About the Companion

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    Background Information

    The book is a hard-copy book, digital Kindle e-book and i-book. It is also available as a fully-searchable library e-book. Since 2013 it has been available in Kindle and iBooks digital formats, and the 3rd edition in 2024 will have similar formats.

    This unique encyclopedia covers the people, instruments, styles, repertoires and regions of past and present Irish Traditional music, song and dance. Half a million words and several hundred images present facts, ideas and terminology, explore aesthetics and ideology, and document teaching, learning, study and performance. The immense volume of biography, history and opinion is diverse yet comprehensive. It is drawn from the collective expertise of some 200 specialists who in A - Z format deal with all instruments and playing styles, repertoires, people, performance and transmission, media and professionalism, ideology, awards, standards and competition. They broaden the picture to take in the musics of Scotland and England, migration to Britain and the USA, the exhilarating new internationalism and music tourism. Uniquely too, The Companion carries extensive data on Irish Traditional music as it is played in all counties of the island of Ireland, as well as in Britain, Scotland, the USA and the major European countries. This marks the book as a compendium of not only what is being done and by whom, but also of where it is happening and in what way.

    A detailed time-line charts the history of music events, initiative and publications as prompted by and interwoven with history, and a categorized bibliography carries easy reference for all forms of enquiry. These pages lay out the canon of Traditional music in Ireland as assembled by its significant performers, teachers and collectors, composers and arrangers, commentators, promoters, and audiences. It is an essential asset and a core reference for all research and further study in Irish studies, Irish music and ethnomusicology.


    A new 3rd edition of the Companion will be available in 2024. Click here for details


    Press and academic data from the Companion launch:

    For text of the addresses at the book's launch on November 24, 2011, see Companion Launch information and images

    Companion achieves high place in Choice Reviews rankings
    In January, 2013 the Companion to Irish Traditional Music achieved Outstanding Academic Title recognition among scholarly titles on the prestigious Choice Reviews (http://www.cro2.org). ranked No. 11 among books reviewed during the previous calendar year. For a title in Irish music this was extraordinary recognition from the academic library community.The list is quite selective, containing c. 10% of some 7,000 works reviewed in Choice each year. Choice editors base their selections on the reviewer's evaluation of the work, the editor's knowledge of the field, and the reviewer's record. The list was known as Outstanding Academic Books until 2000. The new name reflects an increase in reviews of electronic products and Internet sites. In awarding Outstanding Academic Titles, the editors applied several criteria to reviewed titles:
    overall excellence in presentation and scholarship
    importance relative to other literature in the field
    distinction as a first treatment of a given subject in book or electronic form
    originality or uniqueness of treatment
    value to undergraduate students
    importance in building undergraduate library collections
    The list cites only bibliographic information. The number and publication issue of the Choice review are also provided, to assist readers wishing detailed evaluations of the titles. In addition, Choice Reviews Online tags all reviews that have been designated as Outstanding Academic Titles.
    The Companion was ranked no. 11 in the 2012 Choice Reviews’ OAT list of 644 titles
    The book is 11th in the top 9% of the OAT selected titles
    The book is 11th of c. 7,000 titles reviewed during 2012

    The Companion book in concert

    In 2013 a full concert - Compánach - was built around the format of the Companion. This uses the A-Z structure of the book, covering music of every county in Ireland and all tune-types. For the narrative it uses images -  c. 600 large-format pictures back projected on a 4-metre screen which is behind the performers. Some of these are historical, but c. 400 are high-quality contemporary shots of musicians and places in Ireland, most are the work of Belgian-Irish photographer Jacques Piraprez Nutan. Full details here, and a short video extract - Co. Clare - is on Vimeo.

    A full 2-CD album of the the sound-track of Compánach is available (see Whinstone.net), and, from December, 2020, a chapterised, 27-section DVD featuring all the music and c. 700 visual images related to the music, all from Compánach, is available as a music documentary - Turas - Virtual Ireland in Music. This is also available online as a Vimeo video

    About the editor

    Fintan Vallely is a musician, writer, lecturer and researcher on Traditional music. He began to play Traditional music on the flute in the early 1960s and compiled its first Irish-music tutor in 1986. He later studied ethnomusicology at Queens University Belfast, became The Irish Times’ Traditional music correspondent and reviewer from 1994-2000 and was columnist in that field with The Sunday Tribune 1996-2002. Consultant editor for Traditional music to The Encyclopedia of Ireland in 2003, his published work includes The Blooming Meadows (essays on musicians with Charlie Piggott and photographer Nutan, 1998), Together in Time (on Antrim flute player John Kennedy, 2002), Tuned Out – Traditional Music and Identity in Northern Ireland (2008), a satirical song collection – Sing Up! Irish Comic Songs and Satires for Every Occasion (2008) and Ben Lennon – The Tailors’ Twist, a text and photo study of the Leitrim fiddler (2011). He played full time in the 1970s and ‘80s, in the US, Scotland and England, and is on three CD albums – a solo recording Traditional Irish Flute Music (1979), with guitarist Mark Simos on The Starry Lane to Monaghan (1992), and with singer Tim Lyons on Big Guns and Hairy Drums (2002). His flute instruction manual is now released in a new edition as The Irish Flute Tutor. Vallely is a contributor to conferences, festivals and journals on Traditional music, and was one of the organisers of The Crossroads Conference series (1996 and 2003). His 2004 PhD research was Flute Routes to 21st Century Ireland, and his current work includes investigation of the origins of the Irish bodhrán drum. A lecturer on Irish traditional music, he has taught on programmes in NUI Maynooth, University of Ulster, DkIT and Trinity College Dublin. Fintan Vallely's personal website is www.imusic.ie


    This book is edited by Fintan Vallely, with contributions from 205 other musicians, writers and researchers. Some of these have extensive items, and others gave much help in  discussion and advice. Key academic writers are Liz Doherty, Martin Dowling, Terry Moylan, Catherine Foley  Colin Hamilton, Desi Wilkinson, John Moulden and Niall Keegan. Others supplied valuable specialist articles: Ann Buckley, Simon O’Dwyer, Jesse Smith, Martin Hayes, Helena Wulff, Maurice Leyden, Cyril Maguire, Daithí Kearney, Harry Bradley, Paula Carroll, Don Meade and Sara Lanier. Other levels of input have been equally vital: much editing and advice in the early stages was contributed by Barra Ó Seaghdha, designer and typesetter Dominic Carroll exercised a formidable, constructive patience in the on-page nature of the book’s final realisation, and Nick Lethert has interpreted the synergy in his design and construction of this ‘companion’ website, each of which tasks has been vital to the ultimate full and efficient use of the publication’s information.


    Thanks and appreciation are hereby extended too to all writers - The Companion is the product of collective labour. Complementing this has been the institutional support for the generation process of this encyclopedia. First, that of Cork University Press, whose 1999 director Sarah Wilbourne had the tremendous idea to commission the first edition, and whose current director Mike Collins has seen through the second with great skill, tact and faith. An Foras Feasa and the Arts Council of Ireland’s Deis scheme provided the income-support, research funding without which the edition simply could not have happened, as did Dundalk Institute of Technology by facilitating both sabbatical and unpaid leave from teaching; so too with The Ireland Fund of Monaco whose residency was the stimulus for the initial bout of structural research in the glorious setting of the literary resources Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco.

    Special appreciation

    Special appreciation is due for those who contributed pieces which, ultimately, due to overlaps of material, and to editorial and space constrictions, could regrettably not be used. Much advice, critique, provocation, research conclusions and graft  indeed came from all writers, among whom Joan McDermott and Maeve Gebruers must be thanked for much tedious work, Ciarán Rosney for new music typesetting, and the ITMA’s director Nicholas Carolan for his personal contribution and for the access by the editor and many of the contributors to the resources of his magnificient staff and collections. So too Brendan Knowlton and many individual CCÉ members were of great value in filtering out information from the imponderable volume of CCÉ’s data and statistics.

    First edition writers

    Those who contributed to the first edition of this work do of course remain on the credits list. Not least among these are David Hammond, Tom Munnelly, Frank Harte, Hugh Shields, Eamonn O’Doherty and Muiris Ó Rócháin, each greatly supportive, and all passed on over the last three years.  Gráinne Yeats’ consideration was critically directive, Caitríona McEniry and Desi Wilkinson compiled a tedious volume of résumés and synopses, Hamish Moore and Steve Chambers gave intensive consultation, Liam Mac Con Iomaire exhaustive biographical work, Dónal Ó Móráin  political insights, Muiris Ó Rócháin research, statistics and enlightenment, Labhrás Ó Murchú and Séamus Mac Mathúna information and archive support, Sean and Irene Moloney for east Galway information, and my noble uncle Charlie who helped the 1999 process financially at a most vital juncture.


    The opportunity to include original research and resource material is particularly appreciated, and so permission is gratefully acknowledged (and sought, where applicable) as follows: Ordnance Survey of Ireland for Map of Sliabh Luachra (616); Gunnar Strømberg of Stockholm for J.C. Timbrell’s 1844 picture of Carolan (108); Cole’s ‘Here Awa’ transcription – Patrick Sky; use of ‘BRV’ credited pictures, Brian Vallely; ‘O’Rourke’s Feast’ and ‘George Brabazon’ transcriptions – John Lösberg and Ossian; Nicholas Carolan and the ITMA for reproduction of definitions from ‘What is Irish Traditional Music?’ (©); Mick Bramich and Dave Mallinson Publications for concertina graphic notation (156) (©);Ann Heymann for original research on the crott and clairseach (©);An Gúm – Irish Government Publications for ‘The Blackthorn Stick’ (p. 531) transcription; Translation of Giraldus Cambrensis’ Topographia Hiberniae, 1185 – John O’Meara ed.,  The History and Topography of Ireland (1951), revised edition Dolmen Press (1982); synopsis usage of  The Wexford Carol (746) – Diarmuid Ó Muirithe and Seoirse Bodley; synopsis usage of Love in Irish Folk Song (pp. 627, 631–5), from Repossessions, Seán Ó Tuama; Pádraig Donlon, Séamus Mac Mathúna and Mick O’Connor and CCÉ for the use of ‘CCÉ’ credited pictures; Dr John Cullinane for the use of his Dance Bibliography (©); Maeve Gebruers for the foundation use of her bibliography (©); Hugh Shields for the foundation use of material from his Short Bibliography of Irish Folk Song and for condensations of his work on Rev. Goodman and ballads; Ríonach Uí Ógáin and Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éireann / National Folklore Collection for the use of ‘CBÉ’ credited pictures; Toner Quinn, JMI and the ITMA for bibliographic data; Walton’s for use of flute/whistle notation diagrams from Timber, the Flute Tutor; Matt Cranitch and Johnny O’Leary for use of Pádraig O’Keeffe notation; Muiris Ó Rócháin for synopsis usage of his Eugene O’Curry research; Robin Morton for information on The Boys of the Lough; Joan Rimmer for synopsis use of  The Irish Harp; Wilbert Garvin for use of uilleann pipe illustration from  The Irish Bagpipe; he and the NPU for regulators diagram from  The Master’s Touch (p. 708); Máire O’Keeffe for access to her research data on accordion and concertina advertising.


    Use of original photographs is also greatly appreciated, in particular those by Nutan Jacques Piraprez, Derek Speirs, Eamonn O’Doherty. Frank Brunel and Tony Kearns.

    Web resources

    A separate, but general, set of thanks is due too for the assistance of that new and most enterprising resource in this enterprise – the many hundreds of committed aficionados and musicians who so generously share their facts, figures, tunes, ideas – and time – on the web. This was invaluable to the endless process of cross-checking data of all kinds. Finally, however, it is to Evelyn Conlon that the deepest appreciation must ultimately be extended for bearing with the intolerable disruption to life through day and night that compilation of this work entailed since the autumn of 2008.

    Works consulted

    Many books, journals and magazines have been consulted in compiling and checking this book. In particular the editor acknowledges the material sourced, referenced and checked through Treoir magazine, An Píobaire, Ceol na hÉireann , Folk Music and Dances of Ireland and Dancing in Ireland (Breathnach), Irish Minstrels and Musicians (O’Neill), Armagh Pipers’ Club publications, Siemens Nixdorf Feis Ceoil programme 1997, CCÉ Bliain-Iris (vol. 1, no. 2) and Bunreacht, May I Have the Pleasure (Quirey), Carolan (O’Sullivan), The Man and His Music (NPU), Repossessions (Ó Tuama), The Waltz (Carner), Irish Music in America: Continuity and Change (Moloney), Blooming Meadows (Vallely, Piggott, Nutan), Dal gCais (Hughes and Ó Rócháin), Exploring Irish Music and Dance (Boullier), Irish Music magazine, Folk Roots,  The Living Tradition, JMI and  The Journal of Music,  The World of Percy French (O’Dowda),  The Guinness Who’s Who of Folk Music (ed. Larkin),  The Roche Collection (Ossian), The Northern Fiddler (O’Doherty, Feldman), Here’s a Health (Sean Corcoran), Chronology of Irish History (J.E. Doherty and D.J. Hickey), Traditional Music in Ireland (Ó Canainn), O’Farrell’s and Ryan’s Mammoth collections (Patrick Sky), sleeve notes, articles and documentary by Harry Bradshaw, Jackie Small, Topic Records, Robin Morton, Claddagh Records, Finbar Boyle, Máire O’Keeffe, Tom Sherlock, Séamus Mac Mathúna, Don Meade, Earle Hitchner, and Tony MacMahon.


    In the interests of accuracy and - not least - satisfaction, certain biographical information has been requested of and was contributed by the subjects themselves. Other biography has been drawn from all available published sources including magazines (Treoir in particular), other publications and, where other sources were not available, biographical websites.

    Much hard information on technology-related aspects of performance (such as recordings) has been gleaned from performer websites. Some of this may be uneven, due to sourcing at different points in time in the three-year development span of this book. However, inaccuracies will be rectified and updates done progressively on this website.

    Errata and apologies

    For various reasons errors will be found to occur in this text. It is hoped that these are minor, but in all cases we appeal to readers who spot such to let us know by email (see CONTACT above) or post (The Companion, Cork University Press, Youngline Industrial Estate, Pouladuff Rd., Togher, Cork, Ireland).

    Some identified errors include mis-spelling of certain names, this generally the result of human error on names which have an array of different spellings. Loss of accents in software translation from text to design to web and vice versa has been a hazard, as is the consequence of global spell-check conflicts. Among the latter are mis-spellings: Graeme Smith (as ‘Graham’ Smith), Angela Bourke (as ‘Burke’), LE McCullough (as ‘McCullagh’), Alison Sleator (as 'Allison'), Mats Johansson (as 'Johannsen'), Derek Speirs (as 'Spiers'). Tim Collins is missing from the 'Contributors' short biography listing (but he is present in the main A-Z text); sincere apologies too for putting years on dance authority Helen Brennan, and, too, for the opposite, the understatement of vintage for a couple of other people; Sean Corcoran's year of birth should be 1946. A small number of people named as contributors did not contribute actual articles, but provided hard information which was subsequently incorporated.  It is appreciated that such matters can be extremely annoying, and distressing, but it is hoped that the value of these contributors to the overall project can compensate. Apologies are hereby offered for the seeming slights. Knocknagree is, as generally noted in the text, in Co. Cork, and not, as stated on p. 193, in Kerry.


    This edition first published in November, 2011 by Cork University Press, Youngline Industrial Estate, Pouladuff Road, Togher, Cork, Ireland. All textual, illustrative and photographic material herein and in the book is copyright of the contributors and Cork University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this book or this site’s material may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording or otherwise, without either the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying in Ireland issued by the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency Ltd, 25 Denzille Lane, Dublin 2.

    All material on this website is copyright Fintan Vallely and Nick Lethert