Rory Dall's Port
The blind Scottish harper Rory Dall (Roderick Morison) lived from about 1656 until about 1714 and was 'Gaelic Scotland’s last minstrel', versatile in poetry and music.
He 'was born a gentleman' and lived much of his life at Dunvegan, in Skye, where he was harper and bard to John Breac, Laird of MacLeod. John Breac also had a piper and a ‘fool’ or jester.
Rory Dall (dall means blind) wrote Gaelic songs on a variety of topics - laments, Jacobite songs, praise songs and a humorous song of 240 lines called ‘Harp-Key Fair’. A 'port' in Gaelic is an air or tune, either vocal or instrumental. 'Port a bheil' means 'mouth tune'.
The first strain of ‘Rory Dall’s Port’ was used by Robert Burns, in the collection 'Scots Musical Museum' published by Johnson in 1792, for his lyric ‘Ae Fond Kiss’. But later another tune replaced Rory Dall’s for that song.
The Scottish harp
Hundreds of years ago, the harp was the important instrument played in the Scottish Highlands. Eventually its place in society was taken by the bagpipes. Many tunes we now think of as pipe or fiddle tunes are thought to have begun as harp tunes.
The harp fell out of use in Scotland until about 100 years ago, when there was a revival of interest in the small Scottish harp called the clarsach. Now many kinds of harps are played in a variety of styles at the annual Edinburgh Harp Festival and many young people learn to play the instrument.
It is hard to be certain who composed some tunes.
Francis Collinson, in 'The Traditional and National Music of Scotland', points to the 'strong possibility' that this port and other tunes ascribed to Scot Rory Dall 'all emanate from the same hand, that of the Irish (harpist) Rory Dall O'Cathain', who had lived 70 years earlier than Roderick Morison and had visited and performed in Scotland. However, these tunes were adopted as Scottish, hence their use by Burns.
Listen to 'Rory Dall's Port' played on the harp by Heather Yule.
Recorded for Learning and Teaching Scotland for Scotland’s Songs.