One of the best-loved melodies ever written was discovered in Limavady in 1851, when Jane Ross, a local song-collector, heard it being played by a blind fiddler. She did not name him, but he is widely believed to have been a local man, Jimmy McCurry of Myroe, who died penniless in the Limavady Workhouse about sixty years later. Her discovery was published four years later by George Petrie in his Ancient Music of Ireland, and Petrie named it the Londonderry Air, after the county, not the town. The exact origin of the tune is a matter of controversy, and the name of the composer will remain a mystery, but it is chiefly known today as the song Danny Boy. This was written by Fred Weatherly, an Englishman who may never have been to Ireland, yet it has become perhaps the most famous of Irish songs, and also an unofficial anthem for Northern Ireland.
Jimmy Kennedy, who was brought up in Portstewart, was one of the leading popular songwriters of the twentieth century, his best known songs including “Teddy bears’ picnic” and “The hokey cokey”. One of his most popular songs “Red sails in the sunset” was inspired by yachts sailing at Portstewart. Every year, the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors presents a special award in his memory. He enjoyed considerable success in America. In 1939, two of his songs -“South of the border”, and “My prayer”, were at number one and two in the American charts. He was inducted posthumously into the American Songwriters Hall of Fame. His last work was the musical Spokesong, in 1980, on which he collaborated with Stewart Parker.
Sam Henry, a local historian, folklore expert and traditional fiddle player, collected folk songs and published over eight hundred of them between the wars in the Coleraine newspaper, the Northern Constitution. He was employed as a pensions officer, and would often collect his tunes by talking to old people he was visiting in his professional capacity. He also advertised for more songs in the newspaper, which gave prizes for published songs. He presented manuscripts to several libraries, but his collection was not published in its entirety until 1990, when its importance was finally recognised.
Denis O’ Hampsey, who was born at Craigmore, near Garvagh, in 1695, was one of the last of the great harpers of Ireland. In 1792, he took part in the Belfast Harpers’ Festival. Like most of the musicians, he was blind, there being a tradition that blind boys should be taught the harp, as their only way of making a living. He was the oldest harper present, and the only one to perform in the old style with long, crooked fingernails. Almost fifty years earlier, he had played before Bonnie Prince Charlie. He was known as the Harper of Magilligan, where he had settled in his old age. He also taught the organist of St Anne’s Parish Church in Belfast, Edward Bunting, who went on to be the greatest collector of Irish traditional airs.
Up to the present time, traditional music is very popular in this area. John Rea of Glenarm (1822-1983), was one of the leading traditional dulcimer players. Dick Glasgow, who runs the Jim McGill School of Traditional Music, played seven instruments on his recording “From a northern shore: traditional music from the Causeway Coast”.
This area has proved inspirational for some composers. Charles Villiers Stanford wrote a song-cycle, “Cushendall” and also a song “The fairy lough”, inspired by a Moira O’Neill poem, about Loughareema. Hamilton Harty, during a visit to Portballintrae, found inspiration for his tone-poem “The children of Lir”.
“The Rinka” was a famous dance hall and social centre situated on Islandmagee and hosted many dances. A few years ago it was turned into a shop.