The first concertinas to arrive in County Clare, Ireland, were inexpensive German instruments, a far cry from the elegant parlor instrument invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1829 and popularized among the social elite of Victorian England. They were disseminated by traveling peddlers and local and more distant shops—and probably by maritime traffic, given Clare’s position at the mouth of the Shannon estuary, the last port of call for tall ships about to cross the Atlantic.
By the end of the nineteenth century the concertina had all but replaced the uilleann pipes in popularity there, and Clare had already developed a reputation as a treasure-trove of concertina music and the home of some of the instrument’s finest players. After its completion in 1892 the West Clare Railway carried concertinas into formerly inaccessible rural areas, and before World War II the instrument became particularly popular among women musicians, earning it the nickname bean-cháirdin (female accordion).
This according to “Clare: Heartland of the Irish concertina” by Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin (Papers of the International Concertina Association III  pp. 1–19; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2006-5495).
On this St. Patrick’s Day, countless fans of Irish traditional music will sing along to The wild rover, with its irresistible “no, nay, never” refrain. Little will they realize the song’s multifarious past.
The text originated in The good fellow’s resolution, a 17th-century English broadside written by Thomas Lanfiere—one of any number of moralistic broadsides of the period describing the wayward behavior and subsequent regrets of “bad husbands” and the duplicity of alewives.
Over the course of 300 years several distinct textual and musical changes altered the moral thrust of the song, assisting its enduring popularity. Lanfiere’s 13-verse text was edited and condensed, appearing in late 18th- and early 19th-century chapbooks and broadsides with the “bad husband” being converted to a “wild rover” along the way.
Stages in the song’s evolution are preserved in these print versions, which found their way into English oral tradition (sung to a different tune from the currently familiar one) by the early 19th century, when a harmonized version cropped up in Thomas Hardy’s grandfather’s songbook.
The song was also reproduced in mid-19th century American songsters, and was extremely popular in Australia, where three different strains and a country & western rewrite all made the rounds.
At some point the “no, nay, never” chorus replaced the original “wild rover, wild rover” refrain. The form with the distinctive four-beat pause was first recorded in Nova Scotia in the early 20th century, and the version familiar today is the result of further adaptation by performers in the 1960s British folk revival.
This according to “The well-travelled Wild rover” by Brian Peters (Folk music journal X/5  pp. 609–36). Above, in 1958 Burl Ives identified the song as Australian; below, in 1965 The Clancy Brothers did too.
The journal aims to reflect the range of music played, studied, and researched in Ireland, providing a regional forum for scholars. While PDFs of the articles are open-access, enhanced versions with links to sound and video illustrations are only available to members of ICTM Ireland.
Seosamh Ó hÉanaí (Joe Heaney, 1919–84) was considered by many to be the finest Irish traditional singer of his generation. Born and raised in rural western Ireland, over his lifetime he brought his vast repertoire of sean-nós (old-style) songs and stories, and his majestic, richly ornamented performances of them, to audiences around the world.
Although he never mentioned it in his published writings, the collector and compiler of traditional Irish tunes Francis O’Neill (1848–1936) made wax cylinder recordings of some of his fellow musicians in Chicago, probably in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Once believed lost, 32 of these recordings were discovered in 2003 when David Dunn opened a suitcase that had belonged to his grandfather, who had been a friend of O’Neill. Dunn brought them to the Ward Irish Music Archives in Milwaukee, which contacted the American Folklife Center for help in digitizing them. Several recordings by the renowned uilleann pipe player Patrick J. “Patsy” Touhey (1865–1923) are included, along with performances by four other luminaries of the Chicago Irish music community.
The recordings now comprise the cornerstone of The Dunn Family Collection, an online exhibit hosted by the Ward Archives that also includes manuscripts, artifacts, photographs, and sheet music collected by the instrument maker and repairer Michael J. Dunn (1855–1935). Dunn was also a captain in the Milwaukee Fire Department, while O’Neill—when he was not pursuing his passion for Irish traditional music—served as Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.
Thanks to Patrick Hutchinson for alerting us about this collection! Patrick plays the uilleann pipes with Bento Boxty.
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