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Turlough O'Carolan, AKA The Blind Harpist


Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738) may have lost his sight at 18 after an attack of smallpox, but he never let his handicap prevent him from becoming one of Ireland's most famous musicians.  He gained great renown both as a harpist and composer, and his songs such as O'Carolan's Cottage, The Lamentation of Owen O'Neill and Planxty MacGuire still enchant listeners.

O'Carolan grew up in the Roscommon village of Alderford near Ballyfarnon, where he was apprenticed to a harpist after losing his sight.  When he was 21, his patroness, Mrs Mary MacDermott Roe, provided a horse and servant so that he could travel throughout Ireland.  He visited many great houses where he literally played and composed for his supper.  In Dublin he met Dr Patrick Delaney, professor of oratory at Trinity College, and through him was introduced to the music of 18th-century composers such as Corelli and Vivaldi - music which was to become a strong influence on him.

The melody Bridget Cruise is said to have been inspired by a love affair when he was a young man.  In later years, he was helping pilgrims onto a ferry on Lough Derg, and at the touch of a woman's hand recognised his love from the past.

Turlough's death in 1738 was an occasion of national sorrow.  It is reported that on his deathbed at Alderford he called for his harp and played his Farewell to Music.  He then asked for a cup of whiskey, but being too weak to drink it, kissed the cup explaining that old friends should not part without a kiss.  Ten harpists played at his four-day wake, and he was buried at Kilronan Cemetery.   Happily, more than 200 melodies of this last of the great Irish bards have survived.

transcribed by donkelly 1996......all rights reserved