The first biography of Turlough Carolan published in nearly half a century is now available. The book, published by Noble Stone Press, and written by Art Edelstein includes a 21 track Compact Disc of Carolan music by author/musician Art Edelstein and multi-instrumentalist Tim Newcomb. Instruments include guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, violin, viola and Swedish Nyckelharpa.
Carolan composed his music on the traditional Irish harp at a time when that instrument was beginning to decline in popularity. The long sustain of the brass strings on that instrument produces a sound very different from that heard on the modern nylon or gut strung harp. We suspect the sparse harmonies he wrote were a result of his harp's particular sound. Today, Carolan's music is very popular and is played by musicians both Irish and otherwise on a variety of instruments.
Fiona Ritchie did a complete program on Carolan and used Fair Melodies as the basis of the program. She also featured the track Separation of Body and Soul from the CD that accompanies Fair Melodies. This program has run several times on Public Radio.
"Edelstein's quest to "meet" Carolan,...has culminated in a well-written, diligently researched, and illuminating book...Edelstein has accomplished that goal...he has captured the harsh political, social, and cultural realities for Catholic Ireland during the Protestant Acendancy, the period in which itinerant musicians like Carolan kept alive flickering musical images of the once-great Catholic lords." Peter F. Stevens in The Boston Irish Reporter February 2002 (page 32).
"...it will be useful for those who are coming to the Irish tradition and history from other musics and cultures." Irish Music Magazine.
"..the book contains so much that is new and different, as well as containing critical insights that are a pleasure to contemplate and admire...Your CD is a delight. I relish the familiar favorites, of course, but the real prizes are the previously unrecorded melodies..." Caleb Crowell Irish scholar.
"...Edelstein makes the story of Carolan's life accessible, repeating those things that are known with some certainty in a straightforward manner." from Green Man Review
In part that writer wrote: "However, where O'Sullivan presents exhaustive evidence for each point of fact, Edelstein makes the story of Carolan's life accessible, repeating those things that are known with some certainty in a straightforward manner."
"Edelstein's book is also clearly aimed at an audience with less familiarity with the history of the time. Where O'Sullivan assumes the reader is familiar with important dates, Edelstein spells them out."
The exhaustive discography clearly references people who seriously listen to folk music, and his own CD, mostly bouzouki and guitar, makes it clear why these sweet melodies and lulling passages are still beloved three and a half centuries after Carolan's passing. I genuinely liked the arrangements, which are simple and true, but also soothing to listen to -- and I mean that in the best sense of the word -- beguiling, comforting and memorable. Edelstein has done justice to these tunes, without usurping the more artistic interpretations and flights of fancy to be found in the music he catalogues. Edelstein makes Carolan both accessible and interesting; his book is clearly written, and simple enough that it would be suitable for an aspiring harpist entering secondary school."
This book is intelligent, complex but not daunting, and a pleasure to read. Times Argus Barre-Montpelier VT. Read the full review
This from a reader:
"...I had the delightful experience of finding your book in the window in
the bookstore in Montpelier (Vermont). It was the last copy there. I haven't gotten
through it all yet, but I LOVE it. It is so beautifully written and everything about it is just perfect. I enjoyed the interviews." Barbara Wright reader.
The author is an historian and journalist. Fair Melodies includes the first-ever Carolan discography, and extensive Carolan bibliography, and a compilation of music books and videos of Carolan's music. Fair Melodies surveys the history of the Celtic harp and includes interviews with harpers Derek Bell, Patrick Ball, Ann Heymann and others.back to the top of page
"Beautifully written, and still gets to me." - El McMeen, Celtic Guitarist
From the Introduction to Fair Melodies: "What becomes apparent to anyone willing to take the time to study Carolan - and the period of Irish history that was his - is how strong his own sense of survival was, and how adept he was at turning calamity into good fortune. Unlike some other famous musicians (and Mozart comes to mind) who struggled against the odds and suffered for their efforts, Carolan's life was rather full."
"Unlike many of the tormented musical geniuses who lived sometimes near
starvation, on the fringe of society, as they created their masterpieces, Carolan's
deepest losses came before he ever thought of becoming a musician; before he had
ever created a melody."
Derek Bell (Harper with the Chieftains, (from Fair Melodies):
"They say he wasn't a good harper but I'm inclined to take that with a certain skepticism or qualification. I maintain that he only wasn't really good when he was drunk. I maintain that he nearly always was drunk, thereby giving a false impression.
"The thing is that some of his pieces are so difficult for the harp it's hard to imagine that anyone would have conceived music for the instrument had he not been a jolly good player himself. Alcohol apart, that is my opinion."
(Published in 2001
A malevolent wind blew west across the Irish Sea from England during the 1680s, carrying a microbe long known as the scourge of civilization. In Ireland during this visitation, many would die a horrible death. Others would become disfigured and some would suffer life-long disability. Turlough Carolan was a teenager, the son of an ironworker living on the estate of the MacDermott Roe family at Alderford near the town of Boyle, in County Roscommon, when he fell ill.
Turlough was healthy one day and the next was seized with a splitting headache and a knifing sensation in his back. Chills and fever then sent him to his bed. He may well have known early in his discomfort, as the illness took him in its grip, that the dreaded Galar-breac, the ancient Bolgach, the now-extinct disease called smallpox, had struck.
Like most Irish of his day, Carolan feared the Galar-breac as one of the pantheon of killer illnesses likely to attack his village. For these were unhygienic times, two centuries before vaccines or modern medicine would begin to ward off such disease.
Carolan's smallpox attack ran its course in the following manner: On Day One he would feel that his body was out of gear and would no longer work. It is unlikely he suffered convulsions, for that symptom usually attacked young children and he was already nearing adulthood. By the second day, he was fighting for his life with a temperature of 104 F. He would slide in and out of delirium, perhaps even becoming comatose for short periods.
Relief came briefly on the third day as his temperature dropped, but this was a short respite. Soon the first pox sores appeared in his mouth and throat, followed by excruciating pain. Carolan would feel like vinegar was being poured into his mouth, now virtually an open sore. His throat swelled; his voice became barely audible in its hoarseness.
Next, the sores appeared on his face and forearms, spreading up to his upper arms. Finally, his back and legs were engulfed. The sores began as red splotches, which swelled, spread, and finally erupted into ugly wounds that would eventually scab over. His temperature was once again 104 F.
Carolan's youthful face was now a swollen mass marred by the pockets of disease and pus.
We do not know who took care of Turlough during his illness because his mother's name is lost in time and there is no record of his having any siblings. During the two weeks that he lay ill he may have been cared for by other family members or villagers from Ballyfarnon. These nurses would have been immune to the disease, the result of their own personal triumph over its ravages. His father, John, the only family member history has recorded by name, may not have been able to care for his son, for his work was at the forge.
After the smallpox abated and the fever died, Turlough had to face one awful truth--he was stone blind. He had become yet another casualty in a seemingly endless onslaught of the disease.
Smallpox had struck Ireland before, as early as the year 675 according to written accounts, and then again in 1237 and 1368. One-third of those who contracted the disease lost their sight. This number would continue to spiral and by the end of the 1700s more than 100,000 people per year in Europe alone would become blinded from this one disease.
While this young Irish field hand was now sightless, he might take some solace in knowing that smallpox did not discriminate according to class and wealth. A few years later, on December 28, 1694, Queen Mary II would die of the disease in London. She was just 32 years old.
When Carolan finally arose from his sick bed, he may have envisioned a world as bleak and dark as his dead eyes. He would no longer be able to roam freely through the nearby Arigna Mountains. He would not be able to gaze out over lovely Lough Meelagh that lay below the foot of Kilronan Mountain. Nor could he see the distant hills of Sligo pointing northwest to the Atlantic Ocean. Fieldwork was out of the question, for how could a blind man till the ground, lay the stone for fences or buildings, or properly care for animals? Nor would he join his father at the forge and continue to learn iron working, an important seventeenth century trade.
But Carolan's future would take an unexpected turn. This tragic event, the loss of his sight, would determine the career that was to follow, and the fame he eventually achieved.
It is reasonably certain that had Turlough Carolan, born as he was to an undistinguished Gaelic-speaking Irish Catholic family with roots in the east of the country in Meath, not been blinded, there would have been no music to remember him by. ...
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East Calais VT 05650
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Author Art Edelstein was a guest speaker at the 17 th annual O'Carolan Festival in Nobber Co. Meath on October 3, 2004
Here are other pictures from the weekend event:
Art Edelstein and his host the harper Dearbhail Finnegan
Harpers at O'Carolan Statue
Students of Dearbhail who performed a concert Sunday October 3
I want to sincerely thank Dearbhail and her mother Ann Finnegan and the whole Nobber community as well as the O'Carolan Festival Committee for making my stay in their community so pleasant!back to the top of page
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This Page Was Last Updated July 2011