Irish Music Center Established at Burns Library

(6-29-98) -- University President William P. Leahy, SJ, has announced the establishment of the Irish Music Center at Boston College. The center will collect and preserve Irish music, especially as performed and recorded in the United States, and will document traditional forms of Irish music from its origins to the present, with emphasis on its influence in America.

The Irish Music Center will be a component of the Boston College Irish Collection -- the largest and most comprehensive collection of Irish research materials in the country -- which is housed in the University's John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections.

"It is especially fitting that the Irish Music Center be established in 1998, the year that Boston College celebrates the 50th anniversary of the founding of its Irish Collection, the 20th anniversary of the founding of its Irish Studies Progrimcam and the recent establishment of its Irish Institute," said Fr. Leahy. "These programs have combined to make Boston College the premier institution in America for the study and preservation of Irish life, history and culture. The Irish Music Center will be a unique resource for the study and appreciation of this important part of Ireland's tradition. Irish music will flourish at Boston College as never before."

The center is the outgrowth of an archive of traditional Irish music that was founded at Boston College following the highly successful 1990 musical festival "My Love Is in America: The Boston College Fiddle Festival." Organized by the acclaimed Irish musician Micheal O'Suilleabhain, the festival tapped an immense reservoir of interest in Irish music both locally and nationally. In response, the Boston College Music Department, Irish Studies Program and Burns Library came together to establish the Irish Music Archives at the library in 1991.

Since then, the success of the University's annual Gaelic Roots Festivals -- organized by internationally recognized fiddler Seamus Connolly, who is now music director of the Irish Studies Program -- has underscored the importance of the project.

"There was clearly increasing responsibility to collect, preserve and make these materials accessible, to document Ireland's musical heritage and to promote greater awareness of the contribution of Irish traditional music to Irish and American culture," Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill said of the initial archive, which quickly became home to a growing store of material, including significant early recordings. "The popularity of Gaelic Roots gave even greater impetus to that responsibility, which the establishment of the Irish Music Center will enable us to fulfill."

According to O'Neill, the Irish Music Center will seek to collect, preserve and make accessible a complete record of Irish music as performed in America, as well as document the history of traditional Irish music through collecting, research and publication. It also will seek to record important and unique performances, such as cultural festivals, that would otherwise be lost to posterity and to sponsor events that will recognize and promote greater awareness of the contribution of Irish music to culture, especially American culture. It also may publish selected recordings, songs and musical scores.

The center will house not only audio recordings in all formats (78s, 45s, LPs, compact discs, audiocassettes, DAT, reel-to-reel), but also: music videos in all formats (film, video cassettes and video discs); printed music (sheet music, musical scores and books); manuscripts (holograph musical scores, diaries, correspondence, journals); music-related photographs, posters, ephemera and memorabilia; musical instruments, and archival records of organizations, groups and individuals related to Irish music as performed in America.

To enhance access to the collection, the center will catalogue the collection on an international database and maintain a World Wide Web site.

Currently, the Boston College Irish Music Archives contain hundreds of recordings of Irish music, some of them extremely rare and dating back to 1903, donated by alumni and friends of the University.

"The first major donation to the archives was made by Boston College alumnus and former Boston Public Library Director Philip J. McNiff," said O'Neill. "This gift, consisting of nearly 200 Irish music LPs, became the nucleus of a collection of recordings, mostly albums, that flowed into the Burns Library from individuals and institutions around the country." These recordings were augmented by further gifts and purchases of reel-to-reel tapes, compact discs, video recordings, sheet music, books and business records.

Recent acquisitions of note include two major Thomas Moore collections, the first consisting of 530 individual pieces containing Moore's words and the accompanying printed music, and the second comprised of 120 volumes concentrating on Moore's poetry. Also, Michael Bowles, former conductor of the RTE Orchestra, donated a collection of some 250 folk songs in both Irish and English that he had collected over his career and to which he added music. The most recent major addition to the collection is the Frederick M. Manning Collection of John McCormack, which includes McCormack's handwritten autobiography, his music cabinet with song sheet material, his "little black book" containing words of his concert songs, correspondence, photographs, concert programs, recordings and miscellany.

"It's the finest and most comprehensive collection of resource materials in the United States documenting the great tenor's career," said O'Neill.

The Irish Music Center will be part of BC's Irish Collection, the nation's most extensive compilation of Irish research materials. Established in 1948, the Irish Collection documents the history, life and culture of the Irish people. Its holdings include such rarities as Malton's View of Dublin; William O'Sheehan's 1735-1737 codex transcription of Geoffrey Keating's Foras Feasa ar Eirinn, the first history of Ireland not in the form of annals; and the Nicholas Fouquet copy of John Colgan's Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae, in two volumes, 1645-1647, with the coat of arms of Louis XIV stamped on the title page of each volume. Among its literary holdings are the largest collection of William Butler Yeats manuscripts outside the National Library of Ireland, several major Samuel Beckett collections, the Flann O'Brien papers and the Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill papers.

"Although rare books and manuscripts form the core of this collection, virtually all materials important to a fuller understanding of Ireland and the Irish are of interest," said O'Neill. "From early on, the Burns Library selectively collected artifacts, works of art, photographs, newspapers, journals, ephemera and even crafts. Hence, the addition of music is eminently appropriate."

In addition to establishing the Irish Music Center, Boston College recently has appointed renowned Irish composer, pianist and singer Phil Coulter as visiting professor of music and has established a new position in the music department in Irish ethno-musicology.

Back to InfoEagle Home Page

Back to News and Information from Boston College