. Image: Wikipedia Commons
First I offer thanks to those who have suggested, here or on social media, possible inclusions in my new series on folk and folk-related instrumentals.
For the second instalment, I turn to the substantial body of work attributed to the blind Irish harper and composer Turlough O'Carolan, who lived from 1670 to 1738 and wrote more than 200 airs (and some songs), many of the instrumental pieces played regularly to this day.
I have lost count of the O'Carolan tunes I have enjoyed and could easily slot into the series. But the best of all, to my ears, is Lady Dillon, a sublime slice of what I would call baroque and probably be wrong in doing so.
An authoritative music site, The Session, describes it is as a reel, also knows as Miss Dillon and Jigg, and quotes the O'Carolan scholar Donald O"Sullivan as identifying the subject of the tine as "either Bridget, wife of Lord Richard, 9th Viscount Dillon, or, more probably, their daughter Frances".
In any event it was, for me, the outstanding track on The Living Wood, by the harper Maire Ni Chathasaigh and guitarist Chris Newman (above), which I declared folk album of the year in 1988 as well as one of my top three albums of the decade. Sadly, I cannot locate a video of their version, though a search did take me to the different interpretation (below) by Terry Smith on Celtic harp, piano and bouzouki.
The Living Wood can still be obtained from Maire and Chris's website. I wrote this about the album in my 1988 review for The Daily Telegraph: “As uplifting a set of tunes as I have heard in years... Imaginatively arranged, this selection of tunes skips from polka to baroque, hornpipe to Basque waltz... a perfect showcase for the skill and panache which distinguish Máire's playing of the harp, and the brilliant way Newman has with his 1929 Martin guitar.”
And I loved this description of O'Carolan himself, by the Irish novelist, playwright and poet Oliver Goldsmith and found at the Library Ireland site : "He seemed by nature formed for his profession; for as he was born blind (in fact he went blind as a teenager when stricken by smallpox) so also was he possessed of a most astonishing memory and a facetious turn of thunking, which gave his entertainers infinite satisfaction."
I include a clip of Maire and Chris playing a much more familiar piece, Carolan's Concerto.