ABOUT THE BOOK
The South Ulster area has a significant local repertoire of instrumental music and song, most of which was not highlighted over the course of the post-1950s revival of Irish traditional music. This collection is a unique body of tunes from that region at the turn of the 20th century, recreational melodies with which the people of North Leinster would also have been familiar. The music was first seen in an article by Rev. Luke Donnellan entitled Oriel Songs and Dances which was published in 1909 in the County Louth Archaeological Journal. That included a number of hand-scribed pieces which were notated within the Oriel area, part of a larger collection attributed to Donnellan which is now held in the National Folklore Collection at University College, Dublin.
This edition of that body of work grew out of research by its editor, Gerry O’Connor, in the early 2000s. Here he has re-transcribed the Donnellan Collection in a contemporary playing format, with the original document’s occasional inaccuracies and shortcuts sensitively amended, a process informed by his insider knowledge of the traditional music style of the area, and of the aesthetics of contemporary local traditional music performance. The manuscript is further complemented by the editor’s playing of all the tunes, available online, airing them publicly for the first time since Luke Donnellan’s original project was assembled over a century ago. And so the music is made available again, not only to performers in the Oriel area and its neighbouring counties, but also to musicians and scholars in all of Ireland and the international world of Irish traditional music.
In 1976, in Mark’s Bar, Dundalk, a friend, Johnny Gallagher gave me a photocopy of a 1909 County
Louth Archaeological Journal (CLAJ) article submitted by Rev. Luke Donnellan entitled Oriel Songs & Dances which included a collection of 106 tunes collected within the Oriel region in the early part of the 20th century. Finding evidence of the rich cultural heritage available on my doorstep was a huge affirmation of my musical upbringing which had been all a child could ask for: music passed down from my mother, an inspiring primary school teacher, Gerry Byrne who taught local songs and mythology as part of his curriculum, expert musicians living locally who were generous with their time and experiences and a landscape which encompassed sea, mountains, neolithic monuments, historical battlefields and a mythology dating to the earliest human memories.
I used this manuscript religiously during the early years of my career, keen to re-affirm the musical wealth of the region, alongside the burgeoning cultural exposure of many other areas throughout the country. During my years with Skylark (Garry O’Briain, Mairtín O’Connor, Len Graham) and Lá Lugh (Eithne Ní Uallacháin), we recorded many melodies from the CLAJ collection, most notably The Rose in the Gap, which I liked to dedicate to my mother, Rose.
In 2006, I was offered the opportunity to enter into a Master of Arts (MA) research programme on the subject of the CLAJ article. With the time and funding available to me, I began to delve deeper into the background of the collection and of the author of the article. I discovered that the original manuscript had been donated to the National Folklore Collection which is currently owned and managed by University College, Dublin. When I visited UCD, I discovered that the CLAJ published melodies were part of a much larger collection of 285 melodies. My research instantly expanded to encompass the larger collection. This publication includes selected aspects of my academic research and additional information can be found in my MA dissertation in the Department of Creative Arts, Media and Music, Dundalk Institute of Technology.
The manuscript itself is entirely written by hand including the drawing of the staves and appears to be been carefully maintained over a period of time by the re-tracing of the melodies and the text. Space within the manuscript was used sparingly with tunes often written in abbreviated form. Preparing the manuscript for publication involved the reconstruction of many of the tunes and, in some cases, making informed decisions based on my experience of typical motifs and structures of traditional music.
The majority of melodies within the collection are reels, together with a small number of hornpipes, marches, quicksteps and song airs. An index for each of the reel and hornpipe section is included which provided a useful cross reference to the manuscript. The absence of some pages originally contained within the manuscript was obvious where titles within the index listings could not be found in the transcriptions. Notably, there are no jigs included in the manuscript which is unusual when compared to other local collections. It is possible that an original jig section was included before the reel section but was also lost. A small number of melodies are illegible due to the fading of the original ink transcriptions. I have kept to the original numbering format which in the Reels section, begins at No. 10.
As well as reconstructing the tunes, I ‘corrected’ notation errors in the original transcription which were apparent to me when playing the music; these were typically key signature errors. I also adjusted the tune titles for spelling and punctuation. All changes are noted in the Analytical Notes section at the end of this publication. One aspect of the transcriptions which I chose to reproduce as the original was the inclusion (or exclusion) of repeat signs. Most of the melodies are presented as single form, even though today many of them are commonly played as double form.
By the time my research had been completed, due to the appearance and character of the manuscript, and the anomalies between it and the subsequent CLAJ article, I became convinced that Rev. Luke Donnellan was not the original author of this manuscript, and that the collection itself had been the work of an unknown, able, traditional musician, probably a fiddle player, transcribed over the musician’s lifetime. Perhaps the collection was presented to Rev. Luke Donnellan by a surviving family member to see it published by someone who had the education, interest and means to see it to fruition. However, in honour of a man who strived to expand the boundaries of knowledge in many fields, and because his name remains on a large collection of folklore recordings and manuscripts, I present the Donnellan Collection, edited and revised to be available to all interested musicians. Enjoy!
Gerry O’Connor July 2018