Ceol na hÉireann / Irish Music, Volume 1, Issue 1, Page 14

Ceol na hÉireann / Irish Music, Volume 1, Issue 1, Page 14
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periodical Publisher
Na Píobairí Uilleann
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Chairman, NPU
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Ceol na hÉireann / Irish Music
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18Ceol na hEireann Irish Music19was his obituary in a Belfast newspaper of 5 November 1816.2ICORMAC OKELLY, THE MAKER OF THE DOWNHILL HARP (1702)The Downhill Harp, the handsome instrument which belonged to DenisHempson (1695-1808), the famous harper from Magilligan, co. Derry, wasmade by cormac OKelly, of Ballinascreen, co. Derry. It bears the followinginscription:[ In the] time of Noah I was green;[ Since] hisjlood I have not been seen,Until l7undred and 02 IwasfoundBy C.R.Kely underground;He raised me up to that degree,Queen of Musick [ yo]u may ca [ ll me.] 3No other harp made by Cormac OKelly has survived. While his name doesappear on the Castle Otway Harp, this instrument was made before his time, andhe appears to have repaired rather than made it.Edward Bunting stated in a notice of the Downhill Harp that Ballinascreenwas a district long famous for the construction of such instruments, and for thepreservation of ancient Irish melodies in their original purity. 5 If Bunting wasnot exaggerating in claiming that Ballinascreen (formerly known in Irish asGleann Con Cadhain) was known as a centre of harpmaking, this suggests thatCormac OKelly was not the first harpmaker in the area. He was certainly notthe last - as we shall see.Bunting had nothing further to say of the OKellys. Though Arthur ONeill,on whose memoirs Bunting relied heavily, did visit Ballinascreen in the courseof his travels during the latter half of the eighteenth century, he had nothing tosay about the OKellys (II p.168).In August-September 1834, while working for the Ordnance Survey, the Irishscholar John ODonovan visited the Ballinascreen area. The richness and varietyof the traditions current in the area impressed him, and among the tradition-bearers he consulted frequently was a Philip OKelly - probably a relative of theharpmakers.Among many other things, ODonovan was told that the harpmakers family,the OKellys of Ballinascreen, had been the hereditary historians (seanchaithe)of Gleann Con Cadhain. The Munster historian Geoffrey Keating was said tohave visited the head of the family in the 1620s, while gathering material for hishistory of Ireland, Foras Feasa ar Eirinn, He wished to consult Irish manu-scripts which OKelly possessed. But the latter, having read what Keating hadwritten up to that date, refused him access, claiming that he had favouredMunster in his history at the expense of Ulster. 7None of the manuscripts owned or compiled by the OKellys were to be foundin the area at the time of ODonovans visit. At some previous date, ODonovanheard, Father Quinn of Omagh had gathered up the best of them and sent themto Maynooth. He continued to search, nonetheless, and did succeed in finding ascrap of well-written manuscript, which he enclosed in one of his letters to theheadquarters of the Ordnance Survey. 8A later scholar, Enri O Muirgheasa, who collected Irish songs at thebeginning of this century in the Ballinascreen area, found that the harpmakerCormac OKelly was still remembered in the area, as was his son, also aharpmaker.Ta baile ar an pharraiste seo a bhfuil Baile an Dflin air, ma dh leath atSe. An Chraobh, no Baile na Craoibhe, at mar ainm ar an chuid thuaidhde. Muintir Cheallaigh ar fad a bhi i mbunadh na Craoibhe trth bhi meOg; saoilim nach dtinig a athrach de sgeal ann shoin i leith. Cha raibhan darna sloinneadh le faghil ar an leath-bhaile agus bhi a Ian den phOrchadna ar an chuid eile den bhaile... Sliocht a Ghiolla Dhuibh a bhimar ainm ar mhuintir Cheallaigh sin aige na seandaoine...Dounagilliduf a bhi ar an ite sin san bhliadhain 1610... ach charchualathas ar an bhaile ach Doon...Char mhOr domh a aithris fost gur den aicme chadna Cormac nagClairseach, agus a mhac, mar at, Maghnus na gClairseach. Ta ashliocht siUd ar an Chraoibh go dti an Ia at indiu ann. Is ann a rugadhiad; is ann a bhi comhnuidhe orthu. Badh an Cormac O Ceallaigh seo arinne an chruit a bhI d seinm aige Donnchadh 6 hAmhsaigh (DenisHempson) i mBilfirsde, 1792.There is a townland in this parish called Baile an Dflin. It is divided intotwo halves, An Chraoibh, or Baile na Craoibhe, is the name of thenorthern half. The people of An Chraobh were all OKellys when I wasyoung; I doubt that there has been any change since then. There was noother surname to be found in this half-townland and there are many ofthe same race in the rest of the townland... Sliocht a Ghiolla Dhuibh wasthe name the old people had for the OKellys... DounagilliduP was the
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Ceol na hÉireann / Irish Music, Volume 1, Issue 1

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