The tune “Tabhair Dom Do Lamh” is often played at Irish weddings — the Irish title is pronounced “Tour Dum Dah Lahw (or Lahv)” in Irish, and most often translated as “Please, Give Me Your Hand.” The tune is by the Irish harpist (and pipe player) Ruairi Dall Ó Cathain (c.1570-c.1653), whose name is variously written, but would today simply be transcribed as Rory O’Kane or even Roger O’Kane – the word “dall” is an adjective meaning “blind” in Irish. He is also referred to simply as “Rory Dall,” but that is unfortunate since there was later another harper called Rory Dall, but from Scotland. Now, some people have asserted that they are the same, and that Ruairi Dall O’Catháin later came to be known as Ruairi Dall MacMhuirich (Ruairi Dall Morrison), a suggestion which thereby clouds the authorship and nationality of the composer of “Tabhair Dom Do Lamh” and the rest. In the past when less information was available (or very hard to come by), such a claim was just speculative. Today, when the information is much more readily available, any such speculation is just poor scholarship. The former blind harpist is Irish and has left us a dozen or so tunes. The latter blind harpist is Scottish and has left us a total of zero tunes. Moreover, if they were the same, then Ruairi Dall O’Catháin died when nearing 145 years old. An amazing feat, even for an Irishman.
There are a number of arguments suggesting that Ruairi Dall Ó Cathain is actually the composer of what is today called either “Londonderry Air” or “Derry Air” (no snickers please)! I am less sanguine. Ruairi Dall Ó Cathain is probably the best known bard after Turlough Ó Carolan (1670-1738). He is originally from Ulster. The Catháins (or Cahans) were a powerful and noble clan in parts of Antrim and Derry, the lands then called the or Catháin country — and FYI the use of the preceding “Ó” is dropped when using the surname alone (Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin, A Short History of Irish Traditional Music). He immigrated to Scotland, and gained great popularity throughout the isles. Ruairi Dall Ó Catháin is said to also have been a much respected musician by the Highland gentry, and the family were loyal pledges to Hugh O’Neill. “Tabhair Dom Do Lamh” is dated in the Edward Bunting collection (1840) to c. 1603. An account of the event precipitating the writing of this tune is given in Chapter 4 of The Memoirs of Arthur O’Neill — and in Captain Francis O’Neill’s Irish Minstrels and Musicians (1913), and then reprinted in Donal O’Sullivan’s Carolan: The Life, Times and Music of an Irish Harper (London: Ossian, 2001), pp. 321-23. Here’s a short version of the account:Proud and spirited, [Ruairi] resented anything in the nature of trespass on his dignity. Among his visits to the houses of Scottish nobility, he is said to have called at Eglinton Castle, Ayrshire. Knowing he was a harper, but being unaware of his rank, Lady Eglinton commanded him to play a tune. Taking offence at her peremptory manner, Ó Catháin refused and left the castle. When she found out who her guest was her ladyship sought and effected a speedy reconciliation. This incident furnished a theme for one of the harper’s best compositions. “Tabhair Damh do Lámh,” or “Give Me Your Hand!” The name has been Latinized into “Da Mihi Manum.” The fame of the composition and the occasion which gave birth to it reaching the ear of King James the Sixth [James the First of Scotland], induced him to send for the composer. Ó Catháin accordingly attended at the Scottish court, and created a sensation. (From Captain Francis O’Neill, Irish Minstrels and Musicians (Chicago: Regan Printing House, 1913), ch 5. The story from Arthur O’Neill is also repeated in W. H. Grattan Flood’s A History Irish Music (1905)).
Continuing the story related above concerning James I/IV, it is said that Ruairi Dall Ó Catháin’s playing greatly pleased King James and his retinue, so much so that the king at one point laid his royal hand on the harper’s shoulder. When asked by one of the courtiers whether he realized the honor that had thus been conferred upon him, Ruairi replied, much to the consternation of the entire court, “A greater than King James has laid his hand on my shoulder.” “Who was that man?” cried the King. “O’Neill, Sire,” he proudly answered as he stood up. This well-known account, related again by Francis O’Neill (1913), gives some idea of the lasting loyalty the family retained and of feudal obligation in general at the time.
There are a dozen or so tunes that we can reliably attribute to Ruairi Dall Ó Cathain. Four of the nine tunes at the end of Bruce Armstrong’s The Irish and The Highland Harp (1904) are attributed simply to “Rorie Dall.” They are “Tabhair Dom Do Lamh,” “Lude’s Supper,” “The Terror of Death,” “The Fiddler’s Content,” and “Rorie Dall’s Sister’s Lament.” Other compositions of his from other sources include “Port Athol,” “Port Gordon,” “Port Lennox,” “Rory Dall’s Port,” “Fáilte Beag,” “The Lame Yellow Beggar,” “The Duke’s Port,” and “Port Robart.”
After spending many years with the McLeods of Dunvegan, on the Isle of Skye, Ruairi Dall Ó Cathain died at Eglinton Castle around the year 1653 – the very location of the event precipitating his composition of “Tabhair Dom Do Lamh.” We have no documentation on why he made the trip or whether he knew he was ill . . . but we can speculate.
For the ABC click Tabhair Dom Do Lámh
Tabhair Dom Do Lamh, slow tempo (Turlach Boylan, whistle)
Tabhair Dom Do Lamh, med tempo
Tabhair Dom Do Lamh, the dots