The people of medieval Ireland clearly enjoyed music, and musicians were held in high regard. In 1315, William O’Kelly held a sumptuous feast at his fortress in Connacht to which he invited ‘the musicians of Ireland’. One poet claimed that so many musicians went to that feast, the only music left in Leinster and Meath was ‘the voice of the sweet birds from the trees’.
Turlough O’Carolan (Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin), who was born in Co. Meath around 1670, was one of the last traditional harpist-composers. He seems to have been blinded by smallpox at the age of eighteen and, a few years later, set out to travel Ireland and compose songs for payment. Some of his music was collected by Edward Bunting.
Bunting was a Classically trained musician and, when transcribing Irish traditional harp tunes, he ‘corrected’ them according to the rules of Classical music, so the versions that have survived are not quite the same as the tunes played by the likes of O’Carolan.