A Collection of Ancient Irish Airs

by John Mulholland

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This fairly rare collection of tunes was, according to the author’s preface, intended as an affordable alternative to the more expensive Bunting–style publications. As was usual with most publications of that period great antiquity was claimed for many of the tunes, although if the author’s statement that the collection had been started by his father some 90 years previously was true, then some of the airs should represent styles older than the material collected by Bunting following the 1792 Harp Festival. The titles of many of the tunes indicate that there are a large number of harp airs in the two volumes but how and where they were collected is unclear. Little is known about the author and what musical background he had, but the fact that the pipes are specifically mentioned might be significant, although as the aim of the collection was to be cheap it might just indicate where he thought his market was likely to be.

Although both volumes of this digitised copy of Mulholland’s publication have the publication date clearly printed as 1810, there are grounds for suggesting that the work was already well underway before that date. The author makes the claim that he had not duplicated tunes already printed by Edward Bunting but there are a number of airs common to both Mulholland and Bunting’s 1809 collection suggesting that Mulholland may have completed his collection and had the music plates engraved before Bunting published his second volume. Interestingly the title page of volume 1 of the copy of Mulholland’s books among the collections of the National Library of Ireland originally did not have any printed date but 1810 has been inked in below the imprint.[1]. Perhaps this suggests an earlier trial pressing by the printers, Simms and McIntyre of Belfast who only went into business together in 1809.

Nearly all the tunes have their names given in Irish Gaelic first with the English translation second, including what is possibly the earliest attempt at a Gaelic translation of Da Mihi Manum, (Give me your hand). Whether this translation was Mulholland’s own work is unclear, about the only other information about him comes from a letter from Dr James MacDonnell to Edward Bunting explaining how he had ‘all the harps measured carefully, preparatory to engraving them upon a scale, but these notes are lost by Mr John Mulholland, who took them to London, I had no duplicate’.[2] Indicating that the doctor and Mulholland were contemporaries who were familiar enough to share material and that Mulholland had some interest in the harp.

This work is hosted by University of Rochester, Eastman School of Music, and may be downloaded as a pdf file directly from their website: A Collection of Ancient Irish airs, adapted for the harp, violin, flute & pipes; in two volumes.

Please follow this Catalogue link to return to the author index on the Library page.

[1] Cannon, Roderick D. A Bibliography of Bagpipe Music. 1980, p 90).

[2] Letter in C M Fox. Annals of the Irish Harpers. page 281–2.