Breandán Breathnach’s Ceol: A Journal of Irish Music, 1963–86

ITMA has been enabled, courtesy of the Breathnach family, to republish Breandán Breathnach’s 1963–86 periodical Ceol: A Journal of Irish Music on its website for public access. Its eight volumes will appear over the next four months, two per month, beginning on 6 November 2022, the anniversary of Breandán's death.

Breandán Breathnach

At intervals from June 1963 to July 1986, the world of Irish traditional music was enlivened by the appearance of a small bilingual periodical entitled Ceol: A Journal of Irish Music, published in Blackrock, Co. Dublin. Containing music notations, song texts, articles, studies, and reviews of books and records – all of Irish traditional music – it declared from its first issue that it was intended to promote the music and its traditional practice and to spread a knowledge and appreciation of it among the general public. It was the first such periodical to appear since the Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society, founded in 1904, had ceased publication in 1939.

Ceol was the brainchild of Breandán Breathnach (1912–85), a Dubliner with a family heritage in uilleann piping and in 1963 a civil servant by profession. He funded the initial launch of the journal, wrote much of it, and directed its interests and fortunes during its irregular life over the next two decades. Content was also provided over the years by voluntary researchers and writers, many of whom were blooded by their involvement in Ceol. Finance was provided sporadically by sponsors, subscribers and advertisers, and dependably in the 1980s by the Arts Council. Not least of the entertainment provided by Ceol was Breandán’s pugnacious editorials and reviews in which he frequently turned an acerbic tongue on organisations and others who were not meeting his standards for the music. In 1963 he also began publishing his series of the Ceol Rince na hÉireann instrumental music volumes, a series which would make his name nationally known and which is still in print and still selling. Two years later he moved to the Department of Education to work under the auspices of the State in making a national collection of traditional dance music, work he continued for some years pre-retirement in the Department of Irish Folklore, University College Dublin. In 1968 he became the voluntary chairman of the new organisation of Na Píobairí Uilleann, and the present flourishing state of uilleann piping worldwide owes much to his efforts as an organiser, fundraiser, teacher, lecturer, writer, and editor of its long-running periodical An Píobaire. The Folk Music Society of Ireland, the Willie Clancy Summer School, the School of Music of Trinity College Dublin and the Arts Council are also indebted to him for his contributions. The author of numerous articles and of Folk Music and Dances of Ireland (1971, 1977), Dancing in Ireland (1983) and Ceol agus Rince na hÉireann (1989), Breandán was recognised at the time of his early death as the foremost authority on Irish traditional instrumental music.

The copyright of Ceol remains with the Breathnach family, and the Irish Traditional Music Archive is greatly obliged to Dr Síghle Bhreathnach-Lynch, Niamh Bhreathnach, Fionnuala Bhreathnach, and Éadaoin Bhreathnach for granting it permission to republish the run of Ceol on its website for free public access. It remembers the late Eibhlín Bhreathnach and Mrs Lena Bhreathnach who with them facilitated the donation of Breandán’s personal collection in 1987 as the foundation collection of ITMA, and it is certain that Breandán, always keen to use the latest technology, would approve of this spreading of the gospel.

In keeping with the periodical nature of Ceol, the eight volumes of the journal will be reproduced here in facsimile at intervals in four monthly tranches, each of two volumes. Text is also machine-readable. Readers are invited to enter the compelling world of Irish traditional music as seen by Ceol, its editor and its many contributors in the formative period, beginning sixty years ago, during which much of the now familiar landscape of Irish traditional music took shape.

For more on the life and work in Irish traditional music of Breandán Breathnach, see this 2005 article, courtesy of The Journal of Music editor Toner Quinn.

ITMA is grateful to the Heritage Council for its generous 2022 project grant which enabled it to buy the advanced scanning equipment with which Ceol has been digitised as its initial project.

Nicholas Carolan, research and text; Maeve Gebruers, digitisation and layout; Gwendoline Lemaitre, digitisation.