Panel 1: Frameworks for Tradition
David Atkinson (Elphinstone Institute)
Folk Song and the Modalities of Canon Formation
However one chooses to define ‘folk song’, as either product or process, it is probably impossible to think about it without having some examples in mind – that is to say, examples that fall either within or without a folk song canon. There is, in consequence, an inevitable circularity to thinking about the subject. This paper looks at the process of canon formation in general, by describing the different relations that can exist between instances and universals. It then goes on to identify the coexistence of different relations within different versions of the folk song canon, using as examples the Child ballads and the Roud indexes. Some folk songs, it turns out, may be better than others. This study does not answer the question ‘what is a folk song?’, but it does shed some light on the thinking that underlies it.
Verena Commins (National University of Ireland, Galway)
From Delia Murphy to John Reilly: Commemorating Ireland’s song tradition
What is Ireland’s song tradition and how do we celebrate and commemorate it? This paper examines the celebration of Irish traditional singers and songs through the prism of monumentalisation. Monuments operate as sites of memory where interpretations of the past are both collected and constituted. Through their materiality and physical presence in public squares and crossroads they confer legitimacy upon their subject matter, elevating the tradition they celebrate. Informed by research documenting public monuments, plaques and statues raised to Irish traditional musicians, singers and dancers, this paper specifically asks who are the singers and what are the songs deemed worthy of commemoration and by whom? The role of gender, space and place in the process and politics of remembering invites perspectives on the past as well as reflections on contemporary commemorative interpretations of the song tradition.
Panel 2: Song Subjects
Ciara Thompson (University of Limerick)
A Reflection on Lullaby Texts, 1900-1960
Lullabies have historically seen disproportionate appearance compared to other subgenres of traditional song. This gap has been noted repeatedly over the centuries, with both George Petrie and Patrick Weston Joyce commenting on the lack of inquiry around the genre, and their scarcity of inclusion within nineteenth-century Irish traditional song publications (Petrie, 1855; Joyce, 1873). James Orchard Halliwell’s The Nursery Rhymes of England (Halliwell 1842) is an anomaly and treasure of its time. Much like Opie and Opie’s The Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Opie and Opie, 1951), however, there is a melange of Children’s repertoire through which to sift before encountering any lullabies.
We see some increase of interest in lullabies through several twentieth-century Irish, British, and American publications, including outputs from Adelaide Gosset (Gosset, 1915) and Leslie Daiken (Daiken, 1959). These sources give a rich account of the repertoire itself, and invaluable testimony of their culturally connective character. This paper will give the spotlight to these authors by presenting several lullaby texts dating from 1900-1960. In doing so it will illustrate an early twentieth-century outlook on the genre so that we can better understand and appreciate their historical placement and development through time.
Megan Holly Burns (Oxford Brookes University)
‘These songs breathe the spirit of revolution’: The Political Songs of Glasgow’s Proletarian Sunday Schools
This paper explores the political songs of Glasgow’s Proletarian Sunday Schools and their place in the long-standing tradition of Scottish labour song. The Proletarian Sunday School (PSS) movement was established in Glasgow in 1911 as a more radical alternative to the already-existing Socialist Sunday Schools. PSSs provided supra-curricular education for the children of working-class families, aiming to foster a militant class-consciousness in their pupils while advocating strongly for socialist revolution.
Through an exploration of the PSS Proletarian Songbook (1919), this paper argues that political songs were a crucial tool in the revolutionary education of PSS pupils. The content of PSS songs educated children about Marxist fundamentals and revolutionary struggle across the world, including Ireland. The Songbook’s opening text is James Connolly’s ‘Rebel Song’, reflecting the socialist comradeship between Glasgow and Dublin in the early 20th century.
PSS songs belong to a strong tradition of Scottish labour songs, but remain understudied. This paper therefore attempts to draw attention to a greatly neglected—yet significant—area of Scottish labour song history, and its overlap with Ireland’s labour movement.
Meg Hyland (University of Edinburgh)
Irish and Scottish Song Exchange in the Scottish Herring Industry
During the first half of the 20th century, Irish and Scottish women both worked as itinerant herring gutters and packers in the Scottish herring industry. Speakers of Scottish Gaelic, Scots, Irish and English worked side by side in the gutting yards. The Irish women (and, often overlooked, Irish men) came primarily from County Donegal and County Down, while the Scottish women came from the Hebrides, the Northern Isles, and the East Coast. Manx, Scandinavian and English women formed a minority part of this workforce too.
This multicultural and multilingual environment fostered musical exchange. My research focuses on the role that music and particularly song played in these workers’ lives. Gutters sang while working in the yards and while dancing in their huts on Saturday nights. Through working in oral history archives and through conducting ethnographic fieldwork, I have found evidence of the musical influence of Irish workers on their Scottish counterparts. In this talk I will discuss the ways that Irish workers influenced the musical repertoire of Scottish workers in the herring industry from roughly 1900 to 1975.
Panel 3: Collectors
Brian Peters (Independent Scholar)
Travellers, Transcriptions and Tune Families
The traditional Gypsy singer May Bradley of Ludlow, Shropshire, had her repertoire recorded on audio tape by the collector Fred Hamer between 1959 and 1965. Possibly her most striking song is the starkly cruel carol ‘On Christmas Day’, relating the fate at the hands of Christ himself of a poor ploughman who breaks the proscriptions of the Holy Day. Hamer recorded it from her twice.
Using this song as its starting point, this paper will explore the variations in melody executed by the singer herself, and the choices Hamer made in arriving at his published transcription. To examine generational song transmission, a comparison is made between May Bradley’s performances and the notations of this and other songs from her mother, Esther Smith, which were transcribed about 50 years earlier by Ralph Vaughan Williams from Ella Mary Leather’s cylinder recordings.
On a broader scale, the relationship is discussed between the ‘On Christmas Day’ melody, and other examples of the same tune family, which was commonly used for the carols of the Herefordshire Gypsies who worked on the hop-fields in the 1900s, and also crops up in other English traditional songs from ‘Georgie’ to ‘Searching for Lambs’. Field recordings will be included.
Martin Graebe (Traditional Song Forum)
The Good Neighbour; Sabine Baring-Gould and the Folk Songs of Cornwall
Attention has customarily focused on the songs that Baring-Gould collected in Devon but, while they form the greater proportion of his collection, his own interest also embraced Cornwall. Most of his collecting was done within a day’s journey from his home at Lewtrenchard and only occasionally did he make overnight trips beyond this limit. Nonetheless, the 158 songs in his collection still form the largest single body of songs collected in Cornwall.
He was an active member of the Royal Cornwall Institution, of which he was twice President, and worked closely with Cornish colleagues on many aspects of the culture of the county, including its history, archaeology, hagiography, and folklore, as well as folk song. He wrote several books about the county and it provided the setting for many of his best-selling novels.
This presentation will focus on his collection of folk songs in Cornwall, describing the excursions that he made and some of the singers that he met. I will look at the way that he shared the songs through his publications and in the series of concerts that he organised in the county. I will also look at his legacy of song and its impact on Cornish culture.
Paul Mansfield (Independent Scholar) and Hugh Miller (Independent Scholar)
Framing the Collectors: the collector-singer relationship in historical and comparative perspective
Collecting music from source singers always involves differences of perspectives, intentions and interpretations between the collector and the source. We propose that applying a sociological lens to collecting in different times and places can produce new insights into these aspects.
Using ideas from Erving Goffman’s Frames Analysis can help to understand differences of perspective and how they may have influenced the collecting process. Goffman’s basic idea of the frame refers to each actor’s interpretation of ‘what’s going on here?’ Actors may operate within a single frame, or nest of frames, or they may have different ideas of what is going on. Part of the work of negotiating an interaction may be in coming to an agreement about which frame applies, or coming to a complementary arrangement between different frames.
The concept of the frame can be used at a variety of levels. To understand the collector-singer relationship as an historically and socially situated phenomenon, as well as an interpersonal encounter, we apply the frame concept to the historical and national contexts of collecting as an activity. These wider frames can be understood as influential on collector-singer interactions.
Panel 4: Singers, Songwriters, and Performers, Part 1
Marge Steiner (Indiana University Bloomington)
The French Irishman’: Persona and Performance Practice of a New Brunswick Traditional Singer
The intersection of Francophone and Celtic musical practices is well known in the Canadian Maritimes. In this paper, I will focus on Allan Kelly. Known as “The French Irishman” in the lumberwoods, he could strategically maneuver between Francophone and Miramichi/Irish identities and do so seamlessly, depending on the context. As someone who was culturally competent in both Francophone and Anglophone milieux he could juggle identities as needed, –whether at home, among neighbours, in the lumberwoods, or at festival events. I will show how he adapted his persona and practice through repertoire choices, language spoken, and even his use of song translation. Allan Kelly, the master singer, with a repertoire of over 300 songs in both French and English, thus came to be regarded as a star singer in both Anglophone and Francophone contexts.
John Baxter (Open University)
Selling beefsteak? Felix McGlennon, commercial song-writing and the traditional repertoire
Felix McGlennon (1855-1943) was a publisher and prolific Music Hall songwriter in the 1890s and 1900s. Born in Glasgow, son of an Irish shoemaker, McGlennon established a song-writing and publishing business in Manchester and later London. He forged lucrative links with American publishers and his songs enjoyed great success on that side of the Atlantic.
He notoriously said: “the commercial songwriter production of songs is just as much a business as selling beefsteaks” and he demonstrated this by turning out thousands of songs on just about any subject. Many of his most successful pieces glorified the British Armed Forces and British Empire, but he also wrote and published Irish Nationalist songs in cheap songbooks, an activity which led to a conflict with the British authorities.
His songs feature in the repertoire of traditional singers throughout the Anglophone world, notably: Comrades (Roud 1494), The Ship I love (Roud 1707) and Grace Darling (Roud 1441). It has been argued that his cheap Irish songbooks, published between the two World Wars, were an important influence on the transmission of Irish traditional repertoire both at home and in the Irish diaspora. My talk will attempt to assess the impact of both his songs and publishing activity on traditional singing.
Julia Bishop (University of Aberdeen)
‘Villikins and his Dinah’: Mapping the Wandering Minstrel’s Melody in Britain, Ireland and Beyond
This paper focuses on a cluster of songs, tunes, people and performances relating to the well-known song ‘Villikins and his Dinah’ (Roud 271). I will review accounts of the emergence of the song on the mid-19th century London stage, as part of The Wandering Minstrel, attempting to shed new light on these ‘origin’ stories. This forms part of a wider effort to map some of the probable or potential connections of the song’s various dimensions, both before and after this time. The exploration will traverse many borders, and will try to attend to the lived experiences of individuals, within and beyond Britain and Ireland, across time, and in an array of social and cultural contexts, including spheres of music-making. The richness of the material means that it can at best be only a snapshot but its complexity invites us to reflect on the ways in which we conceive of songs and their multi-faceted connections, and the kinds of understandings we are seeking.
Accessing Our Heritage – A Q&A session with the curators of our folk collection
The Federation of Folk and Traditional Music Collections (FFTMC) is a relatively new co-operative umbrella organisation which seeks to provide a point of contact between archives, libraries, museums, and other organisations, which hold collections of traditional song and music and related subjects., to encourage communication, co-ordination and mutual support. Its membership includes repositories, large and small, across England, Ireland, Scotland Wales. See our website for a current list of members: https://folktradcollections.org/
Representatives of several of our member institutions will be present in Limerick, or online, for a panel where researchers and students can ask questions or make suggestions; about archive practice, the whereabouts of materials, how to access collections, and so on.
Panel 5: Community and Identity
Peter Toner (St. Thomas University)
Irish Songs and Irish Identity in the Miramichi Folksong Canon
With ⅔ of all immigrants to New Brunswick between 1815 and 1865 coming from Ireland, it has been said that “no group played a more important role in shaping the destiny of the province than the Irish” (Spray 1988: 9), and by 1871 35% of the province’s entire population claimed Irish origins (Acheson 1988: 41). The Irish in the Miramichi region of New Brunswick have long been regarded as one of the province’s “backbone” Irish communities (P.M. Toner 1988: 126; Mannion 1974), and have retained many distinctive aspects of Irish cultural identity into the 21st century. The Miramichi is also distinctive in being home to a distinctive folk song tradition, which was the product of Scottish, Acadian, and Irish cultural influences, and which developed during the 19th and early 20th centuries in the region’s lumbercamps. In this paper I will examine both archival and ethnographic materials to reveal the particular (and sometimes peculiar) ways in which Irish songs contributed to the Miramichi folksong canon. I will argue that processes of cultural selection and invention have been and continue to be essential components of both canon formation, and in the strategic development and maintenance of cultural identity in “Canada’s Irish Capital”.
Carrie Erving (University of Limerick)
Wild Roving: “Indie” Perspectives on Traditional Ballads
What can contemporary artists bring to a traditional ballad to make it “their own,” and how do artists who play at the edges of multiple genres help to bring new perspectives to the tradition? In this presentation, I investigate the “reworking” of traditional songs by contemporary artists who push genre boundaries in their music, including Bonny Light Horseman, Offa Rex, and Lankum. This paper examines the details of different vocal approaches used by contemporary singers to interpret ballads in ways that both reference and depart from more “traditional” styles of ballad singing. Artistic choices around instrumentation, musical arrangement, and studio production will also be explored. Finally, this paper poses questions about how the social influence of musical communities, venues, and the music industry helps to shape the current understanding of what constitutes an “indie” sound within the folk music landscape
Panel 6: Experiencing Traditions
Elen Keen (Bangor University)
‘Tra Bo Dau’ (Wherever Hearts Are True) – The Song That Rekindled An Interest In Welsh Folk Music
‘Tra Bo Dau’ (Wherever hearts are true) – a tune that is regarded as the finest Welsh folk song and one that has some Irish resemblance, was transcribed by Professor J. Lloyd Williams (1854-1945) from his wife and sister-in-law’s singing ca. 1903-1904. As part of the University College of North Wales, Bangor’s St. David’s Day Celebrations (1905) J. Lloyd Williams composed a SATB arrangement of the melody for his students – the first time that he had arranged a tune drawn from the oral tradition, and the outcome had far-reaching consequences.
This paper aims to examine J. Lloyd Williams’ unique and invaluable contribution as Music Director of the University College of North Wales Bangor (1902-1913), focusing on the discovery made during the St. David’s Day Celebrations (1905) which led to the formation of the ‘Canorion’, the society established by him along with the Irish Principal, Sir Harry Reichel, for the purpose of collecting, studying and performing traditional Welsh melodies. Following its success at Bangor, further societies were formed ensuring that the songs of Welsh peasants were performed at public functions in towns and cities in Wales, England and even Paris.
Gwenen Gibbard (Bangor University)
The lesser known Welsh language folk-songs and ballads of the Llŷn and Eifionydd areas of north west Wales
In Wales there has always been a special relationship between music and poetry and our centuries old folk-songs reflect the rich diversity of our history and landscape whilst conveying the sincere and inner most thoughts and feelings of our people.
Taking inspiration and guidance from the archive of lifelong researchers in the field of Welsh traditional music, namely Dr Meredydd Evans and Phyllis Kinney, I have been focusing on studying lesser known and previously unpublished collections of Welsh language folk-songs and ballads by two significant collectors: Gwilym y Rhos and Thomas Rowlands – both from the predominantly Welsh speaking areas of the Llŷn Peninsula and neighbouring Eifionydd. A reflection of a rural and simple way of life in the first half of the 20th century, the songs stem from close-knit communities and speak of local characters and happenings, religion, traditions and family values, political and social change, shipwrecks and major developments in modes of transport.
As a researcher and as a folk singer my goal is to restore knowledge and pride in these local songs and, through further research, to reintroduce them, together with other lost songs, to the Welsh folk-song repertoire.
Jim Carroll (Independent Scholar)
Hack or Haymaker – who made our folksongs?
While I believe this question will never be answered definitively, I think it to be important enough to be revisited occasionally to examine any new information that may have been uncovered. Pat’s and my time in The Critics Group inspired us to ‘lift the corner’ to see what lay beneath our chosen field of interest, traditional songs, stories and music. Our time spent with source singers, particularly those from the Irish Travelling Community has enabled us to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge, it is some of this additional information I would like to cover today.
Panel 7: Carols and Carolling
Ian Russell (Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen)
Carolling at Kilmore, County Wexford, and Twelfth Night
The eminent Irish folksong collector, Tom Munnelly, often mused on the remarkable tradition at Kilmore: ‘There’s some folk in Ireland sing on the white notes and some on the black, and some can even manage both, but these guys can sing in the gaps!’. There has been much discussion and documentation of the Kilmore carolling tradition from County Wexford and its history. I refer, in particular, to the studies by Father Joseph Ransom (1949), by Diarmaid Ó Muirithe and Seoirse Bodley (1982), and the oral history documentation of Harry Bradshaw (RTÉ, 1981). The main aim of this paper is to provide an update of the tradition based on my fieldwork in Kilmore since 2006, noting changes, clarifying details, and correcting misconceptions. I also consider the singing tradition in the wider social context of Twelfth Night celebrations. A digression into the early history looks at the influences in singing style, performance, melodic form, and touches on textual sources
Kate Neale (Cardiff University’s School of Music)
‘Peculiar to certain villages’: Repertoire selection and development in Cornish carol traditions”
Cecil Sharpe once described village carol repertoires as ‘private possessions of great value, to be jealously guarded and retained for their own use’ (Sharp, 1911). This paper explores the processes of collection, publication and selection within song traditions that result in these hyper-localised repertoires.
Specifically, I examine two local Christmas carolling traditions within Cornwall, UK, and their counterparts in the Cornish diasporic communities in Grass Valley in California, and the Copper Triangle in South Australia. Emerging from a broader British tradition of 18th century fuging psalmody, I show how, over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, local collection, publication and community selection have resulted in the development of geographically defined traditions that, while interconnected through this common root, now maintain distinct repertoires.
I then argue that these song practices offer an opportunity to observe the ongoing inscription of socio-cultural values and narratives: from embedding migrant histories within new national contexts, to articulating Cornish rather than English identities, down to distinctions of repertoire between performing groups within the same town.
I conclude by examining how these continuing processes, via contemporary revivals and publications, serve to both support and destabilise the ongoing performance and custodianship of these local repertoires.
Panel 8: Songs and Place
Colleen Savage (Dundalk Institute of Technology)
A second life for The Lost Songs of the Border – Amhráin Chaillte na Teorann
The early twentieth century song collections of John Hannon of Crossmaglen, Co. Armagh provide a remarkable insight into the local song repertoire and social history of the area at that time. My research builds upon the research by Dr Gearóid Trimble (2016) that focused on the linguistic and social history importance of the collection, seeking to reintroduce the repertoire into performance. The focus of this paper, is The Lost Songs of the Border Project, which connected with local community groups and included a number of workshops to share and perform the songs.
The songs in the Hannon collection are in the Irish language but were mainly written out phonetically. They capture and preserve a local dialect of the language but also document local history and social activities as collected by Hannon from a network of over local 50 informants that belonged to the last generation of native speakers living in the greater Crossmaglen district. Allied with an interest in the Irish language, I, as part of a group that seek to re-establish these songs in the repertoire by connecting them with airs from historical sources or composing new airs for the lyrics in the collection. This talk will examine processes for the creative engagement with archival sources to date, informed by the concept of the second life of folklore, and compositional and performance practice.
Niall Wall (Independent Scholar)
Connected By Water, Song and Time – Shared Songs in the North Atlantic’
Displayed in Rome’s Vatican Museum are early-sixteenth century maps of the North Atlantic. Locations in Newfoundland are prominent on these maps, demonstrating the early importance of the island, explained by its abundant Cod fishery, a long-time important source of protein for Europeans, and its apt Irish name, “Talamh an Éisc”. Following the Treaty of Utrecht the Island was dominated by traders and settlers from South-west England and later from Ireland’s South-eastern counties. Currently, half of Newfoundland’s population trace their ancestry to Britain and half from Ireland. It was natural that the singing traditions of the two eastern islands would have influenced the western isle and there has been an eastern transfer with numerous songs in Irish and British traditions that originated in Newfoundland. Clear evidence of the connections are available in the Child Collection, Maud Karpeles important 1920’s work and many more recent Newfoundland and European publications. Illustrations of the international connections are bountiful in individual songs including the many versions of “The Banks of Newfoundland” and probably best appreciated in the singing of the epic ballad, “The Flying Cloud”, with variants of the song being found on almost every English speaking coast of the North Atlantic.