Planxty

I have long pondered the origin of the term “planxty” and wondered where the group of that name found it.  I was under the impression for a long time that a planxty was a song written for a patron or a praise song, but that did not tell me anything about the etymology of the word.

Wikipedia say that it is:

a word used by the classic harper Turlough O’Carolan in many of his works, and is believed to denote a tribute to a particular person: “Planxty Irwin”, for example, would be in honor of Colonel John Irwin of Sligo. “Planxty” is thought to be a corruption of the Irish word and popular toastsláinte“, meaning “good health”. Others claim that the word is not Irish in origin but comes from the Latin “plangere,” meaning to strike or beat. Alternatively, its origin may stem from the Irish phrase “phlean an tí” meaning “from the house of”. During the penal law era of Ireland’s history, songs sung in Irish were outlawed, and it is believed that the use of the phrase “Planxty”, followed by the name of the composer, was to disguise the composer’s true identity (“Planxty” being logically assumed to be the first name of the composer), while still giving them credit for the song. Another possible explanation is that it is derived from the Latin Planctus, a medieval lament. Regardless of its origin, the monniker, which replaced the provisional “CLAD” (Christy – Liam – Andy – Dónal), turned out to be a good fit, as O’Carolan’s music would play an important part in the band’s repertoire. (see “Influences”, below)

I found this on line and found it really interesting.

The Planxty Story
Most of you will have heard of the commoner forms of tunes such as the Reel, Jig or Hornpipe. Let’s not forget the Slip-jig, Slide, Highland, Air, March, Barndance or Mazurka and of course these sets of tunes must be broken up with the occasional Song. There is one other type of tune that does sometimes make its way into Irish Music Sessions and that is the Planxty – great name!

Where did this word come from and what exactly does it mean?
The most common assumed meaning for this word is that the piece of music was written as a tribute to a person and their name is usually attached e.g. “Planxty Irwin”. But there is a lack of historical evidence to support that theory, even though it may well now be the accepted version by virtue of common usage. Certainly travelling musicians did write songs for their patrons in return for favours granted.
In the “Collection of the Most Celebrated Irish Tunes” (Dublin 1724) the word “Planksty” appears twice. The Neales also published an earlier book, of which only one copy remains, apparently lacking a title page and some other pages. The part that remains contains 23 tunes, all by Carolan, only one of which is called a Planxty, “Plansty Bourk”. The Neales’ 1724 book has two, “Planksty Plunket” and just “Planxty”.

Early Carolan Collections
Around 1780 another Carolan collection was published (John Lee) containing 68 tunes of which only three are titled “planxties” – Bourk, Connor and just plain ‘Planxsty by Carolan’. In subsequent collections many of the tunes from the prior collections were renamed with Planxty in the title.
Despite the early mention of the word Planxty in at least one title it has been suggested that the only time Carolan ever used the word, was in the second chorus of the words to his song ‘George Brabazon’:
“Him, Jam!
Planxty, merriment
Sing, dance, drink his health about!”

The words to this song were otherwise mostly in Irish and the context could just as easily suggest that the word means ‘craic’. Many other derivations have been proposed from Latin and other sources, but none can be proven. Amongst these is the Gaelic word “Plearaca”, which is normally translated to “Humours” and defining that is another day’s work. But if that were the origin it would bring the meaning closer to ‘merriment’ than ‘tribute’.
In Gaelic the word is written as Plancstai but this gives no clue as to the origin as this is nothing more than a modification to fit with Irish writing that does not allow for ‘y’ or’x’. The Shorter English Oxford dictionary gives ‘Planxty’ the date 1790 and says it is of unknown origin. It is defined as ‘a harp tune of a sportive or animated character’. This fits well with the merry connotations above. But they also say that it moves ‘in triplets’ which is hardly born out by most of the tunes that have the Planxty tag.

To further confuse matters there is a tune that goes by many names, which include ‘Miss Brown’s Fancy’ and ‘Planxty Maggie Brown’. I suppose this could depend on how well you knew her as to which name you would use. Anyway it is not even certain that Carolan wrote this particular tune though it gets included in many of his collections of tunes.
The unanswered question remains as to why later publishers of Carolan music started to add the word Planxty to ever increasing numbers of his tunes. It might even be that Carolan made up the word for a bit of fun in which case he’s probably laughing in his grave now at all this analysis

I just thought you should know this.  One never knows when it will come in handy on quiz night.

This has led me to ponder the word humours as applied to Irish tunes.   No clues as yet, though I suspect it may be in reference to some cheerful mood music or even perhaps to songs with humorous verse originally.   I will pursue the matter.

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About Alan

Settling into my 7th decade and still determined not to grow up too soon.
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