Molaí Nic Giolla Fhiondáin

‘She was arigh-chláirseoir’ – a superior harper  …

Also known as Mailigh Nic a’ Liondáin, Mary, Molly Linden, Molly Lyndon, Molly McAlindon

(See A Hidden Ulster pp.346-8; pp. 224-7 for full references and further information)

Molaí Nic Giolla Fhiondáin’s name is seldom mentioned in discourses on the Irish harp and deserves a higher profile as one of the few harpers known to be composers.

The McAlindon Harpers

She was the daughter of harper poet, Pádraig Mac Giolla Fhiondáin (McAlinden/Linden). Her father had property and a reputation for hospitality, but she and her brother, Pádraig Óg, on the death of their father, felt ‘a change of fortune’ which obliged them to leave their home and live with relations in County Louth. According to one 19th century historian, Nicholas Ó Cearnaigh:

Patrick Lindon died in 1773 in the sixty-eighth year of his age leaving a son Patrick, the younger, who though a learned man never came near his father in merit, and one daughter, Miss Mary Lindon, or as she was usually called Mailligh Nic Giolla Fhiondáin, who was a young woman of great talent and composed many sweet songs, among which is admired Coillte Glasa an Triúcha (The Green Woods of Triuch), Joseph Plunkett Esq. of Sleeve and Deallradh an Lae (The Dawning of the Day).’AHU p. 346.

In one of her poems she makes a mention of having been in her youth near Killen Hill or Cnoc Chéin mhic Cáinte, which is about four miles north of Dundalk: ‘’S ar thulach sin mhic Cáinte ar a dtarla mé tráth bhí mé óg’ (It was on that mound of mac Cáinte (Killin) where I happened to be when I was young): Tuaireamh Sheosaimh Pluincéad (AHU p. 346).

Molaí  ‘an rígh-chláírseoir’ the superior harper

There is little else known of Molaí Nic Giolla Fhiondáin other than she was a gifted harper like her father. In the notes to a poem which was published by Douglas Hyde, it tells of a poet called Ó Doirnín who called in on the home of Pádraig Mac Giolla Fhiondáin, a ‘biadhtach’, one who kept an open house for visitors giving food and shelter to travellers. After supper a harp was placed before Ó Doirnín so that he would play. Much to the surprise of those present, he played and sang ‘an ceol ba bhinne ar bith do tharraingt ón gcláirsigh’ (the sweetest music ever drawn from a harp). Molaí Mac a’ Liondan’s sister (daughter ) was jealous as she was a ‘righ-chláirseoir’ (a superior harper). She challenged him to play with her, face to face, in the presence of the household. He began to compose and sing ex tempore and she followed likewise‘ (AHU p. 347).

The above (Tadhg) ‘Ó Doirnín’ reference is probably to the Oriel poet Peadar Ó Doirnín who died in 1769 and who was known to be acquainted with her father.

The Dawning of the Day is attributed to Thomas Connellan; another tune with the same title may be one of Molaí Nic Giolla Fhiondáin’s composition called Deallradh an Lae. Further research on manuscripts with references to her songs may reveal more detail on her work.

The Plunkett Mansion, Rocksavage, Co. Monaghan

The Plunkett Mansion, Rocksavage, County Monaghan frequented by harper Arthur O’Neill and Molaí Nic Giolla Fhiondáin

She composed a lament for the same Joseph Plunkett in 1771: Tuaireamh Sheosaimh Pluincéad. Around the middle of the eighteenth century, Molaí was probably living in Moynalty near the Louth/Meath border, where she wrote a poem welcoming Joseph Plunkett to Moynalty in 1755: Fáilte Mhaighistir Sheosaimh Pluincéad (Welcome to Master Joseph Plunkett).

Joseph Plunkett lived in Rocksavage House near Iniskeen, County Monaghan. His house was a welcoming place for harpers, musicians and poets and is mentioned in the Memoirs of the Tyrone harper, Arthur O’Neill: ‘Mr Plunkett’s of Rock-Savage, Co. Monaghan’ as one of the houses which he would frequent.

Joseph was the father of James Plunkett (1730-1808) to whom the poet Art Mac Cumhaigh also penned a poem. This Plunkett connection and the house in Rocksavage points to the possible source of Arthur O’Neill’s learning of the harp song, Coillte Glasa a’ Triúcha by Molaí Nic Giola Fhiondáin, and quite possibly met her while she lived, although he does not allude to that.

The Green Woods of Trugh

Coillte Glasa a’ Triúcha (The Green Woods of Truagh) is the best known of her compositions. It has survived, in manuscript, having been collected from Drogheda piper Patrick Ward, and also played by Arthur O’Neill, and in the oral song tradition (AHU p.227)

The song was popular in the oral tradition in Oriel and still sung until the turn of the 20th century (AHU pp. 224-7). At least two versions were collected.

A version of the air was published by Edward Bunting in 1809. The song was renewed, based on the O’Sullivan printed version of the notation (but not the lyrics) which was collected by Edward Bunting; it was then reconnected to its respective lyrics which were edited from two local song sources in the oral Oriel tradition (AHU p. 225) and then recorded by Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin in 1994 on An Dara Craiceann Gael Linn CD, accompanied by Garry Ó Briain, Séamus Maguire, Manus Maguire and Jackie Daly. It is also on Ceoltai Oirialla – Songs of Oriel CD. 2017.

Coillte Glasa a’ Triúcha – The Green Woods of Trugh: CEOLTAÍ OIRIALLA – Songs of Oriel CD 2017

Coillte Glas an Triúcha

Coillte Glas an Triúcha from D. O’Sullivan, The Bunting Collection JIFSS (27)

Local tradition had it that Molly composed it for her brother Patrick, using his name and addressing it to a young woman named McBride who lived in Thornfield in the parish of Kilkerley near Dundalk, and with whom he was in love. It is more tender and sincere that other harp-songs in the tradition.

Bunting and O’Neill Connection

Arthur O’Neill from Annals of the Irish Harpers. (1911) Charlotte Milligan Fox

The air was a favourite with the County Tyrone harper, Arthur O’Neill and other harpers. It was a set piece for the Granard Harp Festival at the end of the eighteenth century. Arthur O’Neill won second prize at the Granard Harper’s Ball with this air in 1781 and in 1782, for which he was given the sum of eight guineas. He had also won second prize playing the same air at the Belfast Harper’s Festival of 1792.

It survived in the songs of the people until recent times. It was played by Patrick Ward from Drogheda, who was a second source of the version published by Edward Bunting in 1809. Like other songs composed for harp , it is ‘one of those (songs) whose air, as I am told, is clearly intended for harp accompaniment’ and that some of them contain ‘intrinsic evidence of having being composed for harp accompaniment’  (AHU p. 218).

They songs are in a song metre, with much use of internal assonantal rhyming pattern, which heightens the musicality of the piece and is clearly meant to be sung to harp accompaniment.

©Oriel Arts 2017