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Chris Smith: Words & Music

Harp tune: Planxty Sir Festus Burke

(Chris Smith (banjo), Randal Bays (fiddle), Roger Landes (bouzouki))
2005-09-08
Turlough Carolan (1670-1733), more-or-less the last of the wandering Irish harpers who had been supported by the Gaelic aristocracy, is a bit of a fascinating anomaly in the repertoire of traditional tunes. Because he moved back and forth from Gaelic/Irish to English households, seeking patronage in both, he also worked in musical idioms that were more “Irish” versus others which were more “Continental”. There’s a story—possibly apocryphal—of Himself and Geminiani meeting in Dublin for a composition competition, and even if factually untrue, the story captures something of Carolan’s Baroque aspirations. They’re more obvious in other tunes (“Carolan’s Concerto” and the like), but I’ve always dug “Festus Burke”. The dedicatee was the brother of one of Carolan’s Anglo-Norman patrons, Sir Ulick Burke, the third Baronet of Glinsk in Galway; Festus succeeded to the title in 1721. The Irish collector Edward Bunting transcribed the tune from harper Charles Fannin in 1792, but I first heard it on a ‘70s disc by the Irish Tradition, a Washington, DC trio of legendary desperados including Billy McComiskey (box) and Brendan Mulvihill (fiddle).