradition 16, Greentrax CDTRAX 9016D, 1993. Used with permission. Click here to order.