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ELEANOR PLUNKETT. Irish, Slow Air or Planxty (3/4 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). One part. One of the most popular compositions by blind Irish harper Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738), it was originally a song with Gaelic words, written in praise of Eleanor Plunkett of Robertstown, County Meath (near O'Carolan's birthplace of Nobber). According to Tomás Ó Máille (in Poems of Carolan, 1916), she was related to one Christopher Plunkett who appears in the 1655 Civil Survey of that county, listed as an "Irish papist" and proprietor on the premise of "an old castle." Donal O'Sullivan (1958, vol. 2, p. 95), quoting Ó Máille, writes that the story goes that some thirty members of Eleanor's family shut themselves up in their castle of Castlecome and were dispatched by boiling water. No one knows why, although O'Sullivan suggests that the tragedy was probably an exaggerated story from an unpublished deposition of 1641. At any rate, Eleanor was apparently the surviving member of the family.
O'Carolan was quick to respond to criticism and somewhat defensive and touchy regarding his art, perhaps because his livelihood depended on satisfied patrons. As he was composing this song Eleanor's coachman interrupted him remaking that he had heard many of the same words O'Carolan was using in other songs. The outraged bard picked up his staff and threatened the servant with it, saying "Neither you nor any other person will ever hear more of it but what is already composed!" The Irish collector Edward Bunting (1773-1843) obtained, but never published, this melody (with the title "Nelly an Chúil Chraobhaigh") which is in his manuscript collection, c. 1800, now held at the Library of Queen's College, Belfast.
Source for notated version:
Printed sources: Complete Collection of Carolan's Irish Tunes, 1984; No. 150, p. 103. S. Johnson (The Kitchen Musician No. 3: Carolan), 1983 (revised 1991, 2001); p. 10. Ó Canainn (Traditional Slow Airs of Ireland), 1995; No. 21, p. 25. O'Sullivan (Carolan: The Life, Times and Music of an Irish Harper), 1958; No. 150.
Recorded sources: Shanachie 79007, Clannad - "Clannad 2" (1979)