Mary Bergin/Tony Linnane

Dftw4 Musicians Playing 1
In the 1840s, William Forde (1797–1850), a professional musician born in Cork, made one of the largest collections of Irish traditional music in existence. The Forde Collection which is owned by the Royal Irish Academy, contains up to 1,900 melodies documented in 12 volumes of manuscripts and accompanying notebooks.  It is held in the care of the Academy Library in 19 Dawson Street, Dublin.

In this episode of Drawing from the Well, we join musicians Mary Bergin and Tony Linnane as they explore and learn tunes from the Forde Collection. Mary and Tony are part of a new John Blake recording project funded by the Arts Council of Ireland, commissioning leading musicians to learn and record 'Forde Tunes'.

I am really looking forward to learning and playing some of the tunes from the Forde Collection along with Tony Linnane. These tunes are particularly important, as they have not been in the traditional repertoire since the mid 19th century, which makes the project all the more exciting.
Mary Bergin, September 2020

Drawing from the Well 4 also highlights ITMA's 2021 plan to publish a book containing over 900 tunes from the Forde Collection, RIA MS 24 O 19. This project is under the expert editorial guidance of Nicholas Carolan, Caitlín Uí Éigeartaigh and Jackie Small. 

The Royal Irish Academy/ITMA partnership will also see the future online publication of RIA MS 24 O 19. This will be similar to the Goodman and Grier Manuscript Collections which are freely available online at ITMA. 

Royal Irish Academy, Dawson Street, Dublin

William Forde and Irish traditional music

Cork-born William Forde (1797–1850) devoted his life to music as a musician, collector and scholar.  A flute and piano player, he spent time in both London and Cork, his wide-ranging musical interests focusing during the 1840s on Ireland.  

Forde joined the circle of other Irish antiquarian scholars such as George Petrie (1789–1866) and John Windele (1801–1865). In 1845 he launched an unsuccessful subscription campaign to publish a printed music collection

and his Irish legacy remains a substantial and as yet unpublished collection of up to 1,900 melodies, part of the 16 volume Forde-Pigot Collection of Irish Music held in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy Dublin.
Nicholas Carolan
Forde 0029 Subscription Page
William Forde Publishing Subscription Project RIA MS 24 O 19

Researchers Caitlín Uí Éigeartaigh and Nicholas Carolan have studied the 12 volumes of Forde manuscripts and have deduced that approximately half derive from printed sources, with the remaining recorded from manuscript and oral sources.  The melodies, mostly song airs, were organised systematically by Forde in the manuscripts in order to compare the various versions he had sourced. 

Forde 0097
Example of Forde's systematic organisation of melodies RIA MS 24 O 19

Unfortunately, as with many other nineteenth century collectors the words of the songs have not been documented. His sources extended beyond Munster to Connacht, Ulster, London, and in Leitrim he collected approximately 190 tunes from the piper Hugh O'Beirne.  

Dftw4 Pw Joyce 320 Ph Cropped
Patrick Weston Joyce (1827–1914)

Patrick Weston Joyce (1827–1914) acquired the Forde-Pigot Collection from members of the Pigot family and a selection of the melodies was published in his 1909 Old Irish Music & Songs reproduced here

P.W. Joyce donated the Forde-Pigot Collection to the Library of the Royal Irish Academy.  An article by Nicholas Carolan 'The Forde-Pigot Collection of Irish traditional music' was published in Treasures of the Royal Irish Academy Library  (Dublin, 2009).  

Dftw4 Nicholas Carolan
Nicholas Carolan, Director Emeritus, Irish Traditional Music Archive

Learning the Tunes

John Blake selected two jigs from RIA MS 24 O 19 for Mary and Tony to learn,  The Basket of Oysters and The Sprightly Widow.

We now invite you to learn the jigs. By learning and playing these tunes you can ensure the labours of William Forde are not forgotten and are shared with future generations.

Dftw4 Whistle And Transcripts
Listen to The Basket of Oysters

The basket of oysters, jig / Mary Bergin, Tony Linnane and John Blake


ITMA's Interactive Score facility gives you the opportunity to listen to the tune, speed it up/slow it down to play along with as you need, and follow the transcription.

Basket Of Oysters Forde 0373
The Basket of Oysters RIA MS 24 O 19
Listen to The Sprightly Widow

Sprightly widow, jig / Mary Bergin, Tony Linnane, and John Blake


ITMA's Interactive Score facility gives you the opportunity to listen to the tune, speed it up/slow it down to play along with as you need, and follow the transcription.

Dftw4 Sprightly Widow Forde 0382Ms Crop
The Sprightly Widow RIA MS 24 O 19

ITMA would like to sincerely thank the Royal Irish Academy for permission to use images from RIA MS 24 O 19.

The text used above in the section 'William Forde & Irish traditional music' is an extract from an earlier ITMA Feature on William Forde's printed publication 300 National melodies of the British Isles. Vol. 3. 100 Irish airs. (London, ca. 1841). It was written by Nicholas Carolan.