Turlough Carolan was born in 1670 in Nobber, co. Westmeath, Ireland. He was taken under the patronage of Mrs. MacDermott Roe of Alderford to be educated. However at the age of 18 he was blinded by smallpox, and so his patron stopped his education and instead had him sent to be trained as a harper for three years. Upon his finishing his musical training at the age of 21 she provided him with a horse, a guide and some money, to start him on his career as an itinerant harper.
Carolan built a succesful career as a harper, winning many patrons both Irish and English, Protestant and Catholic. He himself was Catholic and composed music for the church. (the early Irish harp was often used to provide church music). however only one of his sacred pieces is known to have survived, "The Elevation".
Carolan married Mary Maguire from Fermanagh; they had six daughters and one son. Mary died in 1733 and Turlough died in Alderford in 1738.
Carolan is known today for instrumental music, but most of the tunes attributed to him do or did have words. Many of his tunes are actually older tunes, which he re-set for his songs. He also composed variations on some older tunes, an example being his variations on the Scottish Jacobite song "Cock up your Beaver". [you can't make this stuff up!]
Carolan's music is notable for combining different influences. As an Irish harper in the 18th century he had been trained in the old Gaelic bardic tradition of harp playing and composing. He also is said to have had a fascination with the latest Italian music that was the height of fashion in Dublin. And there is an element of folk-song in his music as the old Gaelic order, which maintained harpers and poets as high-status artists, was collapsing, and like the other 18th century harpers he had to find work where he could.
Carolan composed instrumental music as well as songs for his patrons. He is said to have composed "Carolan's Concerto" when staying with an Italian composer at the house of an Irish nobleman. But its other title, "Mrs Poer" suggests that it may just have been composed for a patron, Elizabeth Power (nee Keating) of Coorheen.