Irish Gifts for the Season

Well, Christmas is creeping up on us and will be here before you know it, and it is possible that you might be seeking some suggestions to satisfy that insatiable trad head in your household or of your acquaintance.

I have a few notions that have come my way in the past few weeks that might help you come up with the perfect gift that will help wile away the wintry hours when the weather may keep us from our appointed rounds.

Last month when I had some spare time in Dublin I made my way to Merrion Square to visit the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) at 73 Merrion Square, and marveled at what a wonderful resource it is for music fans and researchers.

Director Nicholas Carolan and his staff have done a mighty job of collecting and preserving as many of the musical treasures as they can down through the years with the financial assistance of the Irish government and its citizens.

One of their more public activities is producing the longest running television series on RTE devoted to Irish traditional music entitled Come West Along the Road after the reel carrying the same name going back to the early 1990s. Carolan is the primary researcher and presenter. The show has enjoyed over 13 seasons as one of the more popular programs on RTE One as well as an Irish language version, Siar an Bothar, on TG/4.

Periodically those programs are further culled into DVD productions that are available to Irish music fans everywhere, and Come West Along the Road Volume 3 has just been released. No doubt it contains as many classic original performances as volumes one and two, so collectors will be anxious to get their hands on it.

While the quality and variety of old recordings posted on YouTube has improved significantly, there is nothing like having these digital treasures at your fingertips.

Volume 3 of Come West Along the Road has almost 3 1/2 hours of historic footage mainly from the RTE television archives and also from other video collections like the Folklore Commission (UCD).

There are 65 tracks of Irish traditional song, instrumental music and dance unleashed from RTE, covering its earliest broadcasting days in the 1960s to the end of the 1980s, including a bonus track from RTE’s first effort at filming a Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann in Bunclody of 1963.

Among the many historic highlights are appearances by John Kelly, Senior, Sharon Shannon, Jimmy Crowley and Stokers Lodge, Seamus Tansey, Josie McDermott and Tommy Flynn, the Thatch Ceili Band, Proinsias and Mairead O Maonaigh, Planxty, Micho Russell, Ted, Finbar and Eddie Furey, Julia Clifford, Paddy Cronin and Willie Clancy.

Singers are given great exposure, especially for some of their signature songs like Paul Brady and Andy Irvine (“Mary and the Soldier”), Mary Black (“Anachie Gordon”), Joe Heaney (“Rocks of Bawn”), Rita Gallagher (“Lough Erne Shore”), Anne Byrne and Jesse Owens (“The Four Marys”), Sarah, Rita and Delores Keane (“I’m Thinking, Ever Thinking”) and the very elegant Mary O’Hara (“The Spanish Lady”).

The DVDs can be ordered directly from the RTE shop online, but I would recommend purchasing them through the ITMA via their website www.itma.ie, or by phone to 353-1-661-9699 and they can work out payment via Paypal. Volume 3 is $20, Volume 1 (145 minutes) is $13.38 and Volume 2 (152 minutes) is $17.39 at current exchange rates. Postage and shipping would be just under $5 but if purchasing multiple items, price may need to be adjusted at the time the order is placed. Getting all three if you don’t have them is a good idea while they are available because these compilations go out of stock.

Also new from the ITMA is a hardcover reproduction of one of the first notated collections of Irish music published in 1724. Entitled A Collection of the Most Celebrated Irish Tunes Proper for the Violin, German Flute or Hautboy, (i.e., oboe), it was published originally by instrument makers John and William Neal in Christ Church Cathedral.

Said to be older than other surviving collection, it even influenced Turlough O’Carolan who was alive in Dublin at that time. The book is $40 and shipping is $14.70 at today’s rates.

If you want to support the work of the ITMA you can join the group Friends of the Archive and receive a 20% discount on purchases which you can do at the time of your order placement.

For the serious student of Irish music in America comes the publication of a special issue of the Journal of the Society for American Music devoted to Irish music in the U.S.

It contains a theme-setting foreword by the guest editors Sally K. Sommers Smith and Paul F. Wells, who assembled seven academic writers to expound on topics they researched and delivered in academic conferences. They shepherded a lot of information into the heady but handy (125 pages) paperback volume (Volume 4, number four November 2010). These essays will be especially interesting for the summer school students of Irish music camps who are looking for some stimulating reading over the winter months.

Wells is director emeritus of the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University who has published on North American and Irish traditional music in the past, as well as performed on fiddle and flute.
Smith is a professor of natural science and biology at Boston University and Wellesley College as well as a fiddler in the Irish and Cape Breton traditions, and has written on the evolution of Irish and Scottish music in the U.S. and Canada.

Wells leads off the scholarly essays with a closer look on an important but unheralded 19th century tune book known as Ryan’s Mammoth Collection published in Boston by Elias Howe and William Bradbury Ryan.

Smith follows with a further examination of the legacy of Captain Francis O’Neill in Irish music today.

NYU scholar Scott Spencer, well known around Glucksman Ireland House during his recent Ph.D quest, writes about the importance of the early recordings in America and their influence back in Ireland. Rochester Irish music historian and archivist Ted McGraw deals with one of his favorite subjects, the McNulty family, where we learn of their charismatic impact as Irish American entertainers.

Cork fiddler Matt Cranitch, a Ph.D steeped in the music of Sliabh Luachra, details the career of Paddy Cronin, a fiddler who came from Gneeveguilla outside of Killarney. He spent much of his life living and working in the Boston area before returning to his native Kerry.

Tim Collins, a Ph.D candidate at UOIG, focuses on the East Galway region of Sliabh Aughty Mountains and the music it engendered that emigrated along with its musicians and remained with them like they never left home.

Anchoring this academic essay relay is Drew University Ph.D candidate, Earle Hitchner, who as one of the most respected Irish music journalists around knows how much the music environment has been changed by technology reflects on the adaptability of today’s artists in Irish American traditional music.

Copies of this special issue can be purchased for $30 from Cambridge University Press. Visit www.journals.cambridge.org/sam.

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