ITMA Henebry Cylinder Recordings 1, 1905

ITMA Henebry Cylinder Recordings 1, 1905

Now playing: Baile an Tóchair, song / Margaret Costelloe, singing in Irish
  1. Baile an Tóchair, song / Margaret Costelloe, singing in Irish
  2. Baile Lín, song / Martin Draper, singing in Irish
  3. Miss Brien an chúileann, song / Walter Power, singing in Irish
  4. An leannán sí, song / Walter Power, singing in Irish
  5. Untitled, hornpipe ; The Wexford hornpipe / James Byrne, uilleann pipes
  6. An spailpín fánach, song / Pádraig Ó Néill, singing in Irish
  7. Táilliúir an chroí mhóir, song / Walter Power, singing in Irish
  8. Pilib Séimh Mac Gearailt, song / Walter Power, singing in Irish
  9. Oh Effulgent Lord, song [sound recording] / Mary Kelly, singing in Irish
  10. Éamonn an chnoic, song / Walter Power, singing in Irish
  11. An maidrín rua, song / Pádraig Ó Néill, singing in Irish
  12. Spailpín a rún, song / Pádraig Ó Néill, singing in Irish
  13. Bean an fhir rua ; Baile an Chlampair / Maighréad Ní Néill, singing in Irish
  14. Cé Phort Láirge, song / Pádraig Ó Néill, singing in Irish

ITMA Henebry Cylinder Recordings 1, 1905

Among the very first field recordings made of Irish traditional song were 13 'wax' cylinder recordings created in 1905 in the Gaeltacht or Irish-speaking areas of An Rinn (Ring promontory) and Cill Ghobnait (KIlgobnet parish), Co Waterford, by Rev. Dr Richard Henebry (Risteárd de Hindeberg, 1863–1916), a Roman Catholic priest and an academic in Celtic studies. The cylinders preserved 14 songs sung in Irish (2 on one cylinder). Although the original recordings were destroyed, several copies of them survive. These are now relatively difficult to listen to because of their age and condition, but they have a great importance in enabling us to actually hear Irish-language traditional singers of more than a century ago. The 14 performances are presented here, along with a copy of a recording made by Henebry about the same time of hornpipes played by an uilleann piper, and with ancillary information and links provided below.

Richard Henebry was a traditional musician, a fiddle player and uilleann piper, born in 1863 to an Irish-speaking and musical farming family near Portlaw, Co Waterford. Ordained as a priest in Dublin in 1892, he served for some years in England before going to Germany to study for a doctorate in Irish dialect. He came into contact with cylinder recording technology while lecturing in the United States from 1898. On his return to Ireland in 1903 he published some of his music theories in a pamphlet Irish Music.

In An Rinn and Cill Ghobnait in July 1905 Henebry recorded the 14 songs from six local singers. They were Mrs Margaret Costelloe from Baile na nGall, An Rinn; Walter de Poer or Power (a middle-aged man who had ‘never sung into a phonograph before’) from Cúl na Sméar, Cill Ghobnait or Cill na bhFraochán (Kilnafrehan); Martin Draper (about 11 years old and a ‘practised phonograph singer’) from Baile na nGall, An Rinn; Maighréad Ní Cheallaigh or Margaret Kelly also from Baile na nGall; Pádraig Ó Néill or Patrick O'Neill (about 12 years old and ‘quite accustomed to sing into the phonograph’) from Droichead na gCorrán, Heilbhic (Helvic) An Rinn; and Maighréad Ní Néill or Margaret O'Neill (aged between 9 and 10 and a sister 'now in Boston, Mass.' to Pádraig Ó Néill). The uilleann piper recorded was James Byrne, a musician from Trim, Co Meath, who was living in Mooncoin, Co Kilkenny, and it is possible that he was recorded before the singers. Byrne was a favourite piper of Henebry's. He recorded him on other occasions and would bring him some years later to play for his students in University College Cork while all present shared a dozen bottles of stout.

Probably because of his contacts with Germany, Henebry was aware of the scientific work of recording and analysing ethnic music worldwide that was being carried out from 1900 in the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv under the early ethnomusicologists Carl Stumf and Erich von Hornbostel. Wishing to have his 1905 song recordings copied and subjected to musical analysis in Berlin, he sent them to von Hornbostel in 1907 with payment for copies and a request for analysis. He inadvertently included a recording of James Byrne.

The work of copying involved making a copper negative mould or ‘galvano’ of the original ‘wax’ cylinder, which was destroyed in the process. Wax copies were then made from the galvano, which was itself sent in each case to Henebry along with copies of the cylinders and transcriptions of the melodies and a tonometric analysis of their pitches, made by von Hornbostel and a colleague Otto Abraham. One wax copy of each was retained in the Berlin archive (They remain there to the present, having in the interim been moved to Silesia during WW2, then to Lenigrad, then to East Germany, and finally back to their original home in the former West Germany).

Henebry became professor of Irish Language and Literature in University College Cork in 1909 and continued to develop his music theories until his death in Portlaw in 1916. His cylinder recordings and the documentation provided from Germany formed a basis for some of his theorising, although he may have further edited the German transcriptions. He left behind a manuscript on the subject, which drew on the 1905 cylinders, and this was edited and published by some of his Cork colleagues as A Handbook of Irish Music (Cork University Press, 1928). Copies of certain wax cylinders owned by Henebry remained in the College (They have recently been digitised with other UCC cylinders – see below).

Long after Richard Henebry’s death, in the 1960s, 14 copper galvanos, a cylinder phonograph, and Henebry family cylinders from Richard's time and later, were given by a member of the family to Dr Seóirse Bodley of the Music Department of University College Dublin (UCD), The galvanos have since proved to be those supplied by the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv to Henebry in 1907. They contain reversed recordings in their interiors of his six Waterford singers and the uilleann piper James Byrne. In the 1990s, the galvanos and phonograph with cylinders were donated by Professor Bodley in turn to the Irish Traditional Music Archive.

The cylinders were digitised for ITMA in France in 2006 by Henri Chamoux of the Archeophone Company and the galvanos were preserved in ITMA, but no further use could be made of the latter until it was discovered in 2008 – through the good offices of Dr Fintan Vallely, and of Professor Thérèse Smith of the School of Music, UCD – that the Phonogramm-Archiv still had the capability of making new cylinder copies from galvanos. Contact was made with Berlin and scholarly cooperation was quickly forthcoming from Dr Susanne Ziegler of the Archiv. Information and documentation was exchanged between the two bodies. ITMA sent the galvanos to Berlin, new copies were made from them using a red composition, and these copies were digitised there. The digital files were presented to ITMA by Dr Ziegler on 27 February 2009 at an International Council for Traditional Music Ireland conference on 'Recording' held in UCD.

These files were remastered for ITMA by Harry Bradshaw in Dublin, and the resulting copies are those presented above. Henebry's local titles have been followed, but his often eccentric spelling has been changed to a modern standard.

A second tranche of copies of ITMA Henebry cylinder recordings is available here.

Links to further Henebry information and recordings from ITMA and others:


  • His 1903 booklet Irish Music is available in facsimile online here.
  • His 1928 book A Handbook of Irish Music is available in facsimile online here. It contains notations of the melodies (only) of the songs on the 1905 cylinders and some discussion of the singers.
  • Other relevant ITMA material can be found online at its Discover page 'Explore Early Sound Recordings of Irish Traditional Music at ITMA' here.
  • A May 1983 lecture on the Handbook was given by Breandán Breathnach to the Folk Music Society of Ireland, and was reported on by Nicholas Carolan in the newsletter Ceol Tíre 24 (Nov. 1983), available online here.
  • A number of Henebry-related books, essays and articles, and a recent MA thesis on his music collecting, are held for public consultation in ITMA. Catalogue information on them can be found by searching the keywords 'Henebry' and 'De Hindeberg' on the ITMA Online Catalogues here.

From others

  • For other online Henebry recordings, see the University College Cork O'Neill/Henebry site at
  • For further online biographical information on Richard Henebry, in Irish, see the biographical site at as 'De Hindeberg'.
  • An article by Suzanne Ziegler 'From Waterford to Berlin and Back to Ireland: Richard Henebry's Wax Cylinder Recordings and the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv' has been published in Ancestral Imprints: Histories of Irish Traditional Music and Dance, Thérèse Smith ed., Dublin: Cork University Press, 2012.
  • A radio documentary by Seán Corcoran The Musical Priest: The Extraordinary Life of Richard Henebry of Portlaw (1863–1916), first broadcast on Waterford local radio station WLR FM on 29 December 2013 (48 min.), is available online here.

With thanks to Professor Seóirse Bodley, Dr Suzanne Ziegler and the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv, Dr Fintan Vallely, Professor Thérèse Smith, Henri Chamoux, and Harry Bradshaw.

NC, ES, & DD, 1 June 2015