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The Luke Donnellan Collection

The Collection

Luke Donnellan

see A Hidden Ulster pp 361-3; pp. 400-1n. for detailed references and information

(Lúcas Ó Domhnalláin) was born in Armagh city in 1878 and was ordained a priest in 1902. He ministered in Eglish, County Tyrone, 1902-3 Dromintee, County Armagh, 1903-10 Creggan, County Armagh, 1910-37; Loughgall, County Armagh, 1937-52. While ministering in Dromintee and in Creggan, he recorded some of the last native Irish speakers and singers on wax cylinders of Ediphone machines. Recordings amount to about 150 pieces. All the remaining cylinder recordings were written down in staff notation by the piper Séamus Ennis as his first assignment when he was employed by the Irish Folklore Commission in Dublin, 1942-47.

Toigh an Chailligh Riabhaigh National © National Folklore Collection, UCD. Séamus Ennis transcription on Luke Donnellan wax cylinder recording. A Hidden Ulster p.94

Also in hand written staff notation by Donnellan, is the music of over 300 traditional dance tunes, mainly reels, hornpipes and marches, collected in south Armagh, which demonstrate by their titles, a strong link with the dance music tradition of Scotland.

Donnellan Ms Song collected from James McCrink Dromintee. A Hidden Ulster

His notebooks in the National Folklore Collection give lists of songs collected from many singers but do not include the words. He published some airs and over one hundred transcriptions of dance music in the County Louth Archaeological Journal. He also collected some song material from Connemara, which is in the National Folklore Collection also.

He assisted W. T. Evans Wentz of Stanford University California in the writing of The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries (1912) and was a friend of the writer George Bernard Shaw. He was a very competent piano player, regarded as having, ‘the best use of the left hand in the whole of the north of Ireland. But just in case he might get too proud of himself and his playing, God struck him with an accident in which he had the tops taken off the fingers of this wonderful left hand.’ (AHU p.362)

Luke Donnellan

Luke Donnellan collector

He composed various classical pieces including an overture to commemorate the 1913 Irish Pilgrimage to Lourdes, which he dedicated it to his mother Mrs John Donnellan from Armagh ‘to whose taste and culture I owe whatever music is in me’. Describing this work he wrote that it embodied ‘the treatment of native, traditional music themes and their development in extended forms and on extensive lines.’ One of the themes on which he based this overture was Fear an Torraimh, an air (unlocated) which he had collected in Ballintemple, Killeavy, County Armagh, ‘sung in the Aeolian mode with the fourth and seventh notes of the scale absent’. He reputedly played the fiddle and highland pipes as well. He collected songs and tunes mainly in Mullaghban, Killeavy, Crossmaglen, Creggan and Farney. (AHU p, 362-3)

His ediphone recordings, numbering thirty-one cylinders, were given to the Irish Folklore Commission by Professor Éamonn Ó Tuathail and by Piaras Hindeberg from Limerick. He published a number of articles on traditional song in the local County Louth Archaeological Journal.

He left his manuscript collection, which includes most of the Mullaghban scribe and poet Art Bennett’s manuscripts and much of other local southeast Ulster poetry and story, to St Patrick’s College, Armagh, which is now back in the Ó Fiaich Library Armagh. Together with Lorcán Ó Muirí (AHU pp. 358-60) and Seán Ó hAnnáin AHU pp. 360-1), he would rank among the most significant collectors in the south Ulster region. Regarded as ‘eccentric’ in his latter years, he died in Courtney Hill Nursing Home in Newry 1952, aged 74. He is buried in Loughgall, County Armagh. (AHU pp.361-3)

Music and Sources

(See A Hidden Ulster pp. 474-507 including references and extended information)

Luke Donnellan published over 100 pieces in staff notation in the County Louth Archaeological Journal (1909), entitled ‘Oriel Songs and Dances’.

Mick ‘The Feather’ McCrink Dromintee c.1940 with Campbell family.

Mick McCrink, Dromintee c.1940 with Campbell family. ©McCrink famly 2017

Some of the tunes are common to both collections. Reels form the bulk of his collections. A significant number are of Scottish origin. Airs, hornpipies etc. are included and are in no particular order and some of these pieces were transcribed by Donnellan from his notebook of dance tunes in the National Folklore Collection UCD.

The collection entitled ‘Oriel Songs and Dances’, notated by Luke Donnellan, was reprinted in A Hidden Ulster (pp. 488-507).

The names of musicians Thomas McCrink, Francis Kelly, James Murtagh, James Gillespie and M. Cumaskey occur in the manuscripts. Among others who also gave him tunes and songs were James McCrink from Dromintee, James McParland from Cashel, Mrs Sarah Humphreys from Killeavy (who gave Amhrán na Craoibhe to Enri O Muiríosa) and Sarah McDonald (Morgan) from Dromintee.

Cailín Deas Donn

Thomas (The Feather) McCrink and wife Bridget (McAleavey), Carrickbroad

Thomas (The Feather) McCrink and wife Bridget (McAleavey) of Dromintee.Thomas had ‘hundreds’ of songs in Irish (AHU p.400-1).              © McCrink Family 2017.

The McKeown family including a sister named Brigid Hearty, of Lough Ross in Crossmaglen was a rich source of song material also. Other local musicians listed in his notebooks in RBÉ include: Dan Markey, a piper from Drumawaddy; Sir John Moore, Mr Goodman, a piper from Donaghmoyne; Mrs Foy, James Callan, Mr Walsh, Anna Cumiskey, P. Campbell, John Woods, Bloomfield, and James Hearty.

Most of the dance tunes were collected during the period he spent in Dromintee (1903-10), mainly from the McCrink family (AHU pp. 400-1). Other source musicians were from Crossmaglen (1910-37) where many of the above mentioned musicians lived.

Other names mentioned by Donnellan in his notebooks in the National Folklore Collection UCD as sources for tunes and songs include Mary Harvessy from Clonalig, Sarah McGlade Lislea. He also included the following: John Mc Shane, Cashel; Mrs McBerry, Mullaghban; Mrs McKinley, Aughanduff; Mrs Quinn, Aughanduff; J. McPartland, Cashel; John Kelly, Blackstaff; Brian Martin, Bloomfield; Mary Watters, Clonalig; Alice Cunningham, Monaguilla; Laurence and Catherine Murphy, Urkar Hill; Mrs King, Mounthill; Owen Hughes, Clarnagh; Mary McPartland, Cashel; Mrs Callaghan; Maeve O’Brien; Mrs O’Hagan; May Shevlin; Maggie O’Brien; Sarah O’Haggan (Hagan); Theresa Murphy; Brigid Morgan; Kate Bennett; Shemus Fitzerald, P. Bennett. Other singers in the district were: Mrs O’Hanlon (Nelly O’Hagan), Clontigora, Co. Armagh, originally from Corakit in Omeath; Mary Murphy from Newry; Mary McShane: died 1954 aged 81, from Dromintee; Mrs Mallon; Mrs Luckey, Mobane, Crossmaglen; Molshie Burns ; Paddy Kearney; Mary McGuigan, Carrickastisken, died 1914 aged 79; Thomas Kerley, died 1919 aged 80 from Carrickasticken; Mary Coulter, died 1920 aged 78, from Carrickasticken; Pat Black, died 1930 aged 78 from Carrickasticken

A large body of dance tunes in staff notation is in a manuscript in the National Folklore Collection UCD, entitled Donnellan Collection of Dance Music and Airs. It is an unpublished collection.

Donnellan Manuscripts & ORIEL ARTS

A selection of tunes from the Donnellan collection, including some from the National Folklore Collection UCD, are played by fiddle player, Gerry O’Connor with his son Dónal, in the ÉIGSE OIRIALLA concert section of ORIEL ARTS. He has been playing Donnellan tunes on his CD recordings for some years and has studied the manuscripts of Donnellan for an MA degree in DkIT in County Louth. 


Gerry O’Connor gave a workshop at ÉIGSE OIRIALLA on Oriel manuscript music of Donnellan published in A Hidden Ulster. He plays The Donnellan Set here from a rare film that was made some years ago:


Darren Mag Aoidh contributed some observational notes on each piece played, and an overall view of the collection which was published in A Hidden Ulster and also transcribed the full manuscript into modern staff notation as a resource for future uploads on ORIEL ARTS.  He also plays a selection of Donnellan’s tunes on video for ORIEL ARTS, including  Hush The Cat and O’Connel’s Grey Coat on this video for ORIEL ARTS.



Oriel Arts © 2020


Music Manuscripts

The following commentary is by fiddle player Darren Mhag Aoidh for ORIEL ARTS :

‘On working through the very fine Donnellan collection of music (reproduced in facsimile in A Hidden Ulster pp. 488-507) for the purpose of selecting pieces for the ORIEL ARTS recording, a few things struck me.

The volume of reels in comparison with the other dance types is notable. It’s possible that the tunes played locally for céilí dances were so well known that Donnellan did not feel the same urgency to record those. The sheer variety of tune characteristics across the collection is astonishing. There are tunes in almost every mode as well as diatonic offerings. Some tunes have a truly authentic Irishness to them in their modality and turn of phrase. Others are quite strikingly Scottish, and it’s encouraging to know that the healthy dialogue between these shared traditions, which continues as a feature of the music of this part of the country, was seemingly as strong then as now.

Other tunes are not as popular in Oriel any more, but are associated nowadays with the traditions of Sliabh Luachra, Co Kerry, County Clare or Donegal. ORIEL ARTS gives us an opportunity to reclaim this heritage. Far from being a dead collection of tunes that have faded into obscurity, the collection offers an imprint on the timeline of a living tradition, and gives us an insight into the music that brought comfort and joy into the lives of the people of south Armagh, Louth and further afield.

It is an understatement to note that Donnellan must have had an impressive ear to note the tunes in the collection. The tunes are meticulously noted and seem highly accurate. There are occasions when discretion should be applied – for example where there has been an obvious notational error in pitch or rhythm. I note some examples below.

There are occasions also when musical judgement needs to be applied to the tonality/modality of the tune. As has been a feature in other collections of music, Donnellan seems to have often taken the final note of a tune as the tonic and treating the tune as major diatonic. For instance, there are examples of tunes ending on ‘D’ which have been given 2 sharps; on playing through the tune the intelligent ear will work out that the tune is actually Mixolydian and needs just one sharp, as the second has such a jarring effect. I believe no. 68 ‘Follow my love to Carlow’ is an example of such a tune, where the second sharp is mistaken in the first part, and the second part works well either way.

No. 66 ‘The Black-haired Girl’ is the other way round: this tune is still popular in the tradition, with two sharps and has been recorded by Altan as such. Donnellan has treated the tune as being in A minor, with no sharps or flats. These decisions may have been a result of a classical training in notation and/or the challenges of noting a tune in hurried conditions. A number of the ‘miscellaneous’ tunes deserve special mention. No. 63 ‘The Rose in the Gap’ is a beautiful tune, resurrected by fiddler Dónal O’Connor and piper John McSherry on their fine record ‘Tripswitch’. It has the enduring timeless feel of an ancient clan march.

No. 88 ‘Betty Black’s’ is a quirky number, which has been categorised by some as a Barndance. County Down fiddler, Nigel Boullier includes a different version of the same tune more accurately as a figure dance called ‘Bessie Black’ in his collection ‘Handed Down’, fiddle music from central and east County Down. There are subtle differences in the two settings and the Donnellan setting is slightly more intricate, with more leaps across strings (if it was noted from a fiddler).

No. 98 ‘O’Connell’s March to Tara’ interestingly survives these days as a slide. Rather than straight quavers in 4/4 or 2/2, it is in 12/8 and the quavers of the first bar are played as crotchet-quaver. The first note of the ‘turn’ of the tune is usually an A these days, but the G noted by Donnellan does create an intriguing tension and deserves exploration by the performer.

© Darren Mhag Aoidh

Donnellan Dance Tunes in A Hidden Ulster

The music notation of the following Donnellan tunes appear in facsimile in A Hidden Ulster, entitled ‘Oriel Songs and Dances’ this collection was notated by Luke Donnellan and published in the County Louth Archaeological Journal Vol. 2 No.2 1909 pp.142-48. Reels, Airs, Hornpipies etc are included and are in no particular order. Many of these pieces are written by him from his notebook of dance tunes which are now in the National Folklore Collection of UCD. Dublin.

  1. O’Connel’s Daughter
  2. Nelson’s Hornpipe
  3. The Ship in Full Sail
  4. Sporting Paddy
  5. Cairo Barry
  6. Lord Kelly’s Reel
  7. The Humours of Fairy
  8. Scotch Mary
  9. The Queen of May
  10. Within a Mile of Dublin
  11. Dwyer’s Hornpipe
  12. Down the Broom
  13. Sterling Tom
  14. Miss Campbell’s Reel
  15. The Boggy Reel
  16. The Pennyworth of Straw
  17. The Tavern Reel
  18. Dandy Davy
  19. The Maid
  20. Blanchard’s Hornpipe
  21. O Connel’s Grey Coat
  22. The Dandy Reel
  23. The Fairy Dance
  24. The Peelers Cap
  25. Lively Kate
  26. Fair Haired Kate
  27. Traynor’s Rambles
  28. Miss Crawford’s Reel
  29. The Gipsy Hornpipe
  30. Miss Montgomery’s Reel
  31. The Cottage in the Grove
  32. Lady Elmer’s Reel
  33. Miss Robinson’s Reel
  34. The Flogging Reel
  35. The New Line to Dublin
  36. The Blacksmith’s Daughter
  37. The Downfall
  38. The Strawberry Beds
  39. Welcome to the Country
  40. The Salamanca Reel
  41. Down the Meadows or Cross the Downs
  42. Butchers Brussel’s Reel
  43. The Rosebuds in Summer
  44. Money in Both Pockets
  45. Byrne’s Hornpipe
  46. The Woolen Shuttle
  47. The Louth Lasses
  48. The Mason’s Apron or Kerberry Reel
  49. (Tune No.s 49-59 are missing. No. 45-49 and 60-63 were repeated in error.)
  50. .
  51. .
  52. .
  53. .
  54. .
  55. .
  56. .
  57. .
  58. .
  59. Round About the Fireside
  60. The Jolly Tinkers
  61. Miss Murphy’s Reel
  62. The Rose in the Gap
  63. Boneparte’s Welcome or March Over the Alps
  64. The Rakes of Invercairn
  65. The Blackhaired Girl
  66. The Maid
  67. Follow My Love to Carlow
  68. Miss Dallahyde’s Reel
  69. Hurry Home the Harvest
  70. Toss the Feathers
  71. The Well Learned Scholar
  72. Through the Heather
  73. The Lass of Ballintra
  74. Greggs Pipes or Beatty’s reel
  75. Hunter Billy’s
  76. Captain Mooray’s Reel
  77. Rose Mooney
  78. The Chicken’s Gone to Scotland
  79. The Rock Reel
  80. The Templehouse
  81. The Green Bunch of Joy
  82. The Devil’s Dream
  83. Eliza of Perth.
  84. The Top Dress
  85. The Dalestreet Lasses
  86. McKenna’s reel
  87. Betty Black
  88. The Dictates of Love
  89. The Blacksmith’s March or His Son
  90. Over the bridge to Becta
  91. Bonnie Anne’s Reel
  92. The Glass of Beer
  93. The Boy in the Gap
  94. The Girl that Left the Country
  95. The Cuffstreet lasses
  96. The Pleasant Gardens
  97. O’Connell’s March to tara
  98. Jeelings March

100.The Trip Over the Mountain

101.Comb the Locks

102.My Love is in America

103.The Little Boy in the Boat

104.The Drinking Reel

105.Hush the Cat

106.Cailín Beg Óg Leoighbhaidhe