Rory Dall

In old Scottish and Irish music books and manuscripts, you can find tunes which are labelled “by Rory Dall”. In the past, there has been uncertainty or confusion over which Rory Dall these tunes belong to. Some earlier writers even suggest that there was only one person called Rory Dall.

I have made a chart detailing all of the music attributed to both Rory Dalls. Click here for the complete tune-list index (PDF) (updated November 2019)

I used to be more confident that we could know who composed each of the tunes; Colm Ó Baoill and William Matheson both put forward arguments about which tune should go with which person. But I have been doubting more and more. Some of the tunes attributed to “Rory Dall” appear in manuscripts from the early 1600s, before Rory Dall Morison was born. My tune list shows the date of appearance of each tune, and also shows where it is attributed to Rory Dall and where it is not.

Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin, the Irish Rory Dall, is said to have composed five tunes. Three of these attributions come from the testimony of Arthur O’Neill c.1800: Da mihi manum (‘give me your hand’, which in Irish is Tabhair Dom Do Lamh) is the best-known; the other two are Port Atholl and Port Gordon.

Ruaidhri Dall Mac Mhuirich, the Scottish Rory Dall, is said to have composed the tune Suipear Tighearna Leoid (Lude’s Supper), according to Gunn in 1807. There are problems with this attribution, since Gunn says it was composed in 1650, which of course is before the Scottish Rory Dall was born. Was this date wrong? The tune is a variant of "McLeod's Salute", and since Lude and Leod are basically the same word, we might wonder if Rory Dall Morison composed this tune in the 1690s for McLeod of Dunvegan. It is all very messy and unsatisfactory.

The other tunes are just said to be by “ Rory Dall” and I don't see a sensible way to be more specific than that. Even worse, there are two completely different tunes called Port Gordon and two completely different tunes called Port Atholl. I wonder how much of what we have is creative explanation of confusing or contradictory recieved tradition.

There are also tunes which seem to be falsely attributed to Rory Dall, such as “A Highland Port by Rory Dall” by James Oswald, or the Londonderry Air. The final page of my tune list shows these dubious or spurious attributions.