This tune is a very beautiful instrumental melody. It appears in only two sources. The second and better know is Daniel Dow’s book, published in 1776, where the tune is set with a harpsichord or cello bass, and titled “Cumh Peathar Ruari — Rorie Dall’s sister’s Lament”:
Many commentators1, in deciding which of the two Rory Dalls this tune might belong to, have opted for the second, Roderick Morrison, who was born c.1656. Unfortunately for that idea, an older variant of our tune also appears in the Straloch lute manuscript of 1627-9. There it is untitled; the manuscript merely calls it ‘a port’ i.e. a tune.
my hand copy from the Straloch ms
So we can conclude that it is the Irish Rory Dall, Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin, who composed this very poignant air.
In my view, the Straloch version is much more in keeping with the style of other music attributed to Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin; the Dow version seems a little polished and improved in the Scottish baroque fiddle idiom of the 18th century.
It’s also my view that none at all of the tunes attributed to “Rory Dall” belong to Roderick Morrison. For more info see my Rory Dall tunes page and tune index.
I like the way this tune works, I like the way that it is nominally in a ‘major’ mode but has a lot of ‘minor’ sonorities and passages.
I would call this type of tune “Renaissance Gaelic harp”. I think that it is similar to the way that Carolan developed an “Irish baroque” fusion style, as did James Oswald in Scotland. I would consider this kind of tune to have been composed by Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin in Scotland where he lived and worked, as a fusion between the old native Gaelic harp idiom and newer Anglo-Continental styles, with hints of “fake polyphony” and sonorities. You could cf course argue about how much this comes from the lute book setting, but I feel there is enough difference from the other repertory in the lute book to be more confident that we are seeing some old Gaelic harp idiom in this music.
Download my class handout: Rory Dall’s Sister comparison sheet.
Here is a film of a performance of the Straloch version. I also included this version on my CD Old Gaelic Laments (EGH3, 2012):
1. For example: William Matheson, The Blind Harper, SGTS 1970, p166-7. This book is the authoritive biography of Roderick Morrison. Other scholars and musicians have followed Matheson in crediting the tune to Morrison, for example Ann Heymann, Coupled Hands for Harpers, Clairseach 2000, p.109 (a printed arrangement of the Dow tune) and Alison Kinnaird, The Harper’s Gallery Temple TP003, 1980, a recording of Dow’s version played on lever harp. ^