Introduction to Mr. O'Farrell 
by Brian McCandless

The historical record is replete with the works of men about whom we know very little. Such is the case of Mr. O'Farrell, performer of Union pipes and collector of National Irish Music. So little is known about him that we have neither his Christian name or birthplace, nor the dates of his birth or death. And yet from his legacy of the first tutor for Union pipes and a collection of more than 400 tunes for the Union pipes, we surmise that he was a most accomplished player of the Union pipes. The scant facts we can ascertain about Mr. O'Farrell therefore must be gleaned from his collections, from references to his stage performances and from the societal and musical context of his place and period. This essay briefly presents the evidence, in the hope of conveying a sense of Mr. O'Farrell and the significance of his contribution to Irish piping. 

An important concept for the analysis of traditional music is that it develops over time and is thus highly contextual; traditional music is colloquial and connotative in nature. A tune's name may have once corresponded to a popular song for which words are now lacking but which, in its day, invoked a complete set of imagery and messages for the performers and audience. In Ireland, traditional music had customarily been transmitted orally, with regionally based style and repertoire; its performers include singers, fiddlers, pipers, and so on. At the end of the European renaissance and the dawn of the industrial revolution, a shift occurred in the attitude towards music and literature: it began to be written down instead of orally transmitted. A greater emphasis and priority was placed on collecting and selling tunes, in the form of fakebooks, pocket companions, etc. for the rising class of part-time musicians and arm-chair scholars. The new tradition, of combining the playing of Irish pipes with publishing a tutor and tune collection began with John Geoghegan in 1746 and was carried on by Mr. O'Farrell, and has subsequently been replicated to the present day.

The Man

The search for Mr. O'Farrell is incomplete. Farrell is among the forty most common names in Ireland, and found in every county, although two-thirds are in Leinster alone. The O'Farrell's were the Princes of Annaly, now in County Longford, of which they were for many centuries the ruling clan. Annaly took its name from Angall, whose great-grandson was Feargal, meaning 'man of valor'. Farrell is one of the names influenced by the Irish Gaelic revival, for while those using the O' prefix were outnumbered 15 to 1 in the 18th and 19th centuries, it is now closer to 3 to 1. Long ago, the O'Farrells divided into two branches, the heads of which were known respectively as O'Farrell Boy (O Fearghail Buí), the yellow O'Farrell, and O'Farrell Bane (O Fearghail Bán), the fair O'Farrell. They maintained their clan independence down to 1565, when Annaly was reduced to shire ground; in spite of the plantation schemes under James I in the 17th century, they distinguished themselves in service in the Irish Brigades in France. Other families with the Farrell name were seated in Tyrone and Wicklow. 

Tradition holds that Mr. O'Farrell was from Clonmel, in county Tipperary, the source of the river Suir. This is on the border with county Waterford, lying 50 miles to the southwest of Wicklow. In the early part of the 1900's, Seamus O Casaide conducted an unsuccessful search for proof of O'Farrell's birthplace in the census records for Clonmel. In O'Farrell's Pocket Companion, tunes with names from this region abound, and an accounting of tune titles with place names shows that 9 refer to county Waterford, 5 to county Tipperary, 5 to county Limerick, 4 to county Kerry, 3 to Ulster, and a couple each refer to places in Wicklow, Kilkenny, Mayo and Kildare. Taken with the inclusion of tunes with the titles "The Munster Piper" and "The Munster Rake", this suggests that Mr. O'Farrell's repertoire was largely drawn from the geographical region known as Munster, or the Leinster ridge, and assuming that he published material familiar to him and from his personal repertoire, then we might find support for the proposal that he hailed from Clonmel or nearby. 

Mr. O'Farrell's Christian name may have begun with a 'P'. The copy of O'Farrell's Collection of National Irish Music for the Union Pipes (1804) residing in The British Library bears an old hand-written inscription on the cover, 'P', beside his surname. The cover of the collection bears other clues. The collection was published in London and could be had at "Mr. Gow's 31 Carnaby Street, Golden Square & Mr. O'Farrel's 65 Swallow Street, where Gentlemen may Likewise be accomodated with Real Toned Irish Pipes." Mr. O'Farrell's name in this instance was spelled differently from the title, differing by the ending of his name. A similar copy was received into the National Library of Ireland in 1911 but it has no indication as to his first name. On both copies, the center of the cover shows him in a seated position playing a bellows bagpipe, with the caption "O Farrell playing on the Union Pipes in the Favorite Pantomime of Oscar and Malvina". The date for O'Farrell's Collection is substantiated by the entry in the London Stationers' Hall Registers as July 5, 1804. 

Also, the publisher was known to have been at 31 Carnaby Street for the years 1803 to 1815. Mr. O'Farrell also produced four volumes of a Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes, which were also published in London, but by Goulding and Company in Soho. The dates for the different volumes of the Pocket Companion are uncertain, and are suggested by various scholars as follows: Vol 1 (1805), Vol 2 (1806), Vol 3 (1808), and Vol 4 (1810).

The Music

The significance of O'Farrell's works is demonstrated not only by the sheer number of tunes and the diversity of music contained within it, but that the collection and tutor were ardently sought after by O'Neill and jealously guarded by the Gweedore piper Turlough McSweeney, who had claimed to be taught by fairies. Furthermore, the repertoire of many Irish pipers of the 20th century has drawn on tunes contained in O'Farrell's, and Leo Rowsome based his authoritative and popular tutor for uilleann pipes (1936) on O'Farrell's model. Francis O'Neill, in "Irish Folk Music, A Fascinating Hobby" (1910), wrote that O'Farrell was a pioneer in publishing music suitable for the Irish pipes and is distinguished for having written the only "competent instructions" ever printed for the Irish pipes. O'Farrell's tutor followed the pattern laid out by John Geoghegan in London in 1746 for the pastoral or new bagpipe; the introductory remarks follow a similar layout and in each case conveys the desire to appeal to a similar audience: 

"The bagpipe being at this time brought to such perfection as now it renders it able to perform the same number of notes with the flute or hautboy, I thought it might be acceptable to the curious to set forth this small treatise...[which] will not be unacceptable to the professors of this ancient pastoral music..." 

"Being an instrument now so much improved as renders it able to play any kind of music, and with the additional accompaniments which belong to it produce a variety of pleasing harmony which forms as it were a little band in itself. Gentlemen often expressing a desire to learn the pipes have been prevented by not meeting with a proper Book instructions, which has induced the author to write the following treatise, which it is presumed with the favorite collection of tunes added thereto will be acceptable to the lovers of ancient and pastoral music." 

There are 407 tunes, including a few duplicates between the tutor and the companion collections. In the 4 volumes of the companion, O'Farrell kindly identified the national origin of some of these, listing 92 as Scotch (23%) and 216 as Irish (53%), with the remaining unidentified. The makeup of the repertoire for the collections reflects O'Farrell's experiences: probably born and raised in Munster or Leinster, made his way north, then over to Scotland, and finishing up in London as a performer and publisher. Alternatively, he could have simply emigrated from Ireland to London directly and been responsive to the wide popularity of Scots airs. The problem with the latter theory is that many of the particular Scottish tunes he published are unique to his collection - more analysis is needed. Many of the unidentified tunes appear to be of English and Irish origin or were otherwise commonly recognized tunes.

Certain tunes which entered into O'Farrell's collections were taken from the overture to the pantomime of Oscar and Malvina, for which Mr. O'Farrell was a union pipe performer on the stage at Covent Garden, in London at about 1800. The cover of his National Irish Music collection depicts Mr. O'Farrell performing on his union pipes. Interestingly, the overture score, composed by William Reeve in 1796, specifically indicates tunes for the union pipes and for the harp; this was the earliest musical score to employ the union pipes. The fashion of including bagpipes in London stage productions began with John Gay's ballad opera "The Beggar's Opera" in 1727. There is much to say on this topic, and we shall leave that until another time. 

In a work from 1795, it is asserted that O'Farrell was performing pipes by the early 1770's. Other evidence has him performing in Edinburgh as late as 1832. Using the 1770 date with an age of 20 years old, this would give a birth date of 1750, would have made him 50 years old for an 1800 performance of Oscar and Malvina, and his last volume of the Pocket Companion would have been published when he was 60 years old. By 1832 he would have been 82 years old. We know that he maintained a home in London in 1804 from which he sold music and bagpipes. More research is needed to solve the mystery of the man who disappeared from society, but not without a trace, giving us our earliest glimpse into Irish piping.