Tag Archives: Rory Dall

A Highland Port by Rory Dall

Today is Burns Night, so what better tune to look at than “Rory Dall’s Port”, as used by Burns for the original setting of his lovely poem “Ae Fond Kiss”.

The only source for this tune I have ever found is two publications by James Oswald. I do not know the exact date of either of these books; they are both from around 1750.

This is the famous “Caledonian Pocket Companion” (book 8, p24):

And here it is with a baroque bass for harpsichord or cello, in “A Collection of 43 Scots tunes with variations”:

This tune is often claimed for either Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin or Rory Dall Morrison. On the other hand, various authors including John Purser and David Johnson have suggested that it looks more like Oswald’s own work.

I have played this tune for a while – I included a complete version with Oswald’s variations on Clàrsach na Bànrighe, and I have played it to accompany Sheena Wellington singing “Ae Fond Kiss”, but have always thought it was not particularly convincing as a piece of ancient harp idiom. My suspicion was strengthened when I read recently about Oswald’s common use of pseudonyms when publishing tunes (a common enough thing in mid 18th century Scottish literary circles I understand). Perhaps we should simply add “Rory Dall” to the list of Oswald’s pseudonyms alongside “Rizzio” and “Dottel Figlio”.

Rory Dall Morison

I have long been interested in the music of Rory Dall O’Kane, the early 17th century harper-composer from Norther Ireland who lived and worked in Scotland, composing tunes for the Perthshire and Central Scottish gentry and nobility in the 1620s and 1630s. I included a number of his tunes on my CD including Port Atholl, Port Gordon, Da Mihi Manum and Lude’s Supper.

However I have long felt that I should also be interested in the music of Rory Dall Morison, the late 17th century harper and poet to Iain Breac MacLeod at Dunvegan Castle on Skye in the 1680s. Unfortunately, the harp tunes often ascribed to him (such as Rory Dall’s Sister’s Lament, or the Fiddler’s Contempt) appear in manuscripts written before his birth (in 1656), and so it seems that the ‘Rory Dall’ tunes all belong to O’Kane.

What Morison did do without a doubt was compose songs, and perform them with harp accompaniment. William Matheson’s book The Blind Harper is a great edition and translation of these songs.

I have just found on Tobar an Dualchais, a lovely field recording from 1953, of Calum Johnston singing Rory Dall Morison’s song to Iain Breac. Rory Dall laments that Iain is away down South, and that he misses him greatly – it has almost romantic overtones, with Rory pining for Iain like a lover. You can listen to this performance here: http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/fullrecord/7364/1

I’m hoping to work up a version of this. Maybe down the line I will post a Youtube of it…