About the Project

The Inishowen Song Project

The once-remote rural peninsula of Inishowen in north-east Co Donegal has a rich living tradition of English-language song. Singing for family and friends at convivial gatherings in homes and pubs was and still is a major form of entertainment there. Fine local singers are valued, and certain families are noted for their singing talents and large repertories of song.

But in the 1980s, conscious that older singers were passing away unrecorded and that Inishowen songs were dying with them, local teacher and singer Jimmy McBride (originally from Gaoth Dobhair in north-west Donegal) and singer Jim MacFarland from Derry city began an ongoing voluntary project of recording these singers and preserving their songs. In 1985 they published a first book of local song lyrics, My Parents Reared Me Tenderly, and in 1988 Jimmy McBride published a second, The Flower of Dunaff Hill, which contains lyrics and notated melodies. A selection for a third collection, Two Good Men and True, was compiled by Jimmy McBride but has remained unpublished until the appearance of its contents on this site (March 2013). In 1988 also they both formally established the Inishowen Traditional Singers' Circle. In 1990 Jimmy McBride initiated an annual festival of traditional singing, the Inishowen International Folksong & Ballad Seminar, which continues strongly to this day and attracts local, national and international singers. It is now organised by the Inishowen Traditional Singers’ Circle, which also holds monthly singing sessions and workshops.

From 1988 to date, Jimmy McBride has been generously donating the many sound recordings, photographs and video recordings he made in Inishowen over the years to the Irish Traditional Music Archive for public access (some 750 items comprising 4,000 individually recorded songs from some 100 singers), and these form the basis of the multimedia Inishowen Song Project presented here for the use of individuals, schools, universities, public libraries, etc.

Sponsored by the Inishowen Development Partnership, the Inishowen Song Project is a collaboration between the Inishowen Traditional Singers’ Circle (ITSC) and the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) in Dublin to host song material from Inishowen on the Archive’s website. Part 1 of this two-part project was made available online in March 2012, and Part 2 in March 2013. This state-of-the-art digital facility provides local, national and international access to Inishowen song material in a professional archival and web-based environment, and it is intended for all who wish to experience and enjoy this rich tradition, and for learners and students.

Web visitors can listen to and view digitally remastered audio and video recordings of singers and songs, while reading and downloading the words of the songs as transcribed by ITMA staff as educational materials. They can also read on the site and print out facsimiles of the books Old ‘Come-All-Ye’s’ (editions of 1916–c. 1950s), a historic collection of local traditional songs published by the Derry Journal, reproduced courtesy of its editor Martin McGinley and contextualised here in an essay by John Moulden; and the books My Parents Reared Me Tenderly and The Flower of Dunaff Hill, courtesy of Jimmy McBride and Jim MacFarland. And they can hear and view the songs of the hitherto unpublished Two Good Men and True, compiled by Jimmy McBride, and photographs of the singers, courtesy of Jimmy McBride, Ken Garland and other photographers. As ITMA has attended the Festival since 2007 to record contemporary singers, a selection of its recent videos are also available on the site. The videos can also be viewed on the ITMA YouTube channel.

The project has created the most comprehensive collection in existence of digital material relating to the song tradition of Inishowen, and also a microsite for its world-wide dissemination; the material presented here will be added to over time as new material of a suitable quality appears. Formats used on the microsite are MP3 for audio, MP4 for video, PDF for print and transcribed items, and items can also be accessed by means of the ITMA Player and the ITMA Viewer as well as the ITMA YouTube channel. This project provides a template for providing public access on the Internet to digital multimedia local and regional traditional music materials collected anywhere in Ireland or in the Irish diaspora.

Through its presence on the ITMA website, this Inishowen material is also accessible through the international European Digital Library, a project funded by the European Commission to explore the digital resources of Europe’s museums, libraries and archives.

 A feedback button here allows users to contribute further information or otherwise make contact.

With thanks to the singers, collectors, publishers, funders, and the many others who have contributed and are contributing to this project. ITMA and ITSC would always welcome further donations of Inishowen material.