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'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)

28 Feb 16 - 03:46 PM (#3775587)
Subject: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

This may amount to a whole bunch of nothing. However!

Delia Murphy, who recorded The Spinning Wheel, "spinning Eileen" and all, is much discussed on Mudcat threads. So is Mary O'Hara, who unlike Ms. Murphy actually played the harp and sang simultaneously, and who came a generation later than Ms. Murphy. I learned of both of these very popular, beloved recording artists from the Mudcat Café.

But although the Folkways album recorded by Deirdre Ní Fhloinn was something introduced to me in childhood, I was ignorant of the historical context in which she learned, and performed, her singing and harp playing. As stated in a post on another thread, the Folkways LP copy in my house was intact, including the little paper booklet for which that recording company was known, and which gave information for which there was no room on the liner notes on the record jackets. Ms. Ní Fhloinn's album booklet was limited to the song lyrics -- Gaelic, with one macaronic tune about a dialogue between a farmer and a fox -- and English translations of same. There was nothing whatever about the artist, Ms. Ní Fhloinn (also known, in her youth, as Deirdre Flynn), nor about where she learned the harp or who her teachers were.

Had it been otherwise, today I would probably be no wiser about The Spinning Wheel or Delia Murphy; but I would have learned then what I had to come here to learn, that Deirdre Ní Fhloinn, Kathleen Watkins, Deirdre O'Callaghan, and Mary O'Hara were all graduates of The Harp Room at Sion Hill convent school, where they studied singing with one of the Dominican nuns (in another post I said Ursuline nuns, sorry, I got that wrong), and learned the Celtic harp from one of the Ní Shéa sisters.

Although, since it was before my time, I still would have not seen that episode of the Ed Sullivan variety show on television, in which Mary O'Hara was a featured guest and about which she writes bluntly and bitterly in her memoirs, mincing no words about the patronizing, condescending treatment she received.

And it still would be news to me, that amongst fellow traditional musicians of a more recent generation, the example set by Mary O'Hara's generation would be belittled as follows:

"Kathleen Watkins, Deirdre O'Callaghan, and all the dear Spinning Eileens may still be charming the blue-rinse Yanks and mead-swilling Eurotourists in stone castles, but....[name withheld to protect the innocent] has taken the harp, with a little help from one Máire Ní Chathasaigh, out of the castles and back to its place in Irish trad music."
The preceding was written, NOT by the harpist whose name I have withheld, but by a journalist/critic for Arts West Magazine around 1999. Said writer is a trad musician whose name can be turned up in Mudcat threads using the search engine; for all I know, this writer might be a Mudcat member.

Well, once I was myself part of a class of students with a teacher or two, although not in a convent school; and I was exposed, however briefly, to the way that professional (especially academic) musicians talk about the profession and the people in it, to their blunt criticisms and decided opinions. So the preceding quote does not come as a complete shock even to me.

Still, I question: is it throwing the baby out with the bathwater, to dismiss Kathleen Watkins, Deirdre O'Callaghan, Deirdre Ní Fhloinn, Mary O'Hara, et alia, along with the tourist industry's exploitation of them and their image? What say you, Mudcatters?

28 Feb 16 - 04:26 PM (#3775595)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

More about said bathwater, in the words of Mary O'Hara herself, from her revised memoirs, Travels With My Harp.

from Chapter 7, quotes:
To my horror I saw them carrying on two giant cut-out shamrocks and placing them at the back of the stage. I was dumbfounded when I was asked to sit with my harp in one of them while [Dublin Mayor] Bob Briscoe was on stage. I envied the beautiful Irish wolfhound standing in the other shamrock, seemingly impervious to the indignity of it all. There's nothing wrong with the shamrock as such, but when it is perennially associated with leprechauns, shillelaghs, green beer, and Delaney's donkeys, I feel it is prostituting the true image of our beautiful country and its ancient culture. It smacks of stage-Irishism. It has echoes of Punch's earlier racist caricatures of the Irish as capering troglodytes and simian-faced morons....
Suddenly a stage-hand rushed up to me: 'Quick, there's time.' Unceremoniously I was shoved across the vast stage, had a stool pushed under me and was told, 'You're on.'   Good accommodating Irishwoman that I was, I took a deep breath and launched into "O Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling...."   It was Ed Sullivan's own choice of song. But before I could even finish one verse, I felt his patronizing hand descend on my head and heard him saying to the viewers something like, 'That's it for tonight, folks.' Off the air, he had the temerity to ask me to 'sing a little song now for the studio audience...'

28 Feb 16 - 06:43 PM (#3775621)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: leeneia

Written by a critic, you say? Critics stand somewhere between used-car salesmen and pickpockets in probity.

The snide remark is not excusable, but it's not unexpected, either.

(I visited Ireland in 2007, and we stopped in a pub that had a sign for Harp beer. The barmaid told me, "We have lots of signs with harps in Ireland, but nobody plays one.")

28 Feb 16 - 07:04 PM (#3775624)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: MartinRyan

There has been a quite significant revival in harp-playing in traditional (Irish) music circles in recent years. The approach to both instrumental music and the accompaniment of singing is markedly different from that of the generation referenced above. In fairness, the latter were often at least as much sinned against as sinning, to borrow a phrase.


29 Feb 16 - 12:02 AM (#3775646)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'

"as much sinned against as sinning"

Didn't some smartarse say that about the trees along the Royal Canal?

29 Feb 16 - 12:03 AM (#3775647)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: leeneia

Mediocre intellects rely heavily on the process of association.

That Kathleen Watkins, Deirdre O'Callaghan, et al, played for Yanks and Euro-tourists says absolutely nothing about the quality of their music. Neither does it matter that audience members have a blue rinse. (Something I haven't seen for decades.)

Tone, pace, dynamics, richness and an interesting repertoire - these things make good music, not the 'coolness' of the audience. And yes, the musician can be old, female and even fat and still be a good musician.

29 Feb 16 - 12:48 AM (#3775649)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: michaelr

So keb, stop being coy and name the people you're talking about. Who coined the term "spinning Eileens" and what do you think it means? What's the point regarding "the harper whose name I've withheld"? Is this some secret insider discussion, or can we all participate?

29 Feb 16 - 09:21 AM (#3775729)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,Peter Laban

I have a recording of Séamus Ennis singing 'The Spinning Wheel'. I did always think it had something to do with the fact the recording was of a gig in New York.

[i]'Nobody plays them'[/i] Well look at this snap: harpers : Holly Geraghty, Gráinne Hambly, Paul Dooley, Oisín Morrison, Laoise Kelly, Deirdre Granville, Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Kathleen Loughnane. And I could probably think of the same number of very fine contemporary players.

29 Feb 16 - 09:34 AM (#3775732)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: maeve

The review- scroll to the bottom of the page.

What does it matter who and where and why? It's a review, written with more than a bit of condescension, that's all. Those who play harp and those who appreciate it will make certain to make the music and listen to it with many harpists and styles to choose from.

29 Feb 16 - 05:29 PM (#3775827)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

When I first saw the phrase that is the name of this thread, it stopped me short, because I was too ignorant to get it. Mudcat members straightened me out by quoting the first verse of The Spinning Wheel, which describes "Eileen" sitting in moonshine; I don't know that song, and without knowing it, had no clue what the phrase meant.

"Colleen" is the word I have more often heard used in a dismissive, even antagonistic way; and while looking up more information on harp-playing in Ireland, the word "colleen" was quoted several times in interviews and dissertations. I got the point. While I had never heard of a "spinning Eileen," I was aware of what Mary O'Hara, quoted in a previous post, calls "racist caricatures" and also of the commercialized images from the tourist industry. After all, I knew what actress Roma Downey meant when she opined, in an interview, "Maureen O'Hara has a lot to answer for," regarding the over-romanticized big-screen stereotypes.

Maire Ní Chathasaigh has written that the great antiquity of the harp in Irish history and culture, going back across so many periods of changing times and eras, means that the harp and its traditions have gone through changes. Having looked at other people's research and writings, I wonder if the word "transformations" is not too grandiose a word.

Much is made, in in-depth writing on the subject, of the change between the blind Irish harpists, largely men (okay, not all of them were blind), with the wire-strung instruments they played, and the gut-stringed harps that graced drawing rooms, parlors, and the music departments of convents, in a more recent century when most of the harp players were women. This latter scenario was well-entrenched when Sean O'Riada called attention to Carolan's music, and recorded same on a harpsichord with wire strings rather than hiring a harp player to play the music. It gives one much to think and reflect on, which is my inclination. Of course if people want to make a debate about it, with pros and cons, then debate they will. And I will stand back and let them.

So I would rather dwell on the context and consider the history, since "spinning Eileens" doesn't make sense to me without it. The phrase is a distraction, personally; to this moment, I have a mental image of a little music-box figurine spinning round and round....guess I am too literal-minded to appreciate any humor in it.

29 Feb 16 - 06:58 PM (#3775837)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: mg

I have never heard it as Eileen but Eily (SP?)

Also, regardless of what the Irish Irish like, Irish Americans, and I am one, love their shamrocks. I call it the curse of the Irish. If you have a bakery, an auto parts store, a tavern, and have an Irish name, you most likely want a shamrock on the sign. I have the curse myself and see it as a great honor to have such a wonderful symbol. Irish can be quite condescending to Irish Americans and quite insulting, especially around St. Patrick's Day, which is basically an Irish American and not Irish Irish holiday..when all the plastic paddy insults come out.

You should not insult people's ancestors, and that is what a lot of this comes down to. I also think that the shamrock is sort of like a passover symbol where you hope that some token will spare you some of the troubles that our ancestors faced.

01 Mar 16 - 01:03 PM (#3776080)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

The review in the opening post on this thread, was something that surprised me during a search on Deirdre O'Callaghan's name, online; the intent of my search was to uncover more about, precisely, O'Callaghan's generation of convent-educated musicians. There is nothing secret about this review, about the recording it reviews, or about the artist featured on the recording. If I could locate them, anybody could.

All I am going to say about the artist, whose name I chose not to emphasize, is that the harpist is a member of a generation different than the generation of O'Callaghan, Watkins, O'Hara and so on. My focus is less on any individual than on a generation of musicians, or the comparisons -- similarities and differences -- between different generations of players of the Celtic harp. So when the reviewer singles out one recording and one artist, he is doing his job; it's just that my interest is elsewhere.

Well there is this too. I am writing as though the artists in question could read this themselves. And they literally could, seeing as how there is nothing secret about this forum, and that online searches like the one described in this post, routinely pull up Mudcat Cafe messages through searching on the names in the messages. All the parties involved are alive and well as far as I can make out, whether in retirement or active. I guess, in my process of educating myself about music and musicians that are new to me, that I want to find out what people are talking about, and at the same time I don't want to give offense. My aversion to conflict is making me evasive in speech, I admit that. I won't stop other people from making statements that are condescending to the point of insult. I can't avoid being addressed, when I join a conversation, by somebody more confrontational than me. All I can do is weigh my own words with care.

02 Mar 16 - 08:41 AM (#3776240)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Jack Campin

I'm not entirely sure where this thread was intended to go. Isn't the stereotyping being complained of there simply a consequence of the gender stereotyping that goes along with the harp in many other cultures? In Scotland we have Isobel Mieras seemingly taking on the role of the Miss Jean Brodie of the clarsach - the movement she presides over is not much like the Irish one but it's nearly as gendered.

If the stereotype is that the harp is an instrument for submissive women, is it surprising if the tourist culture industry expects them to look pretty and do what they're told?

02 Mar 16 - 01:34 PM (#3776294)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,Gealt

Not sure about your last sentence, Jack Campin.


02 Mar 16 - 01:37 PM (#3776298)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,Gealt

Re my previous post:

"All O'Donnell singing Spanish Lady, recorded for German television called 'LIED FUR TRAUMER MUSIK FUR REBELLEN' translate to 'Songs For A Dreamer Music For Rebels." 1966."

02 Mar 16 - 01:49 PM (#3776301)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: mg

my image of the irish harp is in the minstral boy ..with his wild harp slung beside him... I think more of male harpers..was not O'Carolan? Was not my possible relative (same name as my ggf) Cornelius Lyons also a great harper. Bard of Armagh..male.

02 Mar 16 - 06:11 PM (#3776337)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Jack Campin

Google thinks differently.

Try an image search for "irish harpist" and see what predominates.

Not many of them look like Johnny Cash, Ian Bruce or Marilyn Manson.

02 Mar 16 - 07:06 PM (#3776347)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Rapparee

Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin was criticized for being "too modern." The Clancys were criticized for making Irish folk songs "too theatrical." Francis O'Neill can be said to have saved many, many Irish folk songs and music, which he collected in Chicago.

02 Mar 16 - 07:12 PM (#3776349)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

"....the stereotype is that the harp is an instrument for submissive women."

Sexism, in other words, plain and simple? Relevant, I agree, to the "spinning Eileens" dismissal. Is this the whole story?

Pose this question to the likes of Janet Harbison, who deserves a Mudcat thread of her own, and what would she say? She plays the harp. She is a woman. Submissive? I DARE you to call Janet Harbison submissive. Acquainted with prejudice, limitation, restriction, exclusion? Actively engaged in confronting same? She looks that way to me, from what I can find out about her.

A separate post in future may quote Harbison, who at present is a Ph.D candidate (well, maybe she finished the doctorate and I missed that). She has written about the harp, about harp music in Ireland, and about traditional music in Ireland. She has some pithy opinions about the prejudicial attitudes of writers like the author of the "all the dear spinning Eileens" putdown.

Only just getting acquainted with Ms. Harbison, and I like what I see. It would be telling to get her comments on Mary O'Hara's generation.

02 Mar 16 - 07:41 PM (#3776354)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

mg, my 29 February post to this thread did not single out Carolan a/k/a Cearbhalláin, this is true. My post only spoke generally of blind Irish harpists who played harps with wire strings. Carolan is certainly in that category, actually he is the most memorable of the lot.

In this day and age, we have Derek Bell of happy memory, who made two solo recordings of Carolan's music. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Mr. Bell made those recordings with a harp with wire strings. Elsewhere, Bell admitted that he toured with a nylon-string harp because wire-string harps are so terribly sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and humidity that one cannot keep the things in tune during tour performances.

And in between the epoch of Carolan, and the revival of Carolan's music by everyone from Sean O'Riada to Derek Bell, I have to ask you, mg....where are all the harp-playing males IN BETWEEN? At that point it seems that the harp survived, erm, in spite of men musicians. (One exception would be classical music but that is a different tradition.)

03 Mar 16 - 07:19 AM (#3776438)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,Peter Laban

I would suggest there is a consensus the bardic harp tradition in Ireland died by the early 19th century, Bunting recording the last breath of it.

While the harp itself may have survived, I don't think it's right to suggest harping in Ireland is an unbroken link to past musicians.

03 Mar 16 - 07:32 PM (#3776579)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

My post of 29 february contains a paraphrased quote from Máire Ní Chathasaigh; my conscience prompts me to contribute the exact quote.

No other instrument symbolises both the continuities and discontinuities of the Irish music tradition so thoroughly. It is the oldest instrument within it, having been played here for more than a thousand years, and therefore the one which appears to have changed the most.
page 173, The Companion to Irish Traditional Music (only the article titled "Harp")

03 Mar 16 - 09:55 PM (#3776586)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: mg

They might have died or emigrated. What happened to fiddlers of Scotland? Ended up in nova Scotia and I have heard that they had to reteach Scots fiddling from nova Scotia.

03 Mar 16 - 09:55 PM (#3776587)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: mg

They might have died or emigrated. What happened to fiddlers of Scotland? Ended up in nova Scotia and I have heard that they had to reteach Scots fiddling from nova Scotia.

04 Mar 16 - 03:35 AM (#3776601)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Jack Campin

What happened to fiddlers of Scotland? Ended up in nova Scotia and I have heard that they had to reteach Scots fiddling from nova Scotia.


What actually happened in Scotland is that we rounded up all the most credulous morons we could find and shipped them off to Canada (much like what happened to the telephone sanitizers in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"). That's why Canadians, to this day, will believe anything.

04 Mar 16 - 02:17 PM (#3776642)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Helen

Thanks for this discussion.

My favourite line so far in the discussion is from keberoxu:

"And in between the epoch of Carolan, and the revival of Carolan's music by everyone from Sean O'Riada to Derek Bell, I have to ask you, mg....where are all the harp-playing males IN BETWEEN? At that point it seems that the harp survived, erm, in spite of men musicians."

Also, The Spinning Wheel song is a good song with an interesting rhythm. It's worth a listen in its own right. And the wheel for spinning wool, being the name of the song, and referred to in the "spinning Eileens" comment is another old tradition which has had a revival. The spinning wheel's rhythm explains the rhythm of the song because the wheel turns with an up and down motion of the foot on the treadle. The song suits arpeggio runs up and down the harp as an accompaniment.

John McDermott's version

I'm now going back to read the recently revived old thread about Mary O'Hara now.


04 Mar 16 - 03:36 PM (#3776658)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

There is a factor in the condescension/patronizing/pejorative attitude of gut-stringed Celtic harps in the hands of the gentler sex, which is not simply sexism; and I think this factor rears its ugly head in so persistent a way, that the light ought to be shone firmly upon it. In order to do so, another musical instrument, with its own histories, traditions, and notorious caricatures, might be introduced here: it is the piano, with everything that the piano symbolizes.

I am looking at "Men, Women, and Pianos," the book from the 1950's by Arthur Loesser. This book, while highly entertaining, is non-fiction, and intended to summarize not only the piano's place in music, but also in human society, with considerations like class distinction and wealth/economy.

Look at the historical period when the invaluable Carolan is drawing his last breath, and Edward Bunting is doing what he may to document the Belfast Harper's festival. The tradition of the Celtic harper bard appears doomed at this point, with the attempt to revive or resuscitate its traces at least a hundred years in the future. And what is on the rise? The harpsichord is firmly in place, and the fortepiano, which will one day become the piano, putting down roots and preparing to dominate the nineteenth century.

A few quotes from the aforementioned book, and Arthur Loesser:

from chapter 18, The Piano As A Female 'Accomplishment.' Opening sentence:
The history of the pianoforte and the history of the social status of women [in the nineteenth century -- keberoxu] can be interpreted in terms of one another. -endquote
This chapter goes on to dissect 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Vanity Fair,' with their literary commentaries about genteel females playing the piano.

p. 268: 'Music was, indeed, considered one of the most important of the young ladylike "accomplishments;" it was a favorite because it could be shown off best while actually being accomplished.
[ as contrasted with: drawing, painting, making artifical flowers of wax, paper, or fabric, to say nothing of needlepoint and embroidery]
In this sphere, music reduced itself to singing and playing the pianoforte, though the guitar and the harp were the keyboard's occasional temporary rivals.'

I propose that this scenario, one toward which the attitude of the defenders of traditional music is conflicted at best, and at worst contemptuous, is directly connected to the "spinning Eileens" and the denigration of same.

04 Mar 16 - 06:43 PM (#3776690)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'

I put this article with my version of 'The spinning wheel' some years ago, but failed to note the name of the author, I think the date is too late for Samuel Ferguson.

Dublin University Magazine July 1859 Page 134.
This is John Francis Waller's prefatory note to The Spinnig Wheel. It was published as above along with several other poems under the pseudonym of Jonathon Freke Slingsby. The lyric below is as Waller wrote it, although there are some differences in the words of the sung versions.

A summer's evening in the country brings with it many pleasant thoughts. Out of doors there is the dance, by the road-side or on the green, hurling and foot-ball, leaping and casting the stone, and all those man!y, rustic sports which were discontinued through many a weary year of famine, and sickness, and sorrow, but which, thank heaven, one again sees now-a-days - not, perhaps, with all the sprightliness of old times, or as thronged as before death and emigration thinned the numbers of our peasants, and robbed us of the flower and the beauty, as well as the muscle and tbe sinew of the people - our young men and our young maidens - leaving the old and the decrepid to languish and die away. Ah, well! the time will come again, I trust, when as strong arms and as light feet will assemble at the summer trysting; and may it be that they will be better still than the generation that preceded them - schooled by their trials - taught by their hard experiences - and fitter to fill that great place in the social polity of a nation which the people ever should fill. Meanwhile, let me recall one of the rustic recollections of a summer evening, when a fair girl contrived to elude thc vigilant ears of a purblind grandmother, and left her spinning-wheel, to ramble by moonlight with her sweetheart. I have thrown the incident into a song - it must be sung to one of those airs which young girls chant so sweetly to the hum of their spinning-wheels, but which you will now hear more rarely than when I was a boy, Anthony. Here, give the paper to Bishop, and Iet him sing the verses to the air of "The Little House under the HiII."

But stay a moment, Jack, until I 'insense' you as we say in the country, into the spirit of the song. Remember to what instrument you are supposed to be singing - a spinning-wheel. Now, don't look so dramaticaily indignant - I mean no offence to your manhood. The lever which you move with your foot is your metronome, and will keep you in time, and the humming wheel is your accomnpaniment. So then you will sing equably, but not monotonously, Jack; and your refrain must ring roundly, as it were, save the third verse, wherein you must in the last four lines so retard the time and "aggravate" your voice, as Bully Bottom says, that you shall demonstrate to your auditory how the girl is minding her spinning less and her lover more than... is good for her, mayhap; and then you will make your pauses in the refrain to mark how the wheel, when left to itself, goes round unsteadily, and with a chuck at each revolution, as the impulse given by the last pressure of the girl's foot is just able to drag up the crank to the highest point, and then the weight of the foot-lever brings it down again. So, now let's hear what you can do:-

Mellow the moonlight to shine is beginning;
Close by the window young Eileen is spinning;
Bent o'er the fire her blind grandmother sitting,
Crooning and moaning and drowsily knitting.
Eileen, a chara, I hear someone tapping
'Tis the ivy, dear mother, against the glass flapping.
Eileen, I surely hear somebody sighing.
'Tis the sound, mother dear of the summer wind dying.
Merrily, cheerily, noisily whirring,
Swings the wheel, spins the reel while the foot's stirring;
Sprightly and lightly and airily ringing,
Thrills the sweet voice of the young maiden singing.

2. What's the noise I hear at the window, I wonder?
'Tis the little birds chirping, the holly-bush under.
What makes you be shoving and moving your stool on,
And singing all wrong the old song of 'The Coolin'?
There's a form at the casement, the form of her true love
And he whispers with face bent, I'm waiting for you love;
Get up on the stool, through the lattice step lightly,
We'll rove in the grove while the moon's shining brightly.

3. The maid shakes her head, on her lips lays her fingers,
Steals up from the seat, longs to go, and yet lingers;
A frightened glance turns to her drowsy grandmother,
Puts one foot on the stool, spins the wheel with the other.
Lazily, easily, now swings the wheel round;
Slowly and lowly is heard now the reel's sound;
Noiseless and light to the lattice above her
The maid steps, then leaps to the arms of her lover.
Slower... and slower... and slower the wheel swings;
Lower... and lower... and lower the reel rings;
Ere the reel and the wheel stop their ringing and moving,
Through the grove the young lovers by moonlight are roving.

An Tuirnín Lín: Trans. Diarmaid Ó Tuama.

Loinnir ón ngealach ag cur leis an niamh,
Taobh leis an bhfuinneog tá Eibhlín ag sníomh;
Mamó go suanmhar ag cniotáil cois tine,
Cromtha 'gus dall is ag crónán le binneas.

Callánach croíúil ceolmhar gan chliseadh
Castar an tuirne le fuinneamh na coise;
Álainn is aigeanta, aerach is aoibhinn
An bhruinneall ag canadh go caoin lena faí bhinn.

"Eibhlín, a stóirín, tá cnag ar an bhfuinneog."
"Sé 'n t-eidhneán, a Mhamó, á shéideadh mar dhuilleog."
"Eibhlín, ar m'anamsa, cloisimse osna.'
"Siod é siosarnach gaoithe, a Mhamó, sa bhrosna."

"Cén trup sin a chloisimse lasmuigh den fhuinneog?"
"Tá, éanlaith, a Mhamó, ag canadh i loinneog."
"Cén chúis 'tá led bhogadh 's led chorraí id' stóilín
'S led' rá bunoscionn an tseanamhráin, An Cúlfhionn?"

Tá 'n leannán cois comhla is labhrann go béalbhinn:
"Cogar, a chailín, is téana, a Eibhlín!
Éirigh den stóilín 's amach tríd an gcrannaíl
Amach linn sa gharrán ag siúl faoi na crannaibh."

Éiríonn an ainnir, a méar lena beoilín,
Éiríonn den stóilín, ach fanann go fóillín;
Amharcann faoi rún ar an tseanmháthair mhuirneach,
Cuireann cos leis an stóilín is cos leis an tuirne.

Go réidh is go liosta, go mall is go suaimhneach
Casann an tuirne go héasca 's go luaimneach;
Go ciúin is go héadrom 'sea léimeann an bhruinneall
An leannán ag feitheamh, gan corraí, ar tinneall.

04 Mar 16 - 07:28 PM (#3776693)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Helen

Thank you, Guest.

This is exactly why I like Mudcat so much. So many knowledgeable people drop in and make the discussions even more interesting.


05 Mar 16 - 11:21 AM (#3776807)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,leeneia

Thanks for the link to the song, Helen.

05 Mar 16 - 11:32 AM (#3776811)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,leeneia

Here's a link to a page with the lyrics and sheet music for 'The Spinning Wheel.' I think we should all start playing it in hopes that it will eventually reach the ears of the critic in the OP and really irritate him. That would be a truly folkie thing to do.

spinning wheel

It's in Eb. Harps are often tuned in Eb.

05 Mar 16 - 12:05 PM (#3776813)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,leeneia

Further down the page is a version in the key of G, ostensibly for tin whistle. It should be easy to work out guitar-friendly chords for that.

I want to hear that this tune is suddenly being played all over the British Isles on tin whistles, banjos, harps, fiddles, ukeleles, melodeons and shruti boxes. And nobody knows why!

05 Mar 16 - 01:00 PM (#3776827)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,Modette


I hope you're not including Ireland in the 'British Isles'.

05 Mar 16 - 01:05 PM (#3776828)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Snuffy

Ireland is part of the British Isles but not part of the UK in the same way that Canada is part of America but not part of the USA

05 Mar 16 - 01:12 PM (#3776829)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,Jack Campin

Where did the tune come from? German lieder?

05 Mar 16 - 02:11 PM (#3776846)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Helen

In the post by GUEST
Date: 04 Mar 16 - 06:43 PM

John Francis Waller the lyricist of The Spinning Wheel, and author of the article above suggests singing the verses to the tune of The Little House under the HiII but to me this version doesn't sound like the tune of TSW, so I'm not really sure about the origin of the tune.

A comment on the "Spinning Eileens" quote: I suspect, although I am only surmising, that The Spinning Wheel song with it's arpeggios was a standard tune for learning to play the harp last century in Ireland and that may be why the author of the article (which keberoxu quoted at the beginning of the thread) used the term so disparagingly.

Just imagine every amateur concert featuring a harp-learner doggedly attempting to perform those arpeggios! I think the tune could possibly be really annoying after the 200th time you heard it thumped out.

But, as I said, I am only surmising this.


05 Mar 16 - 04:14 PM (#3776870)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,leeneia

It's foolish to take offense where no offense is intended.

Do you play an instrument? Are you interested in music?

05 Mar 16 - 07:35 PM (#3776888)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Jack Campin

I can't see any attribution for the tune earlier than Waller.

It doesn't sound at all like a harp exercise, and doesn't have a lot of arpeggios. It sounds a lot like Schubert, Schumann or Brahms, and somebody of Waller's social background would have been much more likely to listen to them than to either Irish traditional music or Celtic-twilight revivalist work.

Compare it with Brahms's well known lullaby op.49 no.4; not the same tune but very similar.

06 Mar 16 - 12:50 AM (#3776909)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Helen

On this YouTube clip of
Tom Smith playing The Spinning Wheel on an electronic keyboard, the comment is as follows:


I am not sure how Tom Smith arrived at this conclusion but he appears to be saying that Delia Murphy used a different tune for the song than the tune referred to by J F Waller.

Delia Murphy performing The Spinning Wheel as recorded in 1939

The arpeggios are heard on that recording although I can't identify whether it is a harp or a guitar, as Arthur Daley on guitar is credited for the recording.

In my Googling earlier this morning - when the sparrows were still tucked up in their nests and my brain was not even awake yet, I did see something about Delia Murphy being the first person to set the tune to a harp accompaniment, but I am not sure whether she played an instrument, and if so, whether she played harp.

(Never do research on the internet without saving your findings because you can guarantee you will wish later that you had done so. LOL)

Ok, here it is:

Delia Murphy - artist biography

......One of her first recordings was the extraordinary "The Spinning Wheel." Written in 1899 by John Francis Waller, the song hauntingly evoked the courtship of young lovers measured by the inexorable winding of the spinner's wheel. Murphy's ethereal West Ireland brogue and Gaelic pronunciation was reinforced by a harp arrangement that was quite remarkable for the period.

06 Mar 16 - 12:54 AM (#3776911)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Helen

Also, if you listen to John McDermott's version (which I posted a link to above on 04 Mar 16 - 02:17 PM) you can hear the arpeggios.

Not sure if that is on a harp, either.

06 Mar 16 - 04:12 PM (#3777019)
Subject: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

On another thread I have quoted "The Irish Harp," the thesis (master's degree) viewable online, from the University of Wales, Bangor, written by Oona Linnett (2009). The author did extensive interviewing with direct quotes, some of which may be brought to bear upon this conflicted public identity/image question.

Sister Carmel Warde, archivist (at the time of researching the thesis) for the Sion Hill Convent, is also interviewed, and without any trace of irony, she speaks about supplying musicians to precisely the 'stone castles' criticized by the record review in the original post on this thread.
"Looking back over the 1950's and the 1960's I recall very happy busy days preparing [the harp students at the convent] for Jury's Cabaret....Before the Summer holidays we awaited invitations from Bunratty Castle, Killarney Hotels, Dublin Hotels, and the Hilton Hotel in London for our harpists to entertain guests for a week or two...These were great days when the Sion Hill Harp School flourished." (p. 44, The Irish Harp thesis)

Gráinne Yeats was intrepid about facing this conflict head-on and speaking of it; and Oona Linnett interviewed her as well:
"What you had, basically, were beautiful young girls singing sweet folk songs, playing little chords, and they weren't really playing the instrument. They were using it solely as an embellishment of the song....Mary [O'Hara] was the best, and she sang beautifully, but you did have a lot of terribly inefficient ones. "   (page 47)
When Yeats asked Sean O'Riada to compose something for her own instrument, the relatively modern gut-stringed harp rather than the wire-stringed harp of Irish antiquity, O'Riada turned her down. This is how Yeats accounts for O'Riada's refusal.
"I think he was depressed about the standard of harp-playing at the time, because it was very, very low....the little girl image, singing sweet songs, was not one that appealed to Séan. And he was right, I think. Because we're talking about a very old and beautiful tradition." (page 51, thesis)
Yeats goes on to relate that there was, at the time, only one harp-maker in Ireland, Daniel Quinn, of whom Máire Ní Chathasaigh recalls that the waiting list for his harps was as long as two years. When Yeats asked Quinn if he would make for her a wire-strung harp -- such as the purist O'Riada would take seriously -- "Quinn was absolutely incredulous" (page 54, thesis).

06 Mar 16 - 07:19 PM (#3777046)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,leeneia

Grainne Yeats (Irish harper and music historian, 1925-2013) is quoted as saying, "What you had, basically, were beautiful young girls singing sweet folk songs, playing little chords, and they weren't really playing the instrument."

Let's think about this. Are we really supposed to believe that over 20 years (1950's and 1960's) there was no variation in the students? Normally a studio would have some brilliant students, many ordinary students and a few slackers. Among the ordinary students there would still be quite a range in talent and willingness to practice.

In other words, in 20 years we would expect to see some sign of the bell curve.

Yet Ms. Yeats claims to know that not one student became accomplished. Even worse - not one could play a melody. And stranger yet, every one was beautiful. Wow!

In my opinion, this isn't musicology, it's just being catty.

07 Mar 16 - 03:51 PM (#3777220)
Subject: Gráinne Yeats
From: keberoxu

Mairéid Sullivan interviewed Gráinne Yeats for her 1999 book, "Celtic Women in Music." quoting:
"I heard Joan O'Hara playing the harp and I immediately thought I wanted to learn to play it....it was shortly after I was married [to Michael Yeats] that I became interested in it...I learnt basic harp technique from Sheila Larchet Cuthbert and Mercedes Bolger...who's been my friend all these years [], the teacher at the Royal Irish Academy of Music.
"You might be interested in this little insight about the time before we really made our effort to improve the standards for teaching the harp. When the harp was beginning to come back, I went down to a conference at a local center to examine the students, on behalf of the [Royal Irish] Academy. I examined a few students who really weren't very good. Then their teacher, a nun, came to me, to do the exam, and she was just one step ahead of the pupils. That's the way it was before we launched our programme."

07 Mar 16 - 06:35 PM (#3777243)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Jack Campin

There are cylinder recordings of Patuffa Kennedy-Fraser from the early 1900s that should indicate how good she was - presumably her Irish contemporaries were doing similar things.

I think harp playing in Scotland got a substantial kick up the bum in the mid-20th century from Jean Campbell (borrowing classical harp techniques) which is about the same time as that last post of keberoxu's describes Irish harping as needing one.

07 Mar 16 - 06:59 PM (#3777247)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

More first-person testimony, this time from chapter 2 of Travels with my Harp, the revised edition of memoirs by Mary O'Hara.
"It was 1951, my penultimate year at Sion Hill. The annual pageant was going to be based on the life and works of Thomas Moore, who in his poems depicted the harp as a symbol of Ireland. For that reason, harps and harpers had to be found. [Remember, this school is located in Greater Dublin -- where were they going to find musicians if not in Dublin?]
Unfortunately, both had by then gone out of fashion in Ireland. The forward-looking prioress of Sion Hill, Mother Jordan, had earlier decided to introduce the harp to the school, probably with the pageant in mind. Researching for my Talks in 2005, I chanced upon some interesting correspondence between Mother Jordan and Mr. Malachy McFall of Belfast, the only harp-maker left in Ireland at the time. He didn't have any new harps and could only offer her one second-hand Tara standing harp for 65 pounds, a pretty stiff figure in those days. So, the school scoured the country high and low and collected old harps from barns, outhouses, and attics -- most of them riddled with woodworm -- and managed to 'fit' three small Brian Boru knee-harps to three young singers in the pageant: Deirdre Flynn, Kathleen Watkins, and me....
"Deirdre, Kathleen, and I were not particularly pally starting off, but finding ourselves frequently thrown together during the ensuing couple of years, friendships were formed and, to this day, we have kept in touch and meet occasionally. They opted not to take up music professionally but have followed my work closely and been my lifelong supporters."
keberoxu notes: Clearly there would have been players of European pedal harps, the classical music concert harp, around somewhere, and teachers of European harp technique with them. The point of the quote is that when the harp peculiar to Ireland and Irish music was called for, there were hardly any to be had.

08 Mar 16 - 06:22 PM (#3777482)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

Many thanks to all for the opinions, information, and interest shown so far.

There is one other, if you will, collective character in the drama whom I will have to introduce in a post at some point. Musicians often refer to this collective with the word "Comhaltas," which of course is short for something much longer. Being an outsider in Irish traditional music, I am not certain if the "Comhaltas" is the same thing as the Musicians' Union of Ireland, which has got its own website. The thing about the "Comhaltas" relevant to this discussion, is its staunch support for those instruments and genres that have endured in traditional Irish music in spite of everything. This means that there was, sixty years ago if not still today, a conflicted attitude toward the harp. There was the symbolism of the bardic harp, on the one hand -- the harp IS Éire, if you will -- and the little gut-string harps which were permitted in the Anglicized Ireland of the 18th and 19th century, with their utter dislocation from Gaelic antiquity.

When Gráinne Yeats, for example, was challenged to prove that the Irish harp was a trad - music instrument, and that harp players were actually legitimate musicians, some of this challenge came at her from fellow Irish citizens: trad-music players whose music had survived, one way or the other, in the absence of harps for over a hundred years. Yeats took this very much to heart, she makes no bones about that: wanting, in her own career, to make a case for the Irish harp as a serious undertaking, one that real musicians ought to listen to and support. If Yeats sounds harsh and blunt in her assessment of "spinning Eileens," remember that her assessment reflects the disparagement of traditional Irish musicians who play other instruments.

08 Mar 16 - 07:27 PM (#3777498)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: MartinRyan

"Comhaltas" is short for "Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Eireann" - which roughly translates as "Irish Musicians Collective". It is not a union in any sense.

To find out more:
Click here

Its role in maintaining the tradition since its foundation is considerable, if not without controversy.


P.S. Pronunciation is (very) roughly cole-tus kiol - toree air-un! First syllable stressed in each word. Generally referred to just by the first word.

08 Mar 16 - 08:37 PM (#3777508)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

Thanks, Mr. Ryan, that's me sorted out. Actually I know why I got the two confused -- has to do with an obituary/memorial for Gráinne Yeats; that can wait for a later post.

And in due course, I should have in my hands an article written by Janet Harbison, actually it is a paper presented at a conference in the 1990's; I have ordered a copy of the proceedings and am waiting for its snail-mail delivery, not holding my breath. Quotes from this article pepper the Internet, and it sounds as though Ms. Harbison does not mince words. She is protective of the women who kept the harp-makers in business by teaching harp to other women, and with reason. While Ms. Harbison has studied classical music with its emphasis on literacy and written notation -- she was a pianist before she took up the Irish harp -- she has also studied with Irish women whose tradition was oral and who in one case did not even read music. Harbison values both sources of learning personally, even though she has made some hard-nosed decisions about pedagogy and how to teach other teachers.

And talking of teachers, there are two women I would like to mention; they belong to earlier generations, and there is only so much information on them.

Caroline Townshend, sometimes spelled Townsend, information on her is scarce. I have neither birth nor death dates. It is written that her father was a philosopher in the 19th century. Ms. Townshend, in the early 20th century, studied not only Irish harp but all things Celtic, including the Gaelic tongue. She came from outside Dublin, but at some point in her adult life Townshend relocated to Dublin. And there she enthusiastically passed on everything she could to her students. The Shea / Ní Sheaghdha sisters were influenced by Townshend's devotion to Celtic culture, and these three women made their presence felt in the 20th century. I will say more later.

Then there was the nun, Mother Attracta Coffey (at first of course she was Sister Attracta). In 1903 she actually published a tutor, an instruction book, for the Irish harp. Mother Attracta was installed at Loreto Abbey, which along with the Dominican foundation at Sion Hill became the source of a lineage of Irish harp teachers and performers. Sheila Larchet Cuthbert, years after Mother Attracta's death, succeeded in finding a rare copy of Mother Attracta's "Tutor for the Irish Harp," and incorporating what she could of it into her own tutor publication, thus preserving the roots of a tradition of teaching.

09 Mar 16 - 03:07 AM (#3777551)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'

You may want to look into Joan Rimmer's work.

09 Mar 16 - 10:12 AM (#3777635)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: MartinRyan

Sounds like your "Caroline Townsend/Townshend" may have been the daughter of Horatio (sometimes Horace) Townsend the Younger - described as "a barrister and writer on music" in his entry in The Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland. It lists several philosophy books as his work. There is no direct reference to his daughter. The Townshends were an extended well-to-do family, widespread in West Cork - witness the beautiful village of Castletownshend in that area.

It is possible that the Irish Traditional Music Archive (www.itma.ie) may have information on Ms. Townshend.


09 Mar 16 - 03:31 PM (#3777700)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Helen


I have a copy of Sheila Larchet Cuthbert's book, The Irish Harp Book: a Tutor and Companion, first printed in 1975 by Mercier Press, and my copy was reprinted in 1985.

I have had it for maybe 30 years, but I haven't used it. As I've said in either this thread or another I am self taught on the harp, and also I never learned piano which would have made it easier for me, I think.

I would have ordered the book without seeing it and when I looked at it I realised it was very daunting for an amateur musician struggling without a teacher. If I had had a teacher I may have had some benefit from it.

It has a lot of Irish tunes in it, including the hauntingly weird My Lagan Love, and some Carolan tunes.


09 Mar 16 - 04:52 PM (#3777710)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

The 7 March post quoting "Travels with my Harp" by Mary O'Hara, names the Sion Hill superior, Mother Jordan, and harp-maker Malachy McFall of Belfast. Oona Linnett's thesis "The Irish Harp" (quoted post 6 March) includes a reproduction of a public advertisement dated 1904, by one James McFall in Belfast, which declares:
"In use in all the leading Convents throughout the world." Which supports the repeated assertion that, turning from 19th century to 20th, harps in Ireland were limited to the parlors, drawing rooms, salons, and convents, where it was expected that women, not men, would play them.

Page 50 in "The Irish Harp" brings up Comhaltas Ceoltóoirí Éireann in the 1950's when it was founded. Séamus MacMathuma, interviewed by Linnett for her thesis, confesses:
"I suppose we would generally be perceived as being conservative....The [Irish] harp was looked at as a bit of a sacred cow in the early years [of Comhaltas]. It was something that you paid lip-service to....Probably with Comhaltas it got off to a bad start."
And, on page 102, Mac Mathuma recalls how it was twenty years later, with the breakthrough of a younger generation of musicians.
"I can remember, because I had known Máire Ní Chathasaigh as a young girl, and she was doing wonderful things. I remember the first year the harp was included in the Scoil Éigse [1976]. We would normally have recitals at some stage. There wasn't an expectant hush for the harp, because people hadn't heard Máire playing. But mind you, once she started! Within that week, a whole lot of young people changed their attitude to the harpers....a whole lot of people just accepted it straight away. There were things happening on the harp!"

To reinforce how differently the Irish harp was perceived in the 1950's, another quote from page 50 of the thesis, this time from Aibhlín McCrann, at Cáirde Na Cruite:
"Comhaltas did the harp no favors in the 1950s, because they just totally ignored it, and kind of neatly put it into a little box and said: 'Ah, you're fine for cabaret and the American circuit: "the Colleen behind the harp". '   [Their attitude] was understandable in some ways, because what they were hearing wasn't their perception of what Irish [traditional] music should be."

09 Mar 16 - 08:41 PM (#3777755)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,leeneia

Helen, there are lots of harp lessons on YouTube. Take a look.

If you study piano and you learn music theory, then that will help with harp playing. However, I have talked to pianists who can play well but have never learned any theory. I think that's sad.

"Music theory" sounds daunting, but it's really pretty easy.

10 Mar 16 - 03:23 PM (#3777894)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

"All the dear Spinning Eileens" comes from a review quoted in the OP opening this thread. The names quoted there are "Kathleen Watkins [and] Deirdre O'Callaghan," who made recordings as a duo when young. They are names in an interesting list: Deirdre Ní Fhlóinn [Flynn], Mary O'Hara, Janet Harbison, and many other students. What these harp students have in common is of course their teacher, Mairín Ní Shé. Their teacher was no nun, however she accepted the offer to work as harp instructor at Sion Hill's Dominican College, so it was nuns who hired the teacher.

And their teacher's teacher was a Cork native whose name is variously given as either Caroline Townshend or Caroline Townsend.

What both Ms. Townsend, and the three Ní Shé sisters who all studied with her, have in common, is that none of them seem to have had the kind of music training that goes with classical music instruction. Janet Harbison, who did indeed have such a background as a long-time piano student, states that Mairín Ní Shé did not read music at all, but taught by ear, and relied on those who did read music to perform pieces recorded in print so that she could learn the pieces by ear. Less is known of Caroline Townshend -- I cannot find anyone who says definitively whether or not she ever learned to read music.

One writer who offers information on Caroline Townshend is the late Nora Joan Clark, in her "The Story of the Irish Harp." Because books.google.com only lets me view certain preview pages in this book, I cannot get at Clark's end-notes to see the sources of her quotes. Here is the best I can view online.
"Other sources mention Caroline Townshend, daughter of an eminent philanthropist in nineteenth century Irish life, who '....set herself the task of rediscovering the long-since outlawed Irish harp, the emblem of Ireland....gave free lessons and many copies of her [Welsh] harp were made.'
"Sheila Cuthbert notes that Caroline Townshend was '....interested in everything Irish, the language, culture, music, and she taught the Irish harp to anyone interested, especially to the local girls near her home....in Dublin, she was delighted to find herself teaching quite advanced musicians...the O'Shea sisters and many others.'
(pp. 105 - 106, The Story of the Irish Harp: Its History and Influence)

10 Mar 16 - 03:55 PM (#3777899)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,Martin Ryan

Caroline was musically literate alright - she is credited with many published arrangements of Irish music, as far as I can see. An interesting woman in many ways - she turns up as witness in an investigation of Black and Tan brutality during the Irish War of Independence.

The family tree is convoluted but she certainly seems to have been of that clan alright.


10 Mar 16 - 07:58 PM (#3777926)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

Thanks, Martin Ryan, for setting me straight about Caroline Townshend. She does sound redoubtable.

Moving on to that trio of sisters:
Their parents were Séan and Caitlín Ó Séaghdha. It seems that all three sisters, when young, studied the Irish harp, and presumably all with the same harp teacher, Caroline Townshend. Interestingly, the sisters pursued differing levels of literacy where music is concerned, no two of them taking the exact same path. In their youth, however, they turn up in notices in archived Irish local newspapers, with the three of them performing as a musical trio; I was left unclear if this was a trio of harps? One or more of them may have sung as well. The paper was unclear about the presentation but their three names were there, as was the emphasis that they were siblings.

Neasa Ní Sheaghdha (1916-1993), when still very young, tried drama; and one book of memoirs from someone outside the family recalls the memory of seeing Neasa as Antigone, a performance that was memorable for all the right reasons. If music remained part of her life, it must have been in a more private, even amateur, context. Also identified as Nessa Ní Shéa, she pursued higher education so as to focus on antiquated forms of the Gaelic, to become literate enough to study manuscript sources containing the great old epic tales of ancient Ireland. Her name appears on a scholarly presentation of the tragedy of Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne / Dermot and Grania / Diarmuid Ua Duibhne and Gráinne from the Fenian saga.

Róisín Ní Sheaghdha earned a B.A. in Celtic studies, studied piano at RIAM (she must certainly have learned to read music), and pursued graduate studies at University College Dublin, in education it appears. She sang to her own harp accompaniment, and participated in many Celtic Congresses. Her career track does not precisely parallel that of her sister Máirín but is close to it.

Máirín Ní Shé / Ní Sheaghdha (1913-1990) is the name which is inseparable from the Harp Room in the music division of the Dominican College of Sion Hill. She was married by then, with a last name variously given as Ferriter or Feiriteir. "Deeply indebted to harp teacher, Caroline Townshend," says Sheila Larchet Cuthbert in her book, The Irish Harp Book: A Tutor and Companion (page 240). She tutored generations of harp students, many of these grist for the "stone castle" mills and Jury's Cabaret. Earlier posts have named the best-known pupils.

20 Mar 16 - 06:02 PM (#3780037)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

The website www.ainm.ie has the goal of putting online biographies in Gaelic, rather than English, of prominent Irish figures. My search for the redoubtable O'Shea family turned up this site. I will have my work cut out for me, making sense of the Gaelic -- with lots of quick-and-dirty help from Google Translate.

The paterfamilias has his own biography page there. He was born John Patrick O'Shea in 1887, in county Cork. By 1912 he was calling himself Séan Pádraig Ó Séaghdha. In spite of a childhood divided between county Cork, and England (Birmingham, where he learned to play cricket), when Ó Séaghdha invested in a house in Dundrum, he named it for the Dingle peninsula in county Kerry: Corca Dhuibhne. Wonder if the house remains in the family? Twice married, the father of six sired all his children during his first marriage.

We have thus far met three daughters of Séan Pádraig Ó Séaghdha: Máirín, the oldest, who taught at Sion Hill; Nessa, the Gaelic-language scholar; Finbarr, "an engineer" according to the ainm.ie biography; Róisín, lifelong musician; Niamh, who played the harp with her sisters until marriage, then became a home economics teacher; and Nuala, born in 1923, for whom I cannot locate a death date although I have death-years for all the older siblings.

Séan P. Ó Séaghdha died in 1971. His daughter Nessa said of him, that the greatest source of pride for him, was that so many of his descendants were raised as native speakers of Irish.

21 Mar 16 - 11:27 AM (#3780137)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

Mention of the "stone castles" from the original post, opening this thread, would bring the conversation full circle.

Indeed, the cabarets and medieval banquets in said "stone castles" are one of the great cash cows of Irish tourism. Although the phrase "dear spinning Eileens" was new to me, and mystified me utterly, it was far easier to locate references to "cabaret harpers" and "banquet harpers." I have spoken flippantly of grist for the mill, I who have never visited Ireland at all nor been one of the mead-swillers condescended to in that review quote. Not far off the mark, it seems.

Bunratty, Knappog[u]e, Dungaire, Shannon in general, Jury's Cabaret....harps, singing, stone castles, and tourism.

21 Mar 16 - 11:35 AM (#3780139)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: MartinRyan

I live within a medieval slingshot of Dunguaire, as it happens!


22 Mar 16 - 08:44 PM (#3780513)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

ITMA board member Aibhlín McCrann had an article published, January 2006, in the Journal of Music [Ireland]. This article can be viewed online at the Journal's website. Herewith, a relevant quote.

How is it that the Irish harp, our acknowledged national instrument for more than one thousand years, and untouched even by the 'Riverdance' revolution, is only now beginning to assume an authoritative voice and [to] come to prominence? The development of the Irish harp to the point at where it stands today has undoubtably been beleaguered by conflicting social and cultural standards of harpers themselves, other traditional musicians, and various commentators. The efforts of the Ní Shé sisters, Mary O'Hara, Kathleen Watkins, Deirdre O'Callaghan, and the 'castle' players in the 'sixties and the early 'seventies contributed greatly to the raising of public awareness of the harp. While they represented a certain genre of performance, and certainly developed a national identity for the instrument, it has taken many years to cast off the somewhat clichéd "Irish colleen" image of a young girl posturing behind a harp, twinkling at captive audiences as she sings about Leprechauns and crocks of gold.

There is one sentence, further on in the same article, which touches on the tension, already mentioned in earlier posts, between two organizations of musicians in Ireland.

Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann, with whom founding members of Cairde na Cruite shared a somewhat tempestuous relationship due to deeply held philosophical differences of musical opinion, began to feature the harp at Fleadhanna Ceoil competitions [in the 1970's].

26 Mar 16 - 05:43 PM (#3781566)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

Bear with me, because I still can't do Blue Clickie links. But I can submits URLs in a post.

It occurs to me that some readers, who know even less than I did when I wrote the original post, might want examples of the "cabaret harp" being scrutinized here.

Both these pages describe the same recording product.

https://siopa.gael-linn.ie and search for "Amhrain Ghra."


Multiple singers/harp-accompanists here, including:
Máire Ní Scolaí
Eilidh Ní Marchaigh
Fionnuala Mac Lochlainn
Marjorie Courtney
Deirdre Ní Fhlóinn
Kathleen Watkins
Gráinne Yeats
Mary O'Hara

Seventeen titles, they all appear to be Irish/Gaelic, including "Róisín Dubh."

No, I have not heard any of these records myself.

26 Mar 16 - 06:03 PM (#3781573)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Helen

Hi keberoxu,

Thanks for the info. Here are the links:

Amhráin Ghrá

Amhráin Ghrá - Claddagh Records


27 Mar 16 - 04:57 PM (#3781725)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu


The above URL is another quick read on the song mentioned elsewhere in this thread. This article supports the position that the poem came first, and was set to music after the fact.

And I have to remark, I have yet to see a reference to the Spinning Wheel song being in the repertoire of any of the "spinning Eileens" themselves, if "spinning Eileens" are defined as the performers in cabarets and banquets in stone castles. Maybe it actually happened, but I have come across no trace of it.

Now watch somebody prove me wrong!

27 Mar 16 - 05:12 PM (#3781726)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

Just found this.

Mary O'Hara's "Songs of Ireland": side two of the LP begins with The Spinning Wheel. Herself has proved me wrong. That said, I think she recorded this album after the death of her first husband, when she was wrapping up her youthful career and headed for the Benedictine nuns....before her comeback. At that time, Mary O'Hara was well established already. I question if she sang this tune before she made the recording, but perhaps she did.

Good heavens, how very high her soprano voice was! She could have sung with a choir of little boys -- such purity.

27 Mar 16 - 06:55 PM (#3781760)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: GUEST,leeneia

" posturing behind a harp, twinkling at captive audiences"

How does one posture while balancing a heavy instrument on one's shoulder?

Twinkling, we can assume, means "having a friendlier nature than the writer".

captive audience? They paid to be there and are free to leave.
People, this isn't musicology, it's mere cattiness.

27 Mar 16 - 07:44 PM (#3781773)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Jack Campin

How does one posture while balancing a heavy instrument on one's shoulder?

Does Deborah Hanson-Conant count? - playing in hotpants so she can damp the strings with a bare thigh?

28 Mar 16 - 10:51 AM (#3781856)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Bonnie Shaljean

Yeh, but she cheats! She straps a small harp to her torso. Eileen's grandmother would have a meltdown. (Guy waiting just outside the window probably wouldn't tho... it would definitely make the leap up onto the sill more interesting.) But which leg is she going to use to spin the wheel with?

28 Mar 16 - 02:37 PM (#3781898)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

Welcome, Bonnie Shaljean. I was afraid you would never post to this thread. As anyone can tell, I am no harpist, only an observer on the outside. But you have an inside point of view on this consideration of the Irish harp going into the new millenium.

Has the image of women-singers-with-harps been a distraction for fully committed devotees of the Irish Harp? Please, don't bite my head off.

28 Mar 16 - 03:33 PM (#3781904)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: keberoxu

I was just looking up the singers listed for the Amhrain Ghra album, which appears to be intended for the audiences of the Gael Linn Cabaret of another era; the album is on the Gael Linn label. Some of these names have been considered already in this thread.

I had never heard of Marjorie Courtney, however.
In 1991, Eileen Casey interviewed Courtney for a periodical covering Knocklyon. It can be found in a PDF file online; the following quotes will demonstrate that Marjorie Courtney embraced the cabaret world.

....it all really began when she became a pupil at the Dominican convent, Muckross Park, which was just a short journey from her home in Dundrum where she was born. 'Oh, I was so lucky,' she says, 'despite the fact that it was an enclosed order, the nuns were light-years ahead in self-development. It was the making of me....Mother Cecilia took me under her wing and opened up a new world to me....I owe so much to Mother Cecilia. She was always so thrilled when I won prizes in the soprano competitions at the Feis Ceoil or the Oireachtas...'

....her career blossomed....she was in great demand for singing at dinners -- the norm was for 6 nights a week. She recalls one busy night when she sang in the upper dining room of the old Jury's Hotel, then in the downstairs room, before dashing off first to the Dolphin and then the Clarence.
[keberoxu: must have been a weekend night?]
Today, Marjorie Courtney is in greater demand than ever -- not as a singer -- she gave that up a few years ago -- but as presenter and provider of entertainment in the grand style. She is an Entertainment Consultant....[an] entrepreneur of singers, dancers, orchestras, pipers, harpists, concerts, cabarets and show bands....

....she arranges every year, the Viennese Ball in the Berkeley Court. A full orchestra, and featured will be Niambh Murray, an attractive, young up-and-coming singer who is off to study in Italy in the New Year.

28 Mar 16 - 03:59 PM (#3781910)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens'
From: Bonnie Shaljean

[This comment was written in response to Keberoxu's previous post - the above one hadn't appeared while I was typing it.]

Not at all! My only problem is, I'm pretty tight for time at the moment, and can't give this thread the depth of consideration that it deserves, tho I've been lurking. (As you can see, wisecracks, on the other hand, roll off me instantaneously...) So I will be back when I can contribute something of more substance - which means first giving everything here a thorough read, instead of the brief skim that is all I've so far managed, and all I can do right now. (Got writing deadlines.)

Short answer to your (perfectly reasonable) question is no, not really. Not for me, anyway. People pursuing the harp in search of real knowledge, and expending true commitment plus plain hard work, don't have the mental resources to spare for fighting (or even worrying about) shallow, stereotyped views of what we do. (The other problem is us automatically getting consigned to Elf Land - but the same responses apply.)

In fact, the people I spend any kind of time with, or have any kind of time for, don't hold them. And the old clichés are dying out: there are just too many good players out there, too many high quality instruments being made, too much good music (with the rise of decent affordable score-notation software). Also, the internet makes it a lot easier for us to do research and find kindred spirits all over the world, and then talk to each other, hear each other, admire each other's art. There's strength in numbers.

And that's my "short" answer! Keeping this thread on the tracer...

(PS: A suggestion - can you ask one of the clones to interject the word "harp" somewhere in the title? I knew instantly who "dear spinning Eileen" was, but a lot of rewarding input may be getting missed because not everyone will make that connection. Just a thought.)

___________________Your wish is my command. Mudelf______________________

28 Mar 16 - 07:17 PM (#3781945)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: Jack Campin

the rise of decent affordable score-notation software

Harp scores tend to use special signs not used for other instruments. What's the most cost-effective solution that provides them?

28 Mar 16 - 08:19 PM (#3781949)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: Bonnie Shaljean

It really depends on what you want to do. A lot of those requirements are for classical harping, pedal markings, etc. I've been scoring harp music professionally for about 18 years, and there are symbols in place for harp notation, plus good workarounds which also serve the purpose quite well. I run my own publishing company (small though it be), and some of its material is on the ABRSM and Trinity syllabuses/syllabi (take your pick), also the Royal Irish, so it does meet industry standards. Sibelius has been my weapon of choice.

I have friends who use less expensive software for their harp books, and it seems to work fine (I've seen/bought/played a lot of their stuff) though I'm sorry I can't provide specific details on their programmes. But most of the folks I know in that line tend to have Sibelius or Finale. It's not just a matter of symbols, it's also stuff like cross-staff beaming and odd voicing/stem configurations. (That word "affordable" may be a sticking point, I suppose; but we all manage to stump up for computers and smartphone and tablets. I think it pretty much boils down to: one can afford what they want/need to afford.)

But I have not liked Sibelius' upgrade versions for quite some time, and am now not getting them any more. The actual scoring capabilities just get wonkier and wonkier as They mess them about to suit the needs of their precious Pro Tools. But it isn't working. Avid is not in great shape and has downsized yet again.

I'm interested in the new programme Daniel Spreadbury and the Finns (the inventors of Sibelius) are currently developing for Steinberg. At least Daniel will listen to you, and responds to queries promptly. He's a Facebook friend, and publishes a periodic development diary, so I will eventually go with his product. But Sibelius has adequately served my purposes for a long, long time, and continues usable, if increasingly irritating.

So I'd say hang fire and when I see what the new one is like, I'll start a thread. (It'll be awhile though - it's still in beta.)

28 Mar 16 - 08:32 PM (#3781951)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: GUEST,ollaimh

there is a distinction between gaelic harping and irish harping. graine yeats was instrumental in the revival of the gaelic harp. that is the brass wire strung harp. there were a hand full of players through the 19th and early 20th century but their traditional links were weak. they played a few tunes of ancient manuscripts but mostly o'carolan and songs. yeats along with a genuine genius jay witcher got access to all the surviving gaelic harps. witcher is a phyicist and air craft engineer a woodworker and was already a decent musician in orchestral music and eastern european folk and the jazz it inspired. unique background. he understood the physics formulas for the resonating string. these are taught to any first year physics student but few apply them to calculating the optimum stringing for ancient gaelic harps. he found several ancient harps that had good design. the lamont, the o'fogarty and to a lesser extent the castle ottway.   he also tyhought that the remnants of the balinderry harp could be extrapolated from, to get the harmonic curve and probably string lengths over the range, and that it was well designed. together with garine yeats they started making gaelic harps. now there are many makers but then it was quite revolutionary. witcher was offered the post as official harp maker for the republic of eire. he turned it down as he was using maple as his main wood and it could be sourced more easily in new brunswick and maine and much cheaper for high quality wood.

now i like mary o'hara and that trfadition. it is certainly as old as most english song traditions which were made up by folk sing mediators in the 19th century. i prefer the gaelic style and try to play it in my own way. so grainne eats had a specific vision of gaelic harping she was promoting and it wasn't the dominant style. now it has had a great influence and people such as ann heyman and siom chadwick have gone to ancient manuscripts and rediscovered a vast repitoire, and have raised the bar of masterufull playing that i am hopelss to ever be worthy of.

the gaelic harp was a different tradition from the lowland and english harp tradition, and much older in all probablity.

the same is true of gaelic fiddling. jack campion is dead wrong about cape breton fiddling and as a lot of lowland scotts do he is spouting a bigoted rant. the scoffing scotman. in fact gaelic fgiddling almost died in scotland. they had a classically influenced style from skinner and others but the gaelic tradition died. that's why almost all the traditional scottish fiddlers came to nova scotia to learn the ancient gaelic style. as did the dancers.

when witcher and yeats started their work there were no gaelic harps available, now there are many makers of fine instruments and the search for the anceint sound has gone deep into many directions, and deep into the intrepretation of the surviving manuscripts. (john skene for instance was collecting harp , fiddle amd pipe tunes in scotland around 1600, although he didn't say which was which. the robert ap huw manuscript is thought to contain many gaelic piecres as well as welsh pieces)

these gaelic cultural revivals do raise the hackles of those who are still deep in british empire colonial bigotry , but it's happening and they are producing beautiful music and beautifull instruments. the reseach is different. previously they ignored gaelic sources but now they are discovering the links and histories bit by bit from those sources. bands like ossian have been open minded and recorded the ancient gaelic style in the poplar folk venues. i would suggest every one give a listen to ann hey man, siomn chadwink, brendan ring and others. they are great players who have revived a great tradition. and ignore the scoffing lowlanders. they are sassenachean after all.

29 Mar 16 - 06:21 AM (#3782009)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: Jack Campin

Chadwick's harp resource page:


His personal page:


He doesn't claim to be a Highlander and lives in a place where Gaelic has never been spoken. I've no idea where he comes from (I couldn't tell from his accent - at any rate, he isn't a Canadian like you) and he doesn't think it relevant to anything. I agree.

The repertoire he plays on that instrument is significant but it is not huge. Having seen him live, I can see why players decided that other instruments made more effect with less effort and expense.

The Skene Manuscript contains no fiddle or pipe tunes. (I've handled the original and I can read the tablature). The fiddle was pretty near unknown in Scotland at the time. Harp, maybe a few, but most of the contents are arrangements of Lowland songs or adaptations of French court music. The instrument the MS was intended for was a 5-string ukulele.

29 Mar 16 - 06:39 AM (#3782010)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: Bonnie Shaljean

Simon is English, and moved to St Andrews some years after college. Ann is American (as am I, though I've lived in Ireland for the past quarter-century) and Brendan is Irish.

Jack: I've just been looking at the Skene and picking some tunes out to play on my Mulagh Mast replica, but I only have Dauney. What do you think of his edition?

While I'm here: Yo, MARTIN RYAN - can you PM me your email? Something I want to send you.

29 Mar 16 - 07:14 AM (#3782020)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: Bonnie Shaljean

And - since we're posting links:

A gold mine of info and useful reference material is to be found at WireStrungHarp, who also has a Facebook page:



29 Mar 16 - 07:37 AM (#3782023)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: MartinRyan

@Bonnie Shaljean



29 Mar 16 - 12:44 PM (#3782078)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: Jack Campin

I don't recall any serious problems with Dauney, but he isn't very imaginative with rhythm. There are some pieces (Adew Dundie is one) where dotted rhythms bring the tune to life.

BTW the mandour tuning of the Skene MS is relatively the same as (a tone up from) the mandolin tuning that U Srinivas adopted for South Indian music. An opportunity for some cross-fertilization there.

29 Mar 16 - 06:10 PM (#3782118)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: Bonnie Shaljean

Jack's citation of lowland and continental repertoire in the Skene and other such sources puts me in mind of observations made in a major historical study of this period in Scotland which has just come out, reinforcing this cultural diversity:

The Literary Culture of Early Modern Scotland - Manuscript Production and Transmission, 1560–1625, Sebastiaan Verweij
Oxford University Press 2016, ISBN 9780198757290

Blurb sez:

This wide ranging survey of Lowland Scottish literary manuscripts devotes a complete chapter (number 7) to the background to Margaret Robertson of the Lude family and the compilation of her collection of verse. Since at that period such material would have been sung, probably accompanied by one of the family's harps, it is of interest, as its author states as an example that "both Highland and Anglo–Scottish Lowland musical traditions peacefully coexisted at Lude".

(Scroll down to near the bottom of the web page):

30 Mar 16 - 05:35 AM (#3782195)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: Jack Campin

The only musical connection I knew of for Lude was the splendid strathspey "Mrs Macinroy of Lude" by Joseph Lowe, from 200 years later.

It might well be possible to fill in the gap with other music, if somebody wanted to dig out the relevant genealogies and search for tunes associated with the names therein. (Was Miss Menzies of Culdares, for whom the strathspey is named, the one who married General Robertson of Lude?)

You might like this if you haven't already seen it. (I posted it to another forum in 2002). From the memoirs of Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus, about being in a big house in the Highlands under her governess at the age of 15 in 1812, getting up at 6am with her sister:

   In winter we rose half an hour later, without candle, or fire,
   or warm water. Our clothes were all laid on a chair overnight
   in readiness for being taken up in proper order. My Mother
   would not give us candles, and Miss Elphick insisted we should
   get up. We were not allowed hot water, and really in the high-
   land winters, when the breath froze on the sheets, and the water
   in the jugs became cakes of ice, washing was a cruel necessity,
   the fingers were pinched enough. As we could play our scales
   well in the dark, the two pianofortes and the harp began the
   day's work. How very near crying the one whose turn set her at
   the harp I will not speak of; the strings cut the poor cold
   fingers so that the blisters often bled. Martyr the second put
   her poor blue hands on the keys of the grand-pianoforte in the
   drawing room, for in those two rooms the fires were never lighted
   till near nine o'clock - the grates were of bright steel, the
   household was not early and so we had to bear our hard fate.

30 Mar 16 - 05:50 AM (#3782201)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: Bonnie Shaljean

The thing about Lude of course is that they owned both the iconic harps in Scottish history (the Queen Mary and the Lamont), so it's on these very instruments that the song accompaniments would have been played.

That quote is one of my favourites! Always loved "martyr the first" and "martyr the second" and know how they feel (minus the ice in the wash bowl). How those two girls managed not to grow up hating music I'll never know. I also like the story about Mama sailing in and taking them out of Elouis' studio because there was a... a... (o dear, how shall I phrase it??)... a man present!!!! Scandalous.

02 Apr 16 - 03:06 PM (#3782844)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

One of the March 7 posts to this thread, was a quote from the memoirs of Mary O'Hara, who studied with Máirín Ní Shé, and first came to attention in the Thomas Moore pageant at the Sion Hill Dominican College in 1951. Note how hard they had to look around to scrounge up three harps for the pageant! MacFall had just one harp left for sale. We know that the Ní Shé sisters themselves had harps; it is recorded that Máirín's sister Róisín possessed a Tara harp made by MacFall.

Ten years later, look at the difference. The following are quotes from the Monday, 8 May, 1961 issue, page 5, of Dublin's Irish Press (English language).

The harp concert promoted by Cairde na Cruite in the Royal Hibernian Hotel was a most pleasant experience and showed clearly that our Irish harp is no longer in danger of extinction through neglect. Considering the limitations of the instrument, the range of items on the programme was immensely gratifying. The concert opened with a highly effective arrangement of Brian Boru's March -- for five harps -- by Mercedes Bolger, Gráinne Ní hEigeartaigh, Eileen Kane, Elizabeth Leigh, and Joan Burke.
Noted in the first half: Gráinne Ní hEigeartaigh, performing Irish songs with harp; without citing titles, the journalist remarks approvingly that certain of these songs have associations with Shakespeare which the presentation emphasized.

In the second half, we had the Children of Lir performed by mime and singer, accompanied by Máirín Ní Shé, harp. Róisín Ní Shé brought us harp music and songs from Wales and Brittany, tastefully arranged and performed. She also combined delightfully with her sister Máirín in three songs from the Hebrides: "Mairead Og" especially was moving and poignant.

08 Apr 16 - 01:16 PM (#3784236)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

I don't have a date for these newspaper quotes, which are surely decades old, archive material. The paper is the Irish Independent and the journalist is Marie O'Reilly.

All five of the Ní Sheaghdha sisters learned to play the harp, including the eldest, Máire Ní Sheaghdha, who is now Mrs. Michael Feirtear. Mrs. Feirtear had Mary O'Hara among her students in her harp classes in the Dominican Convent, Sion Hill. She has also been teaching the nuns in other Dominican colleges so that the harp tradition does not seem likely to die in our generation.

Much of the credit, for the current revival of enthusiasm for the instrument that is almost the symbol of Irish music, must go to the late Miss Caroline Townshend, a Cork woman living in Dublin. She herself studied the piano under a pupil of Wagner. She was already well into her seventies when the Ní Sheaghdha sisters joined her classes. Lelia and Moira Sheridan, both concert harpists and teachers, now married and retired, were among her pupils. So was Máire Ní Cáthain who taught Maureen Hurley. Most of the girl harpists who have been appearing on concert platforms at home and abroad, and on radio and television programmes, have been taught by Caroline Townshend or by her pupils.

10 Apr 16 - 05:25 PM (#3784648)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

Nessa Ní Thuama, the daughter of one of the Ní Shé sisters (Róisín), can be heard singing with her own harp accompaniment on "An Raibh tú ag an gCarraig?" The recording dates back to a live concert in 1969, however it is the concluding track of a compact disc issued only twelve months ago.

Éamonn, Fionán and Cormac de Barra, three of Nessa Ní Thuama's sons, made the compact disc recording: recorded, mastered, produced it, made the artwork for the CD sleeve. Most of the album is trad music, sung or instrumental, with pipes, guitars, bodhrán, whistle, flute, harp, and singing. The song with their mother playing the harp and singing is a complete contrast to the tracks before it. The decision to give the performance pride of place at the end of the album, though, suggests that the De Barra brothers are proud to be descended from one of the Ní Shé sisters and from their tradition.

The album is called "An Caitín Bán."

12 Apr 16 - 01:20 PM (#3784917)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

I have before me a copy of Gael-Linn's "Amhráin Ghrá" compact disc album. It is dated 2011. Previous posts (late March) in this thread provide links to online info about this CD.

A nice little CD-sized booklet accompanies the album because the notes are too copious to print on the album sleeve itself. The packaging is definitely, erm, trying to please.

Plainly every track on this album is Gael-Linn label material. There are some archival tracks that were not previously released, but they were definitely in the Gael-Linn archives -- "cartlann Gael Linn 1960." These three "new" tracks are for the singer quoted in a previous post, Marjorie Courtney, another Dublin-born, convent-educated "spinning Eileen." Here are the booklet sentences on Ms. Courtney:

" Marjorie was, for many years, a leading light with the Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society. She passed away in 2008 and, in her memory, the prestigious Marjorie Courtney Rose-Bowl for Musical Theatre is presented each year."

From another page in the same booklet:
The singers featured were not from the native tradition of singing, but each with their distinctive style succeeded in bringing an Irish song repertoire to a wide music audience.
This album is a tribute to a style of singing which has been rather overlooked in recent times. It is hoped that this album will re-awaken an interest in, and an appreciation of, the beauty that lies in this evocative Irish singing tradition.

14 Apr 16 - 08:48 PM (#3785385)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

The following quotes are from a paper which was presented in 1996 at the Crosbhealach an Cheoil/Crossroads Conference.
the copyright is dated 1999, Crosbhealach an Cheoil along with the papers' author:
Dublin-born, Ulster-descended harpist Janet Harbison.

The harp is the most ancient, the most famous, the most romanticised, the most political, and the most dismissed of members of the family of Irish music.
[E]very century of harping in Ireland testifies to a phenomenally rich diversity in repertoire, performance, and professional situation, along with an emotionally charge romanticism and political significance, particularly from the time that the Irish harp was established as the national emblem. All these have mesmerised modern commentators who, rather than address the depth and variety within each century of significance individually, consistently generalise in the global negative (except for the glories of the early middle ages).

Perhaps it is that the tradition was too hybridised or compromised to appeal to the lesser educated nobility of the planter English and Scottish patrons of the 17th and 18th century; or was it that their tradition was too romanticised, ethereal, and poetically political when cloaked in the heady sentimentality of Thomas Moore's songs, the Celtic Twilight, and the Gaelic Revival period to the turn of the [19th/20th] century; or perhaps, is it that the tradition of the Irish harp has been too contrived, effeminised and commercialised in its association with the winsome wenches working the "begorrah" cabarets of famous Dublin hotels and the medieval castles of Southwest Ireland?

[As a young student,] I was happy to accompany or arrange for my friends and to indulge in the vast dance music repertoire which all my traditional music friends outside school were playing nightly....before long we became aware of the critics. Our first misdemeanour involved our professional engagements. It seemed that our association with the Irish cabaret scene earned us a sleazy kind of reputation. My first summer job as a self-supporting music student, was as a harp player in Knappogue Castle, the sister castle of Bunratty, in County Clare. The label of "Bunratty Bunnies" was occasionally levelled to my great amusement. But we merrily played our Aoyama Japanese harps, perhaps lying occasionally to maintain the myth....I was, in fact, all the while, a student of piano and classical music at a Dublin university, and my life as a formal art musician with the piano and as a social traditional musician with the Irish harp, were clearly defined and never intermixed.

from: Harpists, Harpers, or Harpees? by Janet Harbison, and under copyright

15 Apr 16 - 09:24 AM (#3785466)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: GUEST,Peter Laban

TG4 is starting a series looking at the role of women in Irish Music:

Mna an Cheoil

The first in the series, to be broadcast this weekend (and available usually on the site after airing) deals with the female harpers.

15 Apr 16 - 03:03 PM (#3785505)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

The name of Seán O'Riada has surfaced a time or two on this thread. Of course he is like an apostle/evangelist for the cause of Irish traditional music, and near the end of his life he was exploiting mass media, as it was available to him, to preach his gospel.

His series for television is beyond my acquaintance, however "Our Musical Heritage" was in time packaged into the form of a book -- perhaps O'Riada was deceased by then.

O'Riada does not appear to use the term "spinning Eileens." He does, however, take note of that adaptation of the Irish harp to the convents, drawing rooms, and finally the banquet/cabaret circuit. And one name in Irish harp teaching/playing is mentioned. It's hard to pull this up online, but I will quote what I may,

from "Our Musical Heritage", Seá O'Riada.

"At the end of the [19th] century, attempts were made once more, mainly by the infant Gaelic League, to get [the true ancient harping tradition] going again, but by this time the nature of the tradition had been forgotten. It was not until the early [nineteen-]twenties, when a Miss Townsend of Castletownsend in County Cork put her mind to it, that any progress was made. To revive the true harping tradition was impossible: instead, a style of harping was developed which was based mainly on Welsh harping, quite different from the Irish style."

Funduireacht an Riadaigh i gcomhar le Dolmen Press, 1982

15 Apr 16 - 04:52 PM (#3785519)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: GUEST,Peter Laban

His series for television is beyond my acquaintance, however "Our Musical Heritage" was in time packaged into the form of a book

Our Musical Heritage was a production for radio. The music of the series was available as a three lp box set.

I believe RTE revisited the programs recently in connection to O'Riada's anniversary. If I am correct they should be available as podcasts from the RTE website.

15 Apr 16 - 05:27 PM (#3785526)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

Another quote from the Crosbhealach an Cheoil conference in 1996.
Copyright, however, dated 1999, and the copyright belongs to:
Crosbhealach an Cheoil, and
Janet Harbison, the author of:

"Harpists, Harpers, or Harpees?"

My harp teacher, Máirín Ferriter (née Ní Shé), taught the harp players of Sion Hill convent by ear. She could not read music and those of us, her harp students, who also learned piano, were often called upon to sound the music which she had in books. While she enjoyed to discover this music, she taught us as she herself was taught by Caroline Townsend; and [Mrs. Ferriter's] most famous students rising to fame after the "An Tostal" post-war celebration of Irishness in 1953 were Mary O'Hara, Deirdre O'Callaghan, and Kathleen Watkins. These were still the stars of our harp room in the mid [nineteen-]sixties.

Page 95
Published by the Crossroads Conference; distributed by Ossian Publications, Cork, Ireland

16 Apr 16 - 02:48 PM (#3785646)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

I have almost finished listening on my CD player to the Gael Linn anthology, "Amhráin Ghrá." Have now heard all eight of the women singers. The emphasis is very much on singers and (love) songs. Barely half of the tracks have harp accompaniment.

In fact, there is piano accompaniment on a handful of songs. Two or three songs have guitar accompaniment. And finally there are songs with unaccompanied voice. As a long-time choral singer myself, dear Lord! I would be scared to DEATH to sing unaccompanied in a recording studio. Any artist who does so is braver than I!

Here are the artists on the album who accompany themselves on the harp:

Deirdre Ní Fhlóinn
Kathleen Watkins
Gráinne Yeats
Mary O'Hara

Fionnuala Mac Lochlainn is accompanied, on all three of her songs, by a man playing guitar. Her recordings come from the 1960's. Interesting to listen to this artist. This is a singer who obviously knows the business, knows how to put a lyric across and how to phrase with skill and charm. She could hold an audience anywhere, I think. However her voice is not over-polished, aggressive, or shaped by classical singing technique into an operatic instrument: there are a couple of cabaret singers on this album of whom those features are true, but Ms. Mac Lochlainn is not one of them. Her singing sounds conversational, unforced, natural. With experience I am discovering that to sing that naturally, while not showing off your technical prowess, is an art in itself.

I am delighted with Gráinne Yeats too, even though she is at the other end of the axis from Fionnuala Mac Lochlainn. My background is classical, so I feel right at home with Mrs. Yeats, because this is a masterful demonstration of classical soprano singing: she could teach that kind of singing, and teach it well.

Máire Ní Scolaí is not the same as Gráinne Yeats, yet there are some telling things in common with these two women. Ní Scolaí has got classical vocal technique, and she too is masterful, which is to say, she makes it sound effortless; but in fact it is really hard work to sing as effortless-sounding as she sings! Like listening to the so-called "crooning" of Perry Como, who schooled himself on recordings of Enrico Caruso singing opera: his diction and delivery are crafted to sound casual and relaxed, but his technique of diaphragm-abdominal breathing give him all the support and resonance of the opera singer projecting over the orchestra to the gallery. I guess I can see why some sean-nos devotees cringe at the sound of Ní Scolaí's singing, because it is so very polished; no diamond-in-the-rough spontaneity for this artist.

A fascinating time-capsule of a record album!

25 Apr 16 - 06:07 PM (#3787113)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpist
From: keberoxu

Listening to all the singers on the Gael-Linn compact disc "Amhráin Ghrá" brought me one Susan Boyle moment. To remind you, I recall that moment when Susan Boyle sang "I Dreamed A Dream" to Simon Cowell and the television adjudicators -- was it the English version of The Voice, or some such? She wasn't completely groomed yet, however she had that fully finished singing technique. That was a video that went 'round the world.

Inside the booklet that Gael-Linn supplies with the compact disc, each singer has either a photograph or, in the case of Máire Ní Scolaí, a drawing of her face. Now, Máire Ní Scolaí is represented by three songs, the first two unaccompanied, the third with piano (someone else plays it). A single song follows featuring Eilidh Ní Mharcaigh as the singer, with her sister Úna playing the piano.

There is no photo of Úna; the photo of Eilidh Ní Mharchaigh recalls Susan Boyle in the unpolished phase, complete with caterpillar eyebrows. And then one cues Track Four, and hears her voice: she sounds as though she should be singing "Ah! sweet Mystery of Life, at last I've found you!" from Victor Herbert, with continental-European classical singing technique in full cry. It's a shock!

26 Apr 16 - 07:01 PM (#3787348)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpist
From: keberoxu

Moreover, what is she singing with that downright operatic vibrato, as though she were auditioning for a Wagner Valkyrie?

Why, the Irish Jacobite "De Bharr na gCnoc," or Over the Hills and Far Away, in which the faithful lady pining for her beloved is Éire waiting for Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Well, this is no longer Eileen at the spinning wheel, but it is the Irish cabaret in the hotels back in the day. Wonder if they still carry on in that fashion now....Sheesh, what a commotion.

02 May 16 - 06:45 PM (#3788325)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

Back to the theme of "Kathleen Watkins, Deirdre O'Callaghan, and all the dear spinning Eileens may still be charming the blue-rinse Yanks and mead-swilling Eurotourists in stone castles...." with which the OP opened this thread. And wrapping up my comments on the "Amhráin Ghrá" anthology on compact disc from the Gael Linn recording label (dated 2011, CEFCD 201).

Without further comment, I respectfully suggest you listen, compare, and contrast two tracks from this compilation of seventeen Gaelic songs:

#12, "Máire Ní Eidhin"; Kathleen Watkins, voice and harp

#16, "Ard Tí Chuain"; Mary O'Hara, voice and harp

Opinions/critiques welcomed.

02 May 16 - 07:09 PM (#3788329)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

A further invitation:

The tracks singled out for attention in the previous post do not play on the following link; nevertheless, you can hear bits and snatches from other songs on the same disc, using this player, completely free.


05 May 16 - 01:52 PM (#3788795)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

Rather than more direct quotes from "Harpists, Harpers or Harpees?", Janet Harbison's paper for the Crossroads Conference twenty years ago (1996), this post will present one of Harbison's arguments in my own words, paraphrasing her statements. I do wish to make clear, though, that the argument is Harbison's and not mine.

Breandán Breathnach is an authority with whom Harbison has a bone to pick, along with the departed Seán Ó Riada and Ciarán Carson. Harbison is indignant with these three writers because their dismissive opinions of the Irish harp were, in Ó Riada's case, broadcast on national radio (subsequently printed and published), and in the other two cases, printed and published in reference books on traditional Irish music.

Harbison accepts Breathnach's carefully researched and documented position that dances, and dance music, largely were brought to Ireland from outside, were patronized by the upper classes first, and worked their way throughout Irish society until, at last, the traditional music learned orally by working-class, labourer musicians included the repertoire of Irish tunes composed for those very same dances. But she responds with heated emotion to Breathnach's dismissal (printed in 1971) of Carolan's harp compositions: Breathnach wrote, "by definition they cannot be regarded as folk music."

Harbison counters (page 99, printed 1999):
"I pose the question: despite the often aristocratic origins of a tradition, does it only qualify as 'folk' when it has filtered through the social classes to the lowest orders? It seems that the spokespeople for Irish music are class-restrictive....Many respected [traditional] musicians have emerged from every social stratum, but fortunately for them, it was not the harp they chose to play. It seems they have become honorary 'folk', a club not evidently open to harpers."

© Crosbhealach an Cheoil/The Crossroads Conference and "the contributors," e.g. Janet Harbison 1999
The Crossroads Conference 1996: Tradition and Change in Irish Traditional Music, edited by Fintan Vallely
Dublin: Whinstone Music, 1999

05 May 16 - 06:47 PM (#3788869)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

As for the title of Janet Harbison's influential 1996 paper, it comes of splitting Irish musicians who play the harp -- specifically the Irish harp -- into three categories. I am going to word this my way instead of quoting Harbison directly.

1. Harpist: literate in the tradition of classical, academic, institutionalized, written/printed music. An example would be the late Sanchia Pielou, Irish by birth, and one of the founders of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Pielou is relevant to this Irish-music thread because, before leaving Ireland for Scotland, she was one of the more advanced harp students of Caroline Townsend in Dublin. Pielou remained anchored with her classical-music credentials: besides the Orchestra, she devoted her teaching career to what used to be called the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, where she was made a Fellow. There Pielou taught both the "clairsach," the Irish harp, and the "cruit," which is the Gaelic word inclusive enough to cover both Celtic harps and the big concert harps.

2. Harper differs from Harpist, according to Janet Harbison, in that Harpers focus on traditional Irish music in session playing, and they apply themselves to the dance music repertoire from which, in another century, they were more often than not excluded. The trailblazers here include Máire Ní Chatasaigh.

3. Finally, the Harpee! Invariably, she sings, she has had voice training, and instrumentally she is more of a three-chord wonder, using the harp to accompany her songs. From the teaching studio of Caroline Townsend (would she be limited to any one of these three categories, or would she be a combination of two or three of them?), the sterling example would be an entire generation of daughters of Seán Ó Séaghdha, most if not all of whom studied with Ms. Townsend in Dublin when this pathfinder of the Irish harp was in her seventies. From youngest to oldest, those Ní Shé sisters are, again:
Nuala, born 1923, possibly still living because I cannot locate anything about her death. Married; seems to have stayed out of music entirely once she had her own family/household.
Nuala's older sisters are all deceased now:
Niamh, performed with her sisters on the cabaret circuit until she married, then gave up music and taught home economics.
Róisín Uí Thuama, the widow of actor Seamus Ó Tuama.
Nessa Doran, who after her marriage gave up the musical performances in public, and devoted herself to Irish Gaelic philology and scholarship;
and the first-born Máirín, herself the teacher of Janet Harbison, of whom Harbison writes that she learned the harp from Caroline Townsend without ever learning to read music herself.

07 May 16 - 03:38 PM (#3789060)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

Tidying up here:

Nowhere does Janet Harbison's paper on the Irish harp mention:
"The Spinning Wheel" or Delia Murphy, although Mary O'Hara gets a mention;

"spinning Eileens," although Harbison does disclose the "Bunratty Bunnies" epithet about the stone-castle/cabaret circuit.

Janet Harbison is much in evidence on the Mna an Cheoil opening episode, An Cruit, about women and the Irish harp, on television; you can view it online.

So far, watching the show without headphones -- I'm in a public library -- I am relying on the silent images, the visual naming of each harpist who speaks on camera, and the English subtitles for remarks in Irish gaelic.   The Ní Shé sisters get their credit, as does the Sion Hill convent in Blackrock. There is no mention that I can see, however, of Caroline Townsend/Townshend, and for shame!

08 May 16 - 03:39 PM (#3789221)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

Just watched episode 1, "An Cruit," from the "Mna an Cheoil" television series (TG4). With headphones on, and English subtitles for the Gaelic comments.

Still no Caroline Townsend -- the show jumps straight to the harp rooms in the convent schools, to which Ms. Townsend did not go; students came to her, it is written, at her home in Dublin.

Mentioned on this thread, and paid brief attention in "An Cruit," are:

Róisín Ní Shé, Bean Uí Thuama, singing and playing the harp, surrounded by her grandchildren, in a clip from the television programme "Dílin O Deamhas."

Máirín Ní Shé, photographed alone and with her sisters at their harps.

Mary O'Hara, in concert.

Gráinne Yeats, in concert.

Aibhlín McCrann.
Janet Harbison.
Máire Ní Chatasaigh.
Cormac de Barra.
Laoise Kelly.
Caitriona Yeats.
The Belfast Harp Orchestra (they have another name today I believe)

And the brass-strung "clarseach" is represented by Siobhá Armstrong, first time I ever heard one: wow. Sounds less like a harpsichord than like a hammered dulcimer.

10 May 16 - 07:39 PM (#3789677)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

Starting on March 26, 2016, several posts of mine introduced a compact disc anthology of songs in Gaelic sung by Irish artists, all of whom happened to be women. I have disclosed much of what is in the sleeve notes -- actually a small booklet -- of the compact disc jewelbox, issued by the Gael Linn label.

There is one of the eight artists one this album about whom Gael Linn left some facts out.
The first three songs on "Amhráin Ghrá" are:
An Draighnean Donn;
Seoithin Seotho (or seo - h - o)
Eibhlin A Ruin
sung by Máire Ní Scolaí, elsewhere spelled Ní Scolaidhe.

Contrary to what is true of the other seven artists, Ní Scolaí did not record those three songs around 1971, when Gael-Linn issued a long-playing album, "Máire Ní Scolaí," nor were these songs recorded in the 1960's when the Gael Linn booklet says (which is true for several of the other artists). In fact, although Gael Linn did indeed release that long-playing vinyl album in Ní Scolaí's lifetime (she died in the 1980's, well into her seventies by then), the fact is that Ní Scolaí recorded these three songs -- and, most probably, all of the twenty-one songs on the Gael Linn vinyl LP -- for companies other than Gael Linn.

The 1971 release on Gael Linn record label was in fact a re-issue, it seems to me, of recordings which Ní Scolaí had made in the 1940's and 1950's, some as 78 RPM vinyl for HMV, and some at RTÉ, presumably on radio rather than television. "Eibhlín a Rún" was definitely recorded for HMV and issued as a 78, although I have yet to discover the year/date of the recording.

12 May 16 - 08:18 PM (#3789947)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

It makes me feel terribly slow-witted to have listened to the Gael-Linn anthology of Gaelic songs recorded by women singers, for over a month, and to have just now noticed a musical detail.

Of the seventeen songs on the compact disc album, the first and the last, while not musically identical, have melodies that are eerily similar.
You would never know this to look at the index of song titles, for the excellent reason that the lyrics, on Song 1 and Song 17, are entirely different.   

Máire Ní Scolaí opens the album with "An Draighnean Donn," a Gael-Linn re-release of a recording made for RTÉ broadcasts.
Mary O'Hara sings "Róisín Dubh", without harp or any other accompaniment, from her live concert recording in Ireland's National Gallery, which was released on Gael Linn in the 1980's.

These two performances make an interesting pair of bookends to the extremely diverse voices, techniques, and repertoire collected on this compact disc (titled Amhráin Ghrá).

18 May 16 - 06:54 PM (#3790986)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

Elsewhere at the Mudcat Cafe, I have been adding to existing threads, or starting new threads, that are relevant to my remarks about the Gael Linn anthology compact disc, in that they are song-lyric threads.
Let me see if I can run down the "Amhráin Ghrá" list of songs.

1. An Draighnean Donn: had to open a new thread, with the lyrics as sung by Máire Ní Scolaí.
2. Seoithín Seothó has its own existing thread.
3. Eibhlín a Rún -- WHAT A MESS. Nobody before me had submitted the very antiquated Gaelic lyrics of this particular version to Mudcat, so I had to start a new thread. This, even though Mudcat's Digital Tradition has SEVEN separate entries for "Eileen/Aileen Aroon": none of the seven accurately present the original Gaelic. So now there is a new thread. This song has been recorded by Máire Ní Scolaí (two verses) and Mary O'Hara (three verses).

4. Bharr a gCnoc -- gets a mention, but not its own thread.

5. A Spailpin a Rún: opened a new thread.
6. Éamonn a gCnuic: has a thread already.
7. O Bhean a Tí: now has two threads (oops).

The eighth track is not a traditional song, and has no thread. No thread for the ninth or tenth songs I don't think.

11. Mo Mhuirnin Bán -- can't find this lyric anyplace at all at all.
12. Máire Ní Eidhín: existing thread.
13. Sí Bheag, Sí Mór: existing thread.
14. Bhear mí ó: existing thread
15. A ógánaigh : opened a new thread.
16. Ard ti Chuain: existing thread.
17. Róisín Dubh: existing thread.

Sorry I can't, if I could I would, create links/clickies to these other threads.

19 May 16 - 02:55 AM (#3791006)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)

Try this for Mo Mhuirnin Bán


23 May 16 - 02:32 PM (#3791672)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

Helen's post of March 9 remarked on The Irish Harp Book, a tutor published and written by Sheila Larchet Cuthbert. Still alive, I believe, and of very advanced age; most of Mrs. Cuthbert's contemporaries have now predeceased her. She was one of the group of harpists who established the Cairde na Cruite, or Friends of the Harp; these musicians got tired of waiting for the Comhaltas to regard the Irish harp as something more than a cabaret/banquet, indeed "spinning Eileen," fixture, and their association promoted lessons, tutors, and teaching of the Irish harp.

The Irish Harp Book includes some printed music, some composed for the harp and some arranged for the harp. One of the arrangements is "Máire Ní Eidhín," the Anthony Raftery poem set to a very simple tune (not the sean-nós version). The arranger is Máirín Ní Shé, who taught in the Sion Hill Harp Room of the college run by Dominican nuns in Blackrock. The arrangement is easy on the ears, perhaps more demanding for the harpist's fingers.

One of the original "dear spinning Eileens," Kathleen a/k/a Caitlín Watkins, performs "Máire Ní Eidhín" on Gael Linn's "Amhráin Ghrá" compact-disc anthology. To my ears, though, Watkins does not play the arrangement by Máirín Ní Shé, who was her teacher; in fact Watkins plays something with fewer, slower notes, far simpler than the "Irish Harp Book" arrangement. A far cry, indeed, from the opinionated, adventurous Gráinne Yeats, who undertook to sing AND play the Belfast Harpers' Festival repertoire from 1792, and record same for Gael Linn. But then, Mrs. Yeats was not a "stage Irish"/cabaret/stone-castle artist.

This thread has been fascinating to research: all these prejudices and conflicts converging on one musical instrument, the Irish harp.

26 May 16 - 06:10 PM (#3792327)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

One of the more memorable "An Cruit" moments, in the television series promoted in earlier posts on this thread, was an interview with Máire Ní Chatasaigh. She pointed out the little question of body posture with the Irish harp. The stone-castle-banquet/cabaret singing harpists, whose accompaniments were simple and minimal, sat with both knees together and on one side of the harp: very demure and proper looking.

Along comes Ní Chatasaigh, resolved to participate in session music and dance tunes, which demand much advanced technique with regard to the Irish harp. To place the arms and hands at best advantage for access to the harpstrings, Ní Chatasaigh hugs the harp with one bent knee to either side of the harp. She declares that it is just too difficult to do what you want to do with the harp and be, at the same time, crouching with both knees together on one side.

She caught holy you-know-where from the judges and adjudicators for looking so unladylike, "astride a harp." As though that were going to stop her.

26 May 16 - 08:04 PM (#3792351)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: michaelr

Are these adjudicators with Comhaltas? What amazing Victorian nonsense, to give a brilliant musician shit for not playing "sidesaddle".

01 Jun 16 - 02:51 PM (#3793269)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

The post for 10 May 2016 on this thread, singles out the sean-nós song "Eibhlí a Rúin" which was re-issued on the Gael Linn compact disc anthology, "Amrháin Ghrá," in 2011.

The recording of this song started out in the world as a 78 RPM vinyl single issued by HMV. Máire Ní Scolaí is the singer, Duncan Morrison the pianist.

Thanks to Reg Hall's encyclopedic book about Irish musicians in London especially in the 1900's, I have an exact date for the recording.

"Eibhlín a Rúin" was recorded in London for HMV on 20 August 1938, when Ní Scolaí would have been twenty-nine years of age.

05 Jun 16 - 07:04 PM (#3793999)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: GUEST,keberoxu

And with Reg Hall's book, one comes full circle in a sense.

This thread made much of "The Spinning Wheel," a popular song made famous by Delia Murphy, whose recording dominated the airwaves for the better part of a generation; it turns out that this song has a composer and lyricist who can be identified, as earlier posts have pointed out. However this song's popularity has nudged it into trad-music territory, or, at least, in that grey area where the two territories overlap.

Delia Murphy is one of the Irish performers given attention, in loving detail, in Reg Hall's book, which means that "The Spinning Wheel" is mentioned as well.

Hall's focus is largely, though not exclusively, on sessions, however; and it covers a fixed period of time. It is for this reason that the book says so little about the Irish harp. You have to look closely for the paragraph in which Hall considers the harp. And his statements cannot be faulted for their veracity. The harp was in a peculiar state of transition during the time covered by the book, because of the conflicting, complex factors covered over the course of the posts on this very thread.

10 Jun 16 - 02:05 PM (#3794750)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

Gael Linn's "Amhráin Ghrá" compact disc anthology includes all three of the graduates of Sion Hill's Harp Room who, in their teens, were presented singing and playing harps in a Thomas Moore memorial pageant in the early 1950's, and went on to the concert hall or the cabaret: Mary O'Hara, Kathleen Watkins, and Deirdre Flynn. All three are represented on the album by recordings of singing with their harps.   

The convention of the singer accompanied by the harp rears its head in other places as well. I cannot discover if, in her long career on the concert stage and the broadcast studio, mezzo-soprano Máire Ní Scolaí ever sang with a harp. The classical-music tradition of piano accompaniments, however, furnished her with the piano imitating a harp, on some songs. Máire Ní Scolaí's recording of "Caoineadh na dTri Muire," made for HMV records in 1938, is an excellent example of this adaptation. Accompanist Duncan Morrisson accompanies this example of sean-nós with a piano arrangement composed to sound as much as possible like a harp. This puts the music firmly in classical art-song territory, since classical composers for centuries have used keyboard instruments, especially the pianoforte with its dampers, to imitate the harp.

You will not find "Caoineadh na dTri Muire," however, on "Amhráin Ghrá" or any other Gael Linn CD that I know of -- at least, not this arrangement with this singer. I could only find it on the Gael Linn vinyl LP from 1971 named "Máire Ní Scolaí."

11 Jun 16 - 12:06 PM (#3794881)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: leeneia

The piano is a good instrument for many uses - classical, traditional, ragtime, jazz. Therefore, using a piano hardly means that a singer is using a dubious accompaniment.

I have a friend who is a piano tuner, and she's involved in an exposition of new composers who call for 'prepared piano,' which involves doing things to the piano. I think putting pillows in was one form.

At which we all rolled our eyes...

I once wanted a snare-drum sound, so I placed uncooked spaghetti in a bodhran. Despite columnists, despite tradition, despite politics, musicians are going to make the music they want.

18 Jul 16 - 07:15 PM (#3800911)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

This topic has developed the way that it has because it has layers, and more than one sensitive nerve is struck.

Janet Harbison's address to the first Crossroads Conference, abbreviated in previous posts, touches on perhaps two such nerves: male musicians looking down their noses at a genre associated with women; and traditional-music specialists looking askance at a genre associated more with middle-class drawing-room interiors than with public-house group music sessions.

Yet another struck nerve, I can see, is the singing of sentimental song. And how this kind of music divides people as much as it unites them. We have listeners who dodge voices and singing in general: people who honestly only turn on broadcast music stations with instrumental recordings. We have listeners who require, of singers, adherence to an exacting tradition and an unvarnished directness of technique: these listeners will listen gladly to singers of that description, and wince and cringe away from all the rest. We have listeners who favor the speaking and singing voices of men and of deep-voiced females, who stiffen and lash out at the sound of high plaintive voices whether speaking (broadcasters) or singing. So the Irish harp history is loaded in many ways, and I suspect some of this has next to nothing to do with the harp, and everything to do with singing.

18 Jul 16 - 10:52 PM (#3800936)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: michaelr

Good point, keb. Some people avoid listening to songs, or song lyrics in particular, because they're uncomfortable with emotional content and/or with being made to feel emotion. I suspect this is part of the reason why ballad singing remains such a niche.

04 Aug 16 - 03:43 PM (#3803580)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

There is no mention of Delia Murphy, the "Spinning Wheel" song, nor of "spinning Eileens" as such, in the following article. However, the history summarized in the interview provides the context for the "Harpee" phenomenon.

Cormac de Barra interview

13 Feb 17 - 12:45 AM (#3838563)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: AmyLove

I found the sheet music, which includes the lyrics, for tracks nine and ten on Amhráin Ghrá at ITMA. I don't know how to interpret the lettering, however. If anyone who does feels inclined to do so and post the results here, wonderful.

An samhradh ag filleadh go hÉirinn / Carl G. Hardebec

Seo-tho-ló 'thoil / Carl G. Hardebec

13 Feb 17 - 07:08 AM (#3838615)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: Felipa

Keberoxu, I once interviewed Máire Ní Chathasaigh and her sister Nollaig Casey about women instrumentalists in traditional Irish music. The main things they had to say was that women had long played instruments in the household, but as the music moved in to the pub and the stage it was more of a man's thing. They thought that generally men were more inclined to promote THEMSELVES - "watch/hear me play this music beautifully" - and women more to present the MUSIC - "This is beautiful music, listen to it." They thought that was because girls were taught not to make a show of themselves. They also said that in couples were one person played at session level, it was more the done thing for a man to play while the woman sat listening (or stayed home) than the other way around. Not surprising then that both Máire and Nollaig married professional musicians. To be honest I don't remember which of the sisters said what, but they seemed to concur. We also talked a bit about how certain instruments may be seen as men's instruments and women's instruments (harp and concertina have been seen as either men's and women's instruments in different times and places). I think it was Nollaig who played uilleán pipes in her youth, and there were a few girls in Cork learning pipes together at the time. But Máire never mentioned about the sitting position for playing the harp. That would have been a great line for the interview!!

13 Feb 17 - 11:28 AM (#3838667)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: GUEST,Felipa

is "o bhean a' tí ..." sung by Fionnuala Mac Lochlainn on the Amhráin Ghrá album? I like her singing and I like the way she does that song, the phrasing is a bit different from the Clannad version I'd heard previously. Fionnuala and Alf Mac Lochlainn raised their children speaking Irish but in an English speaking community (Dublin; much later they moved to Galway). Alf composed some songs in English and son Colm also writes songs. Daughter Nuala plays harp competently but I have mostly heard her sing unaccompanied (she's good). So it's a musical family but they aren't professional musicians.

13 Feb 17 - 01:05 PM (#3838700)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: AmyLove

I discovered reading the Irish uncial alphabet is quite easy, so here are the lyrics to tracks nine and ten on Amhráin Ghrá (with the dashes which probably just line the words up with the music, and without the fadas):

An Samhradh Ag Filleadh Go hÉirinn · Marjorie Courtney

Ta an geim - read cait-te is greim an gairb - tin mill - tig mall - uig - te reab - ta,
An grian ag taitneam i ndiaid na fear-tanna is ri - an an ear-raig mar aon lei;
Na mil - te cap-all ag cior - ad gar - rai - ce,
Siol i dta - lam a ta - os - cad,
An aba ag tui-tim an rab - arta 'mig-te, san sam - rad a' fill-ead go hEir - inn.
Ta taid - bse tag-ta ar coill - te cean - a, na crainn ag brea-cad go neat - a,
Na hein ag lab - airt ar gea - ga gla - sa, le fao - bar ag freagairt a ceil - e;
Muar - cuid beac ag cur tuair__ isc meal - a, na huain ag preab-ad 'sag leim - rig,
Greann in ionad na dtonn a d'im - tig, 'san sam - rad ag fill - ead go hEir - inn.
seol - ta su - gar - ac glor an tsro - ta, go gleoi - te ag fiuc - ad go gle - geal,
Ta meidir ag cas - ad gan teimeal de scam-all ar muinn tir beannuig - te Eil - ge.
Grad lem anam na ban - ta gla - sa, mo - grad go de - arb na sleib - te,
Beid greann an - ois ins na gleann - ta binn-e, san sam - rad ag fill-ead go hEir - inn.

Seothó ló' Thoil · Marjorie Courtney

O seo - to-lo 'toil
Seo - to-lo 'to - il
Seo - to - lo__ 'toil a - gus
Na goil go foill.

Geo'ir an cap - all a - gus geo'ir an srian - o__
Geo'ir an fal-aing a - gus geo'ir an diall - ait a -gus

Seo - to lo 'toil seo - to - lo 'to -il
Seo - to lo__ 'toil a - gus na goil go foill.

Seo - to lo 'toil seo - to - lo 'to -il
Seo - to lo__ 'toil a - gus na goil go foill.

Geo'ir gan dear - mad_ tais - ce gac seod_ a__
bi ag do sin - sear_ riog - da__ rom-at a - gus

Seo - to lo__ 'toil seo - to - lo 'to - il__
Seo - to lo__ 'toil a - gus na goil go foill.

13 Feb 17 - 07:45 PM (#3838763)
Subject: reading old script
From: Felipa

Amy, when you see a dot over a letter you should add an h in the transcription. For example
geim - read = geimhreadh (winter),ag taitneam = ag taitneamh (pleasing), i ndiaid = i ndiadh (after)
I haven't looked at the Hardebeck manuscript links though.

14 Feb 17 - 11:00 AM (#3838911)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: keberoxu

Since Ollaimh is about and posting, wanted to say that I particularly value his post to this thread some time ago. His politicization is his affair, won't comment there. But he is obviously devoted to the harp and has followed the harp's revival, in the past century, with care and attention.

14 Feb 17 - 05:06 PM (#3838992)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: GUEST,keberoxu

Thank you Thank you Thank you Felipa!
for the information on Fionnuala Mac Lochlainn. You are correct, that is she singing "O bhean a tí" with guitar accompaniment on the Gael Linn compilation.

She seems to have been particularly associated with the macaronic song "Little Jimmy Murphy," you can find YouTube videos from television broadcasts with her singing the song in the studio.

I would have to hunt again for this info, but I found some online pages that made me sit up and take notice, regarding son Colm O Lochlainn (wrong?).

A sort of Elderhostel program exists in which continental Europeans take summer courses in Ireland, I totally forget who is behind the program.
The summary for one class says that Colm teaches Gaelic to these participants in his courses, by teaching them traditional song lyrics. There are some enthusiastic comments of appreciation by graduates of the course.

15 Feb 17 - 02:14 PM (#3839156)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: GUEST,Martin Ryan

Just a small point

the macaronic song "Little Jimmy Murphy,"

This very rare song has a nonsense chorus-line which varies with the source - but it's certainly not a two-language song. There's a thread or two on Mudcaat about it.


15 Feb 17 - 09:45 PM (#3839204)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: AmyLove


I will keep that in mind for the future.

15 Feb 17 - 10:03 PM (#3839207)
Subject: RE: 'All the dear Spinning Eileens' (Irish harpists)
From: AmyLove

I contacted Gael Linn, requesting the lyrics to the songs on Amhráin Ghrá, and Máire Harris kindly provided the ones she could find. She said it was fine to share them here on mudcat. keberoxu and others here have put so much time and effort into finding the majority of the lyrics on this album, but I figure I'll post all the lyrics Máire gave me. Included is the first verse to Mo Mhuirnín Bhán, which I couldn't find anywhere online.

An Draighneán Donn

Síleann céad fear gur leo féin mé nuair a ólaim leann,
'S téann dhá dtrian síos dhíom nuair a smaoiním ar do chomhrá liom
Sneachta séidte is é dhá shíorchur ar Shliabh Uí Fhloinn,
'S go bhfuil mo ghrá-sa mar bhláth na n-airní ar an draighneán donn.

Spailpín a Rún

A spailpín a Rún Dé 'bheathas sa chugainn
Nó car bhainis an fór chomh luath seo
'S dá mbeadh fhios agamsa fhéim cá rabhais fea an lae
Ba ghairid liom do bhéal a phógadh
Ós a chailleach bhuí chrón níor mhiste liom do phóg
Is ní ghlaofainn céad bó mar spré leat
Is go mb'fhearr liomsa póg chailín deas óg
Ná a bhfuil agat ar bhord an tsléibh' amuigh

Ó is a spailpín 'sa stór fan socair go fóill
Nó go bhfaighfead sa mo chaidhp 's mo chlóca
Do bhróga breá leathair agus búclaí 'en fhaisean
Is go deimhin duit go mbuailfead an ród leat
Ó, do raghain leat go Caiseal is go Cluain Gaela Meala
Is go Carraig na Siúire thar m'eolas
Is go brách an fhaid a mhairfead ní thriallfad abhaile
Is is cuma cé bhainfidh an eorna.

Fionnuala Mac Lochlainn
Traic 5

Éamonn an Chnoic

Cé hé sin amuigh a bhfuil faobhar ar a ghuth
Ag réabadh mo dhorais dhúnta?
Mise Éamonn an chnoic atá báite fuar fliuch
Ó shíorshiúl sléibhte is gleannta.
A lao ghil is a chuid céard a dhéanfainnse dhuit
Mura gcuirfinn ort binn de mo ghúna?
'S go bhfuil púdar go tiubh á shíorshéideadh leat
Is go mbeimis araon múchta.

Is fada mise amuigh faoi shneachta is faoi shioc
Is gan dánacht agam ar aon neach.
Mo sheisreach gan scor, mo bhranar gan cur
Agus gan iad agam ar aon chor.
Níl carad agam is danaid liom san
Do ghlacfadh mé moch nó déanach
Is go gcaithfidh mé dul thar farraige soir
Ós ann nach bhfuil aon de mo ghaolta.

Fionnuala Mac Lochlainn
Traic 6

An Samhradh ag Filleadh go hÉireann

Tá an geimhreadh caite is greim an ghairfin mhilltigh mhallaithe réabtha,
An ghrian ag taitneamh i ndiaidh na fearthainne is rian an earraigh mar aon léi,
Na mílte capallag cíoradh garraithe, síol i dtalamh dá thaoscadh,
An abha ag titim an rabharta imithe, is an samhradh ag filleadh go hÉirinn.

Tá taibhse tagtha ar choillte cheana, na crainn ag breacadh go néata,
Ná héin ag labhairt ar ghéaga glasa, le faobhar ag freagairt a chéile;
Mórchuid beach ag cur tuairisc meala, na huain ag preabadh is ag léimnigh,
Greann in ionad na dtonna d'imigh, is an samhradh ag filleadh go hÉirinn.

Is seolta sigarach glór an tsrutha, go gleoite ag fiucadh go glégeal,
Tá maidhin ag casadh gan teimheal de scamll ar mhuintir beannaith Éilge,
Grá lem anam na bánta glasa, mor ghró go dearbh na sléibhte,
Beidh greann anois ins na gleannta binne is an samhradh ag filleadh go hÉirinn.

Marjorie Courtney
Traic 9

Mo Mhuirnín Bhán

Mo Mhuirnín bhán , is dubhach mar atáim
Faoi mbuachaill báire a mheall tú uaim,
Is is tabhartha tláth le buaireamh grá
A chaithim gach lá faoi ghruaim, faoi ghruaim,
A chaithim gach lá faoi ghruaim.

Deirdre Ní Fhloinn
Traic 11

Máire Ní Eidhin

Ar mo dhul chuig an Aifreann le toil na nGrásta,
Bhí an lá ag cur báistí is d'ardaigh gaoth,
Casadh an ainnir liom le thaobh Chill Tártain
Is thit mé láithreach i ngrá le mnaoi.
Do labhair mé léithe go múinte mánla,
̕'S do réir a cáilíocht do fhreagair sí,
᾿Sé dúirt sí: "Rafterí, tá m'intinn sásta
Agus gluais go lá liom go Baile Uí Laí".

Shiúil mé Sasana is an Fhrainc le chéile,
An Spáinn, an Ghréig is ar m'ais arís,
Ó bhruach Loch Gréine go Béal na Céibhe
᾿S ní fhaca mé féirín ar bith mar í.
Dá mbeinnse pósta le bláth na hóige
Trí Loch an Tóraic do leanfainn í,
Cuanta is cóstaí do shiúlfainn ᾿s bóithre
I ndiaidh an tseoidbhean 'tá i mBaile Uí Laí.

᾿Sí Máire Ní Eidhin an stáidbhean bhéasach
Ba dheise méin agus b'áille gnaoi,
Dhá chéad cléireach ᾿s a gcur le chéile
Agus trian a tréithre ní fhéadfadh scríobh;
Bhuail sí Deirdre le breáthacht, ᾿s Véineas
Is dá n-abrainn Helen léir scriosadh an Traí –
Ach scoth ban éireann as ucht an mhéid sin
An pósae gléigeal ᾿tá i mBaile Uí Laí.

Kathleen Watkins
Traic 12

A Ógánaigh an chúil cheangailte

A ógánaigh an chúil cheangailte
Le raibh mé seal in éineacht
Chuaigh tú aréir an bealach seo
Is ní tháinig tú ᾿am féachaint
Shíl mé nach ndéanfaí dochar duit
Dá dtagfá agus mé d'iarraidh
Is gur í do phóigín a thabharfadh sólás
Dá mbeinn i lár an fhiabhrais

Agus shíl mé, a stóirín
Go mba gealach agus grian thú,
Agus shíl mé ina dhiaidh sin
Go mba sneachta ar an tsliabh thú,
Agus shíl mé ina dhiaidh sin
Go mba lóchrann ó Dhia thú,
Nó go mba tú an réalt eolais ag dul romham is ᾿mo dhiaidh thú.

Gheall tú síoda is saitin dom
Callaí agus bróga arda,
Is gheall tú tar á éis sin
Go leanfá tríd an tsnámh mé.
Ní mar sin atá mé
Ach ᾿mo sceadh i mbéal bearna
Gach nín agus gach maidin
Ag féachaint tí mo mhátar.

Gráinne Yeats
Traic 15

Airdí Cuan

Dá mbeinn féin in Airdí Cuan
in aice an tsléibhe úd 'tá i bhfad uaim
b'annamh liom gan dul ar cuairt
go Gleann na gCuach Dé Domhnaigh.


Agus och, och Éire 'lig is ó
Éire lonndubh agus ó
᾿S é mo chroí 'tá trom is é brónach.

Is iomaí Nollaig 'bhí mé féin
i mbun abhann Doinne is mé gan chéill
ag iomáin ar an trá bhán
is mo chamán bán i mo lámh liom.


Agus och, och Éire 'lig is ó
Éire lonndubh agus ó
᾿S é mo chroí 'tá trom is é brónach.

Nach tuirseach mise anseo liom féin
nach n-airím guth coiligh, lon dubh nó traon,
gealbhan, smaolach, naoscach féin,
is chan aithním féin an Domhnach.


Agus och, och Éire 'lig is ó
Éire lonndubh agus ó
᾿S é mo chroí 'tá trom is é brónach.

Mary O'Hara
Traic 16