Port (form)

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PORT... See also (the Gaelic) "Puirt..." An Irish port, or Gaelic puirt, was originally a common-time lesson or an air written for the harp, akin to a planxty (states Grattan Flood) or sometimes a vocal air, but it is also the Gaelic word for 'jig.' Sanger & Kinnaird (Tree of Strings, 1992) say that there was actually no Irish tradition of ports, and that only one, “Purth Clarseach” (a version of “Port Gordon (1)”) is recorded by Belfast collector Edward Bunting [1] (1773-1843). The genuine ports that are contained in Irish collections appear to all have Scottish connections. The first recorded use of the word port, in a musical context, is in the poem by Donnachadh Mor of Lennox, in the Book of the Dean of Lismore, dating it to before 1513-40. The earliest dateable port is perhaps “Port Robert,” in the Wemyss Manuscript, going back to the 16th century. Sanger & Kinnaird state that the classic port seems to have been a “characteristically Scottish form of harp music which had a fairly short-lived fashion between the mid 16th and mid 17th centuries.” At one time almost every great family had a Port that went by the name of the family. Of the few that are still preserved are, "Port Lennox," "Port Gordon (1)," "Port Seton," and "Port Athole." The form itself died out, its fortunes linked to the profession of harper which also waned at the same time for both political and musical reasons, thought the name lived on.

In the 18th century other types of tunes more strongly melodic were still being called ‘ports’, though they had little to do musically with the older form. This more generic ‘port’ is taken to mean a tune, catch, theme, especially one played on the bagpipes.

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