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Lá na Cruite (National Harp Day)

Today being Lá na Cruite (National Harp Day), I thought I'd share a story from the National Folklore Collection (School's Collection). After Ireland gained independence, it was recognised that the nation's folklore had become something of an endangered species under British occupation. The children of Ireland's schools were charged with gathering local stories, histories, songs, and sayings from their elders. Writing these down in simple exercise books, they were instrumental in preserving Irelands oral heritage. The story that follows, Jeremy O'Duignan the Harper, was collected by Sarah McManus of Murhaun, Co. Leitrim, and was written down at Drumshanbo school sometime between November 1937 and July 1938.

Jeremy O'Duignan the Harper

The following story was told to me by my father about Jeremy O'Duignan the Harper. A harper named Jeremy O'Duignan once lived in the townland of Murhaun a mile outside the town of Drumshanbo and a quarter of a mile from Lough Allen. This house was built on a field beside the road which is now owned by my father Michael MacManus. Round the ruins of the cottage stand a group of trees inside which is a large stone known as "Cloc-na-Clairseacha".

An English noble accompanied by his Welsh harper arrived in Dublin. The English noble boasted greatly about his harper and said that no harper could equal him. Colonel Jones who was from Drumshanbo and a member of the Irish Parliament representing Leitrim heard the boast and bet a hundred guineas that he would produce a harper not alone as good but better. He then sent for O'Duignan who went on the stage coach to Dublin where he was met by Colonel Jones and was taken to the old Parliament house at College Green where the contest was to take place. A large crowd had assembled at the Parliament house to see the entertainment. The Welsh Harper was first to play and he did so well that Colonel Jones got uneasy. O'Duignan did not seem nervous and when it came to his turn he got on the stage and said "For old Drumshanbo's sake" At first he played a lively air known as "O Rourke's Noble Feast" but gradually it changed to a low wailing air called "Limerick's Lamentation" and before he had finished there was not a dry eye in the audience. He was wildly applauded and was adjudged the victor. His pockets were filled with gold and he spent a royal time playing at concerts and banquets. When poor O'Duignan arrived back in Drumshanbo he got a great reception from the residents but all he had was his faithful harp.

In the year 1798 when the French camped in Mahanah O'Duignan entertained them by playing his harp and on the following day when they left on their way to Ballinamuck he marched before them playing his harp.

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It's already proving to be a very interesting project. I hope to have something ready early next year.


Very ambitious... there's so many, every time I look I find more! Would be great to start getting a handle on these traditions in 19th and 20th century traditional stories.


Thanks Simon. Last year I put together a book of stories from the Mizen Head, Co. Cork, where my family are from. I found that stories and songs were often repeated between the local villages often with variations. I find this aspect of oral history (of which the School's Collection is a written collection) fascinating. A second volume, based on the Skibbereen area, is finished but delayed by covid, and I've started work on a book based on the harp in the School's Collection but hope to call upon a broader range of sources. Bunting will be an essential go-to for this.


Edward Bunting printed the same story in his "Ancient Music of Ireland" 1840 introduction page 77, taken from the dictation of harper and tradition-bearer Arthur O'Neill. There are differences in detail; O'Neill says Duigenan was an "excellent Greek and Latin scholar" and was not blind. O'Neill talks about the costume of the harper, but doesn't mention the tunes played, so this is interesting to have from the Schools collection.

I was working on O'Rourke's Feast a couple of weeks ago, making a realisation from the 1790s live transcription:

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