Tommy Fegan, Irish Travellers and Irish Traditional Music (MA, Dundalk Institute of Technology, 2014)

These details defined Sun Feb 14 22:56:46 2021, last updated Tue Feb 16 18:11:36 2021  edit
 Author:  Fegan, Tommy 
 Title:  Irish Travellers and Irish Traditional Music 
 Degree, institution:  MA, Dundalk Institute of Technology 
 Status, year:  accepted, 2014 
 Volumes, pp., etc.:  70 pages, plus a 65 minute video documentary "Coppers and Brass", 24321 words 
 Supervisor(s):  Dr Helen Lawlor, Dr Eamonn Crudden 
 Repository:  DKIT, Dundalk, Co Louth, Ireland 
 General specialism:  Ethnomusicology 
 Content, key terms:  Concepts:
Genres, instruments: 
Ethnographic film making; ethnomusicology
Johnny & Felix Doran; John Cash; Finbar Furey; Paddy Keenan; Mickey Dunne
Ireland; Manchester
Irish Folklore Commission; UCD; Pavee Point; Dublin; Cairdeas na bFidelirí
Uilleann Pipes; fiddle; accordian; banjo

This dissertation aims to both document and analyse the Irish traditional music played by members of the Irish Travelling community. It will focus on uilleann pipe playing in particular, and will seek to clearly show how Irish Travellers exhibit specific stylistic traits within Irish traditional music. Issues of identity and Traveller lifestyle will be appraised in order to give a complete ethnographic account in text and film of the Traveller music repertoire, style and socio-cultural context. The thesis will take the form of a combination of textual and audio-visual work.

This thesis argues that the Travellers’ style has remained largely invisible in Irish traditional music. Theories of ‘style’ in Irish traditional music tend to be dominated by a geographical discourse. The music is understood primarily in terms of regions, and sometimes on a micro level for smaller geographical areas. It is also often understood as a form of individualistic expression. The history and traditions of the Irish Traveller style tend to unsettle these hegemonic ethnomusicological discourses and it is hoped that the present study can serve to both inform and re-animate debate in this area. The unique lifestyles and performance contexts of Irish Travellers demanded a different approach to performance (such as performing at open-air fairs).

The nomadic lifestyle of Irish Travellers who played Irish traditional music was particularly suited to the preseveration and dissemination of the oral tradition. Musicians in isolated rural areas looked forward to the arrival of the Traveller musician, who invariably brought new tunes, and new interpretations of older tunes from different regions. The confluence of a number of social changes in Ireland in the 1950s represented a turning point for the Travellers’ nomadic lifestyle. In spite of the testimonies of musicians who recognised and appreciated the importance of Irish Travellers in the preservation and promotion of Irish traditional music, those charged by the Irish State with the collection, notation and preservation of Irish traditional music throughout the country, largely ignored the contribution of Irish Travellers. This thesis addresses the lack of acknowledgement of the contribution of Irish Travellers through fieldwork and analysis.

Appraising the Irish Traveller style of traditional music requires in-depth musical analysis of the performance of many of the Travellers, playing individually, as well as in a Traveller group setting. In describing an Irish Traveller style of traditional music, it is important to define style in its context, determine the characteristics of style, and apply these to the music played by Irish Travellers for analytical purposes.

The thesis includes a literature review and a detailed biographical/historical account of the leading Traveller musician families and individuals identified in the course of the research. Furthermore, an ethnographic account provides a detailed and sociologically contextualised insight into the families, the individuals and their music. This serves to situate the ethnomusicological aspects of the study within the broader context of social and political changes in Irish society from the 1940s onwards to the changes which have led to the relative demise of the distinctive culture of the Irish Traveller. Musical transcriptions and analysis of a selected number of tunes identifies and critically analyses Irish Travellers’ traditional music.

The medium of video is used as a key research tool allowing for the production of multi-sensory records of performances by Traveller musicians. It is also used in an ongoing manner as a method of documenting ethnographic interviews. The medium of video also facilitates, by being used in a sensitive and reflexive manner, the research to capture a sense of the various attempts being made by Irish Travellers themselves to preserve the Irish Traveller style of music as a living aspect of their culture, and to transmit it to younger generations in the context of an increasingly mediatised and globalised cultural context. Finally it is hoped that the medium of ethnographic video will serve as a useful tool in the dissemination of some of the key research findings in a variety of contexts, both inside of and outside of academia. The use of video is intended to illustrate, compliment and extend the written component of the study.

The key findings of this work are the collection, documentation and analysis of the music of Irish Travellers who play the uilleann pipes. It examines the influence of key musicians in the Traveller community. It is rooted in ethnomusicology and film studies, and as such has created a large body of fieldwork interviews and audio-visual recordings. It takes the concept of style in Irish music and offers a new perspective on this debate. The thesis also documents in visual form the musical performance, analysis and memories of members of the Irish Traveller community.

 Related publications:  Free Spirits-Irish Travellers and Irish Traditional Music; Tommy Fegan and Oliver O'Connell (2011) The Sweets of May, The Céilí Band Era, Music and Dance of South Armagh, Ceol Camlocha, (2008) Coppers and Brass, 12 TV documentaries on Irish Traditional Music, Vimeo (2014)