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Carolan’s Concerto by Caiseal Mór

01/04/2002. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

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pub: Earthlight/Simon and Schuster. 491 page paperback. Price: £6.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-7434-2901-X.

Rebel Edward Sutler shoots an English Major and is rescued from the pursuing army by Daniel O'Connor.

He ends up sitting with two old blind men, Hugh O'Connor the distiller and Denis Hempson, a harpist. They drink a lot of whiskey and O'Connor tells him the story of Turlough O'Carolan, the famous Irish composer and harpist.

O'Carolan, a young apprentice blacksmith, is mad about Bridget Cruise, a pretty girl who is well to do. One evening, harpist David Murphy plays in the house where they both work as servants. Bridget is mad for him. All the girls love a harpist. Later, in a grove frequented by the Faeries, O'Carolan swears he will learn the harp. He contracts smallpox and goes blind but does get apprenticed to a harp teacher.

He learns to play and the Faeries send him tunes while he sleeps, so he becomes a composer of note. He travels around Ireland with his servant Hugh O'Connor, playing in the houses of the wealthy, including Dean Swift, and becomes famous and well loved.

A harsher critic, James Blish, would crucify the author for his writing style. The book is made unnecessarily long by tedious conversations that don't advance the plot. The characters accuse, grunt, suggest, exclaim, admit, gasp and sigh everything.

Very little is ‘said’. Mor seems to dislike pronouns. Instead of ‘he’ the hero is usually called ‘the lad’ where his name would be awkwardly repeated. Horses, after their initial mention, are referred to in the next sentence as ‘the four-legged beasts.’ Is ‘they’ so offensive? Are there any readers who think horses have six legs or two?

Only the style-conscious reader will worry about that though. The core story is pretty good. O'Carolan actually existed, his music is available and it was interesting to learn something of his life and times. Without the Faeries and the frame story this would be a good historical novel. With them it's not a very fantastic fantasy.

However, it has a certain charm and as its theme a Cavalier philosophy with which I am in complete accord. It would be fun to get drunk with the author.

Eamonn Murphy

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