Colm Ó Lochlainn’s Claisceadal Songsheets, 1940s

About 1940 Colm Ó Lochlainn began the publication in Dublin of an undated series of penny Irish-language songsheets entitled An Claisceadal (‘choral singing’).

By 1941 eighteen numbers had been published, produced by his Three Candles Press, and the series continued into the 1940s until it ended with the publication of sheet number 36.  The entire series is reproduced below from the collections of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, and the music is available in our Interactive Scores section.

These sheets were the latest manifestation of a number of influential Irish-language song publications by Colm Ó Lochlainn which bear the title of An Claisceadal. This was originally the name of an informal choral group of Irish-language enthusiasts which had been brought together in Dublin in 1928 by Ó Lochlainn and by Fionán Mac Coluim, a Gaelic League organiser from Kerry. The singers were accompanied on piano by a Sligo music student Michael Bowles (Mícheál Ó Baoighill), later director of music on Radio Éireann and conductor of the National Orchestra of New Zealand. In the early 1930s Ó Lochlainn began publishing a series of booklets of song texts sung by the group. These were taken up enthusiastically by Gaelic League branches, and the songs they contain became generally popular and widely sung

Colm Ó Lochlainn was a polymath: a Dublin printer, type designer and publisher, a political activist, an Irish scholar and Irish-language enthusiast, an editor of publications and journals, a singer and musician. For more on Ó Lochlainn see below.

Colm Ó Lochlainn’s Irish-language songsheet series was clearly modelled on the old tradition of cheap printed street ballads. In contrast to street balladsheets, the Claisceadal sheets are printed on strong paper and on both sides – usually carrying two songs per sheet – and they also give the melody for each song, in staff notation. Each sheet was relatively small (12 x 19 cm). The sixty-nine songs of the series, some of them collected by Ó Lochlainn himself, are from the then living traditions of the gaeltachtaí (Irish-speaking districts), notably those of Conamara, Mayo and Munster. They are mostly light cheerful songs (‘amhráin mheidhreacha’): lullabies, dandling and other children’s songs, spinning and other work songs, and love songs. The melodies are strong and regular, and many are also dance tunes. Some of the music notations seem to be in the hand of the famous traditional musician, singer and music collector Séamus Ennis, who worked for Ó Lochlainn in the years about 1940. For more on other Claisceadal publications click below.

With thanks to Aifric Gray, daughter of Colm Ó Lochlainn, for permission to publish the songsheets, for copies of photographs, and for other help. The collection of sheets was donated to ITMA by Nicholas Carolan; other Claisceadal publications have been kindly donated by Kate O’Dwyer, Maebh Ní Loinsigh, Máire Ní Dhonnchadha, Laurie Uí Raghallaigh, Chalmers Trench, Bríd Hetherington, and Dáibhí Ó Croinín.

 ITMA would welcome the donation of other materials of this kind which are not yet in its collections (check our catalogues here), or of their loan for copying.


       Colm Ó Lochlainn (1892–1972)

Colm Ó Lochlainn was born in Dublin as William Gerard O’Loughlin to an Irish-speaking father who was a Kilkenny businessman-printer, and a Limerick mother from a family of printers. Having studied Irish in University College Dublin under Eoin Mac Néill from 1910 to 1916, and acted with the Theatre of Ireland, Ó Lochlainn taught in Patrick Pearse’s school St Enda’s and was at the time deeply involved in the Independence movement, especially as a publisher and printer. After the 1916 Rising he continued his Gaelic studies, graduated MA, continued his involvement in printing and publishing, and from 1933 to 1943 was an assistant lecturer in Irish and librarianship in UCD. In 1926 he founded the Three Candles Press in Dublin, which would become for decades a leading Irish imprint as well as a general printer, and which specialised in history, biography, topography, bibliography, music and Irish studies. Ó Lochlainn travelled and studied printing techniques on the Continent and designed an Irish-language type-font. From about 1928 to 1957 he was also editor, printer and publisher of the bibliographical journal The Irish Book-Lover. Co-founder of An Óige, the Irish youth hostelling organisation, in 1960 he was awarded an honorary D.Litt.Celt, from the National University of Ireland. He was married to Ailish McInerney; they had three children.

In music Colm Ó Lochlainn is remembered particularly for his two famous collections of English-language songs Irish Street Ballads (1939, reprinted 1946, 1952, 1956, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1965, 1967, 1978, 1984) and More Irish Street Ballads (1965, reprinted 1968, 1978, 1984), which were the chief source-books for the 1960s revival of interest in Irish traditional song. He himself was a singer, often appearing with his sister Úna on national radio in the 1920s, and a musician on piano, uilleann pipes, warpipes and harp. In the 1960s he introduced the traditional song series As Zozimus Said on the new Irish television service. He was also interested in Scottish Gaelic songs and edited and published a collection: Deoc-Sláinte nan Gillean: Dórnan Óran a Barraidh (1948). He was also the author of Anglo-Irish Songwriters since Moore (n.d., post-1947), later Song-Writers of Ireland in the English Tongue (1967), and occasionally composed song words and melodies. His Irish-language song publications are considered below.

For more detail on Colm Ó Lochlainn see Beathaisnéis vol. 4, Diarmuid Breathnach & Máire Ní Mhurchú eds (Dublin, 1994), pp. 132–4; Dictionary of Irish Biography from the Earliest Times to the Year 2002 vol. 7, James Maguire & James Quinn eds (Dublin & Cambridge, 2009), pp. 648–9; and The Three Candles: A Bibliographical Catalogue, Éamonn de Búrca ed. (Dublin, 1998).


Other Claisceadal Publications

Almost all of the many publications by Colm Ó Lochlainn bearing the title of An Claisceadal are undated, which makes the establishing of even a relative chronology difficult. Confusingly, the first twenty-eight songsheets reproduced above carry a copyright date of 1930 and the last eight a copyright date of 1940, although a 1941 Three Candles catalogue and other evidence make it clear that they were only being produced from about 1940. The earlier copyright date may refer to the establishment of the Claisceadal group.

From about 1932 Ó Lochlainn edited and published under his imprint of Cóartha (later Comhartha) na dTrí gCoinneall, the Sign of the Three Candles, a larger song series also entitled An Claisceadal which includes the same songs as the songsheets, among others. This series was in the form of twelve small (9.5 x 16 cm) cheap booklets, each of 16 pages (the last with an eight-page supplement). They contain song texts mainly, with only occasional melodies in tonic-solfa notation. All are undated with the exception of the eleventh, which is dated 1936. This series was also produced in hardbound forms.

Another publication entitled An Claisceadal 1, edited by Ó Lochlainn and J.F. Larchet and published by Comhartha na dTrí gCoinneal is a small (10.5 x 16.5 cm) sixpenny collection of twelve songs with staff notation.

It is undated but was advertised as available in 1933. This collection was also published by the Dublin firm of Piogóid/ Pigott in the same and in a larger (19 x 28 cm) two-shilling format, both undated.

A number of the Claisceadal songs were also published separately in sheetmusic form, arranged by various hands with the cooperation of Colm Ó Lochlainn. Published variously by the Three Candles Press, by Piogóid/ Pigott and by the Dublin firm of McCullough, they seemingly appeared from the early 1930s into the 1940s.

In 1941 a large (21.5 x 34 cm) double-sided sheet entitled An Claisceadal, with nine song texts, was produced by Comhartha na dTrí gCoinneall as an aid to community singing at the Oireachtas festival of that year.

In 1983 Micheál Bowles began the publication of a series of songs from the repertory of An Claisceadal group in The Irish Times, and he later edited these in two volumes entitled Claisceadal (vol. 1: Glendale Press 1985;  vols 1 & 2: At the Sign of the Anchor 1986).

All of these Claisceadal publications are in the ITMA collections and are available to visitors.

NC & MG, 1 August 2010