Companion Rationale

The introduction in the Companion gives a rationale for both its subject and its production. The addresses given at its launches, however, add considerable supplementary summary knowledge regarding its place in the spectrum of not only Irish music itself, but also the broader field of Irish Studies. The launch introductions by Prof. Michael Cronin (now of TCD), and by Dr. Nicholas Carolan (formerly Director of the ITMA) are two outstanding texts that contribute considerably to the understanding of traditional music and its place in Irish intellectual and artistic culture.

Companion 2 Launches were held in Ranelagh Arts Centre, Dublin, Thurs, May 24th, 2012, 7pm; Féile John McGrath, Westport, Friday May 25th, 2012, 6pm; North Atlantic Fiddle Convention, Derry, Friday June 29th, 2012; Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy, Sunday July 8th, 5pm 2012; Catskills Irish Festival, New York, Wed., 18th July 2012; Rencontre Musicale Irlandaise, Tocane, Dordogne, France, Tues 24th July 2012. The major launch of Companion 2 took place in The Royal Irish Academy / Acadamh Ríoga na hÉireann (RIA), Dublin on November 24th, 2011. Mike Collins of Cork University Press coordinated the event and introduced the speakers:

  • Professor Michael Cronin of Dublin City University discussed the book in the context of contemporary philosophical and sociological thinking.
  • Nicholas Carolan, Director of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, appraised the work as a contribution to research and access to information on Traditional music and its society.
  • The editor, Fintan Vallely, acknowledged contributors and funding agencies, and elaborated on the significance of the RIA as the launch venue.

The event was opened by Odhrán Ó Casaide and Dublin Institute of Technology’s Traditional music ensemble in performance. Some 200 people took part in the event over the evening, and c. 130 were present for the addresses. Present in the gathering of musicians and music aficionados were the ambassadors to Ireland of Canada (Loyola Hearn) and Bulgaria (Emil Yalnazov); Paul Flynn, Arts Council of Ireland Traditional Music officer; Dr. Frances Morton, acting Traditional Music officer, Arts Council of Northern Ireland; Professor Harry White, University College Dublin School of Music; Gay McKeon, Director of Na Píobairí Uilleann; Peter Browne, Julian Vignoles, RTÉ Radio and Television; Dr. Kerry Houston, Head of Academic Studies, Dublin Institute of Technology Conservatory of Music and Drama; Dr. Antóin MacGabhann, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann; Ted McGowan of The Róisín Dubh, Gurteen, Co. Sligo (longest running music venue in Ireland); Des Geraghty; Pete Heywood, The Living Tradition magazine.

Many contributors were present, including Liam Mac Con Iomaire, John Moulden, Maurice Leyden, Gene Anderson, Sara Lanier, Paul McGettrick, Máire Ní Chathasaigh, Kathleen Loughnane, Terry Moylan, Caitríona McEniry,  Pat Mitchell; Colin Hamilton; Barra  O Seaghdha; Nollaig Ní Chathasaigh, Jesse Smith, Sean & Irene Moloney, Svend Kjeldsen, Ann Buckley, Bryan Duggan, Joan McDermott, Michael Holohan, Sarah Burn, Maeve Gebruers, Daithí Kearney.

Other guests from the music, Arts, education and media world included Seán Donnelly (Na Píobairí Uilleann), Aibhlín McCrann & Aine Ní Dhubhghaill (Cairde na Cruite), Annette Munnelly, Nellie Weldon, Colm Keating, poets Peter Sirr and Enda Wyley, Derek Spiers, cartoonist Tom Matthews, Betty Purcell (RTÉ Arts Show), writers Evelyn Conlon, social historian Martin Maguire (DkIT), Lynn Geldof; Marian Finucane, John Clarke; Helen Carey, Arts advisor; Renée Lawless

Among the musicians present were Paul Brady, Thomas Ryan, Jacinta and John McEvoy, Lisa Shields, Paul McGrattan, Kevin Conneff, Mick O’Connor, Tony MacMahon, Mary Corcoran, Sheena Vallely, Nora Geraghty, Úna Monaghan, Nollaig Ní Chathasaigh, Liam O Bharáin; dancers Mary Friel, Kevin Conneff, Anna Lethert; singers Mick Quinn, Dick Hogan, Jerry O’Reilly, Patricia Flynn, Finbar Boyle, Jane Cassidy, Daoirí Farrell;

Treasa Harkin and Danny Diamond made audio and visual recordings of the event for the ITMA; Eric Gillespie (Dance Lexie Dance, etc.) and Conor Gillespie recorded on film for documentary; Nutan Jacques Piraprez documented the launch in digital photography.

Addresses Given

Professor Michael Cronin, Dublin City University

Video link

The Poet Derek Mahon once said that during ‘the Troubles’ there were only two words that could clear a room quicker in Belfast than a bomb scare, and they were ‘Irish’ and ‘identity’. One of the problems of course when we talk about music in Ireland is that it is often invoked as part of Irish identity; we talk about it as a kind of metaphor for what it is to be Irish. To use a contemporary metaphor it is considered to be part of our DNA, and the fact that we are the only nation in Europe to have a musical instrument as our National symbol (although as one wag  pointed out in The Irish Times – maybe this is because bankers and developers have for so long been pulling strings in Ireland that the harp was a suitable symbol for what had happened to us).

But of course the thing about the notion of identity is that it implies something that’s unmoving, something that is fixed, something that is static. And of course there are ways in which music can be used for those particular purposes in independence struggles  in various parts of Europe and elsewhere, and sometimes a National Anthem is often the most popular translation of that notion of music as part of identity. But there is another way it seems to me of seeing music and that is not so much music as part of identity, but identity as part of music. In other words identity is one of those things which music can be put, one of those things for which it can be used. But when you read through this ‘Companion’, what strikes you is not so much music as part of Irish identity, as music as part of Irish plurality. Because one of the things that comes across in entry after entry after entry is the sense in which there is an extraordinary variety and diversity in Irish music that is constantly shifting, evolving and mutating through time.

One of the reasons, it seems to me, that this idea of plurality is important, is that it opposes or acts in opposition to what I sometimes think are very lazy and dismissive attitudes towards the notion of ‘the traditional’. One of the ideas implicit in the work of Eric Hobsbawm, Benedict Anderson and others, is a kind of notion that all traditions are invented traditions, all traditions are shallow traditions, and that the one thing that characterises traditions is that they are preserved in the formaldehyde of sentimentality. But what I think emerges from this book is a wholly different notion of what constitutes ‘tradition’ and what constitutes ‘the traditional’. Because what emerges from ‘The Companion’ is the sense of a tradition that is open, that is creative, that is diverse; that it is evolving and, above all, that is endlessly challenging to particular shibboleths that may exist in the tradition itself.

However it seems to me that another thing that is important to remember is that the survival of Irish Traditional music was at certain times in our history, (and I include our very recent history) a very close run thing. And of course Ireland is not unique in this context. It was a similar kind of problem that was faced by the citizens of Hungary, Finland, Estonia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and others. In this context I want to mention very briefly mention briefly the work of a man called  Jan Patočka who was a Czech philosopher and one of the founding members of the Charter 77 movement. He died of apoplexy in the year the movement was founded, 1977, after ten hours of interrogation by the Czech secret police. He asked himself the question in 1938: “was there really much point in the idea of working to protect and promote the Czech language, Czech culture and Czech music, given that the destructive effects of militaristic nationalism had been seen in the first world war and were on the rise everywhere in Europe at the time. Was there not a perennial danger of a chauvinism and triumphalism in celebrating particular kinds of national cultures?” And he argued that the answer to that question was ‘yes’, that there was a very good reason to want to protect and promote and develop and engage with particular cultures and languages. He said that the most important thing about this is the aim of that project, what he calls the ‘telos’ of the project, the objective of it. What he says is that the ultimate aim should not be domination, but renunciation. In other words that the idea of developing, working through, expanding, exploring particular languages and cultures and musics is making available a resource to world culture, the making available of those resources which if you like – originate in a particular place, and make them available to a much broader audience. And this is something that is very, very striking – what you might call the ‘liberation teleology’ of the Companion –  the way in which in this expanded and new edition of the Companion there are expanded entries on England, Brittany, Scotland, France, the United States; where the notion that is constantly promoted in the Companion in entry after entry is the notion not so much of ‘independence’, but ‘interdependence’ as a context for the thriving, flourishing of Irish Traditional music as an art form.

What is very refreshing about the companion is the sense in which it remaps Ireland itself. Joyce once said that he knew about the rest of Ireland outside Dublin through hearsay, and one sometimes gets the impression through certain sections of the media in Ireland that this is indeed what happens. But what emerges from this Companion is the extraordinary scale and breadth of Irish musical achievement right throughout the thirty two counties of Ireland which challenges what you might call ‘the myth of colonialism, the idea that the villages and towns of Ireland are cloning global trends that come from elsewhere What this Companion reveals is  – applying a fractal microscope to Irish life –  the breadth, diversity and the engagement of local place in providing a context in which Traditional music and its performance can flourish and thrive. What you get from the book is not a notion of Ireland as a shrinking world, not of Ireland as  place of shrinkage, but Ireland as a place of expansion. The book is a kind of re-enchantment of what the place ‘is’, which is based not so much on metropolitan fantasies, but on a sense of local enthusiasm, resourcefulness and engagement.

One of the things I noted in the book is the amount of space devoted to the harp – it is given much expanded coverage. I was reminded of a Gary Larson cartoon that came out years ago where one of the ‘saved’ arrives at the gates of heaven. And St. Peter is waiting there, and he says to the new entrant: “Welcome to heaven, here’s your harp”. Another less fortunate punter, one of the damned, arrives at the gates of hell and Lucifer is waiting there, and says ‘Welcome to hell, here’s your accordion”. Of course, as a lifelong aficionado of the accordion myself I find this a vile libel on the instrument. One of the accordionists I go back to again and again is the Galway accordion player Joe Cooley. He was interviewed a number of years ago by the late Cathal O’Shannon and he talked of how during the very racially tense years in the United States that music was one of those things that brought African Americans and Irish Americans together. And Cooley’s comment on this was: “It’s the only music that brings people to their senses”.

And there’s a sense in which it seems to me that this monument to scholarship which is the Companion to Irish Traditional Music is a kind of tribute to the sense-making capacity not only of the musicians and performers, but also those who write, think about and engage with Irish Traditional music.

The last entry in the book – under ‘Z’ – is for Zozimus, and one of the lines in one of his songs (he’s talking about how he’d like to be remembered after his death) is: “Illustrious people do prefer it plain”. And one of the great things about the Companion is the sense in which it is accessible, it is readable, it’s engaging and it has a kind of plainness or clarity of expression that makes it accessible to the widest possible audience. So I think on behalf of everyone who plays, performs, listens to, engages with Irish Traditional music, that we’re all extremely grateful to Fintan Vallely and all the contributors who have produced this extraordinary landmark of a volume.

Nicholas Carolan, Director, Irish Traditional Music Archive

Video link 1,  Video link 2

I was just thinking, apropos of [Michael Cronin’s reference to what] Joe Cooley said, that [Irish] traditional music is the one music that makes people lose their senses! We would all have been there, I think!

But we’re all here, collectively, to launch the second edition of the encyclopedic volume The Companion to Irish Traditional Music. The Companion, by the way, not A Companion – it is a less than modest title. It has been remarkably edited by Fintan Vallely who has quietly generalled a whole army of contributors to create this new record of Irish traditional music, and this new monument to Irish traditional music.

The very existence of the volume raises the question not so much as to what the music is, but what this volume sees it as being.

The answer is of course that it sees it as a highly multi-faceted thing: songs, ancient and modern, in two and more languages, unaccompanied and accompanied, instrumental music made on everything from a rusty jew’s harp to a titanium set of uilleann pipes, and on everything in between, including the bodhrán (and this volume has a whole new take on the bodhrán which I think you’ll find interesting). Irish traditional music very much also includes (in the world of The Companion) dancing traditions – social and exhibition, private and public. But you’ll also find here much on the acts of singing, playing and dancing, and what leads to and leads from them: composition, listening, looking, internalising, reacting emotionally, remembering, reproducing, and, above all, talking about music: discussing, arguing, condemning and praising.

Irish traditional music as we all know is a bewilderingly complex world to the uninitiated. But The Companion sees it as one simple thing above everything else, and that is, as a contemporary art form. Yes, it is one with a keen sense of its own past, and one with a seamless connection to that past, but Irish traditional music is primarily about now, and about people now: it is contemporary. Yes, it’s a badge of nationhood; yes it’s a marker of cultural identity as Michael was saying. But it is primarily a form of art.

It is a form of local art that is curiously invisible within Ireland. It is kind of everywhere and at the same time nowhere. For those of us intimately bound up in it, it is all-consuming, it blocks out the horizon. But for the majority of the Irish population – more than 50%, I’d say – it is almost not there at all. They find it an occasional embarrassment at best, like, say, an uncle at a wedding, you know the kind of thing. And some are actively repelled by Irish traditional music, they just don’t like it.

But the music and its culture mean far more to the Irish of the diaspora, where it has always been an important link to the country of origin and as a marker of ethnicity and cultural identity. Think of all those World Dancing Championships, and think also of all those musicians and researchers of Irish ancestry who have fed – like Francis O’Neill – and are feeding – like Liz Carroll and other composers – back into the homeland tradition.

And then also the music has become globalised in the last half-century. It has become increasingly known and popular among people who are not of Irish blood at all, but who are attracted to it for its sonic qualities, and not for its symbolic or ancestral meanings.

For all of these groups – the people in Ireland, the Irish diaspora, the people who play and listen to and follow music who are not of Irish ancestry – for all of these groups the publication of The Companion is important. It will certainly raise the profile of Irish traditional music in  Ireland – and I don’t mean because of its bulk, which will make it impossible to ignore on the bookshelf. No, I mean that it offers to the uninitiated, and to the might-be-initiated, an attractive, and, as Michael says, a lucidly written introduction to Irish traditional music, and an explanation of it and of its absorbing culture. It is people-centred: you can all look yourselves up in the index and you’ll find yourselves there. People-centered, although of course it also deals with places, and themes and trends and traditions, and, as I’ve said, it’s primarily about ‘now’, although it deals with all times back to the Mesolithic, which is when it all started. It importantly – in what is primarily an oral tradition – places a particular emphasis on dates and chronologies, reliable dates and reliable chronologies.

The Companion is the latest book on Irish traditional music, and launching it in the Royal Irish Academy reminds me of the wealth of our unpublished music material that is held in the library here – notably the collections of William Forde and John Edward Pigot, but much else. It reminds me of the many members of the Academy who have made valuable contributions to the collection of Irish traditional music, and to writings about it – notably George Petrie and P.W. Joyce, but others too. It reminds me inexorably that the very first book about Irish traditional music was written by a young man who was a very early member, if not a founder-member, of the Royal Irish Academy.

Joseph Cooper Walker was in his early twenties and an under-official of the Treasury in Dublin Castle, when he began work on his Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards in the early 1780s (he was born in 1760). He consulted widely amongst the learned of his time, in Ireland and in Britain. In fact, looking down at us here, I realised, is one of the people he consulted, the famous antiquarian military general, Charles Vallency, a man of Huguenot descent, a great speculative antiquarian of Ireland, and a founder of the Royal Irish Academy. He is the man who gave us the term ‘uilleann pipes’ – unlikely as it seems (it’s a long, complicated story, and you can read my article on it in Ceol, 1981). Without him we wouldn’t have the term ‘uilleann pipes’, although of course we would have had the instrument. Vallency was one of the people that the young and impressionable Joseph Cooper Walker took seriously, and he transmitted some of Vallency’s mistaken ideas in his book. But Walker also read widely in English, in the classics – the Latin and Greek classics – and also in continental languages. His work was published in a deluxe edition in London and in Dublin in 1786. It is a substantial book, and it was extensively reviewed and held the field for the best part of a century. But it was written from outside the tradition. Walker was an invalid, a chronic asthmatic (he had to regularly go to Italy as a result of his disability). He didn’t carry out any field research and  he didn’t have Irish; he relied overmuch on the reports of other people and on the views of people like Vallency. Nevertheless it was a remarkable production for a person of his circumstances. But while Walker wasn’t a political or sectarian person, he was an outsider to the culture and the music. In 1798, during the rebellion, he said to a correspondent that there was not a labourer on his estate – he had modest estate at St Valerie near Bray – who would not cut his throat with a pike if he could get away with it. These were the people whose music he was studying, but he was very much outside it.

The Companion however, the latest in the line stretching back to the work of Joseph Cooper Walker, is, in total contrast, edited and written from inside the tradition. The editor Fintan Vallely, from rural Armagh, is a whistle and flute player; I have photographic evidence he was once an uilleann piper. He is a singer of course, and a very original song writer. He was a political activist, a professional musician, a recording artist – he made his first solo album in 1979, for Shanachie in New York. He was for many years traditional-music correspondent of The Irish Times, then of The Sunday Tribune, He has published extensively – you can read the list of his publications on the blurb to the book (I won’t go into them now). He holds a PhD in Music from the National University at UCD, and for the last ten years has been lecturer in Irish traditional music at Dundalk Institute of Technology. And with this publication he is launching a new phase of his life (he has recently resigned from Dundalk). He is a leading wordsmith in Irish traditional music, and a leading lateral thinker in Irish traditional music; he has been a man of energetic achievement throughout his life so far. But this second Companion beats all.

The title page says that ‘this Companion is the second edition, substantially revised and expanded’. And you could sing that if you had an air to it. It is just breathtaking. Some of the statistics have been detailed – double the wordage and all the rest. It also acknowledges ‘key contributions’ by Fintan’s field-marshals – Liz Doherty, Martin Dowling, Terry Moylan, Catherine Foley, Colin Hamilton, Desi Wilkinson, Niall Keegan and John Moulden. They’re on the title page, they obviously all made key contributions to the achievement. It’s noticeable that all of them – almost all of them, I should say – are involved in a new wave of third-level academic scholarship and music making – music performance – in Ireland and beyond. Hundreds of students are studying this music and the culture of this music in practically every third-level music institution in Ireland – with one notable exception which is not very far from us. But more importantly, these people, as well as being involved in traditional music as practice, are writing with a knowledge of the music and a love of it, as well as being academic scholars.

Cé go bhfuil an leabhar féin scríofa i mBéarla, tugann sé aitheantas – lán-aitheantas – do chultúr ceoil na Gaeilge. Tá na hamhránaithe anseo, tá na ceoltóirí anseo, tá na fir Ghaeltachta ‘s na mná Gaeltachta anseo, agus is féidir teacht suas leo agus léamh futhu. De thaisme, bhíos ag seoladh rud eile inné, ag seoladh CD nua de chuid Ghael Linn. Amhráin Ghrá is ainm dó, agus sean-cheoltóirí – amhránaithe mná – atá air, agus iad  beagnach go léir ag canadh le tionlacan pianó, nó tionlacan cruite, rud atá glan amach ón tsean-nós. Ach, chuir sé ina luí orm, arís, go bhfuil i dteach na Gaeilge seomraí áirithe ar leith, agus go bhfuil a dtraidisiúin féin acu go léir. Sin tradisiún d’amhránaithe oilte clasacaiceach le tionlacan pianó, traidisiún a théann siar thar céad bliain anois. So, is tradisiúin dá chuid féin é sin, ‘s is iomaí  sórt traidisiúin  atá le fáil i gcultúir ceoil na Gaeilge.

An importance of the new Companion will be as a reliable and incontrovertible rock of fact. We’re in a new age of enlightenment in Irish traditional music now, as thousands of obscure sources become increasingly available in digitised forms on the Internet – in the Archive we’re contributing to that tsunami of information and digitised materials. And at the very same time we are in the dark ages of Irish traditional music as the music becomes more and more globalised. There is a staggering degree of wilful ignorance available on Irish traditional music on the Internet. A staggering degree. People who had never heard of the music one week will set themselves up as commentators and even as gurus about a week later, never with a twinge of conscience.

Another malign consequence of the globalization of traditional music – which is generally a benign process of course – a malign consequence is that the music is seen as having less and less to do with Ireland. People in Iowa seem to be faintly embarrassed that there are people somewhere else who seem to know something more about this thing than they do, even though they after all play at a session every week. Now this is natural of course as the music moves away from its centre, but it has to be emphasised that this music does have a centre, and that this centre is Ireland. Noone who consults this new volume can doubt that or, if they are a guilty party, avoid a twinge of conscience for culpable avoidance of information.

The book is full of people. I dipped in once for this [launch], just to see what I came up with. I came up – and this is on one opening – I came up with Rose Murphy, born in Milltown, Co. Galway, lesser known sister of the famous P.J. Conlon, the accordionist who made his name in the States. She went to Yorkshire, she was a fiddle and melodeon player and she taught dancing in Yorkshire in the 1930s. She was on the same opening as Sam Murray, the Belfast flute maker; some of you may play his instruments, certainly they are very widely played in Irish traditional music now. On another part of the same opening was Phil Murphy, the late Phil Murphy, the Wexford mouth organ player; a festival is held annually in his memory in Carrick-on-Bannow, Co Wexford, organised by his sons. On the same opening was the Musical Traditions internet magazine, a wonderful source which holds a great deal of Irish traditional music information and material. And, finally on the same opening are the nine muses who frequently figure in Irish traditional song, as inspirers of the tradition. On another page I found an entry on Charles Villiers Stanford, the editor of George Petrie’s music manuscripts, the professor of music in either Oxford or Cambridge I think, and he was sharing the same column with an article on ‘Spoons’.  Myself and Turlough Carolan share the same opening, although inexplicably he gets a superior billing. And the last person I’ll mention is our late friend Muiris Ó Rócháin, whose entry will now have to be updated, because he was alive of course when it went to press. It seemed to me that Muiris almost symbolises the openness and the comprehensiveness and the fáilte coimsitheach of this volume: everything is here, all human life in Irish traditional music is here.

A few things are left to say. The first edition of the Companion appeared in 1999. When Fintan discussed it with me in the mid-1990s my immediate reaction, which I followed up on, was to pedal as fast and furiously as I could in the opposite direction. Not that I didn’t think that it needed to be done; I knew it needed to be done, especially from people coming to the Archive. Not that I doubted he could do it; I had no worries on that score. But the ambition of it frightened me. I knew that if I got involved with it in any serious way I would be sucked into a black hole and might be thrown up on a distant shore in two or three years’ time. So, apart from writing on the delightful topic of myself and on the only less delightful topic of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, I really had very little to do with the first edition. My colleagues Glenn Cumiskey and Joan McDermott wrote for it, and especially Maeve Gebruers, our Printed Materials Officer, who contributed bibliography (as she has done again for this second edition). My own best and most sincere tribute to both editions was to have as little as possible to do with them because I was simply frightened by the ambition, frightened by the work, knowing that I would be someplace else, in another world, if I got involved with it.

It is a wonderful achievement. We have been using it of course in the Archive – the first edition – for years and years now. It is the kind of thing that people are given when they come in. It is the induction volume for hundreds – thousands – of people now. They take it from there, and you can see it in action educating people very quickly, very succinctly, in whatever their topic of research is. So now we have the second volume. Fintan has outdone himself, the marvellous achievement of the first edition has been done again now in spades – you have heard the statistics. It is beautifully produced by Cork University Press. They have to be congratulated – over 800 pages, double-column pages, hundreds of well chosen illustrations.

Nor is Fintan finished. I remember being at a concert in the RDS with him in the nineties, and after the concert he had a laptop (which was a thing of wonder then anyway) and when he had written his [Irish Times] review on the laptop as I was waiting, he then took a cable out and plugged it into the wall, and assured me it was going to turn up in D’Olier Street within a few seconds. And sure enough it was in the paper the next day. It was, I suppose, an early data-point, and I’m quite familiar with them now. But my point is that he’s been using cutting-edge digital technology, computer technology from way back. And that has contributed greatly to the reach of this volume, to the trawl of information that has been made possible by it and has been made concrete and manifest now in the volume. There is already a website – I’m sure that Fintan will tell you more about it – It gives all the subject headings, gives the wordage and that. And I don’t doubt that in the future there will be a full online electronic version.

I was going to finish by holding the volume aloft and suggesting we all gaze on it and have a minute’s silence, but knowing this crowd I don’t think we’d get half a minute’s silence. So I’ll just simply congratulate everyone involved, especially all the unknown soldiers who sat down with a blank sheet of paper on the kitchen table months ago, or years ago even, or the people who sat down at a blank computer screen years ago and wrote, and forced out words about whatever their assigned topic was. They’re all contributors here as well as the sub-editors and the chief editor. So congratulations, we have to salute the book.

Companion Editor, Fintan Vallely

Video link

Well, I survived the black hole, and here I am back, Nicholas Carolan mightn’t have worried .  One of the very first people to have been enthusiastic about this project in 1997, when I started, was Tom Munnelly. He said: “Oh, great! Another dictionary! I suppose the first edition will be the proof copy …”. He was partly right of course. I won’t do like Michael Cronin and ad lib. That was the oral process, this is the literary tradition, celebrating a book, so I’ll  take Tom Munnelly’s advice: he always said ‘if you want to say something precise – read it out, don’t trust your memory’.

It is a tremendous privilege to stand here to present the new edition of this encyclopedia. It is most so on account of the fact that the book is the product of the observations and research of a large number of performers of the music, and so represents a very large body of ‘insider’ scholarship. These writers, to whom the book is indebted, and dedicated, themselves have mostly come to the music in modern time, through a variety of forms of transmission: family connections, local experience, literature, recordings and broadcasting, all of which are routes to music which are referenced in some way on practically every page of the text.

It is also a great privilege to stand at such an occasion in this particular building. For it had been here for four decades already by the time of the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly of 1792, and has been occupied by the Academy since just after the Great Famine. And until the establishment of the National museum in 1890 it was the home such emotive artifacts as the Tara Brooch, the Ardagh Chalice and the hoards of ancient Irish horns.

But the RIA is of itself hugely symbolic for Irish music. After it was founded in 1785 it became the focus of much of the earliest scholarship on indigenous Irish music. Key work was done by its members or members-to-be. Three of them served on the RIA’s Antiquities committee. The earliest was Joseph Cooper Walker whose 1786 book Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards was the first analytical account of Irish music. Four years later, Edward Ledwich published a chapter on music in his Antiquities of Ireland, and George Petrie (the father figure of Irish archaeology), who joined in the 1820s, had an exceptionally inspirational music interest, partly realized by  his (1855)  Ancient Music of Ireland;  his manuscripts have fed into many other collections and modern publications.  John Edward Pigot of Cork is another Academy associate: his collection of 3400 songs and tunes has been held here for the last hundred years along with 1900 pieces collected by another Corkman, William Forde, as the Forde Pigot collection. Patrick Weston Joyce from Co. Limerick, was another published major collector of traditional music associated with the Academy. So to Eugene O’Curry from Clare, who was author of Musical Instruments of the Ancient Irish, between 1857 and 62.

These are the people who initiated and managed the preservation of antiquities and manuscripts – objects which are the material reserves which underpin the ideology which shaped not only our Irishness, but much that is of value in Irish music today. With such associations, it is indeed most appropriate for The Companion to be launched in this institution.

The Companion’s tremendous cover image also has links with the Academy. This is titled ‘Snap Apple Night’, by Daniel Maclise, a brilliant Cork-born, London based painter who was one of the first students of the Cork School of Art. He sang in the choir of the Presbyterian Church in Prince’s Street there, played the guitar and flute. He was energetic, enthusiastic and passionately concerned with history and the fabulous.

The picture is of a Halloween party in a Fr. Horgan’s house, at Blarney, Co. Cork in 1832. Horgan had a deep interest in Irish language, history and archaeology, and was one of a number of Cork antiquarians whose preservationist  thinking contributed to the revival of Traditional music a century later. So this painting too is tied into Irish antiquarianism and Folklore studies, and to the Royal Irish Academy.

But, as a narrative, Snap Apple Night is also interesting for its portrayal of real people: musicians, dancers and revelling participants. There is a fiddler, a flute player, a tambourine player, a piper and a straw player; a small boy mimics the uilleann piper. The other guests are engaged with their own age-groups in play or discussion, and all are at ease in the music’s ambiance. There is  humour too in the image, in that the artist dubbed the faces of associates and family members on to some of the individuals he portrayed: the red-haired, dancing rake with his stick aloft bears the features of a friend of Maclise’; Sir Walter Scott is depicted seated at the table, looking in shock at the grandmother beside him who is giving the baby a drop of liquor; the writer and song collector Thomas Crofton Croker is seated with notes near the fire.

The painting at face value has everything a musician and historian would possibly seek in an image. It has:

  • The mixing of the plain people, clergy, the antiquarians, a writer and folklore collector, musicians and dancers. It is:
  • the earliest record of music making in context
  • the earliest image of an ensemble playing for dancers, and
  • the earliest image of the tambourine being played with Irish music.

Indeed, it is emblematic of the balance and variety of elements and influences which shaped – present day Traditional music.

This pre-technology picture is quite a contrast to The Companion’s other dimension – that of the resource website – –  ‘a companion to The Companion’, so to speak. This carries lists of all 1800 articles, 207 writers and 5100 names mentioned in the text, It is designed to develop progressively with the addition of web links to the subjects of the articles, to lead the reader to more specialised information, so increasing the potential of the book for music lovers and students alike.

There are many people who must be thanked for this book’s second coming: Mike Collins and Maria O’Donovan and the board and staff at Cork University Press, Sara Wilbourne who inn her term as director there was the instigator of the first edition of the Companion in 1999.

In particular the typesetter and final page designer Dominic Carroll, a man of great patience, upon whom the whole final shape hung. And for the design and construction of the web site, a vital part too of the whole project, I have to thank Nick Lethert of Minneapolis, one of those in the world wide community of committed interest that is Irish Traditional music today.

The book’s credits list the many others, but  in particular I will again thank the funders who made it possible for me to dedicate the time needed – An Foras Feasa at Maynooth for a year’s secondment, Dundalk Institute of Technology for a term’s sabbatical, Deis, the Arts Council’s Traditional music fund for several month’s cover, and the Ireland Fund of Monaco for a residency in 2008 during which much of the detail was worked out. I have of course put in a couple of years of my own time – and stolen time – in addition to all of that, and for that I have to most sincerely acknowledge the invaluable support – and forbearance – of my partner Evelyn Conlon.

A special dedication too is needed for those who contributed, but are no longer with us: David Hammond, Tom Munnelly, Hugh Shields, Frank Harte, Eamonn O’Doherty and Muiris O  Rócháin. Each of these was greatly supportive to the original book, and this edition owes much to their articles, images, advice and ideas. I would like also to thank the RIA for hosting this occasion, Professor Michael Cronin for the splendid introduction, and Nicholas Carolan of the Irish Traditional Music Archive for his warm and erudite launch address. And of course I am honoured by all of you being present.

Finally I must sincerely thank Odhrán Ó Casaide and the Traditional music students of The College of Music, Dublin (DIT) who provided the music during the evening [Darina Gleeson (accordion), Mark Redmond (pipes), Amy Farrell (bodhrán), Clare McCague (harp) and Robert Harvey (flute, a member of Dónal Lunny’s experimental band Ciorras)].

For those who are eager, we are repairing to the Harcourt Hotel after this, one stop from Stephen’s Green on the Luas. There is bar food, space – and music from those who have instruments.