Turlough O'Carolan (1670–1738) was a blind early Irish
harper, composer and singer whose great fame is due to
his gift for melodic composition. He was the last great
Irish harper-composer and is considered by many to be
Ireland's national composer. Harpers in the old Irish
tradition were still living as late as 1792, as ten,
including Arthur O'Neill, Patrick Quin and Donnchadh Ó
Hámsaigh, showed up at the Belfast Harp Festival, but
there is no proof of any of these being composers. Ó
Hámsaigh did play some of Carolan's music but disliked
it for being too modern. Some of O'Carolan's own
compositions show influence from the style of
continental classical music, whereas others such as
Carolan's Farewell to Music reflect a much older style
of "Gaelic Harping".
Though the harp is by no means peculiar to Ireland, it
has been regarded from early mediaeval times as
supremely the musical instrument of the Irish. But %T
much of the music of the harpers is lost in the mists
of antiquity. Carolan (1670-1738) was the last of the
Irish harper-composers and the only one whose pieces
have survived in any number. About two hundred of his
pieces are extant, but they are found scattered in
manuscripts and in rare (sometimes unique) printed
books, often being unidentified as his. They are now
gathered together here in a definitive edition. Carolan
was blinded by smallpox in early youth and adopted
music as a career. His genius for making melody
manifested itself almost at once, and for nearly fifty
years he travelled the Irish countryside, staying at
the great houses and entertaining the company with his
playing and singing. The great majority of his pieces
were composed in honour of his patrons and in most
cases he devised verses to fit the music. He was also a
familiar figure in Dublin.
Princess Royal was possibly composed for Mrs. Mary
O'Rourke (also the subject of Mrs. O'Rourke). She was
the eldest daughter of MacDermott, Prince of Coolavin.
Another possible subject of the tune is Elizabeth
MacDermott Roe (the subject of another tune -
specifically named for her). The tune is widely known
partially because Shield set the tune to the words The
Arethusa to it at the end of the 18th century. The
Arethusa appeared in a small opera "The Lock and Key"
in 1796. The words describe an encounter between two
ships, the Arethusa and La Belle Poule, in the English
Channel, June 17, 1778.
On deck five hundred men did dance,
The stoutest they could find in France
On board of the Arethusa
Our captain hailed the Frenchman, "Ho!'
The Frenchman then creid out, 'Hallo!'
'Bear down, d'ye see, to our Admiral's lee'
'No, no,' says the Frenchman, 'that can't be.'
'Then I must lug you along with me,'
Says the saucy Arethusa.
Although this work was originally written for Folk
Instruments, I created this arrangement for Flute, Oboe
& Concert (Pedal) Harp.