Discussing Irish Traditional Music on Paper & Online

Whenever people interested in Irish traditional music meet, conversation inevitably moves to a discussion of some aspect of the music. Sometimes these private discussions are formalised and made available to a wider circle in print – in paper publications since at least the 19th century or on the Internet since the late 20th century.

Samples of two kinds of such crowd-sourced public discussions are reproduced below: print discussions of two song melodies from the 19th-century British scholarly publication Notes & Queries, and the opening ‘numbers’ of the international Internet discussion board IRTRAD which has been in existence now for over twenty years.

Notes & Queries began life as a weekly publication in London in 1849 to which a wide variety of correspondents contributed, and it still continues (see Oxford Journals). Occasionally over the centuries Irish traditional music has been a topic of interest. In 1850 a discussion of the tune ‘Collino custure me’ began which lasted until 1861,* and the tune ‘Robin Adair’, often disputed between Ireland and Scotland, was discussed from 1863 until 1867.

IRTRAD was started in 1992 in the Music Department of University College Cork by two postgraduate students, Paul McGettrick and Colin ‘Hammy’ Hamilton, as one of the many scholarly Irish discussion boards hosted by the Higher Education Authority. It also continues to the present day (IRTRAD-L) and its archive discussions back to 1992 are available there online. The first five numbers reproduced here show how print publications initially influenced such (then) moderated discussion boards: IRTRAD first appeared as periodic information ‘newsletters’, issued and numbered by the ‘editors’ and inviting discussion. Soon however the crowd-sourcing nature of discussions to which hundreds of participants could continuously contribute at will replaced this format. In the beginning, the Irish traditional Music Archive naively archived the publication by printing out, shelving and cataloguing each number; the idea of searchable online archives of Irish traditional music was then in its infancy. Since 1992 of course a plethora of online sites, of highly varying quality, have come into existence in which Irish traditional music is discussed – sites of general interest, instrument-specific, song-specific, moderated and unmoderated, altruistic and promotional, personal etc.

*And the ‘Callino’ discussion continues to the present day in newspaper columns, another fruitful source of traditional music information, see Wherefore art thou, Irish rat? [article] / Fintan O'Toole  and Shakespeare and an Irish tune [letter] / Seán Donnelly.

With thanks for permission to reproduce the Notes & Queries pages from the ILEJ Project, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, to Thaddeus Lipinski, Web Applications Manager at the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, which hosts the pages at http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/ilej/. This is the website of the ILEJ, the ‘Internet Library of Early Journals’, a joint project by the Universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Oxford. The Notes & Queries images were originally supplied for ILEJ by Manchester University Library. Thanks also to Hammy Hamilton, Paul McGettrick & Seán Donnelly.

NC & MG, 1 February 2013