Beauty is in the eye of the (informed) beholder. Where many of us might overlook a grubby little copy book or an awkwardly named interlibrary loan, others can help us understand them as treasures that shine new understanding on Irish history. Learn how Laura Flanagan in Texas and Dáibhí Ó Cróinín made unexpected finds; learn more about special library collections from Aedín Clements; and consider why printed souvenirs hold meaning for a mostly oral culture of musicians and storytellers.
(Oh, and why not take a side trip to Thailand. Because even hard working researchers can use a break once in a while).
Thank you to everybody for listening. And a special thank you to this month’s underwriters:
Susan Walsh, Rick Rubin, Matt Jensen, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, Andrew Westphal, Ian Bittle, Chris Murphy, Irish & Celtic Music Podcast, David Vaughan, Tom Frederick, Paul DeCamp, Gerry Corr, Jonathan Duvick, Sean Carroll, Brian Benscoter, Isobel McMahon, Finian McCluskey, John Ploch, Suezen Brown, and Bob Suchor.
Episode 64 – O’Farrell’s Trip to Texas
Pages of Irish history found in Lubbock & Leipzig
This Irish Music Stories episode aired September 20, 2022
Speakers, in order of appearance
>> Shannon Heaton: flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music Stories
>> Laura Flanagan: Irish fiddle player and graduate student from Lubbock, Texas
>> Dáibhí Ó Cróinín: Irish historian who specializes in Hiberno-Latin texts and Middle Ages
>> Aedín Ní Bhróithe Clements: Irish Studies Librarian and Curator of Irish Collections at Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Libraries
>> Nigel Heaton: young announcer for Irish Music Stories
>> Shannon: I’m Shannon Heaton, and this is Irish music Stories. The show about traditional music and the bigger stories behind it…
[ Music: “Queen of the Earth and Child of the Skies,” from The Western Star
Artist: Eric Merrill ]
Like how old grubby little library finds can forge unexpected connections. That’s what happened when Laura Flanagan encountered a rare book by P. O’Farrell, collected by Chicago police chief Francis O’Neill.
>> Laura: l was trying to get this book for this essay that I wrote for this class. But it led me into a much richer, deeper understanding, not only of O’Farrell and of O’Neill. But also like the layers of time, and the way that transmission works. And just the respect that I have for that.
>> Shannon: O’Farrell is a ridiculously mysterious musical character. Meanwhile, Captain Francis O’Neill is a huge figure in Irish music history. He’s the subject of Irish Music Stories Episode 61, Rounding up the Tunes.
Also huge in Irish history circles: Whitley Stokes.
>> Dáibhí: If you happen to do Celtic studies and you come to study any particular text, the chances are 99 point something percent that Whitley edited that text.
>> This is Dáibhí Ó Cróinín in Galway.
>> Dáibhí: My background is in early Irish history and Celtic Studies and so on. That’s what I taught in college here in Galway. So for anybody who’s interested in Celtic Studies, Whitley Stokes was the man in Ireland in the 19th century and the early 20th century. He was the great towering figure of philology.
Though for him, it was a sideline. It was his spare time, because he was the chief legal officer in the British administration in India. But in his spare time, he was very much into the early history of Ireland and trying to preserve what there was of it.
>> Shannon: Whitley was in India nearly 20 years, during which time he drafted a lot of law codes. And he met Mary Bazeley and had 6 kids. And he filled notebook after notebook with historical findings: connections about linguists, literature, art, archaeology, any links and artifacts he could find to people who speak the Celtic languages of Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, Cornish, Manx.
In India, and on trips back to Ireland, Whitley kept these notebooks. One of his six kids, Maïve Stokes, took after her dad. She compiled a collection of 29 Fairy Tales that she’d been told by her nannies. When she was 12 years old, they printed 100 copies of her book Indian Fairy Tales. Those were probably drafted in the same little headline copy books that Whitley used.
Maïve’s book: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Indian_Fairy_Tales_(Stokes,_1879)
[ Music: “Ballyea, Hangin’ at the Crossroads,” from Hangin’ at the Crossroads
Artist: The Céilí Bandits ]
Old Whitley Stokes was from Dublin, about 200 miles from Baile Mhúirne, which is where Dáibhí’s grandmother, Elizabeth Cronin lived. She also kept some notes of songs she’d learned. But she also carried a lot of her extensive singing repertoire in her heart.
It wasn’t until much later in her life that a cavalcade of music collectors captured songs jjh Bess Cronin had known for decades.
In this episode, I’ll speak with Dáibhí about the two editions of the Songs of Elizabeth Cronin that he compiled and about all those Whitley Stokes notebooks. I’ll also ask Laura Flanagan and librarian Aedín Clements about that rare piping treatise from the late 1700s. And I’ll explore why printed souvenirs—and why the old name for Bangkok—all hold meaning for a mostly oral culture of musicians and storytellers.
Laura Flanagan plays Irish fiddle. And she’s getting her PhD in Fine Arts and Musicology at Texas Tech. This means she takes classes with some classical musicians.
>> Laura: Back in the spring of 2021, I was writing a paper for an early music performance class. And you know , I play traditional music. And so when I started the class, I was like, what am I gonna do for my final project? I’m gonna have to perform in front of all of these, you know, operatic singers and …
>> Shannon: And here’s Laura with her fiddle. So she was grasping for some known territory, because comfort zone is usually a solid plan. Whether it’s songs from your granny or tunes with a friend, it can be good to play what you know. And with someone you know. So Laura’s got this friend who plays uilleann pipes. And she’d caught wind (haha) of a Baroque composer, Francesco Geminiani, who had incorporated Irish themes into his work.
>> Laura: I decided, okay, well I’m gonna learn about Geminiani, who was in Ireland for a good amount of time, and actually died in Ireland in 1762, and is buried there. I’m gonna put this performance together. And I’d like to pull the pipes into it, because that’s right around the time in the late 18th century when we started to have treatises on how to play the uilleann pipes. And so I thought, oh, that’ll be great for my performance. I have a friend who plays pipes, And it’ll be a fiddle and pipe performance, and we’ll pull this tune from Geminiani’s piece. And kind of in an imagined way, pull it back into the tradition. And it’ll be fun.
>> Shannon: And it ticks all the boxes
>> Laura: It ticks all the boxes.
[ Music: “O’Farrell’s Welcome to Limerick/Miss Ramsey,” from Traditional Irish Music on Fiddle
Artist: Jayne Pomplas ]
[ Music: “D Chimes,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]
>> Shannon: Ok. So Laura was really just looking for a trad hookup. For some way to link this 18th century composer with Irish bagpiping. To give her performance of fiddle and uilleann pipes some context in a classical music class. And this set her on her search for an obscure book about Irish piping.
>> Laura: I was trying to get hold of a copy of O’Farrell’s Collection of National Irish music for the Union Pipes, which has the instructions on how to play the pipes. And you can usually find a copy of things and get hold of a photocopy of an original. And I couldn’t find it. So I went into our university, and requested it through interlibrary loan. I’m thinking, great. Just like with Geminiani’s piece, I’ll get a copy of this. And I can have a better look at, you know, what the range of the pipes were, and the system, and all of that. And this request that I had made didn’t come in.
>> Shannon: The book didn’t show. It’s okay. She wrote the paper. She presented the music. It all went fine, even without the O’Farrell’s book
>> Laura: The book actually came in the day after the paper was due, right? So I had finished the paper. I went up to the library. I picked up the, the book, which was in a box, which was a little strange, but I didn’t think much of it. I put it in my bag. I brought it home. And I still had like two other papers to complete. So I set it in a corner in my desk area, and went and completed the rest of my papers.
I had just turned in the very last thing for the semester. And I thought I should celebrate! So as one does, when one is a PhD student, I poured a glass of wine and I thought, let’s look at those interlibrary loan books that I didn’t get a chance to look at. <laugh>
>> Shannon: Hahaha! Pizza on your fingers!
[ Music: “D Mutey Big Build,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]
>> Laura: Just the wine, right? So I open this box. And I pull out, you know, it’s hardbound. And I open it, and I start looking at it. And the first thing I saw when I opened it was the booklet plate that said, you know, Captain O’Neill. And I went, oh, well, that’s interesting. You know, it had come from the University of Notre Dame. So that was interesting.
>> Shannon: VERY interesting. Most Irish music people will know that Francis O’Neill became police captain of Chicago at the turn of the 20th Century. He was also a flute player. And on the side, he filled his notebooks with tunes that he collected from musical cops and other Irish people around Chicago. His self-published books contain staggering numbers of tunes. Archivist Nicholas Carolan called O’Neill’s collections “the largest snapshot of this music ever taken in its 9,000 year history.”
At the end of Chief O’Neill’s life, he donated his extensive personal library—music books and what he called Hiberniana—to the Hesberg Library in Notre Dame. One of these treasures was the O’Farrell book that Laura had requested.
>> Laura: I start going through it and realize that there’s a handwritten index. 1798 is the date that’s on it, handwritten on it. I’m like, oh my gosh. This is…. this is like an actual copy. And at which point I closed it. And I put it back in the box <laugh>. And I proceeded to panic. Because I’m like, why is this in my house? <laugh> and is this what I think it is?
>> Shannon: It was. It was, in fact, an original copy of this VERY specific tune collection and piping treatise. Laura showed me a picture of the cover, which contains the full title of the book—which is 40 syllables longer than the FULL historic name of Bangkok, which I’ll share at the end of this episode. But first we gotta get through the name of the O’Farrell book:
>> Laura: I’m gonna show you this so you can see.
>> Shannon: O’Farrell’s Collection of National Irish Music for the Union pipes, comprising of…
>> Laura: Comprising of variety of the most favorite, slow and spritely tunes set in proper stil and taste, with variations and adapted likewise for the German flute, violin, flageolet, piano, and harp with a selection of favorite Scotch tunes. Also a treatise with the most perfect instructions ever yet published for the pipes
>> Shannon: Haha. So he was really into really accessible elevator pitches for the public… Very excited. And there’s a picture of O’Farrell playing on the union pipes. So we know O’Farrell was a Piper. We don’t know O’Farrell’s first name. We just have P.
>> Laura: He is such a mystery. And nobody knows a lot about O’Farrell. He was apparently well known in London as a piper.
>> Shannon: And even though we know very little about him, and very little about his collecting methodology, and very little about where he learned his tunes and what his shtick was, we still revere this collection.
>> Laura: It’s not just the collection, but for pipers, you know, it’s the first instructions on how to play the pipes. According to Patrick Sky, this is like the first collection of tunes by a traditional Irish musician.
[ Music: “Planxty McSweeney,” from Many a Mile
Artist: Patrick Sky ]
>> Shannon: So it was this early, Irish perspective on Irish music. And on Irish piping. And it was so hard to find a copy of the book. That’s why American folk musician Patrick Sky reconstructed it.. I mean, O’Farrell’s Collection of National Irish Music for the Union Pipes was even tough for Chicago’s very well connected Chief of Police to round up.
>> Laura: O’Neill’s account of it is he talked about how rare it is. And that he sought the assistance of Irish and English book agencies and still couldn’t find it. Patrick Sky did this great service of going through and painstakingly, recreating it very carefully. And that’s the transcription that most people have.
>> Shannon: But Laura didn’t have Patrick’s reconstruction of the book. She had an original, one of MAYBE seven copies in the world.
>> Laura: Like the one person I wanted to talk to about this book was Patrick Sky. And that was the month that he passed away. And I was really… it was really devastating to know that I missed this opportunity.
>> Shannon: Sometimes the stars don’t align. But other times, providence shines. Like when an old book ends up with someone who immediately identifies and values it.
[ Mutey big build reprise ]
>> Laura: I knew what I had. And I knew I needed to send it back to Notre Dame. And so I contacted my friend who is an archivist and said, you know, what do I need to do with this book to make sure that it’s taken care of while it’s in my possession? And so I got some guidance on that.
And it was that night that we had a big weather alert in Lubbock, Texas. There was a huge storm, and we actually had a funnel cloud start to drop down just down the street from my house.
[ Music: “Rain Storm,” from Natso No Niwa Suite
Artists/Composer: Sérgio & Odair Assad ]
My reaction was to take the copy of O’Farrell’s, and wrap it in my pajamas, and put it at the bottom of my pajama drawer, because it was absolutely the safest place I could think of for this book. <laugh>.
I hid the book because it, it was, it just, I was just completely dumbfounded. Like I had this thing in my possession that was precious.
So when I contacted the University of Notre Dame, when I contacted Aedín, I left a message on her voicemail that said something like, you know, my name is Laura Flanagan. I’m a PhD student at Texas Tech. I have an inquiry about a book from O’Neill’s collection. And I named the book. And if you could call me back, that’d be great. <laugh>
And she called me back and she says, well, you know, I’m not in the library now because of Covid. But when I go in, I’ll look into it. And I said, no, no, it’s fine. I know where the book is. It’s at my house.
[ Music: “John’s Theme,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]
>> Aedín: Nothing from the rare book room goes out on interlibrary loan.
>> Shannon: Well… nothing that has been identified as coming from Chief O’Neill goes out on interlibrary loan. Aedín Clements oversees the collection at the Hesberg library. And she gave more context for this collection that Captain Franciss O’Neill gave to Notre Dame in 1931.
>> Aedín: His idea was that these books would be available for people to come and borrow and use. And he makes some comment about some more academic musicians, not wanting the ordinary people to have access to their books. So he really wanted them to get around.
I think because of that, it was never considered to be like a very special, valuable collection that should be locked away. It was always considered to something that should be out on the shelves.
>> Shannon: So when O’Neill donates these books in the beginning, they go just to the central library, so they can be, um, checked out by anyone who wants them?
>> Aedín: Anyone in the university, or anyone. who has a library card. So yes, they were out on the open shelves. And I think he probably just wanted to encourage musicians and encourage their interest. But as well as that, encourage and interest in Ireland and Irish history.
[ Music: “Chief O’Neill’s Favorite,” from Oil for the Chain Instructional Book
Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton ]
He had an inventory. And he had divided his inventory—the two main sections were music. And what he called Hiberniana. I t’s a fabulous collection of Irish history books from the 18th and 19th centuries. So he wasn’t just collecting books that were published in his time. He was actually collecting antiquarian books. For example there were a couple of editions of Bunting’s book, as examples of the early music collections. And many of the major histories of Ireland are in his collection.
I didn’t know the story about how they got to rare books until, um, really only three years ago, a friend who’s retired said to me, did you ever hear of Pat Max? And I said, no. And she said, oh, he worked here in the 80s. He was a reference librarian in the 1980s. And he plays music. I don’t know what instrument he plays, but his mother was from Belfast. So he recognized the importance of these books. And every book has an O’Neill book plate on the inside of cover. So he just started pulling them off the shelves and transferring them to rare books and special collections. And so when I came here like 16 years ago, I was aware of the O’Neill collection, but I didn’t know that history. Um, but what I do know is that history. But what I do know is that because of the way it happened, there could still be a stray book or two out on the shelves.
>> Shannon: That’s what happened with the O’Farrell book that ended up in Lubbock, Texas. It wasn’t in the rare book room. It was in the stacks.
>> Aedín: In normal times when somebody applies for something and interlibrary loan from the music library, a student worker might pull the book off the shelf. But the music librarian would oversee the, the loan. But in Covid times, it was hard to do things like this. We weren’t all in at the same time. If it had been normal times, the music librarian would’ve recognized that this book should not have gone on interlibrary loan. So it was very lucky that it ended up going to somebody who immediately panicked, you know! She just, she was shocked <laugh>
>> Shannon: Because it wasn’t the Patrick Sky re-print… it was an original copy of O’Farrell’s collection of national Irish music for the union pipes, Comprising of a variety of the most favorite, slow and spritely tunes set in proper stil and taste, with variations and adapted likewise for the German flute, violin, flageolet , piano, and harp with a selection of favorite Scotch tunes. Also a treatise with the most perfect instructions ever yet published for the pipes.
[ Music: “Discovery,”from Soundtrack
Composer/Artist: Rhodri McDonagh ]
>> Laura: The book was published at the end of the 18th century. One of the other things I noticed was the signature of Robert Reed.
>> Shannon: Robert Reed was a pipe maker who lived in Northumberland. He was born in 1784. And the O’Farrell book was published around 1798. Wonder how he got a copy of the book. Maybe Robert was O’Farrell’s instrument repair person?? Or maybe they played together? O’Farrell would have been maybe 30+ years older than Robert.
Well, Robert’s signature is in the the book that found its way to Laura in 2021.
>> Laura: It was dated 1821. And he’s got his personal notes. So I’m wondering, okay. Was he using this book to play for dances? Like, cuz it’s got his handwriting throughout the book. And then how did it go from Robert Reed to Francis O’Neill a hundred years later?
There’s something beautiful about it. or me, it’s a temporal thing. Like it’s these layers of, of being with, um, being with the music. And being with people. Even when you’re far away from them.
I was talking to my good friend and mentor Randall Bayes about it. And we were listening to, there’s a really great recording in the Ward Irish Music Archives. And it’s Patsy Touhey. And we were looking at the tune in O’Farrells with, you know, O’Neill’s notes. And listening to Patsy Touhey play it for one of the O’Neill wax cylinders.
So there was like this moment where it, it almost felt like time and space folded. So you’re, you’re reaching back and you’re touching these lives. And you know, to hold this thing that had been with these other musicians. And to have tunes in it that I play, and that I learned orally that are correct note for note. Like it’s just, it’s just so beautiful.
[ Tune: “Brian the Brave (AKA Poll Halfpenny),” from wax cylinder recording from the Dunn Family Collection
Artist: Patsy Touhey ]
[ Music: “Pound the Floor,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]
>> Shannon: Because of a few generous listeners, I’m able to bring these stories that span centuries, to all of you in 2022. That’s also pretty beautiful. Before learning about the treasures Dáibhí Ó Cróinín encountered in Leipzig, here’s my kid Nigel to thank this month’s supporters.
>> Nigel: Thank you to Susan Walsh, Rick Rubin, Matt Jensen, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, Andrew Westphal, Ian Bittle, Chris Murphy, Irish & Celtic Music Podcast, David Vaughan, Tom Frederick, Paul DeCamp, Gerry Corr, Jonathan Duvick, Sean Carroll, Brian Benscoter, Isobel McMahon, Finian McCluskey, John Ploch, Suezen Brown, and Bob Suchor.
>> Shannon: Thank you. To kick in—and to learn more about Laura Flanagan, Aedín Clements, and Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, please visit IrishMusicStories.org
* * * * * * * *
[ Music: “Bb Intro,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]
>> Shannon: Like P. O’Farrell, who collected and shared tunes and techniques in his piping treatise, Whitley Stokes was passionate about capturing and recording details about Irish culture and traditions. He didn’t lick it off a stone. His father also had great interest in Irish history and culture, and had his own record-keeping bent.
>> Dáibhí: His father was a famous surgeon. And his father was a bosom buddy of Oscar Wilde’s father, William Wilde. And they formed the centerpoint with a man called George Petrie of a great antiquarian circle of scholars, and historians, and archaeologists.
>> Shannon: So this fellowship decided to tag along with an organization called The British Association for the Advancement of Science, which was headed to the Aran Islands. These islands are part of the Irish speaking Gaeltacht, off the West Coast of Ireland. And a big attraction on Aran through to today is all the history—the ancient stone-walled fields, the prehistoric huts, the archeological remains.
>> Dáibhí: William Stokes and William Wilde and all that group organized a trip from Dublin down to Galway and then by boat out to the Aran islands. And Whitley as a very young man was part of that famous expedition to the Aran islands in 1857. And they spent about a week undertaking these so-called scientific researches. And then when the Brits, so to speak, went home, all the Irish stayed on and they had a hooley. They wrote home to their wives and their relations and told them to bring baskets with them. They were gonna have a holiday on the Aran Islands.
[ Music: “Man of Aran,” from Ceol ar an bhFeadóg Stáin. Irish Traditional Music On Tin Whistle
Artist: Donncha Ó Briain ]
After they’d done whatever it was they were doing during the day, they used to sit down by the fireside in a given household, and they would ask the locals to perform, to sing or to play and so on. And Petri who was a fiddler himself would play the tune on his fiddle, he’d write down the tune. And then go through verse by verse with the informant to make sure that the informant was happy with the recording. Whitley in a later letter, he wrote to Kuno Meyer. another great Celtic scholar–he was one of that great generation of German scholars who did such great things for Celtic studies. And in a letter in later life that he wrote to Kuno Meyer, he said that there were as many folk songs and folk tunes on Aran as there were flowers.
Apart from that remark that he made to Kuno Meyer about the songs, he doesn’t seem to have been actively participant himself.
>> Shannon: So he was just along to make TikTok videos while everybody was out sort of
>> Daíbhí: Haha. No it seems to have been the older generation:
[ Music: “Slip Jig Dreams,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]
William his father, William Wilde his companion, and then Petrie, George Petrie. And others. Yeah. Frederick Burton, a famous painter/watercolorist who painted Ireland’s favorite picture according to a poll, The Meeting on the Turret Stair. It’s a bit twee. You get it on, you know, postcards, and calendars, and chocolate, and that kind of thing. But Frederick William Burton, he actually went and he drew, amongst other things, Eugene O’Curry in the process of writing down a song from an Aran woman. It’s a magnificent drawing.
It’s interesting. You get to an actual recording of what they were doing at the time.
[ Music: “Ace and Deuce of Pipering,” from The Banks of the Moy
Artist: Brian Holleran ]
>> Shannon: An old pencil drawing of a music collector. A tangible, physical souvenir of an ephemeral practice. The painting… and the melodies Petrie grabbed on his fiddle… and the words that O’Curry wrote. It’s a multi-media installment. Memories of gathering memories.
>> Daíbhí: Eugene O’Curry—whose collection survived in Leipzig—because he was a native speaker of Irish himself and was steeped in the tradition, and knew all about Irish song, and music, and everything else, he would’ve been very meticulous about getting the words right.
Petri, as well as playing the tunes on his fiddle actually wrote down the music. And that’s what you get in his Ancient Music of Ireland, which began to appear in fascicle form, I think in the 1870s.
>> Shannon: It took George Petri a while to drum up publishing funds for his Ancient Music of Ireland, so he put out little bundles at a time.
>> Daíbhí: As part of that, he published these Aran songs. And he published the name of the informant. He published a date, the place, all that kind of thing, the title of the song. And he gave the first few bars of the music and so on. But that’s all he did. And it was assumed then ever afterwards, that the songs had been lost, that they had disappeared forever.
>> Shannon: So it was George Petrie and Eugene O’Curry who had collected those songs during the 1857 trip to Aran. Whitley Stokes hadn’t been a big mover and shaker of the expedition. But years later, around 2010, one of Whitley’s journals would play a part in reconstructing some of the music history of the Aran Islands.
[ Music: “Grupai Ceol Theme,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]
>> Daíbhí: I happened to find myself in the university library, the Albertina in Leipzig. I was seated at the table in the manuscripts room looking at one of these lovely 8th century gospel books. And one of the librarians sort of sidled up to me, and sat down, and spoke to me in German. Asked me, could he interrupt me for a while? He wanted to show me something.
So he produced this grubby little school copy book. What we call this sort a headline copy book. That kind you used to learn your joiny-uppy-writing, and your big letters, and your small letters, and so on. He produced this tiny little book, and he said to me, well, you know, we have this inside in the Magazine, as they call it in German, I can’t think of the, uh, English word.
>> Shannon: Like, the storeroom?
>> Daíbhí: Yeah. He produced this tiny little book. And he said well, we think it might be a Celtic language. And because your name is in a Celtic language, you might be able to help us. So sure. I put down my pen and I looked at this. And the minute I opened it on the inside front cover there in a beautiful italic hand was Whitley Stokes.
>> Shannon: There were only 8, maybe 10 pages in this little notebook. But still!
>> Daíbhí: It was very small, very tiny. This was one of the earliest transcriptions he had. So I was amazed. I was blown away as they say. And I said so to the guy beside me. And he said, oh, well, we have 150 of these inside in the vault <laugh>. I needed to be resuscitated at that point!
[ Music: Mutey Big Build reprise ]
I thought there were 150 copy books, you know, joinny-uppy copybooks. But no, no, no. What he had brought out was the smallest. He disappeared. And about 15 minutes later he came back out wheeling this trolley. It looked like a supermarket trolley. And it looked like a supermarket trolley during Covid. Because it was piled high with all of these notebooks. It looked like emergency supplies. <laugh>
He trundled up to me. And there with this amazing mountain of notebooks. And it was all the notebooks. And it was all the notebooks. Every single notebook that Whitley Stokes had ever used to transcribe Irish texts from medieval manuscripts.
>> Shannon: From little joinny-uppy copy books to much bigger volumes. I remember using those little lined books in the Second Grade in Nigeria, where my teacher would slap our hands with a straight edge for every degree our penmanship was off. I used a slightly more modern version in Suphanburi, Thailand, where I learned to write the entire name of Bangkok… My associations with those grubby little notebooks are a bit more grim. But in that Leipzig library, for Dáibhí, these were treasures.
>> Daíbhí: The biggest was 600 pages. And the bigger they got, the more copy books that Whitley stole from his children, and the more he filled them up, he decided eventually to put lovely leather bindings on them. So that this is actually a library of proper books, properly bound leather books. Um, I forget how many there are now in total, about 200 odd? Um, and they range through all the different texts that we all know and love from the early Irish period
>> Shannon: Amazing, right? And those lost songs from the Aran Islands expedition? The ones that George Petri had recorded in music? The ones for which Eugene O’Curry had noted words?
>> Dáibhí: Slap bang in the middle of one of them was a sheaf of almost tissue-like paper, almost see through paper. About 12 or so songs. This was beautiful Irish handwriting in the old style of what we call the Cló Gaelach. And they had been written by the famous Eugene O’Curry. They were all the songs from Aran.
>> Shannon: Okay, so Dáibhí had been after something altogether different in the Albertina library. But because the librarian had noticed his Irish name, he’d approached him about the notebooks in the storeroom. And out of this collection, falls onion skin song manuscripts from the 1857 expedition to the Aran Islands, written in that Gaelic lettering that you see on street and shop signs. What a find.
And once again, fortune shone that day that Dáibhí was the one to make this discovery. Like Laura Flanagan, when she encountered the O’Farrell book, Dáibhí understood what he was holding in his hands. And how valuable it was. Immediately he informed Dr. Deirdre Ní Chonghaile, a musician and writer from the Aran Islands who was working on her academic publication Collecting Music in the Aran Islands. He also contacted Nicholas Carolan with the Irish Traditional Music Archive. And in 2011, Dáibhí edited and published all those texts. A real gift to scholars wishing to follow Stokes’s work, and to learn how his ideas have developed over the decades.
[ Music: “When the Cock Crows it is Day,” from Living Room Session
Artist: Sean McComiskey ]
And it’s got a good title: Whitley Stokes (1830–1909): The lost Celtic notebooks. It’s descriptive, to the point, but not quite as epic as the full name of Bangkok. Or O’Farrell’s Collection of National Irish Music for the Union pipes, comprising of a variety of the most favorite, slow and spritely tunes set in proper stil and taste, with variations and ….
[ Music: “Little Pack of Tailors,” from Songs of Elizabeth Cronin
Artist: Elizabeth (Bess) Croinin ]
Before discovering these lost Aran songs, Dáibhí had been busy reconstructing the vast collection of songs from his grandmother Elizabeth Cronin. A beloved source of English and Irish language songs, Elizabeth or Bess was recorded by a number of song collectors when she was in her 70s. Her memory for songs was simply stunning. Multi-verse ballads, short ditties, rhythmic dance numbers, little kid dandling songs. It’s amazing the repertoire she retained though her life.
>> Daíbhí: She does seem to have had a unique combination of Irish language and English language materials, in what would have been a particularly Irish speaking area. In the generation before my grandmother, there would’ve been sort of monoglot native speakers of Irish who wouldn’t have had any English at all. But my grandmother would have been thoroughly bilingual.
>> Shannon: Bilingual. Eager to share songs from the singing tradition of Munster, specifically of Baile Mhúirne in County Cork. Elizabeth Cronin even wrote songs out for the collectors—and made them tea and supper—on her country farm (which the Cronin family called ‘The Old Plantation.’) It’s no wonder that when Seamus Ennis, Jean Ritchie, Alan Lomax, and Diane Hamilton, and all the others were lugging their reel to reel machines around Ireland, they’d all visit Bess Cronin.
Here she is singing The Banks of Sullane. It’s a sad love song, set on the river that flows from Coolea into Baile Mhúirne.
[ Music: “Banks of Sullane,” from Songs of Elizabeth Cronin
Artist: Elizabeth Cronin ]
>> Daíbhí: One of the things that’s always fascinated me is what did Bess Cronin sound like at 18 or 28 or 38 or 48? You know, she’s recorded in her seventies. And the voice is just on the edge. And she has modulated it to a wonderful degree that allows her to sing with, you know, the finesse that she has. But you do wonder when you hear other singers, you know, what’s the difference?
[ Music: “Banks of Sullane,” from Many Happy Returns
Artist: Niamh Parsons with Arcady ]
>> Shannon: When Niamh Parsons recorded that version of the song with Arcady in 1995, that would have been like 40/50 years after Bess made all those recordings. Of course, singers like Niamh learned their songs from older singers like Elizabeth Cronin. And when Dáibhí began to pull all the recordings people had made of his grandma—along with some of her own handwritten transcriptions, and versions of songs that Dáibhí’s dad or uncle had collected, well there was a LOT of material to parse.
>> Daíbhí: I began around 1990, because my father passed away at that time. And before that he wouldn’t let me anywhere near Granny. He was going to do Granny. And the Granny book was to be the last book in a long line of books that he was doing. Because his brother, my uncle Seán Ó Cróinín was a full-time collector for the folklore commission between ’39 and ’65. So there was a huge mountain of material. And it was only by accident, I discovered the Jean Ritchie/George Pickow material.
>> Shannon: บังเอิญ as they say in Thailand (when they aren’t saying the full name of the capital city). What luck! What fortune! บังเอิญ บังเอิญ Or what a happy coincidence that Daibhi was in Leipzig when he found those lost Celtic notebooks of Whitley Stokes. And that he was visiting relations in West Cork when he learned that the American musician Jean Ritchie had visited his grandma. บังเอิญ
[ Music: “บังเอิญติดดิน (Bang Ehn Tin Din),” from กระดี่ได้น้ำ (Kra-dee dai narm)
Composer/Artist: อัสนี วสันต์ โชติกุล (Asanee Wasan ) ]
>> Daíbhí: My wife Moira and I were down in Kilnamartyra paying a visit to a cousin down there. She and her husband were farmers. Mamie and Denny Lynch were their names. We were talking, and at one stage Mamie disappeared into the back room behind the kitchen and came back from a small brown envelope. It was stuffed with small sort of one inch square photographs, black and white photographs. And when I looked at them, they were just fantastic. These are photographs of Bess Cronin, and her family, and her neighbors, and so on.
[ Music: “Play-Party Medley,” from The Appalachian Dulcimer: An Instructional Record
Artist: Jean Ritchie ]
>> Shannon: Like the Frederick William Burton drawing of Eugene O’Curry writing down a song from an Aran woman, these little photographs in the brown envelope gave a tactile link to Bess. It’s some context for those old songs. But still, why such tiny photos?
>> Daíbhí: We asked Mamie about this, and she said these were photos that had been sent over from America. Because these collectors had come over Jean Ritchie and George Pickow. And as it happened Moira knew more about Jean Ritchie than I did. Moira could play mountain dulcimer. And Jean Ritchie is the author of several mountain dulcimer handbooks, as you know. And she was a famous singer over in Kentucky. I wrote off and asked what this was about. And I got this huge big Kodak box.
>> Shannon: Daíbhí got a box of big printouts. Of all the original photographs. What Cousin Mamie had gotten were contact prints—little samples of all the different photos that George and Jean had taken while they were on tour in West Cork. Mamie thought that was it. So she had just cut them out into little one inch squares.
>> Daíbhí: What I got were the printouts that Mamie should have got 50 years previously. And then of course I realized that not only were there photographs, but there were recordings, Jean and George had made the first ever recordings on MagnaTape— the big reel to reel, the portable reel to reel recording equipment. And then I got all these recordings, which were as good as the day they were made. And they were just absolutely fantastic.
[ Music: “E Chimes,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]
>> Shannon: More unexpected finds. That connect us today… to songs and people from another time.
The first edition of the Songs of Elizabeth Cronin came out in 2000. The recordings really are fantastic. The printed text is wonderful and rich. There are great photos, too. Including one of Mamie Lynch singing — it’s on page 19 in that first edition. Also the first edition has this awesome deep blue-ish purple background. I’m not gonna lie. I’ve referenced that on several occasions when painting walls… So, a great book altogether. But there’s this little indexing blemish with the accompanying recordings.
>> Daíbhí: The idea initially was to produce the book as a publication of the Traditional Music Archive. And I was obviously perfectly happy with that, because Nicholas being the person he is, you kne w there’d be perfect quality control and everything else.
Now in the meantime, I was working away on the book. The CDs hadn’t been put together at that point.
>> So the CDs hadn’t been put together. But Daibhi was busy working away on all the text and the music transcriptions. But then there was a big delay. Not because of Nicholas Carolan at the Irish Traditional Music Archive—he was a champion of this project. And a tireless, agreeable champion of so many traditional music projects.
[ Music: “Triumph Theme,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ] ]
No, it was the guy who stepped into the Folklore department at University College Dublin, where lots of Bess Cronin recordings were housed, well the new guy (Bo Almqvist from Sweden) was not very cooperative about allowing Daibhi access to the recordings. And these were recordings that Daibhi’s own uncle Seán Ó Cróinín had made of Elizabeth Cronin. I guess Almqvist had a grudge against Carolan. I don’t know. Sometimes the smaller the niche, the bigger the ego. Or something like that. …
Whatever. Almvquist eventually retired. The conflict was resolved. But it meant that the recordings and the printed text had been separated for some time. And with time, and busy lives, details can perish, just a bit.
>> Daíbhí: When I had put together the book I had matched each of the written songs to a particular recording. But unfortunately the selection made by Nicholas was different from the selection I had been working from. It wasn’t Nicholas’s fault by any means. He made his selection, it’s a fine selection. I just should have simply eliminated that line on every description, and I wouldn’t have had a problem.
>> Shannon: The second edition of The Songs of Elizabeth Cronin came out in 2021. And the preface begins, “’Tis twenty long years since this book first appeared,” which is a great way to kick off a collection of old ballads.
In the new version of the book, the indexing has been fixed… And all the original 196 songs are there. Also, there are two brand new ones in the back. Dáibhí got these two right after he’d published the first edition, with the bluish purple cover.
[ Music: “Slip Jig Dreams,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]
Apparently a guy from Kilnamartra had showed up with—you got it: an old school copy notebook. Apparently Bess had written six songs in the back of the book. A friend had borrowed it and never returned it.
Of those six songs, two of them weren’t even in the original collection. The other four were, but the handwritten versions were just slightly different. Like the great song “I am a maid that sleeps in love”: Bess’s own handwritten copy book version has just a FEW words that are different from the recording here.
[ Music: “I Am a Maid that Sleeps in Love,” from The Songs of Elizabeth Cronin
Artist: Elizabeth (Bess) Cronin ]
It’s pretty cool to encounter different versions of the same song, even if there are only minor changes. I know a very different version of this song called The Cabin Boy, which Frank and Anne Warner got from Yankee John Galusha, while they were traveling in the Adirondacks.
[ Music: “Cabin Boy,” from Cabin Boy EP
Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton ]
No matter the version, I think it’s such a beautiful song. It’s one of my favorites in the Elizabeth Cronin collection. But I also think it’s beautiful how these songs travel. And as they travel, across the pond from Ireland to upstate New York, or even from notebook to notebook, they change.
>> Dáibhí: I’m always asked what’s my favorite, but I don’t have a favorite. I reckon that I was as interested in the background of the songs, the text of the songs, the different versions of the songs, their transmission, and so on as I was in the actual recordings. I suppose it has to do with my training as a medievalist and a historian. I was more interested in just bringing together everything I could. And I suppose some people say that’s an antiquarian approach. It’s of its time.
>> Shannon: Well, making links on the timeline… And connecting one version of a song to the next… And connecting people with artifacts: it’s about bringing antiquities to the present day, which can have dynamic resonance.
>> Dáibhí: My fascination is with having found the songs, you know. And making the connection. Reestablishing the connection. You’re restoring songs to the people to whom they belong.
[ Music: “Wounded Hussar,” (aka Captain O’Keane’s), from About Time
Artist: Noel Rice with Baal Tinne ]
>> Shannon: I think it’s about what we value. What remains …
>> Laura: And why do we value it. Right?
>> Shannon: What comes from these accidental discoveries? What endured and what what landed. And accidentally landed in different people’s laps?
>> Laura: The story for me is about what is the tradition? What do these tunes mean to us? We’re talking about an oral tradition. And not all of us read music. Like reading music is not necessarily critical to the tradition. So why have we saved all of these things?
As a material culture object, as something more than the dots on the page, what is the value of this book? And what is its story? And why has it been kept? And why has it been treasured by all of these generations of Irish musicians and touched all of these lives as it went along over the last 220 years?
>> Shannon: These objects do affect us. And touch us. We humans have a penchant for memorializing and marking. And we humans sometimes misnumber things. And we lose stuff—we misplace things. We tuck song lyrics in notebooks. We send packages to grad students.
>> Shannon: There is some beautiful story of these accidental discoveries and these accidental misfilings. Like Laura. Like no matter how well we digitize, like there’s still sort of… residue. >> Aedín: Yeah. There are probably one or two stray books that have never been identified and moved from the regular library shelves to rare books. And that was the case with that particular book.
Shannon: So if we all just keep trying, maybe we’ll end up with one of those remaining
[ Music: “Newmarried Couple,” from Lovers’ Well
Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton ]
>> Shannon: Thank you, Aedín Clements, Laura Flanagan, and Dáibhí Ó Cróinín for sharing their stories for this episode, which was produced by me Shannon Heaton. Thank you, Nigel, for acknowledging this month’s sponsors. Thank you Matt for the production music. And thank you to everybody who’s supported this project. For playlists, transcriptions, and more, please visit IrishMusicStories.org . Thanks for tuning in!
>> Matt: Okay, okay, but can you do it in one breath?
>> Shannon: O’Farrell’s collection of national Irish music for the union pipes, Comprising of a variety of the most favorite, slow and spritely tunes set in proper stil and taste, with variations and adapted likewise for the German flute, violin, flageolet , piano, and harp with a selection of favorite Scotch tunes. Also a treatise with the most perfect instructions ever yet published for the pipes.
Dude! The name for Bangkok is shorter.
>> Matt: Say it. Do it. Bangkok. In Thai. Do it.
>> Shannon: กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยา มหาดิลกภพ นพรัตนราชธานีบุรีรมย์ อุดมราชนิเวศน์มหาสถาน อมรพิมานอวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยวิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์
Episode guests in order of appearance
World-reared, Boston-based flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music Stories
Fiddler from Lubbock Texas, playing Irish traditional music and pursuing a musicology PhD at Texas Tech
Galway-based Irish historian who specializes in Hiberno-Latin texts and Middle Ages
Irish Studies Librarian and Curator of Irish Collections at Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Libraries