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A chkóín-tí, re mKothúízlieár
A líonkídhe, pe d' shííozháídheácht
ODE TO O'CONELLAN, THE IRISH MINSTREL.
TRANSLATED BY JOHN D'ALTON, ESQ.
Spirit of Minstrelsy!
Supreme o'er Erin's bards thy sway.
In vain do mighty kings
And they-the gentle ones,
Of more than mortal notes !
That this vivid description of O'Conellan's performance on the Irish harp is not altogether the result of poetic fancy, may be easily shown. Not to tire the reader with many testimonies of the power of this ancient instrument, I shall be content with one only, and that, perhaps, the latest, but certainly not liable to any suspicion of prejudice or partiality. Mr. Gunn, of Edinburgh, in his “ Historical Enquiry respecting the performance of the Harp, in the Highlands of Scotland," printed in 1807, says, “ I have frequently heard it related of O'Kane the celebrated Irish harper, that he very commonly drew tears from his auditors. During my residence at Cambridge, Manini, our first violin, often spoke of the performance of O'Kane with great rapture; assuring me that, together with an astonishing variety of other things, he could, although blind, play with great accuracy and fine effect, the first treble and bass of many of Corelli's concertos, in coucert with the other instruments.”—The strains of Patrick Quin, an old Irish harper, who performed publicly in Dublin in 1809, are still remembered with delight.
? “ The madder fill with right good will.” The madder was a wooden drinking cup, formerly much used in Ireland, but at present to be found only in the western districts.
Long as of old may Connaught hold
Her boast of peerless beauty.” Connacht na maighdean rgiámhach - Connaught of beauteous maidens. This province has been long celebrated for female beauty. Limerick stands similarly distinguished. It has been remarked by a witty French traveller, that the
women of Limerick are more celebrated for their beauty, than the men for their understanding,” but of him it has been observed, that however qualified he might have been to appreciate the former, he was too superficial to be able to form a judgment of the latter. Very different is the description of the men
of Limerick given by my excellent friend Mr. Mc. Gregor, in his History of that city and county.
• “ The harp rings clear." Among the Celtic nations, the harp was in the highest esteem. The great Theban harp in, and even before, the time of Sesostris, was possessed of power that has made even modern musicians doubt the authenticity of its history. But in no country has the harp been in greater estimation than in the British Isles. It has been the national instrument of these countries. The Saxons were passionately fond of it— Doomsday Book mentions it-Bede is lavish in its praise. In Wales, it is delivered down to us, that it was so requisite that every gentleman should play the harp, that it was sent round after supper to each person in the company, and that one who could not execute on the instrument, slunk away from the banquet ashamed of being unacquainted with the accomplishments of a gentleman. In Ireland, the true land of the harp, its entire history presents such an endless variety of anecdote, both of the instrument and the bards, its masters, that it is unnecessary to trace its antiquity amongst that people; indeed one of the first mentions of it, speaks of the two brothers, the leaders of the Milesian Colonists, disputing which should have the
harper, and which the poet." - Literary Register, October 26, 1822.
Mr. Gunn, in the treatise before referred to, states “ that from the middle of the sixth until the end of the twelfth century, singing to the harp was considered an indispensible part of the education of the upper ranks of society; and at their festivals it was customary for the harp to be handed round, and each of the company in his turn to sing to it-This custom was introduced from Asia with the harp itself. It was probably during this period that the separation of poet and musician in the same person, at least, that the separate profession of a minstrel, or merely instrumental performer, took place in Ireland.”
The harp continued in general use in this island until the middle of the seventeenth century. In an unpublished History of Ireland, written about the year 1636, now remaining in manuscript in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, we are told that, “ the Irish are much addicted to musick generally, and you shall find but very few of their gentry, either man or woman, but can play on the harp; alsoe you shall not find a house of any account, without one or two of those instruments, and they always keep a harper to play for them at their meales, and all other times, as often as they have a desire to recreate themselves, or others which comes to their houses, therewith.” — During the troubles after 1641, when a war of destruction was waged against every thing Irish, Lynch, in his Cambrensis Eversus, informs us that the harp was broken by soldiers wherever it could be found, and adds, the memory of its form and materials will be unknown and lost to our immediate posterity.” The war of 1688, which completed the downfal of the ancient Irish families, also silenced their national instrument. A solitary harp might occasionally be heard emitting mournful sounds over the fallen fortunes of the country, but it was no longer in general use. It seems to have been destined not to suryive its masters. It
is not, perhaps, going too far to say that, but for the patriotic exertions of Mr. Bunting and the gentlemen of Belfast, in 1792, and of the talented but eccentric John Bernard Trotter, in Dublin, in 1809, the Irish harp would now be numbered with the things that were, and "the memory of its form and materials" preserved only by the antiquary or historian.
In the "feast of O'Rorke," translated by Dean Swift, a similar passage occurs :
Atháir ná n-grásá ce be chifeádh án ghásráidh,
Good Lord, what a sight! after all their good cheer,
From this admitted propensity of the Irish, (although it is well known to be one of the many evils resulting from their political degradation,) an English antiquary, well skilled, as may be supposed, in the matter, employed many words and some learning, to prove us descended from the ancient Thracians. For this purpose he adduced the excellent lucubrations of that admirable essayist, Doctor Ledwich, in his antiquities of Ireland, and the equally good authority of Horace :
Natis in usum lætitiæ scyphis
But leaving this important point in the hands of such able investigators, we choose rather to address our fellow countrymen in the succeeding words of the same poet :