Turlough (or Terence) O’Carolan was born in 1670 near Nobber (An Obair), County Meath. Turlough’s father, John O’Carolan, was a metal worker who moved to an iron-works in Carrick-on-Shannon. He set up the family home in Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon. The local Catholic gentry were the MacDermott Roe family who lived at Alderford House, and who also ran an iron-works. John O’Carolan started working there and Mrs. MacDermott Roe took an interest in the welfare of young Turlough, ensuring that he received a good education.

After a few years, when he was just eighteen, tragedy struck. Turlough contracted smallpox and although he recovered, he was left totally blind.
Clearly he would have no opportunity of learning a trade to support himself into adulthood, and it was the ever-beneficent Mrs. MacDermott Roe who arranged for Turlough to be taught to play the harp.

17th Century Ireland had a long tradition of itinerant musicians who travelled between families of varying degrees of aristocracy, Catholic and Protestant alike, earning a living by composing tunes and poems for these patrons. These travelling bards were accorded high status, and good musicians could enjoy a tolerably good standard of living. Turlough was 21 when he was deemed ready to follow this calling, and with a harp, horse and guide provided by the MacDermott Roe family, he set out to adopt the life of an itinerant harper.

After an indifferent start, and by all accounts, failing to impress as a performer of the melodies of those that had gone before him, Turlough was encouraged to try his hand at composition. His first effort was reputedly, Sídh Beag agus Sídh Mór; a song about a conflict between two fairy peoples, and one of his most enduring airs. His success continued unabated as he encompassed traditional Irish music with other musical influences of his day – most notably the Italian movement of Vivaldi, Corelli and Germiniani.

The latter can be heard most markedly in pieces such as Carolan’s Concerto. Although he rarely travelled beyond the provinces of Connacht and Ulster his fame led him to be lauded by such literary giants of his day as Oliver Goldsmith and Jonathan Swift.

O’Carolan married Mary Maguire and settled to live on a small farm near Mohill, County Leitrim. Here they raised six children of whom very little is known and from where Turlough continued to travel and ply his trade as an itinerant harper. Mary died in 1733. Five years later, Turlough himself fell seriously ill and sensing that the end was near, it was to Alderford House that he chose to return to the care of Mrs. MacDermott Roe. He died on the 25th March 1738 and was waked for four days by countless multitudes that came to pay their last respects. Such was his reputation, that upwards of sixty clergy attended his funeral service, and he was laid to rest in the family vault of the MacDermott Roe family in Kilronan church yard near the village of Keadue, County Roscommon.