Dochtúir Seán ó Hairt (An)

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DOCHTÚIR SEÁN Ó HAIRT, AN (Doctor John Hart). Irish, Air (3/4 time). B Flat Major (O'Sullivan/Bunting): A Major (Complete Collection). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Complete Collection): AABB (O'Sullivan/Bunting). Both the words and melody to this air are by blind Irish harper Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738), who may have composed more than one air in honor of John Hart (as suggested by Charles O'Conor of Benagare), though no others have surfaced to date. O'Sullivan (1983) writes on the history of the once beloved Dr. Hart, who was appointed a bishop of the See of Achonry in 1735 (and probably died around 1739). Under the English Penal Laws no Catholic could hold legal title to land, therefore many of that faith made arrangements with a Protestant friend to assume legal responsibility and hold the property in trust -- a practice rarely abused, according to O'Sullivan. Dr. Hart proved an exception, however, for his Protestant neighbor (a man named Betteridge) took for his own Cloonmahon, the doctor's estate (along with his brother Charles) in County Sligo, to which the doctor had no recourse under the law. Another Protestant neighbor, one O'Hara of Annaghbeg, seeing the injustice took Dr. Hart in, supported him, and "did all that courtesy and kindness could do to make up for the loss of Cloonmahon" (O'Rorke, 1878). The bishop was famed for his hospitality and kindness, especially to birds, which, if he found caged, he would endeavor to release. A charming legend has it that at the doctor's funeral the birds of the region gathered to chant his requiem.

The air was mentioned by blind Irish harper Arthur O'Neill (1734-1818) in his Memoirs. O'Neill, who had been journeying after the second harp competition at Granard in 1782, travelled from patron to patron, stopping for a time at the house of Ned Conway near Newtown Stewart, County Tyrone. "He had a daughter that played the harp uncommon well. Miss Conway and I were closeted together for three weeks exchanging tunes. She gave me 'Dr. Hart' and I gave her 'Madgey Malone' and several other tunes mutually that I cannot remember at present. But I left the house on the best of terms..." It was recorded by the Belfast Northern Star of July 15th, 1792, as one of the tunes played in competition by one of ten Irish harp masters at the last great convocation of ancient Irish harpers, the Belfast Harp Festival, held that week.

Source for notated version: The Irish collector Edward Bunting noted the tune from harper Hugh Higgins in 1792, according to the index of this 1840 collection; Bunting (Ancient Music of Ireland) [O'Sullivan].

Printed sources: Complete Collection of Carolan's Irish Tunes, 1984; No. 53, pp. 52-53. O'Sullivan/Bunting, 1983; No. 27, pp. 43-46. O’Sullivan (Carloan: The Life, Times and Music of an Irish Harper), 1958; No. 53, pp. 130-131.

Recorded sources:




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