Anglo-Irish Music in the Seventeenth Century

William H. Grattan Flood
Chapter XX

ALTHOUGH Mystery or Morality Plays had disappeared in England in the opening decade of the seventeenth century, they still lingered on in Ireland, especially in Dublin, Wexford, and Kilkenny. On July 2nd, 1610, the Corporation of Kilkenny voted a salary of twenty shillings for keeping "the apparel used on Corpus Christi Day station, and the dresses of the Morris dancers," as also "the apparel of the players of the Resurrection." As before stated, music entered largely into these mumming performances. However, the "legitimate" drama was being gradually introduced, and in 1634 John Ogilby (dancing master and translator) was appointed "Master of the Revels."

An old record has frequently been quoted regarding the performance of "Gorboduc" at Dublin Castle in September, 1601, on Queen Elizabeth's birthday, but apparently this was a private performance, and it was not till 1635 that John Ogilby opened a public theatre, at a cost of £2,000, in Werburgh-street, Dublin. The only other notice of a play before the year 1634 is an entry in the Black Book of the King's Inns, from which it appears that, in the Hilary Term of the year 1630, a sum of two pounds was given to "the players for the grand day."[1]

Thomas Bateson, Organist and Vicar-Choral of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, from 1609 to 1630, was the first who received the degree of Mus. Bac. from Trinity College in 1615. In 1618 he published his Second Set of Madrigals, printed by Thomas Snodham, of London, the successor of Thomas Este. Nothing now is known of Bateson's subsequent career, save that he provided handsomely for his family in Ireland. He was succeeded as organist of both cathedrals by Randal Jewitt (1631-1639), who also received the degree of Mus. Bac. of Dublin University.

In 1626 there was printed at Dublin a ballad entitled "Mount Taragh's Triumph," to the tune of "The Careere" ("Maister Basse, his Careere, or The Hunting of the Hare"), principally remarkable as being the earliest English ballad printed in Ireland. Four years later Father James Myles—called Milesius by Wadding—a native of Drogheda, wrote an admirable work on theory and vocal music. This work, Ars nova Cantandi, sive Brevis Methodus Musicae addiscendae, was printed at Naples in 1630, and, as Ware adds, "is still held in esteem among the adepts in Musick." Father Myles (Moelisu) was a Franciscan, and lived for some years at the Irish College, Rome, whence he removed to Naples. He also wrote an English Catechism, one of the earliest of its class. His death took place at Naples in 1639. According to contemporaries he was not only a good theorist, but a practical musician as well.

The opening of a public theatre in Werburgh-street, Dublin, under the patronage of the Viceregal Court, in 1635, was a memorable event. In order to secure the monopoly, an Act of Parliament was passed to punish all wandering minstrels, players of Interludes, etc., and to confine them in houses of correction in the same category as "rogues, vagabonds, sturdy beggars, and other lewd and idle persons." A stock company was formed for the season 1636-7, and among the members were the best of the itinerant players "who had formerly been necessitated to stroll from booth to booth in the principal towns and cities, and to wander from hall to hall amongst the rural mansions of the gentry and nobility." [2]

James Shirley's plays of The Royal Master (dedicated to George, Earl of Kildare), The Doubtful Heir (first styled Rosania, or Love's Victory), St. Patrick for Ireland, and The Constant Maid, were specially written for, and first performed at, the Dublin theatre in Werburgh-street. Nay, more, there were Dublin editions of these plays printed by T. Cotes, and sold by "Thomas Allot and Edmond Crook, near the Castle in Dublin." Strafford was a great patron of the play-house, and hence the Anglicising process went on, St. Patrick for Ireland being the first attempt at the "stage Irishman." During Shirley's stay several of Ben Jonson's plays were produced by Ogilby, as also plays by Beaumont and Fletcher, and Middleton. Shirley returned to England at the close of the year 1638, or early in 1639.

Between the years 1615 and 1635 there are evidences of organs being procured for the Protestant cathedrals of Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny, and Limerick, though it was not till 1634 that a salaried organist—Richard Galway—was appointed to Armagh. Bernard Adams, Protestant Bishop of Limerick from 1604 to 1630, describes, in the Black Book of Limerick, that "two organs had grown old in his cathedral before the wars of Elizabeth," and that he had procured "a very beautiful new organ," and had also reorganised the choir, "providing scientific choirmen and four boy choristers." Under date of November 4th, 1633, the Dean and Chapter of Cork Cathedral approved of the sum of £10 in payment for "the completion of a musical instrument, called in English organs, as is the custom to have in cathedral churches." In the same year was ratified the choir foundation of Armagh Cathedral out of the lands of the Culdees for the support of "eight singing men, four choristers, and an organist," to be called "the College of King Charles in the church of St. Patrick, Armagh," and one year's endowment was to be reserved "to provide a pair of organs for the church." On September 5th, 1637, the "reformed" Chapter of Armagh was incorporated, with Peter Wentworth as Dean.

Although editions of the Psalms of David were printed in Dublin in 1637 and 1644, yet no music was printed till late in the seventeenth century. A version of the Psalms in Metre, with music, by William Barton, M.A., was published in London in 1644, of which a Dublin edition appeared in 1697, but without the music. Sternhold and Hopkins—which Mr. J. E. Matthew pronounces a "a sorry production"—held the field till supplanted by Tate and Brady. It is remarkable that Ravenscroft's Psalter found no favour in Ireland.

The "Great Rebellion" of 1641, followed by the Cromwellian régime, militated against the development of music, and Ireland suffered much from the Puritan destruction of organs, and the opposition to minstrelsy generally. The last play acted in Werburgh-street Theatre, in 1640, was Landgartha by Henry Burnell—described as a Tragi-Comedy in Five Acts, printed in Dublin in 1641. After this date, by order of the Lords Justices, no theatrical performances were allowed, and Werburgh-street theatre closed for ever.

Sunday, January 27th, 1661, was the first time that the organ again pealed forth in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, on which occasion an anthem was sung, composed by Rev. Dr. William Fuller, Dean of St. Patrick's, subsequently Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert, and Aghadoe, whence he was translated to Lincoln in 1667. Although a copy of this anthem is in the British Museum, yet the music was not printed, and was sung from a manuscript score.

On May 9th, 1644, organs were ordered to be removed from all churches and colleges, and the mandate was carried out with ruthless barbarity. In 1647 the beautiful organ of Cashel Cathedral was broken to pieces. Regarding the Parish Church of St. Mary's, New Ross, County Wexford, it is recorded in the Corporation books that "Lieut.-Colonel John Puckle, Govenor of New Ross in 1652, took away the fayre payre of organs and a ring of five bells from St. Mary's Church." Again, the Governor of Waterford, Colonel Sadleir, pulled down the "great paire of organs" in the Cathedral of Waterford, and the pipes were sold by Town Major Rickards in 1651.[3]

Those interested in early cathedral music for Protestant worship will be glad to learn that in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, there is a unique printed Book of Anthems for the use of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, dated 1662. However, it only contains the words, and the music must have been in manuscript, probably arranged by John Hawkshaw, who was organist of both cathedrals from 1661 to 1686.

One of the most distinguished Anglo-Irish musicians of this period was John Birkenshaw, of Dublin, son of Sir Ralph Birkenshaw, Comptroller of the Musters and Cheques. He fled to London in 1640, and settled down as a teacher of singing, composition, and the viol. Not only was he a skilled performer, but he was also a good theorist and a classical scholar, praised especially by Playford in 1652 as a "Master for the Voice or Viol." In 1664 he published an English translation of Templum Musicum, by Alstedius. This work was printed by William Godbid, London, with an engraved frontispiece. He is best known as the music master of Samuel Pepys, who makes several references to him in his Diary. Evelyn also praises Birkenshaw, who brought out Syntagma Musicae in 1672.[4]

It has been asserted that the Psalm Books issued by John Crook, of Dublin, in 1661 and 1664, were set to music, but this is not so. I have examined both editions, and they merely contain the words. Another interesting liturgical work was printed by Crook in 1666, namely, the French Protestant Prayer-book, for the use of the refugees who had been given the Lady Chapel of St. Patrick's Cathedral, in 1663. A copy of this scarce duodecimo of 140 pages is in possession of Professor Mahaffy.

In 1661 John Ogilby had his patent renewed for a theatre, and fixed on Smock-alley as a suitable site. Accordingly, a new play-house was erected, and opened to the public in 1662. One of the first plays performed was Pompey, being a translation from the French of Corneille, by Mrs. Katherine Phillips, the famed Orinda, with a prologue by the Earl of Roscommon, and an epilogue by Sir Edward Dering. It must have been popular, as an edition was printed by John Crook, of Dublin, in 1663, a copy of which is in the Bodleian Library. Another play, called Horace, by the same talented lady, was produced in Dublin in 1663, but it did not meet with the success of her previous effort.[5] Ogilby (the translator of Virgil in 1666, and of Homer in 1669, both printed in Dublin) met with a sad reverse in 1671, when during the performance of Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, on December 26th (Boxing Night), the upper gallery of his theatre fell, by which three persons were killed and several wounded.

Although it is generally known that King Charles II., after the Restoration, introduced a band of twenty-four Instrumentalists into the Chapel Royal (whose services were first heard on Sunday, September 14th, 1662), few are aware that the frivolous monarch was indebted to an Irishman, Rev. Peter Talbot, S.J., for many of his musical ideas. When residing at Madrid in 1659, Father Peter Talbot was commissioned by King Charles to procure for him some Spanish music, which commission was duly fulfilled in January, 1660. The Irish priest also supplied the English monarch with French and Portuguese airs.[6] Readers of Irish history need scarcely be told that this distinguished ecclesiastic was afterwards Archbishop of Dublin, and was arrested in October, 1678, for supposed complicity in the "Popish Plot"—dying a confessor in Dublin Castle two years later.

In 1666 Archbishop Talbot writes thus of Father Peter Walshe, who lived in Kennedy's-court, Dublin:—

"The Remonstrants treated Walsh and his Commissary, Father Redmond Caron, very splendidly at the sign of the Harp and Crown, in Dublin, almost every night, with good cheer, dancing and danes [dana], or Irish cronans, especially the famous Ballinamone, which was styled in a letter to Rome, 'cantio barbara et agrestis,' and called by the soldiers of the guard in Dublin (hearing it every night at midnight) Friar Walsh and Friar N. singing of psalms! Call you suffering to see your grave Remonstrants dance jigs and country dances, to recreate yourself and the Commissary?" [7]

The song alluded to was the famous "Ballinamona Oro," which was subsequently introduced by Henry Brooke into his Jack, the Giant Queller, in 1748, and by O'Keeffe, into his Poor Soldier, in 1783. Mr. Alfred Moffat says that the air, as "Balin a mone," is included in Burke Thumoth's Collection in 1745, but he was apparently unacquainted with the above reference to it by Dr. Peter Talbot.

There are not wanting evidences of the cultivation of the virginal, or spinet, and the viol in Ireland between the years 1660 and 1665, and an examination of old wills and deeds of that time prove the point. Only to quote one instance at random.[8] In an inventory of of goods belonging to Edmund Ronayne, deceased, Blarney, County Cork, taken on August 12th, 1665, we come across the two following items: "A payre of Virginalls, vallued ten shillings, and an old violl."

Perhaps it is as well to explain that the name "virginal" gradually got out of use after the year 1663, and was replaced by that of "spinet" or "espinette," the French designation. The vogue of spinets continued till about the year 1780, though harpsichords were more popular after the year 1730, and both instruments were superseded by the pianoforte in 1765.

From a description of Ireland, printed in London in 1673, the following extract is interesting:—"The Irish gentry are musically disposed, and therefore many of them play singular well upon the Irish harp; they affect also to play at tables. The common sort are much given to dancing after their country way, and the men to play upon the Jews-harp."

Thomas Dineley, in his Tour of Ireland, in 1681, seems to have the above volume before him. His description of "Old Irish Feasts" is as follows:—"They [the Irish] are at this day much addicted (on holidays, after the bagpipe, Irish harp, or Jews' harp) to dance after their country's fashion, that is, the Long Dance."


[1] Lewy Barry, an Irish Lawyer, wrote Ram Alley in 1611; reprinted in 1636.

[2] Walker's Essay on the Irish Stage. (Trans. R.I.A., 1788.)

[3] Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. ii., 1852.

[4] For interesting details of Birkenshaw see Sir Frederick Bridge's Samuel Pepys' Lover of Musique, a charming volume, issued in October, 1903.

[5] John Dancer's Agrippa was played by Viceregal command in 1664, and Sir Robert Howard (who lived for a year in Ireland) gave a performance of The Committee, in Dublin, in 1665.

[6] Spicilegium Ossoriense, by Cardinal Moran.

[7] Gilbert's History of Dublin.

[8] Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 1856.