Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann, the largest group worldwide devoted to the preservation and promotion of Irish traditional music, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
With hundreds of branches in 15 countries on 4 continents, the non-profit organization sponsors classes, concerts, and sessions in local communities. It also hosts a website, which accounts for its presence in RILM. A page on their site titled The music includes links to tracks from their CDs, recordings of sessions, and tracks from the Comhaltas Traditional Music Archive; video recordings of some of today’s foremost performers; selections from their own tune books, as well as other tunes from historical sources; a photograph archive; and Treoir, the Comhaltas journal.
Below, Emma O’Sullivan dances a reel at a Comhaltas event. Note that this is not the rigid-posture style popularized by shows like Riverdance, which is considered by many to be a more recent development; this style is known as sean-nós, which means “old style”.
Although he never mentioned it in his published writings, the collector and compiler of traditional Irish tunes Francis O’Neill (1848–1936) made wax cylinder recordings of some of his fellow musicians in Chicago, probably in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Once believed lost, 32 of these recordings were discovered in 2003 when David Dunn opened a suitcase that had belonged to his grandfather, who had been a friend of O’Neill. Dunn brought them to the Ward Irish Music Archives in Milwaukee, which contacted the American Folklife Center for help in digitizing them. Several recordings by the renowned uilleann pipe player Patrick J. “Patsy” Touhey (1865–1923) are included, along with performances by four other luminaries of the Chicago Irish music community.
The recordings now comprise the cornerstone of The Dunn Family Collection, an online exhibit hosted by the Ward Archives that also includes manuscripts, artifacts, photographs, and sheet music collected by the instrument maker and repairer Michael J. Dunn (1855–1935). Dunn was also a captain in the Milwaukee Fire Department, while O’Neill—when he was not pursuing his passion for Irish traditional music—served as Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.
Thanks to Patrick Hutchinson for alerting us about this collection! Patrick plays the uilleann pipes with Bento Boxty.