Shields, Hugh, 1929-2008

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Shields, Hugh, 1929-2008

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Shields, Hugh, (1929–2008). Singer, collector, researcher, writer and publisher, leading authority on Irish traditional song with an international reputation. Born in Belfast, he spent most of his life in Dublin, where he studied at Trinity College and became a senior lecturer in French there. He was an emeritus fellow of the college. A specialist in medieval French and other European languages, he had a particular interest in questions of orality and dialect which were common to his professional studies and to his lifelong and highly productive interest in Irish and other traditional song.

From 1982 to 2002 he also lectured on Irish traditional music in the School of Music, TCD, with Breandán Breathnach, Caitlín Uí Éigeartaigh and Nicholas Carolan, and in 1985 spent a period lecturing in the Department of Ethnomusicology in the University of California, Los Angeles. He also lectured widely at traditional music festivals and summer schools.

Shields’s parents gave him his initial interest in singing. As a young graduate teaching in north Co. Derry in 1953 and beginning his work of collection, he first met with the road-worker Eddie Butcher, his main source-singer and friend. Butcher was central to his publishing of traditional song in print and on sound recordings for the next five decades. With his wife Lisa, Shields also collected in Donegal, Down, Wexford and Wicklow, in France, and elsewhere, and he collaborated with the Dublin collector Tom Munnelly.

He edited selections from his field recordings – among them Adam in Paradise; Shamrock, Rose and Thistle 1–3; Old British Ballads of Donegal and Derry; and Chants Corréziens: French Folk Songs from Corrèze – for the record companies Topic and Leader Sound, for the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, and for his own cassette label European Ethnic Oral Traditions.

His many seminal published studies of Irish traditional song, which were complex and detailed, appear in leading national and international journals including Ceol, Ulster Folklife, Hermathena, Long Room, Folklife, Folklore, and the Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council.

His books include Shamrock, Rose and Thistle: Folk Singing in North Derry (1981), Ballad Research (1986), Narrative Singing in Ireland: Lays, Ballads, Come-All-Yes and Other Songs (1993), all standard works.

Shields had a particular involvement with the Folk Music Society of Ireland – of which he was a founding member in 1971 – and was the editor for it of its newsletter Ceol Tíre (1973–89), its journal Éigse Cheol Tíre – Irish Folk Music Studies (1973–2001), and other publications. He was also a founding board member of the ITMA from 1987. His varied contributions to its development included the donation to it of his large collection of field recordings, and the editing of its publication Tunes of the Munster Pipers: Irish Traditional Music from the James Goodman Manuscripts (1998).

The 2011 book – All the Days of His Life: Eddie Butcher in his own words: songs, stories and memories of Magilligan, Co Derry – was his final work, jointly edited by him and his wife Lisa. [NIC]


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