In Ireland about 300 years ago, there lived a harpist,
singer and composer by the name of Turlough 'O Carolan.
He was born in West Meath around 1670. When he was
eighteen, he caught small pox, a disease which was
usually fatal at the time. His life was spared, but he
was left permanently blind. Turlough's blindness, in a
way, was a blessing because it awakened in him a hidden
gift for music. A local noble woman by the name of Mary
Fitzgerald McDermott Rowe saw to it that he was trained
in the Irish harp, gave him a horse and guide and sent
him on his way.
Carolan was also famous for his love of drink,
especially Irish whiskey. He wrote a tune in honor of
whiskey. As he was dying, he called for one last cup of
his favorite brew. His dying words were said to be "the
drink and I have been friends for so long, it would be
a pity for me to leave without one last kiss." And he
At first, he was not considered a great musician. (The
ancient bards were supposed to have started their
training when they were still young children and
Carolan didn't start until he was an adult.) One of his
first patrons, a Squire Reynolds, suggested that he try
his hand at composition. His first work, "Sí Bheag, Sí
Mhór", resulted from this suggestion. After he finished
the composition, his fame was spread throughout all of
Ireland and he started his career.
"Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór" (Little hill, big hill) is likely a
reference to the fairy kingdoms. The word for "hill"
(cnoc) is implied, and comes from an old folktale where
the traveler falls asleep on a little mound or hill and
wakes up in a vast otherworld. One thing about Irish
tune titles, though...they very often have little to do
with the actual tune.
Although originally written for folk instruments, I
created this arrangement for Double-reed Duet (Oboe &