Music from Ireland in Colonial America
Expanded information from the Rogues' Consort CD Booklet

The Music

Music from Ireland in Colonial America is not necessarily limited to music composed in Ireland. Limerick's Lamentation, for example, is also the Scottish tune Lochaber Nae More. There had been considerable migration between Scotland and Ireland for centuries. During the 1600s there were troops from Scotland in Ireland, fighting with the Irish against the English Protestants. Irish harpers like Rory dall O’Cahan spent much of his life in Scotland; and Irish harper David Murphy and the piper O'Farrell spent time a fair amount of time in London.

A Welsh harper performed at the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792; and there are reports that the great Irish harper and composer, Turlough O'Carolan, performed some Welsh harp pieces, including Llewellyn (The Ashgrove). Our version of Llewellyn came from O'Farrell.

In about 1726, John and William Neal (or Neale) published a book of dance tunes and "A Collection of the Most Celebrated Irish Tunes" in Dublin. The Neals built the Crow Street Music Hall in 1731, and John Neal was chairman of the society which built New Music Hall in Fishamble Street, Dublin, where the first public performances of Handel's Messiah were given in 1742.

By the second half of the 1700s, Irish music was appearing in tune books published in Ireland, Scotland and England, and many of those books were owned by people in early America.

Burk Thumoth published two collections of “Scotch, Irish and English Airs” in the 1760s. Both of Thumoth's books were owned by Thomas Jefferson, who played violin.

O’Farrell, the Irish Union Pipe player famous on the London stage, published Irish, Scottish and Welsh tunes. James Aird’s six volumes of tunes were known, some of the tunes being found in American fiddlers’ copybooks. Walker Jackson, the “piping rector of Limerick published a book of his own tunes in Dublin around 1770, and some of them appear in American copybooks. Edward Bunting published tunes of the Irish Harpers, many of which he transcribed at the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792.  Willam Shield and John O'Hara, writing for the musical stage in the late 1700s, borrowed tunes from O'Carolan's harp pieces of the early 1700s.

Taking these pre-1800 books as a sample of popular tunes, only a few dozen native Irish tunes still found in modern Irish repertoire were commonly known in America in the 1700s - mostly jigs, Carolan pieces, and airs such as The Black Bird, Give Me Your Hand, Granuweal, and tunes of Walker Jackson. The tunes most commonly found were St. Patrick’s Day, The Coolin, Eileen Aroon, Bumper Squire Jones, Planxty Connor, Captain O’Kane, Miners of Wicklow, Jackson’s Morning Brush, Larry Grogan, Ally Croaker, Humours of Glen, Port Gordon, Shiling O Guiry, Da Mihi Manum (Give Me Your Hand), Yemon O nock, The Black Bird, Drops of Brandy, Exile of Erin, Huish the Cat, Granuweal, Paddy O’Rafferty, and Merrily Dance the Quaker.

The copybook of John Carroll, Fort Niagara dated Oct 4 1804, included the tunes High Road to Dublin, Trip It Up Stairs, Paddy Whack, Humours of Kilkenny, Flush the Cat from Under the Table, Dribs of Brandy, Jackson’s Dream, Rakes of Kilkenny, Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself, Roguara Doo, Morgan Rattler, Larry Grogan, The Black Bird, Humours of Glen, Kitty’s Rambles to Yougill, Princess Royal, Yellow Stockings.

More Irish tune books began to appear in print in the U.S. around 1810, such as O’Hara’s Gentleman’s Musical Repository, Crosby’s Irish Musical Repository and Riley’s Flute. Many of these were collections of tunes which had been well known in the 1700s. Michael Kelly, writing for the London stage, used Ally Croaker as the root melody for his 1803 (or 1806?) hit, "Unfortunate Miss Bailey" or "Miss Bailey's Ghost", which became popular in America. And American publishers of "songsters" were including Irish songs in their collections, such as "In Ireland So Friskey" in the 1808 Boston Musical Miscellany.

The "Oceans So Green" Arrangements

When possible, we have used arrangements representative of this era of our Irish harpers and immigrants, especially those by Edward Bunting, and by Burk Thumoth.

In discussing the harpers he transcribed at the 1792 Belfast Festival, Bunting noted that harpers who were of widely different ages, from different parts of Ireland, many of whom had never met before the festival nevertheless tended to play given tunes in the same keys with the same ornamentation and the same arrangements. We might thus feel somewhat comfortable that the arrangements played for Sir William Johnson and Governor Arthur Dobbs would have been close to those published by Thumoth and by Bunting, which we have used.