National Heritage Week 2021 at ITMA

During National Heritage Week, 14–22 August 2021, the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) shared online some wonderful images from its 2021 milestone collections: Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh (the Breandán Breathnach Collection) and the Gráinne Yeats Collection.

John Brennan & Tilly Finn. Photograph in Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh reproduced courtesy of Independent Newspapers & the National Library of Ireland.

ITMA’s unique image collection now stands at over 21,700 items. Many of these exist in obsolete physical formats only which limits access to this material to those who can visit the ITMA premises in Merrion Square, Dublin. This year the Heritage Council has awarded ITMA a grant to digitise, preserve and make accessible, to archival best practice, some 4,500+ slides, negatives and photographs from the collections of two highly significant figures in Irish traditional music: Breandán Breathnach (1912-1985) an uilleann piper, collector, publisher, writer and organiser & Gráinne Yeats (1925-2013) a professional harper, singer, teacher, arranger, historian and recorded artist.

Each day during Heritage week ITMA published a gallery of images from either the Breathnach or Yeats collection, with a short contextual essay. Six galleries were created in total and they were highlighted across all ITMA's social media platforms. Below are the galleries which were featured during Heritage Week 2021.

Breandán Breathnach / Gavin Photography
Breandán Breathnach / Gavin Photography
Breandán Breathnach / Gavin Photography

Breandán Breathnach / Gavin Photography

© Gavin Photography

Gallery 1 

Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh / Breandán Breathnach Collection

Welcome to ITMA's first gallery of images for Heritage Week 2021. The images presented below are from Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh (the Breandán Breathnach Collection) which was the foundation collection of the Irish Traditional Music Archive. Breandán Breathnach, 1912–1985, was a great expert in Irish traditional music — an uilleann piper, collector, publisher, writer and organiser. His collection contains sound recordings, music manuscripts, printed items, a thematic index of dance tunes, and personal papers and was deposited in trust to the Irish Traditional Music Archive by the Breathnach Family in August 1987.

Gráinne Yeats seated at harp / [unidentified photographer]
Gráinne Yeats seated at harp / [unidentified photographer]
Gráinne Yeats seated at harp / [unidentified photographer]

Gráinne Yeats seated at harp / [unidentified photographer]

© In copyright

Gallery 2  

Gráinne Yeats Collection 

ITMA's second gallery of images presented below for Heritage Week 2021 comes from the collection of Gráinne Yeats which was donated to ITMA by the Yeats Family in April 2018. Gráinne Yeats (1925-2013) was a professional harper, singer, teacher, arranger, historian and recorded artist. She left an extremely rich collection of printed books, music manuscripts, photographs, slides, lecture scripts, diaries, music arrangements (mostly for the Irish harp), research notes, ephemera, artefacts, and commercial & non-commercial sound recordings.

Gallery 3

Gráinne Yeats Collection Festivals and Events

ITMA’s third Heritage Week 2021 gallery looks back at the many harp festivals, concerts and events which Gráinne Yeats attended over the years. Below are just a small sample of the many images in the Yeats collection which focus on this aspect of her life. In the course of her career Yeats performed, tutored and lectured extensively in Ireland, Europe and abroad, including a number of tours of North America, Japan, Russia, India and Australia. She was a frequent attendee at international harping events, most notably the World Harp Congress which takes place every three years at different locations around the world. Yeats and Máire Ní Chathasaigh were the first Irish harpers to perform on the Irish harp at the 1993 World Harp Congress in Copenhagen. Some of the other events featured in the images below include: An Churit Chruiterachta, July 1992; 'Festival for Irish Harp', Downpatrick, Co. Down, 1988; The World Harp Festival, Belfast, May 1992; O'Carolan Harp Festival, Nobber, Co. Meath, 1992; and the World Harp Congress, Copenhagen, 1993.

Gallery 4

More images from Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh

ITMA’s fourth Heritage Week 2021 gallery contain a small selection of images collected by Breandán Breathnach during his lifetime. Breathnach sourced images from a variety of organisations, media outlets, individuals, libraries, archives, galleries and museums.

In the gallery below we see a wonderful image of the Castle Céilí Band taken in 1962 by an Independent Newspapers photographer. The clarity and composition of the image are telling signs that this photograph was taken by a professional. The fun of a great evening in the Francis Xavier Hall, Dublin is very much evident in this picture. ITMA is grateful to Independent Newspapers and the National Library of Ireland for permission to reproduce this image here as part of Heritage Week. However, not all images in Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh were taken by professionals. The image below from 1957 of Willie Clancy at the first Fleadh Cheoil in Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare may have been taken by an amateur photographer (Jim Griffith a visitor from the States) but what a fantastic picture of a young Willie Clancy surrounded by his many adoring fans! This and five other images taken at the same time were sent to Breathnach by Terry Wilson in August 1985. ITMA would like to thank Terry for granting permission to make this image available here. 

Gallery 5

Gráinne Yeats Collection - Aoyama Harp Workshop

ITMA’s fifth Heritage Week 2021 gallery is a beautiful set of colour images from the Gráinne Yeats Collection. During a concert tour of Japan in the autumn of 1972 Gráinne and her husband Michael Yeats travelled by train to Fukui city which is located on the Japan Sea coast in the Chubu (central) region of Japan. There they visited the Aoyama harp factory and collected a nylon strung lever harp which had been made especially for Yeats. The gallery below is a record of their trip to Aoyama on the 9 October 1972. This harp was one of a number of harps that Yeats performed on. It can be heard on the iconic recording published by Gael Linn in 1980 and re-issued in 1992 Féile na gCruitirí Bhéal Feirste 1792: the music collected by Bunting at the historic Belfast Harpers Festival 1792.

Gallery 6

Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh - Uilleann Pipers

The final gallery for Heritage Week 2021 contains a selection of photographs of uilleann pipers from Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh. It will come as no surprise that the vast majority of images in the Breathnach collection relate in some way to uilleann pipers and uilleann piping. Breathnach was a founder-member of Na Píobairí Uilleann, along with Seán Reid and others, and was the organisation’s chairman from 1968 until his death in 1985. Many of the images below were taken at Tionól held in various parts of the country including Bettytown, Co. Meath and Ennistymon, Co. Clare. 

Heritage Council Funding 2021

By supporting this project, the Heritage Council is enabling ITMA to safeguard these collections for current use and for future generations of Irish musicians. It is also assisting ITMA to provide responsible access to 1,000s of images through its digital library & in time through the ITMA archival catalogue.