Henebry’s Irish Music and Earlier Studies, 1903

The family was musical. Henebry played the fiddle, as did his mother, and he had a great interest in traditional singing and uilleann piping. An outstanding but eccentric scholar, he became a Catholic priest, and after a doctoral course of philological studies in Germany was briefly professor of Irish in the Catholic University of Washington DC in the 1890s, and later taught in Berkeley University in California.

While in America he became friendly with Captain Francis O’Neill in Chicago and other Irish musicians. Suffering from ill-health, he returned to Ireland about 1903, and made a valuable collection of early cylinder field-recordings in Waterford in 1905. These led to correspondence with leading German ethnomusicologists in Berlin, and formed an influential component of his theories on Irish music scales and intonation. From 1909 until his death Henebry was professor of Irish Language and Literature in University College Cork. Highly idiosyncratic in his behaviour and a stubborn public controversialist, he nonetheless inspired admiration and affection in many of his colleagues, some of whom published the manuscript of his original and substantial Handbook of Irish Music (Cork, 1928) after his death.

Henebry’s originality and dogmaticism is on display in his booklet study Irish Music (Dublin, 1903) which is reproduced below from the collections of the Irish Traditional Music Archive. His only publication on Irish music to appear during his lifetime, apart from occasional pieces in newspapers and magazines, it drew on his musical experiences in Ireland and America, and has a supplement of his mother's tunes.

Richard Henebry's brief study of Irish music is best understood in the context of a series of such studies which had appeared before 1903. Many of these – beginning with the earliest substantial study, Joseph Cooper Walker’s Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards (Dublin & London, 1786) – are now also available online in full text, and links to them are provided below.


O’Curry, Eugene, On the manners and customs of the ancient Irish: a series of lectures.  Vol. I, London: Williams and Norgate, 1873

O’Curry, Eugene, On the manners and customs of the ancient Irish: a series of lectures.  Vol. II, London: Williams and Norgate, 1873

O’Curry, Eugene, On the manners and customs of the ancient Irish: a series of lectures.  Vol. III, London: Williams and Norgate, 1873

Renehan, Laurence F., History of music, Dublin: C.M. Warren, 1858

Conran, Michael, The national music of Ireland, London: John Johnson, 1850

Walker, Joseph C., Historical memoirs of the Irish bards.  Vol. I, Dublin: Printed by J. Christie, 1818

Ledwich, Edward, The antiquities of Ireland, Dublin: Printed by and for John Jones, 1804 (2nd ed.)

Walker, Joseph C., Historical memoirs of the Irish bards, Dublin: Printed for the author, by L. White, 1786

 

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.

 

 

[Other Henebry material is also available on the ITMA website. For his cylinder recordings see here, and for his Handbook of Irish Music see here.]