(See A Hidden Ulster pp. 435-67 with references and extended information)
Patrick McGahon’s music manuscript dated 1817 was published for the first time in A Hidden Ulster with detailed background information (AHU 435-67). It was a rare and treasured find. Since that publication his music is sourced from the manuscript and played again by a number of local musicians. ORIEL ARTS invited fiddle player Dónal O’Connor, who is editing the manuscript, to record on film a selection of the tunes and to transcribe the music to modern notation.
Patrick McGahon was a prolific scribe of Irish language literature, who lived in Dungooley, County Louth, on the Armagh/Louth border, at the end of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century. Very little else is known about his life. He was a teacher with the The Irish Society during the nineteenth century (AHU pp. 21-8). He is reputedly buried in Urney graveyard, on the Armagh/Louth border near Forkhill.
Older people in the Dungooley locality could locate the house and lane where he may have lived until it was cleared in 2012 by a local landowner.
McGahon’s manuscripts, mainly dated 1813-1845 are found in different collections and include stories and poetry in Irish, some songs in English, a notebook of mathematics and this collection of mainly dance music. One of his manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin (MS 24L31), written about 1822, includes a translation of Úirchill a’ Chreagáin attributed to the poet Art Mac Cumhaigh.
This music manuscript dated 1817 and later, and published for the first time in A Hidden Ulster with detailed information (AHU 435-67), is transcribed into a small hard backed book, which would ﬁt easily into a ﬁddle case. The manuscript collection includes dances, marches, and a few airs of songs in English. Some or the tunes are repeated. The manuscript transcriptions show all the signs of formal training in music notation with the use of many classical musical terms. The notation gives some ornamentation details. There are age stains and ﬁngerprint markings on many of the pages of the manuscript. All individual 106 pieces of facsimile notation have been computer cleaned by the author, for publication in A Hidden Ulster (pp. 440-67).
It is quite unique to ﬁnd an Irish language scribe who also wrote down music notation and who was probably a musician too, dating from this period at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This rare collection of mainly dance tunes leaves many unanswered questions.
Where, for instance, did a scribe such as McGahon learn the skill of music notation? It is most likely that he attended the school or academy set up by the Irish language scholar, the Revd William Neilson, within a short few miles, in Clanbrassil Street in Dundalk, which welcomed pupils from all denominations?
Neilson was appointed minister to the Presbyterian congregation in Dundalk, County Louth in 1796, which was mainly Irish-speaking and where he set up an academy in Clanbrassil Street. He was the author of Introduction to the Irish Language, a unique source of the Irish of County Down. He left Dundalk in 1818 on being appointed Head of the Classical School and Professor of Classical Hebrew and Irish Languages in the Belfast Academical Institute.
Before him, in Dundalk was another minister and a friend, the Revd Andrew Bryson who was also an Irish language enthusiast, who was asked to assist with the Belfast Harpers Festival of 1792. His brother Samuel Bryson was later a director of the Harp Society, which would suggest that they were both literate in music (AHU pp. 436-7 footnotes). This Bryson/Neilson connection and their link with Dundalk and the Harper’s Convention of 1792 in Belfast, might well be the source of Carolan’s music being written down by Patrick McGahon in his manuscript of 1817.
There was an active interest, among the Presbyterian Gaelic speaking congregation in Dundalk at that time, in Irish music, and it was not unusual for ministers in the Dundalk congregation to give sermons in Irish in the hinterlands of Louth and Armagh. Dungooley, the homeplace of Patrick McGahon, is a mere seven miles from Dundalk where Neilson had his school (AHU + footnotes pp. 435-7). This is the most probable explanation for Patrick McGahon’s musical literacy.
This manuscript music in Oriel, dated 30 March 1817, was in the Laverty Collection No.15(4) in the NUI Maynooth, during research for A Hidden Ulster but it is now in the Tomás Ó Fiaich Library in Armagh. It is a collection of about 105 pieces.
It has gone relatively unnoticed by musicologists, primarily due to its location among Irish language literature manuscripts. The publication of this manuscript in facsimile form in A Hidden Ulster – people, songs and traditions of Oriel (2003) brought it to public attention, and a return of tunes to the repertoire of local musicians.
The manuscript is written in McGahon’s hand and possibly with a few tunes transcribed by one other. On the inside ﬁrst page he gives his name in English ‘Pat McGahon his book’ and in Irish script he has written: ‘Sé Padruic MacGathan a (nDún)guaile sg(r)iobh an leabhair so … ndaibrail aois an Tigh(ear)na oa(ch)t ccead agus se(ach)t mblian deag, Guidh go geur an sg(r)iobhneoira … sa dhul faoi rodh go Flaitheas Dé’ (It is Patrick McGahon from Dungooley who wrote this book.…, in the year of our Lord 1817. Pray intensely for the writer … and he going before God’s heaven).
The names ‘Robert Balmer, Longfield’ and ‘Bernard Burns, Tully Donnald’ are written on a few of the sheets. Longﬁeld is in nearby Forkhill, and Tullydonnell, as it is known, is about two miles from Forkhill in County Armagh. These two men may have been the source of some of the tunes. Following tune 41 is the note ‘Patt Traynour of Drumchree’ who may also have been another source. The signing of his name throughout the book, e.g ‘Patrick McGahon his hand’ and ‘Pat McGahon his book’ together with various notes in Irish and in English would suggest that the manuscript was for his own use. No titles are written in Irish with the exception of Puirt Alba 88b and tune 82 Ple Raca na Rourkaugh (O’Rourke’s Feast) written by Aodh Mag Shamhráin and composed by Carolan, and that itself is written in English phonetics and may not be in McGahon’s hand, as it, and the following tune, ‘Planxty Bourk’ is followed by the signature of ‘RB Longﬁeld’. (Robert Balmer)
The manuscript is of additional interest as it includes tunes by the harper, Turlough O’Carolan . Of these pieces Bumper Square Jones (81) is signed by McGahon’s, followed by Ple Raca na Rourkaugh (82) and Plangsty Bourk (83). Plangsty Connor (86) is in the same hand as 82 and 83, though it is followed by two names in the same handwriting, i.e. ‘Robert Balmer, Longﬁeld’ and ‘Bernard Burns ‘Tully Donald’ – placenames in south Armagh.
There are a number of tunes here that are associated with the name Jackson. Some of these tunes are also to be found in the Donnellan collections of dance music written down about ninety years after McGahon’s transcriptions. Many pieces are of Scottish origin, as their titles would suggest, together with the occasional note by McGahon indicating their origin e.g. ‘Calder Fair, a favorite dance, Puirt Alba’ (88b) and ‘Good Humored Reel, A Scotch air’ (53).
Some pieces are of particular interest including Copenhagen’s Waltz 89, which was clearly popular in the locality as it also reappears again, a century or so later, in the repertoire of Piper Philip Goodman who came from nearby Farney in County Monaghan (AHU 468-73).
General Lake’s March (65) refers to an English general who was in County Armagh in 1797 and stayed in the local yeomanry barracks Belmont in Mullaghban, where he led a ruthless campaign throughout the north of Ireland in an effort to wipe out the Presbyterian led United Irishmen rebellion in Ulster.
In this video Dónal O’Connor plays General Lake’s March from the McGahon manuscript.
It is worth noting that within a short twenty years, a piece of music named after General Lake was being transcribed by a local Gaelic scribe named Patrick McGahon (Pádraig Mac Gatháin), in nearby Forkhill, who had lived within a few miles of Belmont Barracks throughout the period of those atrocities.
The full Patrick McGahon Music Manuscript of 105 tunes is reproduced in facsimile in A Hidden Ulster on pp. 440-67. The original was not up to publication standard at Four Courts Press publishing, and so, in order that it would be published, and to reach a wider audience, the author cleaned each set piece by computer eraser.
McGahon included some words in English in the manuscript, which are not reproduced in the published facsimile in A Hidden Ulster pp. 440 -67.
© Seamus Sands
Manuscript facsimiles of the following list of music pieces are published in A HIDDEN ULSTER pp. 440-67.
Amendments to the above list by fiddler Séamus Sands include the following:
No.3 “Merrily Dance the Quaker’s Wife” should read “Merrily Danced the Quaker’s wife”
No.5 “Ath Shankon ?” should read “Ap Shenkin” (ref. E.Lee Collection, Dublin, c.1808)
No.34. “Jenny Put the Kettle On” should read “Jenny Put the Kettle Down”
No.40 It should read “Over young to marry yet”
No.66 “The Irish Jigg”… believed to be an old version of the well-known slip jig tune “Drops of Brandy”
No.71 “Humours of Glin” should read “Humours of Glen” (ref. O’Farrell)
No.75 “Jackson Goes in the Morning” should be “Jackson’s Coge in the morning”
No.91 “Dusty Millar” should be “Dusty Miller”
No.95 “Dance in Tekele” should be “Dance in Tekeli”
No.105 should be “What a Beau my Granny Was”