Da Mihi Manum

This is a very interesting and well-attested tune from the old Gaelic harp repertory. Perhaps most startlingly, it has a Latin title. According to the testimony of Irish harper Arthur O’Neill in about 18081, the tune was composed in Scotland for a Scottish patron by the Irish harper Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin (late 16th c - c.1650).

The tune appears in a number of variants of two different basic versions, which I find very interesting as a well-documented example of a tune changing its shape over the centuries. The earlier examples of it are all in Scottish sources, but as its popularity declined in Scotland it became more prominent in Irish tradition and it is now a standard in Irish traditional music, under the title “Tabhair dom do lamh” or Give me your hand, though it is less known in Scotland.

This tune is almost always set in G, with f natural appearing at the end as a dramatic shift in sonority. Some settings add in f sharp as well but I don't think this accidental f sharp is from the old harp traditions.

The first written version of the tune dates from during the lifetime of the alleged composer, Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin. This setting was written down in Fife, Scotland, by the youthful Lady Margaret Wemyss in 1643-4, in her lute manuscript. She titles the tune “Da Miche Manum”:
my transcription from the Wemyss ms

Here is a film of a performance of the Wemyss version. I also included this version on my CD Clàrsach na Bànrighe (EGH1, 2008):

This setting of the tune is very interesting, as it can be compared with other Gaelic harp tunes attributed to Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin which appear in the near-contemporary Straloch lute manuscript. The two-part structure, with the first part repeated, and the way the tune is set low on the harp, make this a good example of the port genre of 17th century Gaelic harp instrumental music.

By around 1700, Italianate baroque style was reaching Ireland and Scotland. The new baroque style was taken up enthusiastically, in Ireland by harpers such as Carolan, and in Scotland by fiddle players such as James Oswald.

The Balcarres lute manuscript from the very end of the 17th century includes a setting of Da Mihi Manum (f55r / p.109 / no.168), which is attributed to “Mr Mclaughlan”, an Edinburgh fiddle player who was a pioneer in making Italianate settings of Scottish tunes. His set of Da Mihi Manum is actually quite old-fashioned and straight, very close to the Wemyss version, but there are a few places where the simple, almost austere sonorities of the Wemyss set are replaced by little curls and running movements to join one bar to the next.
my transcription from the Balcarres ms

The MacFarlane-Young fiddle ms c.1740, p.142-3, includes a setting of our tune. While it is clearly the same basic version as Wemyss and Balcarres, there is just that bit more gentle expansion of the melody in fiddle style:
my transcription from the MacFarlane-Young ms

An extreme version of our tune, heavily done up in Italianate style, can be found in Daniel Dow’s book, published in Edinburgh in 1776. His version of Da Mihi Manum (pp.24-25) takes the melody familiar from the Wemyss, Balcarres and MacFarlane settings, and adds running baroque flourishes to almost every phrase:


Both Dow and MacFarlane also lift the tune an octave, obviously to fit it onto the range of the fiddle.

However, Da Mihi Manum really got going in the 18th century sources after it had been radically reworked. I don't know who might have been responsible for this major recasting of the tune, but all other instances of the melody follow the new shape which is quite different. Most of these that I have seen are in Irish books, or are said to be Irish tunes, starting with the version printed by Neal in Dublin in 1724, in A Collection of the most Celebrated Irish Tunes:


By 1730, Da Mihi Manum was well enough known in Ireland that Laurence Whyte, in his poem on Italian and Irish music2, includes our tune in a list of just five famous Irish melodies mentioned by name, and he also says it is “an arcanum”.

Other books in which this new 18th century version of Da Mihi Manum appears include:

Wright, Aria di Camera, 1730, no. 36 (I haven’t checked this one)

Burk Thumoth, Twelve Scotch and Twelve Irish Airs, c. 1742, where our tune appears in the Irish section:

James Oswald, The Caledonian Pocket Companion. London c.1750:

Thompson, Hibernian Muse, c.1786 no.12 (I haven’t checked this one)

Brysson, c.1791, A curious selection of favourite tunes, with variations, to which is added upwards of 50 favourite Irish airs, p28

An undated anonymous sheet, which was sent to Edward Bunting by a correspondent some time between 1792 and 1840, contains a very interesting version of our tune. It seems to have features of both the older version of the tune and also the new 18th century setting, but it has been transposed to c. It is titled “Donaghimanum”, obviously an Irish phonetic attempt at the Latin title. I don't know who or where this might have come from. It is in Bunting’s papers at Queen’s (QUB MS4/34 f12v):
my transcription from Bunting ms34

About 1800, Irish harper Arthur O’Neill dictated his memoirs to Edward Bunting’s secretary. He included the anecdote about Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin composing the tune for Lady Eglinton, and he also gave an English translation “Give me your Hand” as well as the Latin title. This is the earliest attribution or translation I have seen.

Mulholland, Ancient Irish airs, 1810, p.8:
Mulholland seems to be the first to give an Irish translation of the original Latin title: “Tabair do laim dam”.

Edward Bunting, The Ancient Music of Ireland, 1840 p.68:

I think Bunting in 1840 was the first to publish the tune with an attribution to Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin. Bunting’s Irish version of the title, “Tabhair dom do lamh”, is perhaps one of the most common versions of the title used today. Bunting collected this version from the playing of Arthur O’Neill in about 1800 or 1806, but we don’t seem to have a field draft for this item, only piano arrangements. I’m also not aware of any of the other harpers Bunting met playing this tune, and it’s also interesting that Arthur O’Neill, in his Memoirs, not only knew the story of Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin, but also knew about the ports he is said to have composed, and said he used to play some of the ports.


1. Arthur O’Neill, Memoirs, in Charlotte Milligan Fox, Annals of the Irish Harpers, 1911, and also in Donal O’Sullivan, Carolan: the life, times and music of an Irish harper, 1954. ^

2. Lawrence Whyte, A Dissertation on Italian and Irish Music, quoted in Nicholas Carolan (ed), John and William Neal, A Collection of the most Celebrated Irish Tunes, ITMA, Dublin, 2010, p.9 ^