George Petrie’s Ancient Music of Ireland, 1855 & 1882

From his youth Petrie had the habit of noting down traditional melodies in manuscript on his sketching tours around Ireland and in Dublin, and he contributed to the publications of the older collector Edward Bunting. After the devastation caused to traditional culture by the Great Famine, Petrie was prominent in the 1851 establishment in Dublin of the Society for the Preservation and Publication of the Melodies of Ireland (see below). His own collection was the first mooted publication, and with the assistance of colleagues he undertook to edit selected melodies with a commentary. The first volume was published in 1855, and is reproduced here in facsimile from the collections of the Irish Traditional Music Archive.

Although this first volume was published in 1855, it has recently been brought to our notice by Dr Jimmy O’Brien Moran that the first sections of it were being published in forty-page numbers from 1853, presumably to satisfy the demands of subscribers. A page of one of these numbers is reproduced here.

After 1855 Petrie continued work on a second volume drawn from his collection, but this was only partially completed at the time of his death and it ends abruptly in the middle of a note on a song. This incomplete volume was published almost twenty years later, in 1882, without a title page, and this item also is reproduced in facsimile below from the ITMA collections.

Both volumes have been republished in one-volume print editions: in 1967 and 1969 in facsimile by Gregg International, Farnborough, Hants, UK; and in 2002 in a re-set edition (David Cooper ed., with Lillis Ó Laoire) by Cork University Press. These editions are also in the ITMA collections. The School of Music, University of Leeds has created a Petrie Collection archive here.


The Society for the Preservation and Publication of the Melodies of Ireland 1851

Many of those prominently involved in the Society for the Preservation and Publication of the Melodies of Ireland, the first formal Irish traditional music society, lived on Merrion Square or in its vicinity. The Society was established under the presidency of George Petrie in December 1851, in the aftermath of the Great Famine, to preserve, study and publish ‘the immense quantity of National Music still existing in Ireland’. It was directed by a twenty-three-man Council. As well as David Richard Pigot and John Edward Pigot, Thomas Beatty MD and William Stokes MD lived on the square, at nos 18 and 5 respectively. In the vicinity of the Square lived the Treasurer of the Society Robert Callwell (Herbert Place), its other Joint Hon. Secretary Robert D. Lyons MD (Merrion Square), Rev. Charles Graves DD (Fitzwilliam Square), Benjamin Lee Guinness (Dawson Street), Thomas Rice Henn (Upper Mount Street), Henry Hudson and Samuel Maclean (St Stephen’s Green), Joseph Huban Smith (Holles Street), Rev. Jas H. Todd (Trinity College), and William Wilde (later Sir William, father of Oscar; Westland Row). Most of those associated with the Society were members of the Royal Irish Academy, which was then situated in Grafton Street.

One of the aims of the Society, never realised, was ‘the formation of a central depot in Dublin, to which persons… may be invited to send copies of any airs which they can obtain, either in Ireland or among our countrymen on other lands’. ITMA might be said to be a realisation of that aim. Its collections contain the published works of the Society and later editions of them.

―From No 73 Merrion Square, Dublin 2: The Premises of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, Dublin: Irish Traditional Music Archive, 2008

With thanks to the Breathnach Family who donated the volumes reproduced to ITMA in 1987 as part of Cnuasach an Bhreathnaigh, the Breandán Breathnach Collection, and to Dr Jimmy O’Brien Moran. 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.

NC & MG, 1 February 2011