Scoil na gCláirseach

Lecturer, Scoil na gCláirseach

SeánA native of Dublin, Seán Donnelly was educated at Trinity College. Interested in music, he first learned to play the Highland pipes, and later took up the uilleann pipes in the 1970s. He met the late Breandán Breathnach when he joined Na Piobairí Uilleann, and Breandán encouraged his interest in the history of music and musical instruments in Ireland, publishing Seán's first articles in his own journal Ceol. Naturally Seán's first interest was in the history of bagpipes, and he has published articles on the early history of the pib mhor in Ireland, and especially on the history of piping in Ireland during the early to mid-eighteenth century, hitherto practically a blank. He remains particularly interested in the parallels and differences between the Irish piping tradition and that of countries such as Scotland and England. His interest expanded to take in the history of traditional music and dance in general from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, and he has written various articles on dancing, old songs and tunes, piping technique, as well as publishing transcriptions of old recordings of pipers.

His interest in the history of harping developed out of Seán's research in general, and he was especially intrigued by the reaction of outsiders to the Irish harp in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The enthusiasm for the instrument of the New England administrators and planters of the late sixteenth century and the early seventeenth, who were ideologically opposed to all other aspects of Gaelic society, was remarkable, to say the least. Seán's publications on the subject include a brief survey of the Irish harp in England between 1590 and 1690, a study of the career of Daniel Duff O'Cahill, harper to Anne of Denmark, wife of James I, and later to Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, who died one of the richest harpers ever in the late 1650s. Forthcoming are articles on an Irish harper who served Sir John Perrot, lord deputy of Ireland, 1548-88, and later the celebrated Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex, Queen Elizabeth's last favourite; on "Mr Murphy, the famousest man in the world for the Irish harp", who was active from at least 1712 to the early 1750s; and on the legends attached to the Trinity College (Brian Boru) Harp.