Traditional Music - The Collections

It is only in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that tunes of the Irish music oral tradition started to be collected and referred in printed collections. Mayo had been a good source for collectors and many tunes and songs published came from our county.

In 1724 the first notated collection of Irish music: "A Collection of the Most Celebrated Irish tunes" was published by John and William Neale in Dublin. Almost all tunes were attributed to harpers or collected from the playing of professional harpers of that time and referred to the counties of midlands and Connaught. In this collection three tunes attributed to the famous last Irish bard Turlough Carolan were composed for members of a respected family, the Burkes, who lived near Castlebar: "Thomas Burke", "Isabel Burke" and "Planxty Burke", while the tune "Lord Mayo" was composed by the harper David Murphy and dedicated to Theobald Burke 6th Viscount Mayo.

In this collection also the tune "Fanny Dillon" appears, attributed to Carolan as well. The subject was a member of the Dillons of Mannin, Ballyhaunis in Co. Mayo. Carolan also composed a tune for her father Gerard and her husband James Betagh.

Eighty years later in the spring of 1802 the collector and Irish scholar Patrick Lynch, on a mission for Edward Bunting, arrived on 6 May to Ballina. Mayo proved to be a rich collecting ground and Lynch remained in our county for two months noting down more than 130 songs and tunes belonging to Mayo's heritage. Lynch found singers, noted down their song words and translated into English prose. He visited Ardagh, Killala, Tirawley, Crossmolina, Erris, Belmullet, Newport, Castlebar, Belcarra, Drommin, Louisburgh and Westport. During his tour he had many difficulties: bad weather, flooded rivers and deserted countrysides; he also met spongers and wrongdoers. He recorded songs from clergymen such as Father Conway at Ardagh, Dean Egan at Newport and Mr Ward at Louisburgh, but he had a strong help in his work from the common people met in public houses on convivial evenings where they used to ask for payment whiskey and tobacco for them and their relatives. On one occasion he heard a brogue master singing at his work and invited him to a pot of beer; often in the houses, where he used to lodge, women sung songs for him. He picked up song words and music from the Belmullet poet Riocard Bairéad and the Louisburgh blind piper Billy O'Malley, he got a better version of "Lord Mayo" from an old blind man called Redmond Stanton in Westport.

Edward Bunting joined him in Westport on 6 July and they began the collection of songs and music together. They spent sixteen days in Westport and then moved to Ballinrobe. As result of the work of these two men in 1840 Bunting published his final collection: "The Ancient Music Of Ireland" where tunes such as "Carolan Dowry", "The blackbird and the hen" and "I am a fisherman on Lough Carra" appeared.

In the second decade of the nineteenth century the collector and antiquarian George Petrie began to collect tunes and air he heard travelling throughout Ireland. He could play several instruments and for this reason he had the habit of jotting down any tune he enjoyed; as result all the music collected by him is said to have the purest Irish form with no classical variations. Petrie visited Mayo too and in Westport he collected some tunes from Mr P.J.O'Really including: "My love will never forsake me", "My lover has gone, my heart is sore" and "Spring into the drink". Petrie wrote these tunes were noted down from the singing of peasantry in the wild mountains districts of the county and they were ancient. He also taught the first was very ancient because he noticed that the feeling, tone and structure were different from other tunes but similar to ancient Gothic and Scandinavian airs ascribing it to the long occupation of Ireland by Danes and Northmen in remote ages. All his work was published by Charles Stanford in three volumes between 1902 and 1905 under the title: "The Complete Collection of Irish Music noted by George Petrie" and it can be considered an important contribution to the study of Irish music.

Focus on Isabel Burke

For this air some words of a love song still exist: "I would walk night and day with you,
And every single place throughout Ireland;
And I would go to Spain with you,
And I without two pennies for a dowry.
My relations and friends For your sake I would desert
Until death would come, to have it to say that I belong to him."

From QUB Bunting MS 10/81.