Station Road, Mohill, Leitrim, Ireland
The choice was simple. Give in to darkness and fear, or embrace it…and somehow find within it light and hope. Turlough O’Carolan chose the latter. He was just 18-years old when, in 1788, smallpox robbed him of his sight. A big problem. Perhaps mostly because being blind in the eighteenth century made it hard, near impossible, to earn a living. And sadly for Turlough, he needed the money. His family had a small farm on the Roscommon-Leitrim border. Theirs was a hard life, and farming was hard work…hard work that didn’t pay well. But Turlough had an idea. He didn’t need to see to play music. So he applied himself, and he studied the harp. Turlough had found his calling. And after three years of hard, intense work and practice, he was ready. He set off, carrying his harp on the back of his horse, and made his living as a wandering musician. At first, he travelled from village to village, town to town. But word soon spread about the Blind Harpist and his beautiful playing – Turlough found himself invited to the homes and mansions of the great and good and wealthy. Every time he received an invitation, he composed a tune in honour of his host. In these tunes, he mixed elements of folk, classical and Baroque music – and the 214 that survived are still played and recorded by musicians and artists to this day. By the time Turlough died at the age of 68 in 1738, he was famous. Most importantly, he was respected. He hadn’t just made a living through music, he’d made art that’s still enjoyed three hundred years later.