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Classical Album of the Week: Ronn McFarlane's The Celtic Lute, Traditional Irish Tunes

March 11, 2019. With Saint Patrick’s Day right around the corner, our Classical Album of the Week, The Celtic Lute, brings us traditional Irish music through the delicate sounds of the lute, played by Ronn McFarlane.

A well-known performer in the early-music scene, Grammy-nominated Ronn McFarlane has 35 albums to his credit, in repertoire ranging from the Elizabethan era to contemporary music. In this new album, McFarlane wanted to return to his ancestral roots by making arrangements for solo lute of some of his favorite Irish and Scottish tunes that, he says, never quite made it into the historical lute repertory.

The music of Turlough O’Carolan is generously represented in the album. O’Carolan, considered by many the national composer of Ireland, was a blind Celtic harpist who lived around the same time as J.S. Bach. He traveled throughout Ireland, writing what he called "planxties", songs written as tribute to the hosts who offered him hospitality. McFarlane says that the harp music of O’Carolan “fits the lute amazingly well.”


McFarlane also brings us arrangements of tunes compiled by Francis O’Neill, who was born in County Cork and emigrated to the U.S., eventually becoming a Chicago police captain. O’Neill published thousands of Irish dance tunes and songs in the 1900s; tunes from O’Neill’s compilations such as “Banish Misfortune” and “Cliffs of Moher” form a lively part of the album.

Traditional Scottish songs with bold, striking melodies, such as “The Battle of Harlow,” and “The Flowers of Edinburgh” offer an interesting juxtaposition to the Irish tunes, and reveal the similarities and differences between Irish and Scottish traditional music.


Throughout the album, the gentle sound of McFarlane’s lute compels us to listen to traditional Celtic music in a new way.

Debra's last day on the air at WRTI was September 21st, 2021. She's now the radio host for The Metropolitan Opera. Read more here.