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Rory Dall O'Cahan

Chieftain and Harper

Rory Dall O'Cahan or Blind Rory, was descended from the ruling O'Cahan clan and lived sometime between 1560 and 1660, was the composer of some of the most beautiful airs which ever sounded on a harp. His works included the enchanting melody to which the lyrics "Danny Boy" were to be added but these were not composed until the 20 th century.

The main source of information on the life of Rory Dall comes from the Memoirs of Arthur O'Neill, one of Irelands leading Harpest. O'Neill makes no statement as to Rory Dall's date of birth, but it must have been in the second half of the 16th century for one of his tunes, Rory Dall's Port, appears in the straloch Manuscript (1627 - 1629).

One Greater than a King of England

James VI of Scotland sent for Rory Dall, and it was said that the king laid his hand on the shoulder of the Harpest. One of the king's courtiers remarked upon the honour conferred on him, but Rory observed that a greater man that King James VI had placed a hand on his shoulder. When the King heard this he was upset and asked O'Cahan to name the person. "the O'Cahan" retorts Rory Dall. Some accounts state "the O'Neill".

Rory Dall travelled extensively in Scotland and William Matheson in 'The Blind Harper' (1970) tells us that he was "well known and caressed by ,the Highland gentry whose houses he frequented". Rory Dall composed numerous airs in honour of the noble families who entertained him. He was particularly celebrated for his purths (Irish, poirt) or harp tunes, which included "Port Atholl", "Port Lennox" and "Rory Dall's Port"

The Death of Rory Dall

According to the writings of Arthur O'Neill, Rory Dall O'Cahan died in a nobleman's house on the island of Skye, where he left his famous harp and tuning key. This source goes on to state that another Harper, Echlin O'Kane, went to scotland around to 1770 to retrieve the items of Rory Dall. The story goes that this O'Kane visited the home of Lord Alexander MacDonald of Sleat, and performances so well that Lord MacDonald presented him with the silver harp-key that had been left by the great O'Cahan Harpest.

The works of Rory Dall O'Cahan include:

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