The O’Carolan composition considered the likely “ancestor” of the music is a piece called “Bumper Squire Jones” which honours the named gentleman as one of the composer’s patrons. This was composed by O’Carolan in 1723. The theory is that subsequently the tune of Squire Jones found its way to London where it was used by John Stafford Smith who added his own words to make a drinking song called “Anacreon in Heaven”. This was done at the behest of a gentleman’s club in London, which was dedicated to “wit, harmony and the god of wine”.Share
This song was apparently a “big hit” in certain circles during the late 18th and early 19th century before it traveled across the Atlantic; where it was modified and used by Francis Scott Key as music for his composition commemorating the Battle of Fort MacHenry in September 1814. In this battle the occupying British Navy was defeated by the embryonic American Navy.
From there the song became first a patriotic song throughout the United States, until it was eventually declared the National Anthem in 1931, two years after the fact that the nation had no official anthem was brought to the attention of millions of Americans by the popular 'Ripley's Believe it or Not’ radio programme.
Who was Turlough O’Carolan?
The so-called “Last of the Irish Bards” was born near the oddly named village of Nobber in County Meath in 1678, where he lived the first 18 years of his life. His father was a small farmer and blacksmith. Turlough’s earliest works (musical and poetic) were dedicated to his first love, Bridget Cruise who lived nearby. In all he composed four pieces in this young lady’s honour.
At about this time, two significant events occurred in the young man’s life.
For some unrecorded and unknown reason, the entire O’Carolan family moved from Meath to the North Roscommon/Leitrim area west of the River Shannon where John Carolan was hired as blacksmith by the MacDermott Roe family of Alderford, near the village of Ballyfarnon. No doubt, the pain of his departure from his beloved Bridget inspired young Turlough's artistic heart to compose some his earliest pieces that still bear her name.
The second watershed event which occurred around this time was when Turlough was struck by the dreaded disease, smallpox, for which there was then no known cure. Resulting from this, Turlough O’Carolan would spend the rest of his life sightless. (Read more.)