MacSweeney's March

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MACSWEENEY'S MARCH. Irish, March. A tune played by the great Donegal piper Tarlach Mac Suibhne, the Piobaire Mor, who was one of seven pipers who performed at the first Feis Ceoil in Dublin, 1897 (as recorded by the Evening Telegraph). Caoimhin Mac Aoidh (1994) thinks it must be the tune of the same name published by Mac Suibne's brother Padraig in Songs of Uladh. It is a MacSweeney chieftain who is depicted in a famous 1581 woodcut by John Derricke, sitting at a feast being entertained by a bard and a harper, one of the most famous Tudor images of Ireland. The MacSweeney family derived from the Mac Sween's of Scotland, a Norse-Scots clan who emigrated to Ireland as 'galloglasses' (from the Gaelic word Gallaglach, meaning 'foreign soldiers') to help in the wars against the English. In Scotland the Sweeneys had entered into a treaty in 1310 with the Plantagenet king Edward II, against John, Earl of Menteith, in a bid to regain their ancestral lands in Knapdale. This attempt failed and the family fled to Ireland where they established themselves in Ulster, Munster and Connaught, particulary in Tir Connell (Donegal) where they became lords of a quarter of the region (Sanger & Kinnaird, Tree of Strings, 1992).

Seán Donnolly, commenting in print on a Feb., 1910, piece by Edmund Curtis in the Manchester Guardian, notes:

...Turlough MacSweeney was a notoriously prickly character, but [he and Curtis] seem to have got along well and Curtis paints a rather warm picture of the crotchety old piper. His description of 'MacSeeney's March' suggests that it was not the rather mundane 2/4 tune that now masquerades under that title. The changes Curtis describes in the music imply that MacSweeney was playing a descriptive battle-piece on the lines of 'Máirseáil Alastraim' or 'The Battle of Aughrim'. Both these pieces were known as 'Gol na mBan san Áir', and they were probably descendents of a common original, though differing from each other in a number of ways. The ancestor is most likely to have been a harp-piece, 'Broan Boru's March', where this well-known march introduced a musical description of a battle, supposed to have been the Battle of Clonard (AD 1014). It is rather a suspicious coincidence that Turlough called his version "MacSweeney's March'. He took such pride in his ancestry that he could easily have renamed the piece after the great gallowglass family whose last chief was his direct ancestor.

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