Feola & fuíoll
If the spelling 'feola' derives from an old written source, its spelling may not be quite perfect for
modern purposes. The letter E here might have represented for an English-speaking scribe a
different sound than it would have represented for a Gaelic-speaking scribe. For example, one
can contrast the English spellings and sounds of the names 'Veola' and 'Violet'. Since all
instruments in ensembles tuned to the top string of the viol, which took the same note, D, that
Bunting gives for the 'string of melody', it is just possible that this string was called 'téad na
bhíola' (string of the viol) and that the note was an alternative to the fiddle G also used for
If the spelling derives from an oral source, it is perhaps pertinent to note that the RP English
vowel [i:], as spoken in Ireland during Bunting's time, was sometimes conflated with [e:] (in the
words 'meat' and 'beat', for example). The letter O itself might be an error for the letter A.
If the root of this word were to be 'faíd' (cry/lament), modern 'faodh/faoí' (voice/sound) then
feola may represent the word 'fuíghle' (word) which might be the genitive or plural of the
feminine word 'fuígheall' which O' Clery's glossary gives as meaning 'briathar' (word) . As
'fuígheall' could derive from the word 'faíd' (cry), it may well be that a secondary meaning for
'fuígheall' was once 'melody' which, like speech, is a product of the voice.
The Greek word for a musical mode is 'ήχος' (voice), and Gregorian first mode is founded on
the very note D of téad na feola in Bunting's system tuned up from G, the lowest note of the
Latin gamut. The note D would symbolise the beginning of melody. It is difficult to believe that
harpers of the medieval period, particularly clerics, would not know the pitches of the four mode
Under this hypothesis, 'téad na feola' might represent 'téad na fuíghle' (string of melody) or
'téad na bhfuíghle' (string of the modes).
If the letter F in the string name were to be a mistake for a letter S, the word 'séol' springs to
mind. This word can mean direction or guidance. ’Τéada séolach' would mean 'guiding strings'
and Bunting translates the string as 'string of the leading sinews' on pp21-22 of the 1840
Introduction. The word however also means ’way’, as does the Greek word 'τρόπος' and the
latin word 'modus'. In ancient times, 'séol' even referred to a strain of melody so 'téd na séola'
may have meant 'string of the modes' or perhaps even 'string of melody'.