Irish Song Project at Queen’s (by guest contributor Conor Caldwell)

The Irish Song Project at Queen’s University ( sought to redefine the parameters through we which we view the history of singing in Ireland. While the majority of studies of Irish song, such as Hugh Shields’ monumental Narrative Singing in Ireland, are rooted in an examination of texts, the Irish Song Project concentrated on melodic development.
A second innovation in the project was the attempt to redefine what is meant by the term ‘Irish song’. This term is loaded with connotations of a politico-religious nature, as well as being further complicated by aspects of eighteenth and nineteenth century social class and linguistic divisions in Irish society. In addressing the concept of Irish song, we mapped out a holistic approach which included many forms of music previously excluded from discussion in this field, including medieval plainchant, eighteenth century parlour songs and, of course, the works of Thomas Moore.
The historically contested nature of Moore’s work has led to his exclusion from considerations of ‘traditional’ singing in Ireland, with the poet occupying his own space in scholarly discussion. The overtly literate nature of his work, wedded with a performance aesthetic so widely popularised by the mid-twentieth century through singers such as John McCormack, caused further distantiation between Moore and the traditional music world.
However, Moore’s rehabilitation in recent years, firstly from within the art music community and more recently within traditional music circles has been aided by the breaking apart of the false oral/literate dichotomy that has existed in scholarship of Irish music. In particular, Julie Henigan’s elucidating Literacy and Orality in Eighteenth-Century Irish Song (2013), deconstructs this conceptual position and lays the foundations for a reconsideration of Moore as not only relevant within the context of the history of Irish song, but also, as has been considered by the Irish Song Project, an influence upon the emergence of a dance music canon throughout the nineteenth century.
In my next post, I will explore this idea further by looking at some musical examples from across Moore’s Irish Melodies which are demonstrative of Moore’s impact on this dance music canon.

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