Scrapbook Images from the Ballad Boom, 1950s–1970s


The ‘ballad boom’, so called, refers to a period of some dozen years from the end of the 1950s to about 1970 when there was a nation-wide vogue in Ireland for the singing of (mostly) Irish songs in English by ballad groups: small vocal groups accompanying themselves with guitar, banjo and mandolin, and sometimes including a whistle player or other melody instrumentalist.

Inspired by the robust and dramatic LP recordings and live performances of a singing group formed 1958–59 in New York by the actors Paddy, Tom and Liam Clancy from Waterford and Tommy Makem from Armagh (who were themselves influenced by the concurrent American folk revival and its musical norms), hundreds of ballad groups rediscovered an almost forgotten heritage of traditional song and the pleasure of making live music. The improving Irish economy of the 1960s enabled some of the more talented groups to become professional or semi-professional, performing for audiences who could afford to attend concerts and clubs, or travel to competitions and festivals.

By about 1970 the trend had run its course. While some singers continued with successful careers, the ballad audiences and the amateur groups turned to other forms of music, including Irish traditional instrumental music.

The images reproduced here are from Irish newspaper and magazine clippings preserved in scrapbooks compiled by Breandán Breathnach from the late 1950s and donated to the Irish Traditional Music Archive by the Breathnach family in 1987.

With thanks to the Breathnach family

NC & TH, 1 June 2011

Scrapbook Images from the Ballad Boom, 1950s–1970s