Preface - A History of Irish Music

William H. Grattan Flood

ALTHOUGH Erin is symbolical of Minstrelsy there has never yet appeared anything like a trustworthy History of Music in Ireland—that is to say, of genuine Celtic-Irish and Anglo-Irish Music. We have absolutely no compact record of the "divine art," wherein the Celts of Ireland pre-eminently excelled, or of its professors and exponents during sixteen hundred years of authentic history.

Innumerable magazine articles, and references to the "land of song" have been published during the past century, but to the serious student of Irish music no standard work was at all available. True it is, no doubt, that the sources of information may almost be regarded as an embarras des richesses, yet these are so scattered, and in some cases so difficult of access, that the task of wading through such voluminous material would be no light one.

Hitherto the principal authorities on the subject have been Walker, Bunting, Hardiman, Petrie, Beauford, Drummond, Renehan, Pilkington, O'Curry, and Conran; whilst some little information is to be met with passim in Rimbault, Chappell, Burney, Hawkins, Crotch, Busby, Rockstro, Davey, Moore, Hudson, O'Daly, Joyce, Moffat, Sparling, Graves, and O'Donoghue. The Dictionary of National Biography and Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians are somewhat deficient in their treatment of Irish musicians; and it is no exaggeration to add that the information vouchsafed of the thirty natives of Ireland who are included in the former colossal work of reference is unreliable, whilst the number of omissions is simply appalling.

O'Curry says: "Much has been confidently written on the ancient Irish music and musical instruments, particularly by Mr. Joseph Cooper Walker and Mr. Edward Bunting; the former chiefly from imagination, and the latter from induction, aided by a high musical education. Walker seems to have been the sport of every pretender to antiquarian knowledge, but more especially the dupe of an unscrupulous person of the name of Beauford—not the learned author of the Memoir of a Map of Ireland, but another clergyman of the name—who unblushingly pawned his pretended knowledge of facts on the well-intentioned but credulous Walker."

All Irish students must be for ever grateful to O'Curry for having gathered together what has well been described as "a mine of information" in his Lectures on the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, edited by Dr. W. K. Sullivan. The section dealing with "Music and Musical Instruments in Ancient Erin" cannot be ignored, especially in connection with Dr. Sullivan's learned Introduction and Notes; yet, I must rather unwillingly acknowledge that many of his theories and conclusions are at variance with the result of recent scholarship. During the past thirty years our knowledge of matters relating to Ireland has been wonderfully added to; and the investigations of erudite writers have cleared away the almost impenetrable haze which had so long obscured the state of civilization as regards literature, art, and music in pre-Norman and mediaeval days.

No further apology is therefore needed for offering the present work to the reading public. Twenty-six years of unwearied research have resulted in a colossal amount of material, but I have endeavoured to condense my matter so as to produce a concise history. Moreover, I have avoided as far as possible all technicalities, and thus hope to make these pages more popular, and within the scope of the average reader.

It would be ungrateful not to mention the valuable assistance received from numerous kind friends, and from the Librarians of the home and continental libraries. As far as possible, all references have been verified at first hand; whilst, from the sixteenth century onwards, the State Papers and contemporary documents have been laid under tribute. Files of newspapers, commencing with the year 1728, have proved of much service, and rare magazines and chap-books have been consulted. Dr. Henry Watson and Dr. Culwick lent me some unique music books, and Mr. T. L. Southgate allowed me to use his exceedingly scarce edition of Playford's Dancing Master (1652). The Lord Abbot of Mount Melleray, Mr. F. J. Bigger, Mr. Andrew Gibson, Mr. Barclay Squire, Mr. David Comyn, Dr. Douglas Hyde, Mr. H. F. Berry, Dr. W. H. Cummings, Dr. Cox, The O'Neill, The Lady Abbess of Stanbrook, Mr. Dix, Father G. O'Neill, S.J., and others helped me in many ways.

I must especially thank Father Maurus, Prior of Mount Melleray, for his kindness in reading through the proofs, and supplying many valuable suggestions. His unrivalled knowledge of Irish was ever at my service in the case of archaic Irish names of songs, dance-tunes, etc., some of which proved a stumbling-block to O'Curry and Hardiman.

Above all, I must thank my subscribers—whose names will be found at the end of this volume—for their material support in the expense of publication.

In conclusion, it is my earnest wish that the result of my labours will prove, in the words of O'Heerin, "an addition of knowledge on holy Ireland."


November 1st, 1904.