Lorcán Ó Muireadhaigh and the Ulster Gaelic Song Tradition

Lorcán Ua Muireadhaigh [Laurence P. Murray] (1883−1941) was a renowned Irish language scholar, historian and collector, especially in the field of the Irish language traditions of Ulster.

Born in Carlingford, Co. Louth, he was educated in St Malachy’s, Carlingford and St Patrick’s College, Armagh before entering Maynooth as a clerical student in 1901. The influence of the Gaelic Revival and of the exiled Professor of Irish Fr. O’Growney on college life at this time is evident, in the founding of Cuallacht Cholmcille and the Columban Record, now Irisleabhar Maighe Nuadhat.  Nearer home at the opening meeting in 1903 of the County Louth Archaeological Society, he met Henry Morris, another substantial influence on his life. Laurence wrote extensively as a student and published in the aforementioned society journals. While academically applauded, he came under disciplinary scrutiny during a period of student discontent in 1907, and was asked to leave Maynooth the following year.  He was ordained a priest in St Paul, Minnesota in 1910. 

Following the foundation of the Omeath Summer School in 1912, Laurence returned to Ireland annually as part of the staff, and to collect songs, stories and prayers from native speakers. Over a period of seven years, he phonetically transcribed approximately 250 songs from forty people living across seven townlands. From this manuscript collection came his first book Irish Ceolta Óméith: an chéad chuid published in 1920, containing the words of thirty-four songs with notes on the local singers and versions sung.  Available here.

Another twenty-three songs were published in Amhráin Chúige Uladh: cuid a haon in 1927 with tonic solfa transcriptions of the airs.  Available here.  The second volume was published in 1937 but unfortunately the Irish Traditional Music Archive does not have an original copy of this book in its collection.  We would be delighted to receive a copy of the publication as a donation or on loan in order to digitise it and make it available online.

By this time Laurence had returned to parish life in Ireland having refused to sign an oath of allegiance in the United States following the outbreak of World War I. While conducting his duties as curate in Clonfeacle, Co. Tyrone and parish priest in Dunleer, Co.Louth, Fr. Murray continued as a language teacher, researcher, prolific writer and activist, establishing the monthly periodical An tUltach in 1924, and the renowned St Bridget’s College, Ranafast in Co. Donegal in 1925/26.

He died in the parochial house in Dunleer on 25 June 1941.

For more online information on Lorcán Ua Muireadhaigh, please see ainm.ie

References to his work can also be found in the notes to the Doegen Records Web Project: Irish Dialect Sound Recordings 1928−31 published online by the Royal Irish Academy

With thanks to Ciarán Dalton