Collections Introduction

An area very rich in folkmusic …

‘The old people of Dromintee will tell you of the number and the skill of musicians who used to come to Forkhill fair. I was told that there used to be as many as thirty playing at it’. They display an extensive knowledge of the names of song and dance tune. The reel known as the ‘Black-Haired Lass’ seems to have been a great favourite with everyone. These facts point to a vanishing and disappearing musical culture… The mastersingers and masterplayers of the country come here to rival and to emulate each other and they were employed by the various groups of dancers in the Fair tents. These tents were pitched at the top of the village hill by the side of the road in three rows of ten each.’                                                       Michael J. Murphy, AHU p. 76

The Blackhaired Lass (girl) a collected by Luke Donnellan in Dromintee c. 1900. A favourite tune at the Forkhill Fair 29 September.

(See AHU pp. 38-9; pp.421-507 for full references and further information)

In this section are accounts of the two main collections of music manuscripts published in A Hidden Ulster – people, songs and traditions of Oriel (Four Courts Press) 2003: The Luke Donnellan Collection and The Patrick McGahon Collection; sources from whom music was collected; Oriel musicians who now source music from the collections with audio and video; 18 videos of music (6 of them on Éigse Oirialla: Concerts section here) played by Oriel musicians from the collections and audios are featured in this section with original and modern transcriptions of the tunes.

When Breandán Breathnach, one of the leading authorities on Irish folk music, remarked in 1978, that ‘the counties of Louth and Armagh comprised an area very rich in folk music’, he was unaware of these collections that would later surface confirming his opinion. A number of collections have since emerged that were unknown to him.

Some of these are printed in the Collections and Catalogues section of A Hidden Ulster (AHU 421-531), the facsimile copies of dance tune collections and repertoire catalogues reveal a rich, constantly evolving, tradition sourced from a community with an outward and inclusive approach to the transmission of song and dance music.

In A Hidden Ulster, the author was keen to show the importance of recording Irish folksong and dance music as a unit in the context of the social life of a community, by publishing dance music manuscripts and sources. The following major collections shed further light on the Oriel region as one that is rich in musical traditions                     

Patrick McGahon Manuscript

(See AHU pp. 435-67)

Dónal O’Connor plays McGahon tunes for ORIEL ARTS PROJECT

The Patrick McGahon manuscript of tunes is a rare and, hitherto, unpublished manuscript of mainly dance tunes, giving numerous tunes of Scottish origin, Carolan tunes, Jackson tunes and many others, which was in 1817 by a local scribe, Patrick McGahon, who lived in the Dungooley border area. It lay hidden among some of his Irish language manuscripts in the Laverty collection in NUI Maynooth, until computer cleaned by the author for publication in facsimile form in A Hidden Ulster 2003. The original manuscript has since been transferred to the Ó Fiaich Library in Armagh. Patrick McGahon wrote down 105 pieces in staff notation, and it is one of the earliest known collections of traditional music manuscript in Ireland. Fiddle player, Dónal O’Connor, who is editing the manuscript, was filmed playing a selection of McGahon’s tunes for ORIEL ARTS.

Luke Donnellan Manuscripts

(See AHU 488-507)

ORIEL ARTS fiddle player Darren Mag Aoidh plays Donnellan tunes Photo: M. Ó Graham

A collection of over 106 tunes from Luke Donnellan’s large manuscript collection of dance music and 24 pieces of airs and song, was published in the County Louth Archaeological Journal 1909, and was also reproduced in facsimile, in A Hidden Ulster (AHU 479-507). Also listed were over 300 dance tunes, which were transcribed by Luke Donnellan around the beginning of the twentieth century, and are now in the National Folklore Collection in UCD.

Fiddler player, Darren Mag Aoidh was recorded on video playing a selection of tunes from this collection for ORIEL ARTS, as well as giving some interpretive detail on the music and the collection.

Gerry O’Connor with his son Donal playing Donnellan tunes at Éigse Oirialla 2016

County Louth fiddle player, Gerry O’Connor has studied the Donnellan Collection as part of an MA degree course at DkIT, and was filmed by ORIEL ARTS at Éigse Oirialla, giving an illustrative performance concert of Donnellan’s tunes with fiddle player Dónal O’Connor.

He has been playing tunes from the Donnellan Collection for some years and first recorded them on a Lá Lugh CD with Eithne Ní Uallacháin.

Piper Philip Goodman repertoire

(see AHU  pp. 468-73)

Zoe Conway at Éigse Oirialla 2016 playing airs listed in The Philip Goodman Repertoire (A Hidden Ulster pp.468-73)

Writing on Pipers and Piping in Louth in the County Louth Archaeological Journal, 1978, Breandán Breathnach, based his opinion on the richness of Irish music in Louth, mainly, on an extensive repertoire of one local piper, which is also listed in A Hidden Ulster (AHU 468-73). The repertoire of the County Monaghan piper, Philip Goodman from Donaghmoyne, of over 300 titles, which include many airs of songs of Oriel and a number of Oriel poem titles, suggests that these poems had melodies i.e were songs.

Song air notated from piper Philip Goodman at Feis Ceoil in Belfast 1900. A Hidden Ulster p. 469.

At Éigse Oirialla 2016, fiddle player Zoe Conway, accompanied by guitarist John McIntyre, gave a general illustrative impression of the repertoire of airs and tunes in the extensive Goodman list, and played a selection of the titles – mainly from the slow air section of the repertoire. See Concerts

Some comments on collections …

Oriel/Down fiddle player, Séamus Sands

Séamus Sands has made the following observations on the manuscripts of McGahon and Donnellan:

“Jigs of various forms are very strongly represented in the The Patrick McGahon Collection with very few reels included. Many of the tunes I’ve tracked back to English and Scottish sources and a lot of his material appears in earlier collections, which I suggest he copied some of his material from.
The Luke Donnellan Collection, on the other hand, from a dance music perspective, is primarily made up of reels and other 4/4 time signature forms. The difference may be a reflection of the spread of (primarily Scottish) reels into musical currency in the area during the intervening 100 years or so between their manuscripts. Donnellan’s notation, in my opinion, is more reflective of transcribing from a live source, with variation and sequences that would be unlikely to be copied from earlier written sources. He also makes some mistakes with keys, which is also possibly a reflection of trying to capture things at pace.
Some of the tunes clearly come from fiddler sources while others, as I play them, don’t fit the fiddle and are much more likely to be from pipers. That is consistent with explanation of his sources elsewhere in A Hidden Ulster.’                                                                       Seamus Sands

There is some further commentary by Darren Mhag Aoidh in The Luke Donnellan Collection in the MUSIC Ms. section, and also further commentary by Seamus Sands in the Patrick McGahon Collection MUSIC Ms. section.

The discovery of Patrick McGahon’s manuscript from 1817, in an area which has other manuscript collections i.e Donnellan manuscripts, dated almost a century later, together with a very extensive and varied repertoire of a piper in Oriel, gives a unique opportunity for further study on aspects of the transmission and repertoire of Irish traditional dance music in Oriel.

Oriel Arts © 2020