Mapping the tunes: A Journey through Placenames in Irish Music

ITMA has added a selection of traditional Irish tunes as a further layer on the Heritage Maps website ( from the Heritage Council.  


The Heritage Maps viewer is a web-based spatial data viewer, which focuses on the built, cultural and natural heritage around Ireland and off shore.  This “one-stop-shop” discovery tool now carries information for the first time about Ireland’s traditional music heritage.

I was asked to choose a selection of tunes from PORT, ITMA's interactive tune resource, that would be suitable for mapping.  I immediately thought of the tunes that start with The Humours of ...

The Irish music scholar, Breandán Breathnach, wrote the following about these tune names. 

Local placenames are much in use ... one extremely common usage must be noted, that with the word 'humours'. Always with the plural and denoting character, mood, exuberance of spirit, the word is only used in combination with a placename and always precedes it. There are hundreds of examples.
Folk music and dances of Ireland, 1971, p. 52

A search on PORT revealed about 80 tunes entitled The Humours of ..., definitely enough to provide a layer for the Heritage Map.  The first task was to extract all the information relevant to these 80 tunes: the title, the name of the collector, the collection it appeared in, the date of the collection, the link to the page on the PORT website and the link to the PDF download.  We had agreed that the location information that we would give the Heritage Council would come from  This is The Placenames Database of Ireland.

It is a public resource for Irish people at home and abroad, and for all those who appreciate the rich heritage of Irish placenames.

The next job was to add the link from to all the other information I had about each tune.  I thought that this would be a fairly straighforward exercise, but that was not always the case.  Some tunes, like The Humours of Millstreet and The Humours of Castlebar were easy.  One tune, one placename and one line on the spreadsheet.  I thought that The Humours of Tralee would be another easy one, but did you know that there is also a Tralee in Co. Derry?  This gave me one tune, two different places with the same placename, and two lines on the spreadsheet.    There are five places in Ireland called Dundrum - in Armagh, Tipperary, Down, Dublin and Wexford.  This gave me one tune, five different places and five lines on the spreadsheet.  And so it continued.  There are 4 Monkstowns, 5 Ballinacourtys and 8 Williamstowns.  My spreadsheet was getting bigger with each tune!

And then I searched for Derry.  There are over 40 townlands in the country with the placename Derry!  I couldn't use all of them, as the collection would have been dominated by just one tune.  I choose 19 to use on the map, focusing on those counties that were less represented.  I did the same for The Humours of Glen and for The Humours of Monkstown.

Some placenames were more challenging.  The Humours of Glasses wasn't available as a name itself, but Glassagh in Co. Donegal was a close enough match.  Similarly, Cnocáine from Súgra Sheana Cnocáine was close enough to both Crockaney in Co. Donegal and to Knockainy in Co. Limerick. There were also some surprises. I didn't think that I would get a placename for The Humours of Whiskey from the Hardebeck collection, but there is a Whiskey Island in Co. Mayo.

As is clear, this was not an exact science.  It was designed to give people an opportunity to learn a tune with the name of their homeplace in the title.  It's not necessarily a local tune.  The Goodman collection has a tune called The Humours of Ballymore, and that placename is one of those that features all over the country.  It's likely that the tune was named for his own local Ballymore on the Dingle peninsula, but if you live in Ballymore, Co. Wexford, or Ballymore, Co. Armagh, or Ballymore, Co. Wicklow you can still learn a tune with your placename in the title.

Those original 80 tunes have yielded 185 points on the map.  All 32 counties are represented, some more than others.  

To access the map go to  and click on the Heritage Maps, which opens in a new tab.  On the layer list choose Irish Traditional Music Archive from the Museums, Archives & Collections list, and each musical note on the map represents a different placename.

For each tune there is a link to the downloadable PDF of the tune notation and a link to the tune on the ITMA Port website, where you can hear the tune played, speed it up and slow it down to assist in learning by ear.  

You can also visit for a step-by-step guide to accessing the portal.

It is a great achievement to have this milestone at hand. Traditional music is community based and has very strong local links. This makes it ideal for mapping and we are delighted to begin our explorations in this area with the Heritage Council. We look forward to developing this idea further in the years ahead
Liam O'Connor, ITMA Director

This project is also ITMA's contribution to Heritage Week 2020.

Written and presented by Treasa Harkin