Carolan's Appeal to the Ireland of his Time

Carolan was a product of Gaelic Ireland, composing Irish verse and melodies. Yet in composing and playing for both the declining Catholic Irish gentry and the newcomers of Planter origin he represents a cultural bridge between the two nations of Ireland during the era of the Penal Laws. The Planter names of those for whom he composed are evidence of this: Coote, Cooper, Crofton, Brabazon, Pratt, all colonial hard-liners. In addition there were more liberal Protestants like O'Hara, Irwin, Betagh, Stafford and Blayney.

In Dublin Carolan was the frequent guest of Doctor Patrick Delany, Professor of Oratory at Trinity college, in whose honour he composed a tune. Through Delany he came to know Jonathan Swift who frequently invited Carolan to the Deanery house in Dublin to dine. Indeed, the pair may have met when Swift was vicar of Laracor in county Meath. Swift translated a poem by Carolan's friend, Hugh Magauran, for which Carolan composed the air. This is called "The Description of an Irish Feast".

A book of Irish tunes published in Dublin in 1724 by John and William Neal gives further striking indication of Carolan's impact on the Anglo-Irish. The Neals were the foremost publishers of music in Dublin, and the book, A Collection of the most celebrated Irish tunes, is by far the earliest printed collection of Irish music and is much older than any existing manuscript collection. Only three of these tunes were attributed to a composer and in each case the composer is Carolan. These tunes are "Luke Dillon", "Grace Nugent" and "Fairy Queen". One further tune is attributed to him by implication "Carollans Devotion". However, in later years, scholars such as Bunting, Hardiman, Petrie and O Sullivan attributed a further 20 tunes in the collection to Carolan. Hence, he can be identified as the composer of 24, out of a total of 49 tunes in the Neals' book. In one case he is named as "Sigr Carrollini", an affectation which reflects the very strong vogue for Italian music in Dublin and London at this time.

Ireland then was strongly influenced by the European taste for baroque music, a highly ornate style which emerged from northern Italy. Carolan encountered baroque melodies and idioms in the big houses of the gentry and in Dublin where a number of Italian composers had settled, including Francesco Geminiani. Charles O Connor recorded that Carolan loved the Italian compositions: "Vivaldi charmed him, and with
Corelli he was enraptured." Although Carolan's formation was in native music, nevertheless his brilliant technical ability enabled him to combine the traditional Irish mode he had inherited with an overlay of the latest, most fashionable Italian and French styles. This superb technical virtuosity is at the heart of his success. His creative fusion of baroque and native styles generated highly attractive melodies which enhanced his stature and assured his reputation as a composer both in Anglo-Irish and in Gaelic circles.

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