A Harp in Heaven: A story from this month’s issue of the Ohio Irish American News

Illuminations: Turlough O’Carolan
By: J. Michael Finn

Persons who play the Irish harp are known as harpers, those who play concert harps are known as harpists. By far the most famous Irish harper was Turlough O’Carolan. In his lifetime he composed over 200 pieces of music for the harp. Even more amazing, he was totally blind. He is considered by many to be Ireland’s national composer and is often referred to as either O’Carolan or Carolan.

OCarolan Statue

O’Carolan was born in 1670 in Nobber, County Meath, where his father was a blacksmith and metal worker. The family later moved to Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon in 1684. In Roscommon, his father took a job with the MacDermot Roe family. Mrs. Mary MacDermot Roe, the wife of his father’s employer, gave young Turlough an education, and the youngster showed talent in poetry. At the age of eighteen he was stricken with smallpox, a common disease in Ireland. Although he recovered from the disease, it left him permanently blind.

In those days there were few opportunities for someone blind. Mrs. MacDermot Roe apprenticed O’Carolan to a good harper. It is believed that his teacher was Ruairi Dall (Blind Rory) who was living with the MacDermot’s at the time. At the age of twenty-one Turlough was given a harp, a horse and a guide. He then set out to travel Ireland and compose songs for patrons. The patrons gave him food and lodging and in return Turlough would compose a piece of music, often naming the song in their honor. Music named for a patron is known as a planxty, a word that O’Carolan reportedly invented.

O’Carolan’s first patron was George Reynolds of County Leitrim, who suggested that Turlough try his hand at composition. With the encouragement of Reynolds, Turlough composed Si Bheag, Si Mhor, which means “Big Hill, Little Hill.” and refers to a site in County Meath where, according to folklore, two battling giants were turned into two hills by a wizard.

Turlough was not your typical classical musician. Sources say that he was cheerful and gregarious, enjoyed practical jokes, as with many harpers of the time, he also drank a great deal, and he had a temper.

A story about O’Carolan concerns an encounter he had with another harper, David Murphy. Murphy was a disagreeable fellow musician who was so mean he once threw his own mother down a flight of stairs. Murphy once told O’Carolan that his music was like “bones without beef.” O’Carolan encountered Murphy in a pub and a fight began between the two. O’Carolan eventually dragged Murphy kicking and screaming from the pub. While Murphy was screaming, O’Carolan remarked, “Put beef to that air, you puppy.”

Among his compositions, Farewell to Whiskey is about the aftermath of a doctor forbidding him to drink anymore, and O’Carolan’s Receipt is about getting a prescription from the another doctor to go back to drinking whiskey again. According to the biographers, he stayed up all night with the prescribing doctor and wrote the tune in his honor.

O’Carolan composed music and verse for some of the most famous families in the country. He was a product of Gaelic Ireland: he spoke and wrote in Irish and did not speak English very well, but, he appealed as much to the native Gael as to the Ascendency families.
The names of those for whom he composed music included Coote, Cooper, Crofton, Brabazon, Pratt, O’Hara, Irwin, Betagh, Stafford and Blayney, all of them Protestant land owners. But, he also composed for well-known Catholic families, such as the Plunketts. It has been written that often weddings and funerals would be postponed until O’Carolan could arrive to perform.

The Cruise family, too, figures prominently in his works. He is said to have fallen in love with Brigid Cruise, in whose honor he composed no less than four songs of praise. Legend has it that many years later, on a pilgrimage to Lough Derg, he recognized her by the touch of her hand.
O’Carolan’s fame came from his gift for musical composition and poetry. His usual method was to compose the tune first and then write the words. This was the opposite of traditional Irish practice.
Today most of his music is played as strictly instrumental music, but O’Carolan wrote words to roughly a third of his songs. All of these were written in Irish; only one was in English. Some of O’Carolan’s own compositions show influence from the style of continental classical music, whereas others such as Carolan’s Farewell to Music reflect a much older style of “Gaelic Harping.”

O’Carolan did finally settle down and marry, to Mary Maguire. They lived on a farm near Mohill, County Leitrim and had seven children. Mary died in 1733 and just five years later, feeling ill, Carolan returned to the home of Mrs. Mary MacDermott Roe.

When Turlough O’Carolan died at the MacDermot Roe house 1738, his former music pupil Charles O’Connor recorded his passing in sadness: “Saturday, the 25th day of March, 1738. Turlough O’Carolan, the wise master and chief musician of the whole of Ireland, died today and was buried in the O’Duignan’s church of Kilronan, in the sixty-eighth year of his age. May his soul find mercy, for he was a moral and religious man.” O’Carolan’s final composition was to the butler, Flinn, who brought him his last drink. And, in a final fitting salute, his wake lasted four days.

If you would like to read more about O’Carolan and his compositions, the definitive biography is titled Carolan: The Life and Times of an Irish Harper, by Donal O’Sullivan, originally published in 1958 and reprinted in1983 and 1991 (set of 2 volumes). Another biographer, Grainne Yeats, sums up O’Carolan in an excellent tribute: “O’Carolan bridges the gap between continental art music on the one hand, and the Gaelic harp and folk music on the other.

At his best he wrote music that is distinctively Irish, yet has an international flavor, as well. It is this achievement that suggests that Turlough O’Carolan does indeed deserve the title of Ireland’s National Composer.”

*J. Michael Finn is the Ohio State Historian for the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Division Historian for the Patrick Pearse Division in Columbus, Ohio. He is also Chairman of the Catholic Record Society for the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. He writes on Irish and Irish-American history; Ohio history and Ohio Catholic history. You may contact him at FCoolavin@aol.com.


Forever Seven: Tom Clarke by Anne Waters. A Story from this month’s issue of the Ohio Irish American News​

Forever Seven: Tom Clarke
by Anne Waters
A Story from this month’s issue of the Ohio Irish American News​

Tom Clarke was the first Signatory to the Irish Proclamation and the oldest of all seven. He is epitomised by his dedication and continual struggle throughout his life for Irish Independence. He was the spirit of the revolution, the indefatigable and undefeated hero, so highly respected that he was nominated as the first signatory to the Proclamation. Thomas MacDonagh refused to sign until Clarke had done so, stating, “No other man was entitled to the honour”. (ref 1).

Forever Seven Thomas Clarke

Tom Clarke was born in 1858 in the British Army Barracks on the Isle of Wight. His mother was from County Tipperary and his father , a native of County Leitrim, was serving in the British army. As the family of a British soldier, they lived in a variety of garrison towns and spent many years in South Africa. Eventually they settled in Co. Tyrone .

Dungannon fulfilled that sense of home for Tom. It was there he attended school and for a time worked as a classroom assistant. In 1878 he heard John Daly speak; this became the catalyst that precipitated the radicalization of Tom Clarke.

Daly, a committed Fenian, swore Tom Clarke into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and Tom was soon at the centre of the organization. A clash broke out in 1880 between members of the Orange Order and the Ancient Order of Hibernians following which Clarke was involved in an ambush on police headquarters.

He felt it expedient to move for a time to America but before doing so he made contact with the Irish American Revolutionary Organization, Clann na Gael. Clarke’s involvement with Clan na Gael grew to such an extent that he became expert in bomb-making, so was sent to England on a mission in 1883. The mission’s activities aroused suspicion; Clarke and others were arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Clarke’s account of prison life is gruesome. Persons convicted of treason received the most harsh of treatments. Separated from the main prison body, the guards were able to inflict continual harassment with impunity.
In Clarke’s own words, they engaged in “a scientific system of perpetual and persistent harassing”. (ref 1).

Sleep deprivation, regular rations of bread and water and heavy laborious work all combined to break the health and spirit of the prisoners. Having close friends as compatriots in the prison helped ease Clarke’s burden, but many Irish prisoners had total mental breakdowns. It is a testament to Clarke’s mental and emotional strength that he survived relatively intact.

Meanwhile, in Ireland there was a campaign organised to lobby for prisoner release and Tom Clarke’s cause was championed by the activist Maud Gonne. In 1898 he arrived home and during a celebratory reception in Limerick he was introduced to Kathleen Daly, a niece of John Daly.
Kathleen’s family were somewhat opposed to a match, apparently on account of Tom being twenty one years older than Kathleen, but nonetheless she agreed to marry and they set up home in New York.
Clarke’s nationalist activities recommenced and in a similar vein to the other Signatories, he became involved in a newspaper, “Gaelic American”.
Despite a reasonably contented life, he was anxious to return to Ireland.

He had become enamoured with Bulmer Hobson, a leading member of the Irish Volunteers, having heard his speeches on Irish Nationalism. He felt a renewed vigour that the Fenian movement had younger blood emerging and wished to see a rebellion when the time was right.

In 1908 the family returned to Ireland and with assistance opened a newsagents shop. Tom now threw himself fully into the cause of Irish independence and shortly after his return was elected president of a ward of Sinn Fein and co-opted onto the Supreme Council of the IRB. He believed the younger generation were now essential to the rejuvenation of the cause.

Clarke formed a close friendship with Sean MacDiarmada and facilitated the entry of Padraig Pearse to the organisation. By 1911 Clarke, MacDiarmada and Bulmer Hobson were central figures in the movement.
Disagreement emerged following John Redmond’s speech at Woodenbridge calling on Irish men to fight for Britain. Bulmer Hobson supported Redmond, with Clarke and MacDiarmada taking an opposing view. Those who followed Clarke were now set on the road to rebellion.

The new Supreme Council of the IRB consisted of Pearse, Plunkett, Ceannt, Clarke and MacDiarmada, with MacDonagh and Connolly eventually making the full complement of seven signatories. Clarke directed the funeral arrangements for the old Fenian, O’Donovan Rossa, inviting many organisations to attend. Aware of the importance of the moment and the inspirational power of speech, he asked Pearse to deliver the now famous oration at the graveside.

The fifteen years Clarke spent in prison had taken a toll on his health. By 1916 he was showing signs of age. His frailty necessitated him travelling by car to the GPO on Easter Monday, but he stood side by side with Pearse outside the GPO on Dublin’s O’Connell St. when Pearse read the Irish Proclamation for the first time.

Clarke was highly respected as the guiding force and spirit of the movement. This spirit refused to be cowed and he objected strongly to the proposed surrender. He wanted to fight on and broke down in tears when the decision to surrender was agreed. This spirit stayed with him until the end. He dismissed the priest who came to hear his last confession, refusing the request to express sorrow for the Rising. He told his wife Kathleen how he had asked the priest to clear out of his cell: “To say I was sorry would be a lie, and I was not going to face my God with a lie on my tongue. “ (ref 1)

In a message to the Irish people he states: “I and my fellow signatories believe we have struck the first blow for Irish freedom. The next blow, which we have no doubt Ireland will strike, will win through. In this belief we die happy.” (ref 2)





1: 16 Dead Men Anne Marie Ryan , Mercier Press 2014.
2: Last Words Piaras Mac Lochlainn OPW Govt Pub. 2006

Living with Lardie: Another Audition Adventure: A story from this month’s issue of the Ohio Irish American News​

Living with Lardie: Another Audition Adventure

A story from this month’s issue of the Ohio Irish American News​

My last story on the audition revealed the craziness of my youth. My wife accuses me of not being able to grow up. I am afraid this story may prove her right.

In the spring of 2010 Kay and I were watching the only Reality show we watch, “America’s Got Talent”. The program constantly flashes to the waiting room for people that are auditioning. It is a huge room of wildly dressed people. Singers, jugglers, crossdressers, dancers, gymnasts, cheerleaders, magicians, crossdressers, mimes, animal acts, crossdressers, strong people, dance teams, comedians, poets, crossdressers, poetry readers, child acts, ventriloquists, and did I mention crossdressers?

I jokingly mentioned to Kay that it would be fun just to be in that room. The people watching would be fantastic. She was on her computer and half- heartedly watching the show and less half -heartedly listening to me. “That would be fun,” says she. Well, say no more.

Living w Lardie

I immediately set out to figure a way to get into that room. Never mind that I was 69 years old and had no talent. I was going to audition for America’s Got Talent. (I wonder if there is a show “America’s Got No Talent” that would be right up my alley).

I started writing a little comedy material to see if I could still write something funny. I wrote two jokes and thought, “Yep, I still got it”. So I went to the internet and searched out how to get an audition. I found the site, researched it a little and applied for an audition as a comedian. Two days later I got this back

To: Richard Lardie : 11/05/10

We have you confirmed to audition in: Audition City: Chicago Location: McCormick Place 2301 South Lakeshore Drive Chicago, IL 60616.

Well, you can imagine Kay’s surprise when I told her she had gotten her wish. We were going to Chicago and we were going to be in that crazy room and we were going to audition for America’s Got Talent. You could have knocked me over when she said she didn’t remember saying she wanted to do that. I reminded her of the conversation and she still didn’t remember (so much for meaningful conversation while we are both on our computers and watching TV).

“You have no talent, what are you going to do?” I told her I was writing a comedy routine. “You’re not funny anymore.”

Wow and this from my biggest fan.

“That never stopped me before.” I retorted. Wait, that didn’t come out right? “Oh well, talent or no talent, we are going to Chicago and we are going to people watch in that crazy room. It will be another of our adventures.”

Then my biggest fan showed how supportive she can be. God love her. “I am only going if there is a casino near by”

You can’t fake support like that.

I wrote a new routine and practiced getting it down to 90 seconds. There was a casino on the border of Indiana and Illinois. We booked a night and made a weekend of it. The casino proved to be a losing proposition (go figure). To make sure we arrived on time , I didn’t tell Kay about the double time change. Chicago is an hour behind and daylight savings time ended that Saturday night. My audition was Sunday at 9:00 AM.

We arrived at 8:55 and that is when I discovered all people auditioning were told to be there at 9 AM. The line was long and wrapped around the building, but the sun was out and it was in the low 60s, so the waiting wasn’t hard. The line moved slowly but steadily towards the door. I assumed once we got in I would be able to do my routine and leave.

We got to the door at 10 a.m.. Yup, an hour in the line but we were finally in the door. That’s when I saw the corded lines, like at a bank weaved back and forth, back and forth up to the front of a huge lobby at the McCormick Place. We got to the head of the line at Noon. Three hours in line, but it was interesting. People were singing and dancing and reciting poetry and laughing etc. Mothers were doting on their sons and daughters and smiling proudly at anyone that would take notice.

I got to the registration desk and handed them my registration form. They stamped it, tore it, stapled it, and filed it. They handed me a big number and a pin to pin it on my front. They directed me around the corner and I thought I would be doing my routine but no. That is when we went into the room that we saw on TV. The room with all the people waiting to audition was jammed.

It was ballroom sized, with chairs scattered everywhere. People in all kinds of makeup and costumes were singing, dancing, flipping, juggling, playing guitars, saxophones, fiddles. There were mimes, puppeteers, magicians, gymnasts, and, did I mention, crossdressers? There were so many guys in drag it looked like a Jamie Farr/ Klinger convention. It was people watching at its’ finest.

Five more hours: at 5 p.m., they called my number to do my audition. They rounded up 10 of us and we went down the hall to an area that had smaller meeting rooms filled with people who were going to judge our act. They told us we would all go in at once and do our 90 seconds.

We stood at the door and at the last minute they announced that one of us was a comedian and he was going to go in alone. They opened the door and pushed me in.

Two women in their thirties sat there daring me to be funny. They asked my name and where I was from. We had a nice chat during which I got them laughing pretty hard. They asked if I was a comedian. I said.” When I got in line I was a juggler. I was going to juggle two bananas and a snickers but I was in line so long I ate my act.” They laughed a lot during my audition, but apparently not enough, or this story would be about me being on TV. It sure was a great adventure though.