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Authority record

Breathnach, Breandán, 1912-1985

  • IE ITMA P00003
  • Person
  • 1912-1985

Breandán Breathnach was born in The Liberties area of Dublin on 1 April 1912. His father Pádraig Walsh, was the last of the Dublin silk weavers and his mother Julia Parker died when Breandán was young.

From an early age he acquired an interest in the Irish language and Irish music from his father and Uncle Joe. He began playing music on the highland pipes, at an early age, and eventually took up his uncle’s uilleann pipes, this change of instrument brought him in contact with John Potts and the Potts family. Originally from Wexford, the Potts, who now lived in The Coombe, were steeped in the piping traditions of the previous century. This friendship began his lifelong love and passion for the uilleann pipes. Among some of Breathnach’s early uilleann pipe teachers were Billy Andrews, Brother Gildas (Ó Sé, Pádraig, ? 1881-1960) and Leo Rowsome (Rowsome, Leo, 1903-1970). Breandán was educated by the Christian Brothers in Synge Street and entered the Civil Service in 1930 where he served in the Departments of Posts and Telegraphs, Finance, Education and Agriculture.

Breathnach devoted his spare time to the study of Irish music. He actively sought out musicians in 1950s Dublin and noted down tunes they were playing. Since his marriage to Lena Donnellan from Mullagh, Co. Clare in 1943, he had also been in contact with Clare musicians like Willie Clancy (Clancy, Willie, 1918-1973) and Seán Reid (Reid, Seán, 1907-1978). As a result of this collecting work, he published his first collection of Irish music Ceol rince na hÉireann in 1963. Lifelong research of manuscript, printed and recording sources for Irish music lead to four more publications in this series. Ceol rince na hÉireann II & III were published in 1976 and 1985. After his death in 1985, two more volumes, edited by Jackie Small, were published in 1996 and 1999.

In 1964 Breathnach was seconded from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Education to undertake the task of making a complete collection of Irish traditional dance music. In 1972 Breathnach succeeded in establishing a national archive of Irish folk music within this department and in 1974 the archive transferred to the Department of Irish Folklore in University College, Dublin where he became Director of Irish Folk Music. He retired from UCD in 1977. The foundation of the Irish Traditional Music Archive was the Breandán Breathnach Collection, which was donated by his family after his death.

Breathnach was involved with many Irish music organisations, including Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, where he served for a period as Assistant Secretary. He was a founder-member of Na Píobairí Uilleann, along with Seán Reid and others, and was the organisation’s chairman from 1968 until his death in 1985. He was involved with the Willie Clancy Summer School, a founder-member in 1971 of the Folk Music Society of Ireland and also co-edited its journal Irish folk music studies Éigse cheol tíre. He lectured in Irish music in Trinity College Dublin and was a member of the Arts Council.

He contributed to many publications including the Encyclopedia of Ireland (1966), the New Grove dictionary of music and musicians (1981). As well as the previously mentioned Ceol rince series. He published a handbook on Irish music entitled Folk music and dances of Ireland in 1971 and Ceol agus Rince na hÉireann was published posthumously in 1989. In 1963 he began publishing Ceol: a journal of Irish music which continued to be produced by him for twenty two years. He edited and contributed to An Píobaire, the bulletin of Na Píobairí Uilleann from 1969 until his death in 1985.

Morton, Robin

  • IE ITMA P00013
  • Person
Robin Morton was born in Portadown, Co. Armagh. A singer, writer, publisher, collector, band manager, Morton also played the concertina and bodhrán with the band Boys of the Lough which he formed in 1967 along with musicians Cathal McConnell and Tommy Gunn. He founded the Queen’s Folk Music Society, which met in the famous Anatomy Theater, Belfast, with superb acoustics but intimidating anatomical visuals. Belfast Folk Song Club, Morton was also a member. He began collecting songs in the 1960s, Paddy McMahon introduced him to singer John (Jock) Maguire of Roslea, who became the subject of Morton’s Come Day, Go Day, God Send Sunday, a book and LP of John Maguire and his songs. Morton worked as a producer for Topic Records before founding the record label Temple Records in 1978. He is married to clarsach player Alison Kinnaird.

Joyce, Patrick Weston, 1827-1914

  • IE ITMA P00016
  • Person
  • 1827-1914

Patrick Weston Joyce was born the son of Garret Joyce, a scholarly shoemaker, and Elizabeth Dwyer in the Ballyhoura hills on the borders of south-east Limerick and north Cork. One of a Catholic family of eight children, he was reared in the nearby townland of Glenosheen, Kilmallock, Co Limerick, and educated at first in local hedge schools. ‘Weston’ was a family name on his mother’s side. Joyce became a national-school teacher at 18, training in Marlborough St Training College in Dublin. Later he was a model-school teacher in Clonmel and a teacher in west Co Dublin, and in 1856 was one of a group of teachers chosen by the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland to improve the national system of primary schools. He graduated BA from Trinity College Dublin in 1861 and MA in 1863, and was awarded LL.D. in 1870. From 1874 to 1893 he was lecturer in and later an influential principal of the Commissioners’ Training College in Marlborough St, Dublin. He was married to Caroline Waters of Baltinglass, Co Wicklow, and they had seven children. His active engagement in many cultural societies included membership of the Royal Irish Academy, a commissionership for the Publication of the Ancient Laws of Ireland, and the presidency of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. Joyce died 7 January 1914 at his home on Leinster Rd, Rathmines, Dublin, in his 87th year.

Dr Joyce also led an extraordinarily industrious life as a writer and editor. Apart from his publications in Irish music, he produced some thirty works including The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places vols 1–3 (1869, 1875, 1913), Irish Local Names Explained (1870), A Handbook of School Management (1876, which went to 25 editions), Philip’s Handy Atlas of the Counties of Ireland (1881), The Geography of the Counties of Ireland (1883), A Short History of Ireland (1893), Outlines of the History of Ireland (1896), A Child’s History of Ireland (1897), A Reading Book in Irish History (1900), A Social History of Ancient Ireland vols 1–2 (1903), A Concise History of Ireland (1903), A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland (1906), The Story of Ancient Irish Civilisation (1907), English as We Speak it in Ireland (1910), and The Wonders of Ireland and Other Papers on Irish Subjects (1911). Although born in an Irish-speaking district, Joyce was reared and educated in English, and only later learned to read and write Irish, which he taught in Dublin. He was the author of A Grammar of the Irish Language for the Use of Schools (1878), Old Celtic Romances Translated from the Gaelic (1879), and Forus Feasa ar Éirinn. Keating’s History of Ireland… Edited with Gaelic Text (1880), and a Council member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language. Most of his publications went to several editions, some to many, and his history volumes in particular sold in their tens of thousands. Through their influence on readers, teachers and journalists, they played a major part in shaping national thinking on historical and cultural aspects of Irish life in the years before independence. His published work on Irish traditional music was also highly influential.

Patrick Weston Joyce, unlike the earlier important collectors of Irish traditional music Edward Bunting (1773–1840) and George Petrie (c. 1790–1866), came from within a local oral-music tradition and was immersed in it. In this he resembles the other younger nineteenth-century collectors James Goodman (1828–1896) of Co Kerry and Francis O’Neill (1848–1936) of Co Cork and Chicago. His detailed reporting of a living local tradition, from a time when the population of Ireland was at its highest-ever levels and Irish traditional music accordingly was in a flourishing state, gives his work a unique value.

Joyce himself explains that his life-long interest in Irish traditional music began in the 1830s in pre-Famine rural Co Limerick:

'I spent all my early life in a part of the county Limerick where music, singing and dancing were favourite amusements. My home… was a home of music and song: they were in the air of the valley; you heard them everywhere – sung, played, whistled; and they were mixed up with the people’s pastimes, occupations, and daily life. Though we had pipers, fiddlers, fifers, whistlers, and singers of our own, wandering musicians were welcomed: and from every one some choice air or song that struck our fancy was pretty sure to be learned and stored up… As I loved the graceful music of the people from my childhood, their songs, dance tunes, keens, and lullabies remained in my memory, almost without any effort of my own… I had indeed excellent opportunities; for my father's memory was richly stored with popular melodies and songs; and I believe that he never sang or played a tune that I did not learn.'

Language change from Irish to English was under way in the Co Limerick of his childhood; he heard songs in both languages from his father and from his older brother Michael, some of them unique in his experience. Joyce thought the songs in English generally inferior as most songmakers still had a defective grasp of English. He obviously sought out occasions of music: some items he had heard ‘scores of times’, others ‘hundreds of times’, others ‘constantly’. The Munster dance tunes familiar to Joyce were ‘chiefly the Reel, the Double Jig, the Single Jig, the Hop Jig, and the Hornpipe’, and the ‘Set Dance’ and 'various Country Dances', and he had a clear memory of the dances which were performed to them. He was also familiar with the music of keening, faction tunes, and songs appropriate for an American wake, and with printed ballad sheets. Joyce’s oldest source was probably his grandmother, a singer who was born in the early 1760s and lived into her nineties, and who passed on to him at least one melody that she herself had heard from her grandmother, a fiddle player. His music was largely of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with undoubtedly some older pieces.

Joyce inherited the family talent for music, and played it from his youth:

'I attended a science school in Galbally [Co Limerick]. I was the delight and joy of that school; for I generally carried in my pocket a little fife from which I could roll off jigs, reels, hornpipes, hop-jigs, song tunes, &c., without limit... Some dozen or more of the scholars were always in attendance in the mornings half an hour or so before the arrival of the master... and then out came the fife, and they cleared the floor for a dance. It was simply magnificent to see and hear these athletic fellows dancing on the bare boards with their thick-soled well-nailed heavy shoes – so as to shake the whole house... At last in came the master: there was no cessation; and he took his seat, looking on complacently 'till that bout was finished, when I put up my fife, and the serious business of the day was commenced.'

Although he had received his music from oral tradition, by the time he was in his late teens Joyce had learned to read and write music, and in 1844 he began the noting down of tunes and songs from family members and neighbours. Becoming acquainted with published collections of Irish music, he realised that many of his Limerick tunes were unpublished and unknown in Ireland generally, and accordingly in the early 1850s, by which time he was living in Dublin, he began to write down purposefully from memory the melodies of his locality. In this he had come under the influence of the Society for the Preservation and Publication of the Melodies of Ireland which had been formed in Dublin in December 1851 in the aftermath of the Great Famine and in the consciousness of the devastation that it had caused to traditional music culture. Joyce was encouraged by the Society’s president, George Petrie, to contribute to Petrie’s music collections, and to make his own collection. Even at that early stage of Joyce's career, when he was in his mid-twenties, Petrie considered him to be 'one of the most zealous and judicious of the collectors of Irish music'. He published some 20 of Joyce's melodies in his Ancient Music of Ireland of 1855.

To bolster his music memory, Joyce ‘went among the peasantry during vacations, for several successive years, noting down whatever I thought worthy of preserving, both words and music. In this way I gradually accumulated a very large collection’. He began this holiday collecting in his native area in 1852 and continued through to about 1856, music coming from professional fiddle players and uilleann pipers, and from whistlers, and songs from farmers, thatchers and women singers among others. In the same period he occasionally noted down tunes in Dublin and elsewhere from street singers, servants and teaching colleagues, and continued this practice for many years.

The death in 1866 of George Petrie frustrated Joyce in his hope that more of his own tunes would be published by the older collector, and he eventually decided to arrange their publication himself.

His first music collection – Ancient Irish Music: Comprising One Hundred Airs Hitherto Unpublished, Many of the Old Popular Songs, and Several New Songs (Dublin: McGlashan & Gill, etc., ix+104+5 pp.) – appeared in 1873, and drew almost entirely on the music from his childhood and from his 1850s collecting visits to Limerick. Contextual notes in the style of Petrie accompanied each item and his sources were named. The melodies were arranged for piano by JW Glover in line with Joyce’s belief that accompaniments should be extremely simple. The lyrics of the new songs were written by himself and his songwriter younger brother Robert Dwyer Joyce (1830–83).

This work was followed in 1888 by his Irish Music and Song: A Collection of Songs in the Irish Language (Dublin: Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language; M.H. Gill and Son, vi+[ii]+44 pp.), which was drawn largely from printed sources and contained some 20 songs. It is the first collection in which Irish-language songs are set to music, the syllables under the notes, and it was well received by a growing national movement for the revival of the Irish language and its culture. These first two music publications established Joyce as an authority on Irish music, and he later served as a music advisor to the Gaelic League when it established its Oireachtas cultural festival in 1897.

Joyce's slight 1906 third collection, a pamphlet of 7 songs – Irish Peasant Songs in the English Language (London etc.: Longmans, Green & Co; Dublin: M.H. Gill & Son, iv+16+[4] pp.) – was almost entirely a selection of English-language songs from his childhood.

Joyce’s final music publication – his magnum opus in music – appeared in 1909: Old Irish Folk Music and Songs: A Collection of 842 Irish Airs and Songs Hitherto Unpublished (Dublin: Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland; London: Longmans, Green & Co, etc., xxxvi+408+iv pp.). It is presented in four sections: 1 The Joyce Collection (melodies collected and recollected by himself, or sent to him in manuscript from all parts of Ireland); 2 Continuation of the Joyce Collection (Irish folk songs in the English language, with the words set to the proper old Irish airs, the syllables under the notes; most from his childhood recollections, and from his personal collection of ballad sheets); 3 The Forde Collection (selection of melodies collected by William Forde of Cork, 1830s–1850s, edited by Joyce); 4 The Pigot Collection (selection of melodies collected by John Edward Pigot of Dublin, 1840s–1860s, edited by Joyce). The two latter collections had been given to Joyce by relatives of Pigot; in 1910 he donated them to the Library of the Royal Irish Academy where they remain. His collection of ballad sheets is now in the Dublin City Library and Archive. James Joyce, who was influenced in his writings by the published works of PW Joyce, owned at least one of his music publications.

In his editing, PW Joyce, like George Petrie and Francis O’Neill, made changes to the melodies he copied and published, and amalgamated different versions of tunes. These procedures would now be regarded as unscientific, but the collectors were practicing musicians thoroughly familiar with the creative culture of Irish traditional music and may have reasonably considered that they were simply following the playing practices of traditional musicians. Less acceptable currently would be his bowdlerisation of song texts and his substitution of lines of his own.

In the preface to his first publication of 1873, Joyce had said that ‘I will continue to publish [Irish music] as long as I can obtain materials’, and in the preface to his 1909 publication he was, in his early eighties, calling on his readers for the loan of manuscripts that he might examine for his next volume. With undiminished zeal he continued until his death five years later. The manuscripts of this final work, which contain 878 songs and melodies with notes, have remained unpublished in the National Library of Ireland.

Levey, Richard Michael, 1811-1899

  • IE ITMA P00001
  • Person
  • 1811-1899
Levey, R.M. (1811–99). Violin, collector. Born R.M. O’Shaughnessy, he changed to his mother’s name for stage reasons. He studied music with James Barton prior to entering the Theatre Royal Orchestra at age fifteen, and later became its director. He toured Ireland with Balfe’s opera company in 1839, and was professor of violin at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, of which he was one of the founders. Two of his sons went on to be noted violinists, one of them becoming conductor at Drury Lane and Covent Garden theaters in London. Levey composed fifty overtures and arranged music for 44 pantomimes in his time, but in traditional music is remembered for his collection of Irish dance music noted in Dublin and London from Irish players and published in London in 1858 and 1873 as volumes 1 and 2 of The Dance Music of Ireland. Regarded by O’Neill as the first printing of Irish dance music as such, the material was republished in 2003 as The Levey Collection. [CITM]

O'Hara, Aidan

  • IE ITMA P00009
  • Person

Born in Co Donegal and now living in Longford, Aidan O’Hara is an award-winning broadcaster, writer, and historian. Through his travels for work and education, he also became an accidental collector of songs, music, and oral history.

Aidan qualified as a teacher at St Mary’s College in Dublin (now known as the Marino Institute of Education). As a young graduate, he moved to Canada and found work teaching in British Columbia—Canada’s most westerly province. That’s where he met Joyce Kuntz: a fine teacher and a singer, and important collaborator on many of Aidan’s subsequent endeavours.

Over the next several years, the young couple lived in a number of locales. They relocated to Ontario, Joyce’s home, and were married there in 1965. They taught near Ottawa for a year before moving into the capital city. While continuing to teach, they also sang in a folk group that featured on local stages, television, and radio. Aidan also pursed part-time studies at the University of Ottawa.

Aidan’s time in Ottawa also led to his acquaintance with Delia Murphy, the Mayo-born songstress. This chance meeting became the foundation for the biography that he published many years later: I’ll Live ‘til I Die’: The Story of Delia Murphy (1997) was the featured book on RTÉ’s Book on One in May 2005.

When Aidan and Joyce moved to Ireland in 1969, they settled their young family in Dublin, and Aidan began his career with Raidió Telefís Éireann (RTÉ). Aidan, however, was interested in furthering his education. So after a few short years, in 1973 Aidan and Joyce packed up their belongings, and their four young children, and headed to St John’s, Newfoundland—Canada’s most easterly city.

Aidan attended Memorial University of Newfoundland, taking courses in folklore, history, and cultural geography. It was there that Aidan met Galway-born scholar John Mannion, a professor of geography and expert on the Irish presence in Eastern and Atlantic Canada. John introduced Aidan to the people of the Cape Shore, sparking the friendships that inspired Aidan to make the recordings featured in the ITMA exhibition A Grand Time.

To make ends meet for his young family, Aidan continued his work as a broadcaster. He worked with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in St John’s, presenting the Saturday evening radio programme Friends and Neighbours. He was also a regular on a series that broadcast across all of Canada: All around the Circle. And, in the autumn of 1975, he took an appointment as the deputy head of School Broadcasts (the Department of Education series that went out on CBC Radio). Aidan’s ongoing work in radio and television provided a forum and opportunity to share some of his recordings. During the mid-1970s, the voices of “The Branch Crowd,” as they came to be known, were exposed to an island-wide audience.

Aidan was active in the cultural and academic life of St John’s. During the mid-1970s, he took on the role of Vice-President with the St John’s Folk Arts Council (the organisation now known as the NL Folk Arts Society). His work with the Folk Arts Council culminated in the founding of the Newfoundland Folk Festival—a now-annual event—in August 1977. He was the programme director for the Festival for the first two years. As was so often the case, this endeavour was a family affair: Joyce coordinated food and lodgings for the many singers, musicians, dancers, and storytellers who travelled to St John’s for the festival.

Aidan was also the founding president of the Irish Newfoundland Association. Initially, the purpose of the organisation was to ensure that the Irish American Cultural Institute had a reason to include St John’s on its annual tour. This tour featured visits to North American cities by leading figures from Irish life. Aidan spoke on Newfoundland-Irish ties as part of the Institute’s 1976 tour.

Aidan was sometimes asked to facilitate Irish guests to the province. Following the 1976 Olympic Games in Montréal, Irish politician John Bruton stopped off in Newfoundland for a short holiday. The Ottawa-based Irish Embassy asked Aidan to coordinate the visit: Aidan took Mr Bruton to visit with Anthony and Mary Power in Branch and arranged for him to stay with John and Maura Mannion in St John’s.

These brief holiday encounters proved formative 20 years later when Taoiseach Bruton negotiated and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin in 1996. This agreement provides ongoing ties between the cultural, educational, and business sectors of Newfoundland and Ireland.

Following his return from Canada, Aidan presented three acclaimed Radharc-produced documentaries on the Irish of Newfoundland—one of them the award-winning, The Forgotten Irish (1981). The broadcasts aired on RTE 1 in 1980 and 1981, and segments were later included in the BBC’s Emmy-award winning mini-series, The Story of English.

Moreover, as RTÉ employed Aidan as a broadcaster after his return from Newfoundland, much as they had in St John’s, selections from his Cape Shore field recordings occasionally made it into his broadcasts. Since retiring, Aidan continues to consult on radio TV series focusing on the connection between Newfoundland and Ireland.

While no longer active as a broadcaster, Aidan works as a writer and researcher. His interests are wide-ranging, though “the Newfoundland connection” continues to inflect his work. In 1991, he published the “The Irish in Newfoundland” in The Emigrant Experience (Galway Labour History Group, 1991). In 1998, his telling of the story of the Irish in Newfoundland, Na Gaeil i dTalamh an Éisc, won the Oireachtas ‘97 literary award for a work in prose. It was also nominated for The Irish Times Literature Prize in 1999 for a work in the Irish language.

Aidan is a keen historian with a special interest in the Irish emigration experience. He is an active member of the Co Longford Historical Society and contributes regularly to the society’s journal, Teabhtha. His articles and editorials have appeared in Irish Music Magazine, and a variety of other journals and newspapers in Ireland. He is also a member of the Knocklyon History Society (Dublin) and the Co Donegal Historical Society. Aidan is Chairman of the Emmet and Devlin Committee, and was a founding member of the Association of Canadian Studies in Ireland.

In 2018, Aidan was awarded the NL Folk Arts Society Lifetime Achievement in recognition of his work.

McBride, Jimmy

  • IE ITMA P00017
  • Person
Jimmy McBride comes from Gaoth Dobhair in north-west Donegal but has spent his working life and still lives in Buncrana. A teacher by profession, he has spent many years collecting and recording songs from Inishowen and surrounding areas. It is this collection of recordings upon which the Inishowen Song Project is largely based. A fine singer himself, Jimmy's repertoire includes songs learned locally and many songs in Irish from his native west Donegal area.
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