Cylinder Sound Recordings Made at the Oireachtas, Dublin, 1907

Cylinder Sound Recordings Made at the Oireachtas, Dublin, 1907

Now playing: An maidrín ruadh, song / Shaun Lawless, singing in Irish, singing in English
  1. An maidrín ruadh, song / Shaun Lawless, singing in Irish, singing in English
  2. Fineen the rover, song / Feagh Hugh O’Byrne, singing in English
  3. Untitled, march ; Untitled, jig / Feagh Hugh O’Byrne, flute
  4. Men of Kildare, song / Shaun Lawless, singing in English
  5. Mairin Ni Chuillionain = [Máirín Ní Chuilleanáin], song / Donncad O’Finn, singing in Irish
  6. Husheen, song / William Campbell, singing in Irish
  7. Carrigdhoun, song / Cissie O’Byrne, singing in English
  8. Seagan ab amdhain = [Seán an amadán], speech / Kathleen Cotter, speech in Irish
  9. The West asleep, song / Donncad O’Finn, singing in English
  10. Sterling cylinder lid.  An cuilfion : Cissie O’Byrne / Henri Chamoux
  11. An cuilfion, song / Cissie O’Byrne, singing in Irish
  12. Turus go Tia na n’og = [Turas go Tír na nÓg], song / Thomas O’Moore, singing in Irish
  13. Bantry Bay, song / O’Carroll Reynolds, singing in English

Cylinder Sound Recordings Made at the Oireachtas, Dublin, 1907

Seventeen cylinder sound recordings made by the Sterling Company of London at the annual Oireachtas Irish-language cultural festival of the Gaelic League in Dublin in August 1907 are among the some hundred cylinders in the collections of the Irish Traditional Music Archive. The festival was based that year in the Rotunda hall on O’Connell St (then Sackville St) in the north central city, and the recordings were presumably made somewhere in the vicinity. The recordist, with a ‘special apparatus’, was a Mr Quirke of the Sterling Company. Sterling had been invited to Dublin by its agent John O’Neill, a prominent Dublin record dealer and bicycle manufacturer, and the intention was clearly to make recordings for commercial sale. Accordingly the featured artists, almost all singers performing traditional and national songs in Irish and English, are modern concert performers. They include none of the unaccompanied old-style gaeltacht singers who were also at the festival, although one story-teller in Irish from Limerick was recorded.

More recordings than the number surviving were made by Sterling in Dublin in 1907, but the company went into liquidation early in 1908, and it is certain that none were ever issued. The recordings now in ITMA were donated to it by the late Robert Webster, keeper of the Friends Burial Ground in Blackrock, Co Dublin. He had bought them in the early 1960s from workmen who had found them in a house they were demolishing on George’s Quay in Dublin. Their story was the basis of a special edition of the RTÉ Radio 1 archival series The Irish Phonograph by Harry Bradshaw and Nicholas Carolan in 1984.

These recordings, presented here from more than a century ago, naturally suffer from surface noise and distortion; others are too damaged to present. Since cylinder sound recordings are unknown to most people today, having become an essentially obsolete technology by the period of the First World War, images of ITMA cylinders, including some of these, are presented in an image gallery here.

The ITMA cylinder collection has been digitised in France on the specialist cylinder-copying device the Archeophone, for which see here. The collection will be the basis of a Heritage Week 2013 exhibition in ITMA’s premises at 73 Merrion Square, Dublin 2, which will be complemented by these images and the connected audio playlist.

With thanks to Robert Webster, Henri Chamoux of Archeophone, & Harry Bradshaw.

NC & ES, 1 August 2013