Speed The Plough

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Speed The Plough is generally thought to have been composed in 1800 by John Moorhead, who originally called it The Naval Pillar. An alternative opinion attributes the tune to Edward Light and gives a date of 1785 but some further research is required before redirecting the attribution from John Moorhead, primarily to check the notation and see if it is indeed the same piece of music.

The tune was used in Thomas Morton's sentimental play with a rural setting 'Speed The Plough' produced in London the same year and after that the tune was known by the title of the play. (Hugh Rippon).

Moorhead was born in Ireland around 1760 and at an early age emigrated to England, where he became a member of the orchestra in many country theatres. In 1798 he left Manchester to accept Dibdin's invitation of becoming a player and composer at Sadlers Wells. He then became a member of the orchestra at Covent Garden and began to compose for that company. The other famous composition of his which is still in use is 'The Muffin Man'.

From 1802 Moorhead suffered fits of insanity, and was jailed; following his release he entered the Navy but shortly afterwards, during another episode of insanity, hanged himself.

O'Neill's comment that he was born in Edinburgh and then moved to Armagh appears to be incorrect.

For much information as to sources for the tune see Andrew Kuntz's Fiddlers Companion.