The Jacobite Period—1705-1775

William H. Grattan Flood
Chapter XXII

IT has been well said that the lyrics of the Jacobite period are among the finest in the whole range of Irish poetry. Dr. Douglas Hyde writes:—"So popular did Jacobite poetry become that it gave rise to a conventional form of its own, which became almost stereotyped, and which seems to have been adopted as a test subject in bardic contests, and by all new aspirants to the title of poet. This form introduces the poet as wandering in a wood or by the banks of a river, where he is astonished to perceive a beautiful lady approaching him. He addresses her, and she answers. The charms of her voice, mien, and bearing are portrayed by the poet. He inquires who and whence she is, and how comes she to be thus wandering. She replies that she is Erin, who is flying from the insults of foreign suitors, and in search of her real mate. Upon this theme the changes are rung in every conceivable metre, and with every conceivable variation, by the poets of the eighteenth century. Some of the best of these allegorical pieces are distinctly poetic, but they soon degenerated into conventionalism, so much so, that I verily believe they continued to be written even after the death of the last Stuart."

I have previously alluded to "Maggie Láidir," or Maggie Lauder, to which John O'Neachtan, of County Meath, set immortal words. About the year 1707 was written the still popular "Blackbird," in praise of the Old Pretender. Mr. Sparling, in his Irish Minstrelsy, surmised that the song dated from "before 1715, when the Blackbird made his Scotch attempt," but I have found allusion to the song in 1709. It is chiefly remarkable as one of the earliest Irish lyrics written in English, and a copy of the verses was given to Allan Ramsey in 1724, who printed the song to his Tea Table Miscellany. So well understood was the name "Blackbird," as applied to King James III., that the Earl of Thomond, in 1709, had a horse of that name. The tune has been reprinted dozens of times, and is a splendid specimen of Irish airs of that period.

From the songs of Egan O'Rahilly and John clarac MacDonnell one can form an idea of the airs that were popular in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. O'Rahilly, whose poems have been admirably edited by Father Dinneen, died in 1728, but MacDonnell lived until 1754.

One of the most beautiful airs in 1703 was, "The Day we Beat the Germans at Cremona," commemorative of the great victory gained by the Irish Brigade at Cremona on February 1st, 1702. This air was a particular favourite with the great Irish piper, James Gandsey, to whom reference will be made in the next chapter. However, Irish Jacobite minstrelsy really dates from 1707-8, when King James III. (the Pretender) determined on the invasion of England. A few years later was composed the exquisite "Caoine Cill Cair" or "The Lament for Kilcash," the venerable mansion of the Butler family, where resided the heroine of the song, Lady Iveagh. The song now sung was set to the air, about the year, 1745, by a Father Lane, who had been educated for the priesthood through the liberality of Lady Iveagh, whose death occurred on July 19th, 1744. Lady Iveagh's second daughter, Honor, married Lord Kenmare in 1720, and on the occasion of the marriage, Egan O'Rahilly wrote the beautiful Irish song, "Realtán Cill Cainnic," or "The Star of Kilkenny."

In the spring and summer of the year 1714 recruting went on in various parts of Ireland for the cause of James III. In May of that year, one hundred and fifty Jacobites were arrested at Howth, and three of them were executed in Stephen's-green. Numerous songs were sung ridiculing the House of Hanover and the Whigs. One of the favourite lyrics in 1715 commenced:—

“Let our great James come over

And baffle Prince Hanover.

With hearts and hands, in loyal bands,

We'll welcome him at Dover.”

All readers of history are familiar with the attachment of the Duke of Ormonde to King James III. in 1715. The Lords Justices of Ireland, in that year, offered £10,000 as a reward for apprehending the Duke, which offer was repeated in 1719. On this occasion a very fine lament, known as "Ormonde's Lament," was composed, and the tune was subsequently used for the still popular "Billy Byrne's Lament." The song certainly dates from the year 1715, or the spring of the year 1716.

There is still preserved a beautiful caoine, or lament, on the death of Queen Mary, widow of King James II., in May, 1718. But, again, as illustrating the "tear and the smile" character of Eire, there are some rousing tunes in honour of King James III., hoping fondly that he would enjoy his own again.

The "bardic sessions" held at Charleville, Whitechurch, and other places, at intervals, between the years 1725-1775, resulted in much native poetry and songs. In order to rouse the feelings of the masses in favour of the Stuarts, the poets sang of "Moirin ni Chuillenain," "Roisin dubh," "Graine Maol," "Sighile ni Ghadharadh" (Sheela O'Gara), "Caitilin ni h-Uallachain," "An Londubh." "Druimfhionn Donn dilis," etc., all allegorical names for Ireland.

The Rev. Charles Bunworth, Rector of Buttevant, County Cork, was chosen five times to act as adjudicator at the bardic sessions held at Bruree, County Limerick, every three years from 1730 to 1750. He was not only a patron, but a skilled performer, of Irish music. His house was ever open for the wandering harper or bard, and his favourite harp was expressly made for him by John Kelly in 1734. This lovely instrument came into the possession of Crofton Croker (Bunworth's maternal grandson), and was sold in London in 1854.[1] A drawing of it was made by Maclise, and will be found in Hall's Ireland (vol. ii.). This distinguished amateur musician died about the year 1770, and he left behind him fifteen Irish harps, the gifts of wandering minstrels whom he had befriended. These fifteen Irish harps were subsequently burned as firewood by a careless servant.

A fine tune, "Seaghan Buidhe" (Yellow John), a name applied to the followers of King William, was composed early in this century, to which John Cunningham, in 1740, adapted a fine song, entitled "Teacht na n-geana fiadhaine," or "The Return of the Wild Geese." This tune was annexed by the Scotch Jacobites in 1744, and appears in Johnson's Two Hundred Country Dances, in 1748, and as "Shanbuie" in Oswald's Collection, in 1752. About the year 1736 the air was published in Dublin as "Shaun bwee," and in 1742 it appeared with the title, "The Irish Pot Stick." The Scotch adaptation of this fine Irish melody is "Over the water to Charlie," under which name it was printed in 1752.

From about the same epoch dates "An Sean duine," or "The Old Man," also known as "Hob or Nob," published in 1745. It was annexed by the Scotch and set to the song of "The Campbells are coming," first printed by Oswald in 1750.

As can well be imagined, the great victory of Fontenoy, on May 11th, 1745, gave heart to the Jacobites, but the defeat at Culloden was a considerable damper.[2] For all that, we have still some hundreds of fine Jacobite songs that certainly date from 1744 to 1750. In addition, the songs of Andrew Magrath, John O'Tuomy, Father English, William Heffernan, Edward Nagle, etc., have preserved for us old tunes of a date even prior to the eighteenth century. Numerous Irish lyrics too, denouncing the Whigs, are wedded to charming melodies, some of which have survived to our own day. One of the best known of the Anti-Whig songs is "Leir-ruatar Whiggiona," by the Merry Pedlar (Andrew Magrath), set to the tune of "Plancam Peirbig," or "Leather the Wig"—that is, to thresh the "wig," as symbolising the Whig. A fairly good version of this air was published by Playford in 1713, and by B. Cooke, of Dublin, in 1795, under the absurd title of "Will you come plank, come plank."[3]

Thurot's expedition, in 1759, also furnished many ballads during the year 1760. It is a mistake to suppose that the Jacobites in Ireland gave no evidence of their sympathies after the year 1746; and the fact is that enlisting for the "French service"—meaning, of course, the service of Prince Charlie—went on as late as 1790. It was only in 1765, when King James III. died at Rome, that the Stuart cause was regarded as hopeless, and the end came in January, 1788, with the death of King Charles III., generally known as Prince Charlie.

Of the many distinguished harpers who flourished in the second half of the eighteenth century Donnchadh a Haimpsuigh (Denis O'Hampsey or Hampson) was the most remarkable. Born at Craigmore, near Garvagh, County Derry, in 1697, he lost his sight at the age of three, and at twelve was placed under the tuition, for the harp, of Bridget O'Cahan. In 1711, he studied with John C. Garragher, a blind, itinerant harper (whom he accompanied to Buncrana), and he finished his musical course with Loughlin Fanning and Patrick O'Connor, both Connacht harpers of repute.

During ten years, commencing with the year 1715, when he was presented with a valuable harp (made by Cormac O'Kelly in 1702), Hampson travelled through Ireland and Scotland. In 1745 he made a second journey to Scotland, and was presented to the Young Pretender, Prince Charlie, at Edinburgh, "by Colonel Kelly, of Roscommon, and Sir Thomas Sheridan."[4] As may be supposed, our Irish harper brought over to Scotland many beautiful airs, which in course of time were more or less naturalised, and claimed as "Scottish." In particular, he familiarised the Scotch with the lovely melody, "Eiblin A Ruin," or "Robin Adair," the Irish origin of which is beyond any question.[5]

At a meeting of the Belfast harpers in July, 1792, Hampson played: "The Dawning of the Day," "The County of Leitrim," and "Uileacan dubh O!" and, though then aged ninety-five, he confided to Mr. Sampson, with the honest feeling of self-appreciation:—"When I played the old tunes, not another of the harpers would play after me." His style of performing was marvellous, and the rapidity of his execution was unapproached. He plucked the strings in the old style, with long nails, and had the traditional method of harp-playing.

General Hart sent an artist to take a drawing of Hampson in 1804, and this was reproduced by Bunting in his second Collection of Irish Airs. The old harper died at Magilligan on November 5th, 1807, aged 110, and he left his harp to his patron, Rev. Sir W. Hervey Bruce, of Downhill.[6] This harp is described as follows by Rev. Mr. Sampson, in 1805:—

“The sides and front are made of white sally; the back of fir, patched with copper and iron plates. Sculptured on the harp are the lines:—

‘In the days of Noah I was green;

After his flood I've not been seen

Until seventeen hundred and two I was found

By Cormac Kelly under ground;

He raised me up to that degree,

Queen of Music they call me.’”

A pathetic story is told of O'Hampson's last days. Twenty-four hours before his death he was visited by his patron, Rev. Sir W. Hervey Bruce (made a baronet of the United Kingdom on June 23rd, 1804), and the aged harper insisted on being allowed to play a favourite tune as a "Farewell to Music." His harp was brought to him, and he struck a few chords of an old Jacobite air, but the effort was too much. He sank back on the pillow exhausted, and died within a few hours. So passed away the last Jacobite harper.



[1] It was acquired by Rev F. W. Galpin, who had it on view at the Music Loan Exhibition at Fishmongers' Hall, London, in July, 1904. This enthusiastic musical amateur also exhibited an Irish harp, dated 1750.

[2] It is well known that of the "seven men of Mordart who accompanied Prince Charlie to Scotland in July, 1745, four of the seven were Irish. Moreover, it may be added that two of the four—Rev. George Kelly and Sir Thomas Sheridan—were Protestants.

[3] This fine Irish melody was popular in England as "The Bunter's Delight."

[4] These are the names as given by Hampson himself, in 1805, to the Rev. G. V. Sampson, but the two persons really meant were Rev. George Kelly (a non-juring parson, who was an ardent Jacobite from 1715-1750) and Sir Thomas Sheridan, the Prince's Secretary, who died at Rome, November 25th, 1746.

[5] For an account of this melody see an article by the present writer in the new edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. (1904.)

[6] O'Hampson's harp was for a time in the Museum of the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, and it was lent for exhibition at the Irish Harp Festival held at Belfast in May, 1903. It is now, as Mr. F. J. Bigger informs me, at Downhill.