Shamrock, Rose and Thistle: Book of Folk Singing in North Derry, with its Source Recordings, etc.

‘Shamrock, Rose and Thistle’ is an appropriate metaphor for the mixed Irish, English and Scottish strands that make up the English-language song tradition of the north of Ireland, and it is also the title of an important collection-study made of this tradition by Hugh Shields: the book Shamrock, Rose and Thistle: Folk Singing in North Derry, which was first published in Belfast in 1981 and is long out of print.

It contains lyrics and meticulously detailed musical transcriptions for seventy-four English-language songs, several in multiple versions, collected in the field from 1961 to 1975 in the coastal area of Magilligan in north Co Derry, and presented with extensive musical, linguistic, social and bibliographic documentation. The physical region is described, its history outlined, and an account given of its singers – chief among them being Eddie Butcher – and of their singing practices and songs.

Courtesy of the Shields family, this classic volume is now made available once again on this site of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, greatly expanded by multimedia enhancements made possible by online technology.

To the facsimile of the original book have been added

A large single pdf of the entire book (93MB), which opens in a new window, is also available.

Hugh Shields (1929–2008) was Senior Lecturer in French in Trinity College Dublin, and a Fellow of the College. After an urban upbringing in Belfast, he encountered traditional folksong as part of living community culture in 1953, when he spent a year teaching in Coleraine in north Derry, and formed a lasting friendship with Eddie Butcher, whose singing is at the centre of his study. This experience, combined with his extensive field collecting, led him to research on the traditional song of Ireland, Britain and Europe, and widened his professional interest in medieval culture and popular art. He published many articles and sound recordings on the subject, and his study Narrative Singing in Ireland: Lays, Ballads, Come-all-yes and Other Songs (1993) is a standard work. His wife Lisa, who accompanied Hugh on many of his song-collecting trips, is also a graduate in modern languages from TCD. She is the former librarian of the Irish Meteorological Service in Dublin. In cooperation with ITMA staff, she has contributed to the design, audio-file selection, data entry and presentation of this present publication.

Other contributions to ITMA by Hugh and Lisa Shields include the donation of over 200 original field-recording tapes made in Co Derry and other areas of Ireland and in France, and the donation of a wide variety of manuscripts, off-prints, books and serials. Among these latter are Folk Music Society of Ireland publications written or edited by Hugh Shields and described here (some available for pdf download). In addition, Hugh Shields edited for ITMA the tune collections Tunes of the Munster Pipers vols 1 & 2 (vol. 2 with Lisa Shields) and, with Lisa Shields, the song collection All the Days of His Life: Eddie Butcher in His Own Words. Songs, Stories and Memories of Magilligan, Co Derry (book and three CDs).

With thanks to Lisa Shields and the Shields family. We are also grateful to Evelyn Mullen, Eddie Butcher’s daughter, who provided us with photographs of most of the singers.

NC, MG, ÁNB & TH, 1 April 2014


Shamrock, Rose and Thistle: Folk Singing in North Derry, 1981
Printed Collections

This book  was first published in Belfast in 1981 and is long out of print.  It is presented here in three sections, Introduction, Songs and Notes.

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Shamrock, Rose and Thistle: Playlist

Seventy-four songs collected by Hugh Shields from 1961 to 1975 in Magilligan, north Co Derry.

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Shamrock, Rose and Thistle: Gallery

We are grateful to Evelyn Mullen, daughter of Eddie Butcher, who provided us with photographs of most of the singers.

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