Tag Archives: Ireland

May Day and mayhem

On this first day of May, let’s look at a vivid depiction of Dublin May Day customs from a ballad that was first published in 1843, though it was already flourishing at least 60 years earlier.

De May Bush takes place amid a longstanding feud between the Liberty and Ormond factions—weavers and butchers, respectively—and revolves around the tradition of selecting, cutting, and guarding a handsome May Bush throughout the night before May Day. The vigil involved much revelry and drinking, and on this particular occasion the butchers fell asleep and the weavers stole their May Bush. The butchers’ leader exacted revenge in the form of driving a bull into the heart of the weavers’ turf to wreak havoc and create mayhem.

Like the song itself, the action depicted is a performance genre; the theft of the bush resembles the recurrent motif of the abduction of a bride. The butchers and the weavers were just as capable of manipulating multivalent social language as they were of ribald, full-bodied expression in song—complementary performance genres that meet around the May Bush.

This according to “May Day and mayhem: Portraits of a holiday in eighteenth-century Dublin ballads” by Cozette Griffin-Kremer, an essay included in The flowering thorn: International ballad studies (Logan: Utah State University, 2003, pp. 101–27).

Above, an Irish hawthorn, a popular choice for the May Bush; below, a tourist video shows decorated May Bushes in Galway.

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Blood, thunder, and drums

ballynahinch-protestant-boys

The drumming style among Protestant bands of Northern Ireland known as blood and thunder evolved as a result of working-class bands both imitating military practices and adapting them to their changing tastes.

This unique tradition developed through working-class musicians’ endeavors to emulate the musical practices of the dominant military power without access to the tuition techniques and facilities on which that style depends. A transformation taking place in blood and thunder drumming is characterized by an added element of aesthetic deliberation, which is considered by many to be an artistic advancement.

This according to “Blood, thunder, and drums: Style and changing aesthetics of drumming in Northern Ireland Protestant bands” by Ray Casserly (Yearbook for traditional music XLV [2013] pp. 142–163). This issue of Yearbook for traditional music, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, the Ballynahinch Protestant Boys, a group featured in the article.

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The encyclopaedia of music in Ireland

irish encyclopedia

Edited by Barra Boydell and Harry White, The encyclopaedia of music in Ireland (EMIR; Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2013) is the first comprehensive attempt to chart Irish musical life across recorded history. It also documents Ireland’s musical relations with the world at large, notably in Britain, continental Europe, and North America, and it seeks to identify the agencies through which music has become an enduring expression of Irish political, social, religious, and cultural life.

EMIR is the collective work of 240 contributors whose research has been marshaled by an editorial and advisory board of specialists in the following domains of Irish musical experience: secular and religious music to 1600; art music, 1600–2010; Roman Catholic church music; Protestant church music; popular music; traditional music; organology and iconography; historical musicology; ethnomusicology; the history of recorded sound; music and media; music printing and publishing; and music in Ireland as trade, industry, and profession.

EMIR contains some 2,000 individual entries, which collectively afford an unprecedented survey of the fabric of music in Ireland. It records and evaluates the work of hundreds of individual musicians, performers, composers, teachers, collectors, scholars, ensembles, societies, and institutions throughout Irish musical history, and it comprehends the relationship between music and its political, artistic, religious, educational, and social contexts in Ireland from the early middle ages to the present day.

In its extensive catalogues, discographies, and source materials, EMIR sets in order, often for the first time, the legacy and worklists of performers and composers active in Ireland (or of Irish extraction), notably (but not exclusively) in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It offers to the general reader brief lives of Irish musicians throughout history, and it affords the specialist a detailed retrieval of information on music in Ireland hitherto unavailable or difficult to access.

Below, the nocturne in B flat major by the widely influential John Field, one of the composers covered in the book.

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Ethnomusicology Ireland

ICTM Ireland

Launched in 2011 by the Irish National Committee of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM Ireland), Ethnomusicology Ireland is a peer-reviewed online journal edited by Colin Quigley.

The journal aims to reflect the range of music played, studied, and researched in Ireland, providing a regional forum for scholars. While PDFs of the articles are open-access, enhanced versions with links to sound and video illustrations are only available to members of ICTM Ireland.

Related article: The Joe Heaney Archives

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The female accordion

The first concertinas to arrive in County Clare, Ireland, were inexpensive German instruments, a far cry from the elegant parlor instrument invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1829 and popularized among the social elite of Victorian England. They were disseminated by traveling peddlers and local and more distant shops—and probably by maritime traffic, given Clare’s position at the mouth of the Shannon estuary, the last port of call for tall ships about to cross the Atlantic.

By the end of the nineteenth century the concertina had all but replaced the uilleann pipes in popularity there, and Clare had already developed a reputation as a treasure-trove of concertina music and the home of some of the instrument’s finest players. After its completion in 1892 the West Clare Railway carried concertinas into formerly inaccessible rural areas, and before World War II the instrument became particularly popular among women musicians, earning it the nickname bean-cháirdin (female accordion).

This according to “Clare: Heartland of the Irish concertina” by Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin (Papers of the International Concertina Association III [2006] pp. 1–19). Above, Ó hAllmhuráin learns a tune from the 101-year-old Clare concertina player Molly Carthy in 1997. Below, the Clare concertina player Kate McNamara plays two reels: Sergeant Early’s dream and The plough and the stars.

BONUS: Read about the gendering of another traditional Irish instrument in The female harp.

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The female harp

The harp in its winged-maiden form was the standard symbol of Ireland in the eighteenth century, and with the rise of Romantic nationalism the harp was increasingly personified as a female symbol of Ireland and her struggle for political independence.

The iconography of the harp in the context of the United Irishmen of the 1790s formed the basis for the Romanticization of the harp symbol and the female personification of Erin (Ireland) in the poetry of Thomas Moore. While more realistic forms of the Irish harp emerge in nationalist iconography of the nineteenth century, Moore’s imagery inspired paintings and other illustrations of the harp as a woman by artists including Robert Fagan and Daniel Maclise.

This according to “The female harp: The Irish harp in 18th- and early–19th-century Romantic nationalism” By Barra Boydell (RIdIM/RCMI newsletter XX/1 [spring 1995] pp. 10–17).

Above, Maclise’s The origin of the harp (1842), inspired by Moore’s poem of the same name. Below, Michelle Mulcahy plays The mountains of Pomeroy, Martin Hardiman’s jig, andThe lark on the strand on the Irish harp.

BONUS: Read about the gendering of another traditional Irish instrument in The female accordion.

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Filed under Iconography, Instruments, Politics, Romantic era, Women's studies

Scots-Irish music

Created by Dick Glasgow in 2006, Scots-Irish music presents information on the traditional instruments and music of Ulster, with additional information on the music’s relocation in the U.S. Appalachian region. The site includes numerous links to other online resources relevant to Ulster’s musical traditions.

The giant lambeg drum, above, is typically heard with traditional Ulster fife playing (below).

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Na Píobairí Uilleann: Source

On 17 November 2010 Na Píobairí Uilleann launched Na Píobairí Uilleann: Source, an Internet resource that includes Irish music web tutors, Irish music collections dating back to 1724, reed-making and pipe-making videos, recitals, and historical data on iconic musicians.

While the site is specifically intended to support students of uilleann piping, pipe-making, and maintenance, it includes material of interest to players of other traditional instruments, traditional singers, and all lovers of Irish traditional music.

Source is a free collection; membership in Na Píobairí Uilleann enables use of organizational tools to create personal bookmarks and galleries. Content will be added regularly, and the site’s design provides for possible future enhancements such as the ability for members to upload and share their own content.

Many thanks to Patrick Hutchinson for bringing this to our attention! Below, Séamus Ennis plays Pat Ward’s jig on the uilleann pipes.

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Inbhear: Journal of Irish music and dance

Launched in 2010 by the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick, Inbhear: Journal of Irish music and dance is a free online journal devoted to these performing arts as they are “relevant to Ireland, the Irish (wherever they may be), or perceived to be of Ireland or the Irish.”

The journal’s Editorial Board comprises faculty members and researchers from the Academy. The inaugural issue, edited by Niall Keegan, includes articles on Irish traditional fiddling, musical style, and step dancing.

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Filed under Dance, Ethnochoreology, Ethnomusicology, Europe