A Continuing Tradition: Irish Music at Boston College
Boston College came alive with Irish traditional music during the March 1990 Irish fiddle festival, “My Love is in America.” Organized by visiting ethnomusicology professor Dr. Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, the festival generated great interest across campus and throughout the international Irish music community. Featuring 16 top fiddle performers living in the U.S., the festival’s program of music, lectures, liturgy, and dance brought the rich Irish fiddle tradition of North America into focus. The festival’s artistic success spurred Boston College to expand existing programs and library collections, augmenting the study of Irish culture that had been in place for many years.
The audio CD from the 1990 festival, My Love is in America, captures highlights from the final concert. Produced by Dr. Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, the recording received recognition from the Library of Congress American Folklife Center. Dr. Ó Súilleabháin also conducted oral history interviews of the senior musicians during the festival weekend, and arranged that these interviews be videotaped for Boston College. To create a lasting legacy of Irish music on campus, Dr. Ó Súilleabháin used the master audio and video recordings from the entire weekend to help inaugurate an Irish Music Archives at the John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections.
Among the special collections of the John J. Burns Library is the Irish Collection, one of the most comprehensive in North America. The Burns Library welcomed the creation of an Irish Music Archives in 1990 to complement its existing Irish holdings. Inspired by the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin, Dr. Ó Súilleabháin had envisioned a complementary archives to preserve and provide access to the variety of Irish music, song, and dance traditions of North America. Boston College’s renowned Irish collections and Irish studies programs made the university an attractive home for such an archival effort.
Renamed the Irish Music Center in 1998, the Irish Music Archives at the John J. Burns Library has grown to include rare and unique items in many formats, such as vintage sound recordings, music manuscripts, photographs, correspondence, and more. Its collections, many of which have been generously donated, include materials from Philip McNiff, Séamus Connolly, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann/North America, David R. Burke, George Madaus, Myron Bretholz, the Michael Cummings Collection of P.S. Gilmore, Thomas Garvey, the Hanafin Family, May Mullins, and the Frederick M. Manning Collection of John McCormack.
The Burns Library Irish Music Center has received invaluable assistance over the years from Sullivan Artist-in-Residence Séamus Connolly. A ten-time All-Ireland fiddle champion, Mr. Connolly has facilitated numerous donations to the archives, and has donated much of his own personal collection to the library. From his arrival on campus in 1990 as a featured performer and festival co-organizer, Mr. Connolly’s wide-ranging contributions to Irish music on campus have inspired students and built an international name for Boston College among Irish musicians. The Gaelic Roots festival that Mr. Connolly created here from 1993 to 2003 drew over 300 students from around the world, for a week each June, to listen and learn from internationally-acclaimed artists. Since his artist-in-residence appointment in 2004, Mr. Connolly has continued public programming through the Gaelic Roots Music Song, Dance, Workshop and Lecture Series that runs throughout the academic year. The series brings traditional musicians, dancers, teachers, and lecturers to campus, at venues such as Connolly House and Gasson Hall. Most events are free of charge and are recorded for the Burns Library Irish Music Center archives.
In addition to attending public concerts, dances, and lectures, Boston College students take advantage of academic courses offered by ethnomusicologist Dr. Ann Morrison Spinney (Music) and by visiting scholars such as NYU folklorist Dr. Mick Moloney (John J. Burns Library Visiting Scholar, fall 2004). Students also participate in performance courses offered by Séamus Connolly and Laurel Martin (Irish fiddle), Jimmy Noonan (Irish tin whistle), and Meghan Allen (Irish dance).
To support the study and enjoyment of Irish music at BC, the Irish collection in the O’Neill Library Media Center (level 2) maintains an up-to-date, circulating collection of traditional music recordings from Ireland, and from related traditions in Scotland, Canada, England, and the U.S. The O’Neill Library also maintains an extensive collection of Irish music books and scores in the main stacks.
More information on the Irish music collections at Boston College can be found by visiting the Irish music research guide, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or telephoning Beth Sweeney at 617-552-3956. Members of the BC community are most welcome to attend events in the Gaelic Roots series! To join the Gaelic Roots monthly e-mail list, send a message to email@example.com with the message: subscribe gaelicroots.
Beth Sweeney, Irish music librarian, directs the Irish Music Center at the John J. Burns Library, and participates in Irish studies collection development at the O’Neill Library.