I came across the word Ceis in Eugene O’Curry’s ‘Manners & Customs of the Ancient Irish, Vol. III’ where he gave several different accounts of the word from historical settings. There is no definitive meaning. The word probably changed its meaning over centuries. It is a curious word and I take it as the magic or draíocht of the harp.
The Annals of the Four Masters - the history of Ireland – give an account of a story from 400 B.C. of ‘When King Scoriath – father of Moriath - threatened the poet Ferceirtne with the loss of his head, the poet’s words were these :
‘I conceal not that it was the Ceis, of Craiftine’s Cruit (harp),
that put upon the hosts a death sleep
Until Labraid and Moriath of Morca were united;-
Beyond all price did she prize Labraid,
Sweeter than all the music was the Cruit,
Which was played for Labraid, Loingsiuch Lorc;
Though the prince was before that dumb,
Craiftine’s Ceis was not concealed’.
The word Ceis occurs again when the poet Dallan Forgaill composed this on the death of Colum Cille A.D.592 :
‘Like a cure of a physician without light,
like the separation of marrow from the bone,
Like a song to a harp with the ceis,
are we after being deprived of our noble.’
O’Curry refers to the same poem :
‘A Cruit without a Ceis, a church without an abbot’.
In an ancient poem of general instructions to the new king, probably Cormac Mac Cuileannain in the ninth century :
‘This world is every man’s world in his turn,
There is no prophet but the true God;
Like a company without a chief, like a harp without a Ceis,
Are the people after their king.’
Commentary found in the Leabhar na h-Uidhre 1106, says : ‘Ceis, that is, a means of fastening; or a path to the knowledge of the music; or Ceis is the name of a small Cruit which accompanies a large Cruit in co-playing; or, it is the name of the little pin (or key) which retains the string in the wood of the Cruit; or it is the name of the heavy string [or bass].’
The Yellow Book of Lecan 1391, has ‘A Cruit without a Ceis, or a Cruit without a string of knowledge. Or, it was a Cruit without any one of the three tunings (Glésa) which served to Craiftine the harper, namely Suantraigh, and Goltraigh, and Gentraigh, for the sleeping, the crying, and the laughing modes’.
O’Curry ends the discussion on Ceis declaring ‘I cannot speak with authority as to what exactly the Ceis was, yet there is good reason to think that it was no material part of the harp after all, but that the word signifies simply the harmonized tones or tune of the instrument.’
LON DUBH/MAIDRÍN RUADH
This tune is especially for Leah Moko Ratana and all my friends in New Zealand I met on an amazing Maori/Irish collaboration tour in 2008.
There are many versions of ‘Lon Dubh’ or the ‘Blackbird’, this one I learned from Dublin piper Sean McKeon on the tour in NZ. He got it from Paddy Glackin who in turn got it from the great Donegal fiddler Johnny Doherty.
Steve Cooney introduced me to the music of Canon James Goodman (1828-1896). One of Ireland’s finest collectors of tradititonal music, Goodman, a piper, was from Dingle, Co.Kerry and got many of his tunes from piper Tomás Dall Ó Cinnéide. This is a 3-part setting of the Maidrín Ruadh or Little Red Fox, familiar to many as it has been taught in primary schools for generations. It is the first section in a suite of music entitled ‘Maidrín Ruadh’.
THE HONOURABLE THOMAS BURKE
The Honourable Thomas Burke was composed by the great harper composer Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738) for the 3rd son of the 9th Earl of Clanricard. The Clanricards resided at Portumna Castle, on the shore of Lough Derg, Co.Galway.
The first printed version of this tune appears in John Mulholland’s Collection of Ancient Irish Airs, Belfast 1810.
WITH HER DOG AND HER GUN
With her Dog and her Gun is a great title for this romantic tune! It is from the George Petrie collection (1857), with only ‘A Mayo tune’ as the source.
This is for Dad who gave me the Petrie collection.
JOE CASSIDY’S/FRANK GILRUTH/HULL’S REEL
Joe Cassidy’s is a composition by the ledgendary Donegal fiddler Tommy Peoples. Joe Cassidy got Tommy started on the Fiddle. I heard it first from fiddler Jesse Smith.
Cape Breton fiddler Natalie Mac Master played ‘Frank Gilruth’ on one of her recordings I was involved in a few years back. It was composed by Peter Milne, a mid-18th century Scottish fiddler who strongly influenced J. Scott Skinner. It can be found in the Winston Fitzgerald collection of tunes compiled by Paul Cranford.
Hull’s Reel is a popular Cape Breton session tune composed by fiddler and piano player John Morris Rankin. We used to love playing this tune in the band ‘Bumblebees’ having heard it on one of our visits to magic Cape Breton Island.
TOUREENDARBY POLKA/NELL MAHONEY’S POLKA/MIKE BUCKLEY’S FAVOURITE
Three well known polkas from Sliabh Luachra, west Kerry. I can’t remember where I heard these polkas. I probably learned them when I was a kid on the whistle. Thanks to the walking archive that is fiddler Máire O’Keeffe and the Sliabh Luachra jury of Brian O’Leary and Paudie O’Connor for the correct titles.
Do mhuintir an Oileán seo, go háirithe Seán MacConmara. This is for the Achill community especially the people of Dooagh for their fáilte mhór.
This tune appears in the 3rd collection of Edward Bunting published in 1840, crediting fellow collector George Petrie as the source in 1839. It is marked ‘very ancient’ and ‘plaintive’.
This reel is composed by Tommy Peoples. Gortree is Tommy’s mother’s home place in Donegal. This is for Michelle.
ALL ALIVE/MALCOLM’S NEW FIDDLE/THE BATTERING RAM
All Alive is attributed to Turlough O’Carolan, according to Petrie, and states it is doubtful this was the original title.
Malcolm’s New Fiddle is composed by ledgendary fiddler and composer of many a good tune, Jerry Holland, RIP. Jerry wrote this tune in the mid 80’s for Malcolm MacPhail, a fiddler from the River Denys area of Cape Breton and it has become common in the Irish session repretoire since then.
The Battering Ram or ‘An Reithe Cogaidh’ is a popular Irish session tune that I learned at a harp summer school many many moons ago from the great harper Janet Harbison. A two-part version of this tune was collected about the 1840’s as ‘Mary O’Hara’. The name Mary O’Hara is familiar to us today as she became the most famous Irish harp player of the twentieth century.
LITTLE JOHN’S HAME/SPEY IN SPATE
These tunes are for my friends in the musical village of Teelin, Co.Donegal especially Kitty Sheain Cunningham, Martina and Joe Byrne and Tommy and Dermot Byrne.
I heard Tommy Peoples play this first tune years ago. He got it from a collection of J. Scott Skinner tunes.
The Spey in Spate I learned at a harp summer school in Glencolmcille when I was a kid from two of Scotland’s finest harpers and now my good friends Mary MacMaster and Patsy Seddon.
IS GALAR CRÁIDHTE AN GRÁDH
Love’s a tormenting pain. Transcribed from the playing of harper Denis Hempson in 1796 by Edward Bunting. Bunting states that it was composed in 1670 by William Connellan. William and his brother Thomas were harpers from Cloonmahon, near Collooney, Co.Sligo. Their dates span the years 1640-1720, a period of great political and social upheavel in Ireland. They travelled to Scotland as was common for harpers at the time and gained recognition there. Thanks to harper Kathleen Loughnane for her research in her book ‘The Harpers Connellan’. She has recorded this tune on her album with the same name.
This piece is in memory of Frankie McFadden from Derry, who left this world earlier than we expected.
SLIABH NA MBAN
This is for my mum Patricia Kelly and my mum’s mum Nora Bresnihan. Sliabh na mBan means the mountain of the women and it is the name of a mountain in county Tipperary. The Goodman collection is the source for this tune. Although it was collected from a piper it feels like a harp tune and it could well have been as the pipering tradition maintained the music of the harp tradition when that tradition was in decline.
SEPARATION OF SOUL AND BODY
The title of this piece drew me in, having found it in Donal O’Sullivan’s ‘Carolan, The Life Times and Music of an Irish Harper’. O’Sullivan says ‘The title and character of this piece suggest it had an elegiac theme’. The source of this version is the John and William Neale collection c. 1724.
This Suantraí or lullaby is from the Goodman collection.