Songs from Ballyvourney, Co Cork, 1913 & 1914

A little-known collection of 84 Irish-language songs entitled Songs from Ballyvourney, Co Cork, with Irish Texts and Translations, and presented here in facsimile from the collections of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, was described in the mid-20th century as ‘incomparably the finest collection published in our time of Irish songs noted from oral tradition’.

Remarkably, the collection was made by a retiring English scholar of private means, Alexander Martin Freeman, in West Cork in 1913 and 1914, and was published by the Folk-Song Society of London in three numbers of its journal from 1920 to 1921.

The songs were collected by Freeman with care and sympathy from a number of local singers, chief among them being Conchubhar Ó Cochláin (Conny Coughlan) from Doire na Sagart, 'said to be over 80... but... as active and alert as a man of 40'. Freeman's approach was ethnographic and scientific, and he provides many valuable insights into the nature and role of singing in the local community. Although his work was written in English, with translations of the song texts into English, music in staff notation and extensive background notes, his choice of a phonetic spelling for his Irish-language song texts has been a barrier to their use and has contributed to their obscurity.

But some items from the Freeman collection have been brought into contemporary circulation, by for example the musician and composer Seán Ó Riada and the singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, currently of the group The Gloaming. Freeman's field notebooks from Ballyvourney are held in the National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin.

For ease of reference, Freeman's Irish titles and first lines have been rendered into modern standard Irish by ITMA, and can be found here in the catalogue data under each of the periodical facsimiles.

With thanks for advice and assistance to Malcolm Taylor, former Librarian of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, London, and to Cathal Goan.

NC & MG, 1 April 2015

[A consideration of Freeman and his Cork collection by Nicholas Carolan '"Out of the Smoke": A. Martin Freeman's West Cork Song Collection of 1913–14' (21 pp.) appeared in November 2015 in a festschrift of essays by various authors for Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinín of University College Galway, himself editor of a much later collection from West Cork: The Songs of Elizabeth Cronin, Irish Traditional Singer. The festschrift is entitled Early Medieval Ireland and Europe: Chronology, Contacts, Scholarship (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers, 723 pp.) and is available for purchase in hardcopy or as pdf downloads of individual essays from the publishers here.]