Digging into Funeral Home Records: The Ledgers of J.D. Fallon & Son, Jamaica Plain

Image of Detail of index page, Funeral ledger

Detail of index page, Funeral ledger, 1907-1918, Box 1, J. D. Fallon & Son ledgers, MS.2003-061, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Funeral practices in the United States moved from personal residences to funeral homes in the late 19th century. Until that period, families laid out their own dead, wakes were held in houses, and burials — by necessity — swiftly followed deaths. Undertaking was professionalized in the 1880s as embalming became common, coffins became more elaborate, and other services were offered to mourners. Funeral homes were often founded as family enterprises, remaining so for generations. These businesses built close ties to their neighborhoods, and clientele often came from particular religious, ethnic, or racial groups within their communities. 

Funeral home records were created as business accounts. While some of these records have been transferred to historical societies or libraries, most are still held by the businesses that created them. Burns Library holds one such collection. J.D. Fallon & Son ledgers (MS2003-061) are from a funeral home in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. It includes four ledgers of funeral transactions covering the period 1907-1943. 

Image of entry for Mary K. Flate

Entry for Mary K. Flate, p.236, Funeral ledger, 1929-1934, Box 4, J. D. Fallon & Son ledgers, MS.2003-061, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Like many undertakers of their time, Fallon & Son used pre-printed ledgers specifically designed for their work, with each page a template to record the details of the transaction. Depending on the thoroughness of the funeral parlor in completing the template, records could include details:

  • About the deceased: name; address; date, place and cause of death; birthplace; age at death; gender; race; marital status; occupation; parents’ names and birthplaces. 
  • About the funeral: type of casket; service date, time, and place; apparel supplied; candles and flowers; conveyances (carriages, hearse, cars); chairs; newspaper notices; name of church; type of service; date of interment. 
  • About the business transaction: deed information; arrangements to have the body moved or grave opened; name of person making arrangements; itemized charges and payment information.

In addition to providing an avenue for understanding the social customs of communities, these types of records are useful for genealogical and historical research. One ledger entry adds shades to the story of the Owen F. Cummings family. John Cummings, age eight, died of diphtheria and was buried January 4, 1907. His mother, Bridget, was buried fifteen days later. Online genealogical sources provide more information about the Cummings. Bridget’s death certificate gives “acute dilation of heart, one week” as her primary cause of death, with a contributing cause of “intense grief, three weeks.”  Her Boston Globe obituary also provides an account of her death – seemingly of a broken heart over John’s death.

Image of entry for John and Bridget Cummings

Entry for John and Bridget Cummings, page 51, Funeral ledger, 1907-1918, Box 1, J. D. Fallon & Son ledgers, MS.2003-061, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The ledger entry begins with the name of Owen F. Cummings, a stone mason who came to Boston from Vermont with his family in the 1890s. Owen arranged for the funerals of his wife and child through the Fallon funeral home, located a few blocks from the rented apartment where he now lived with three of his four grown children. Eldest son, Eugene (age 25), no longer lived at home at the time of John’s death, because he was studying to be a Jesuit at Woodstock College in Maryland.

The Fallon record shows that Owen bought the deed to a cemetery plot from New Calvary Cemetery at the time of John’s death. Expenses for the two funerals totaled $131.40 (approximately $3700 in 2019). It took the family 11 payments over more than 4 years to settle the bill. With its detailed entry, the record of the funeral and payment adds a layer of information that cannot be seen in other sources.

At a broader level, records like these may be used to uncover evidence of the social customs of the communities they served. An example can be seen in the doctoral dissertation Revelations from the Dead: Using Funeral Home Records to Help Reconstruct the History of Black Toledo by Camillia Z. Rodgers. Using statistical analysis, Rodgers uses data about individuals from funeral home records similar to Fallon & Son’s to build a profile of a community’s development between 1912-1917, adding to the historical record of an under-documented community. Although small in scope, the J.D. Fallon & Son collection likewise provides a lens with which to look closely at individual experiences, and, more comprehensively,at the customs of a Boston neighborhood in the early 20th century.

  • Shelley Barber, Outreach & Reference Specialist, John J. Burns Library


Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Boston History | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Avatar and Fort Hill Community

When we think about the history of cults and communes in the United States, we often jump to the big names: The Manson Family, Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, the Branch Davidians, the Ragjneeshpurams. What we may not consider is that one was operating in our own backyard.

In 1966, musician and writer Mel Lyman founded the Fort Hill Community, a commune centered on what Lyman referred to as neo-transcendentalist spirituality. The community was based around a few homes clustered together in Roxbury, about 5.5 miles from us at John J. Burns Library. It housed as many as sixty members at a time. In its early days, tension between the Fort Hill Community–mostly comprised of white artists and intellectuals from Cambridge–and the neighborhood’s African American residents escalated until Fort Hill Community members could be seen patrolling the perimeter of their property.


The Avatar, Vol. 1. No. 1 June 9-22, 1967. BP605.N48 A93 FLAT STORAGE

From 1967-1968, Lyman, local friends, and commune members ran The Avatar, an underground newspaper geared toward people of like-minded beliefs in the Boston area. The newspaper focused on the power of the Zodiac chart and highlighted counter-cultural activity throughout Boston.

Burns Library houses Lyman’s Avatar newspapers dating from June 1967-April 1968, as well as Pluto, an occult newspaper started by Lyman that ran for one issue in 1970.

Avatar, much like the Fort Hill Community itself, encouraged spiritual freedoms and socio-political liberties common to late 1960s counter-cultural movements, but also localized much of its focus on Lyman as a spiritual leader. While early issues of Avatar seemed to focus on the Boston community and the importance of the Zodiac, by the end of its first year, the newspaper transitioned into almost exclusively radical anti-war content and Lyman’s own thoughts on obtaining the correct kind of spiritual enlightenment. Later issues of Avatar contained several-page spreads of “Letters to Mel,” in which Lyman responded directly to a mixture of devotion to and criticism of his beliefs and practices. One note in the October 13th, 1967 issue declares, “Your cant is singularly repulsive and curiously naive for one who is regarded by his fellows as an ‘Avartar'[sic]–having the evasiveness of a politician and the equivocation of a Greek oracle. I can only surmise that the anti-intellectual climate of your paper is indicative of your movement, and that you, as a self-styled equal of the Buddha, Jesus, and Emerson, leave more to be desired than do a great number of “straight” artists.”

Pluto almost exclusively deals with the significance of the Zodiac in charting our behaviors and choices, and dedicates several pages to exploring Charles Mason’s behavior through his astrological alignment, specifically, fixed Scorpio signs that dictated what the writers’ believed showed he was a man with “debts owed.” The newspaper shifted from local political and cultural highlights and instead focused on supposed “Plutonian” figures of the day, such as Manson and Iggy Pop. Continue reading

Posted in Boston History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sound Innovations: Howard Belding Gill and Robert W. Bullock Recordings

Two red vinyl discs

Generally multiple discs were kept together in one sleeve as seen above. Box 3, Howard Belding Gill papers (MS-1995-018)

Many unique or rare archival audio recordings in Burns Library collections have been unavailable to researchers due to the fragility of their storage media (think: cassette tapes, vinyl records, and their predecessors). Any time a recording is played might be its last, so during playback it is important to digitally capture the recorded content for long-term preservation and access. Until recently, the archives of both Howard Belding Gill and Robert W. Bullock contained many hours of recordings that have lingered in silence.

The Howard Belding Gill papers document Gill’s professional career, notably as superintendent of Norfolk Prison Colony and as founder and director of the Institute of Correctional Administration. In addition to the newly available audio recordings of class lectures, events, and dictation, the collection contains artifacts, awards and certificates, clippings, correspondence, notes, photographs, photograph albums, scrapbooks, and typescript, manuscript, and carbon-copy drafts of his writings and speeches.

The Robert W. Bullock papers relate primarily to Bullock’s ministry as a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston. In addition to the newly available recordings of his local interfaith radio talk show, “Talking Religion,” the collection includes a significant body of sermons as well as correspondence, manuscripts, meeting information, and photographs.

Photo of Jack Kearney, Digital Archives Specialist, Boston College Libraries

Jack Kearney, Digital Archives Specialist, Boston College Libraries

Jack Kearney is the Digital Archives Specialist in the Boston College Libraries. He has been digitizing hundreds of recordings and lectures from these collections. Gabe Feldstein, Boston College Library’s Digital Publishing & Outreach Specialist, recently chatted with Jack about the digitization process, and what it is like to work with dated and rare audio materials. In a departure from the usual narrative style of our Burns Library blog, we’re pleased to present this interview. Our thanks to the Digital Repositories Team for helping Gabe with this interview and to Jack, for sharing his expertise.

Question: There are so many different types of audio media in Burns Library, especially from the Howard Belding Gill Collection. What was the most difficult to deal with?  Why couldn’t they just make vinyls? 

Answer: While digitizing the Gill Collection, I transferred both audio cassettes and Edison Voicewriter dictation machine discs.  The dictation discs were by far the most challenging format I’ve encountered in my entire career. Audio cassettes, a more familiar format,  have their own problems too, such as cracked or broken plastic shells. This is fixed by simply rehousing the tape. However, and generally speaking, cassettes can provide reliable playback for audio capture if they’ve been stored with adequate temperature and relative humidity control.

The dictation discs were another story altogether.  In the 1950s and ‘60s, personal recordings were made with reel-to-reel tape recorders or dictation machines. One such dictation machine was the Edison Voicewriter, which is likely what Gill used to record his class lectures. 

Image of an Edison Voicewriter vinyl disc

An Edison Voicewriter record. The person being recorded would speak into the “Voicewriter” and then it would be saved on flimsy red vinyls, like the one you see here. The discs are thin to the point of being translucent and flimsy to the touch.

The red vinyl discs used with this machine are significantly flimsier than the more common LPs. However, it was the narrow grooves of the recordings that presented the real obstacle to digital reformatting. The grooves are so narrow that a modern LP stylus (or “needle”) is too large to stay in the groove, which results in incessant skipping.  So I did some research and also got in touch with Karl Fleck, the audio engineer at NEDCC in Andover who had recently transferred our reel-to-reel tape recordings from the James W. Smith and Joe Lamont Irish Music Recordings.  Karl advised me to use a smaller diameter conical stylus as opposed to the traditional modern LP record stylus, which has a larger tip and is elliptical in shape.  We followed his advice, and this conical stylus succeeded in improving playback for a majority of the discs, especially some of those that were basically unplayable before with the original stylus I was using.  There were also some issues with the playback speed varying from disc to disc, but I was able to correct the speed digitally for the access copies using Pro Tools audio software.

Image of two styluses.

The stylus on the right is the newly-ordered stylus with a smaller diameter, compared to the original, standard stylus on the left. If you zoom in very closely, you can see the very tip of the needle and indeed they are different in size, but only barely to the naked eye.

Close-up image of original and new styluses

The image on the left shows the original stylus, the image on the right is the new thinner stylus. Fractions of a millimeter in diameter distinguish the two, but it is enough of a difference to be able to meaningfully digitize these records – the original stylus is too thick.

Question: If the copies that we are listening to now are available digitally, can I get them on my own laptop?

Answer: These particular recordings from Gill are being made available for listening only onsite in the Burns Library Reading Room via a laptop that was set up for this very purpose.  Researchers will know this when they consult the finding aid and request to come in to review the materials. Generally, the archivists at Burns Library assess collections like this for privacy restrictions, copyright, or other concerns, and decide how it should be made accessible.  Access levels are noted in the collection’s corresponding finding aid. For example, the finding aid for the Gill collection notes: “Conditions Governing Access: Phonograph records have been digitally copied; all original media was retained, but may not be played due to format. Digital use copies can only be accessed in the Burns Library Reading Room.” Continue reading

Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Digital Projects | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What has your Congressperson done for you lately?

Politics. It is a topic that elicits a variety of emotional and intellectual responses in our currently very polarized environment. It makes you wonder what the attitudes and perceptions of politics were 20 or even 30 years ago. To shed some light on this topic, Burns Library has embarked on a two-year project to process a number of congressional collections making them available for research and study here at Boston College. Now you might be asking yourself what exactly is in a congressional collection? Simply put–it is the personal papers retained by a member of Congress while they were in office. It can include correspondence from constituents, legislative files on specific bills and resolutions, topics important to the represented district, campaign materials, travel files, invitations, photographs, committee files, and various objects.  

Photo of archival boxes on shelving

Initial survey of donated boxes. Edward P. Boland congressional papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Edward P. Boland donated 200 boxes of his congressional papers to Boston College in 1990. And although I’d like to tell you that everything was clearly labeled and in some sort of recognizable order… I cannot. Typically when a Congressperson leaves office their staff has a very short time to physically clean out their office to make room for the incoming member. When one has served over 30 years in office, the amount of materials produced can be daunting, both for staff and institutions that ultimately take the collection. The organization of congressional collections varies and depends on how good the filing and record keeping of the member’s staff was while they were conducting business on behalf of their district. Complicating matters further are staff changes, changes in the role of the member, and committee assignments.

This is where the archivist comes to save the day! We create a recognizable intellectual and physical organization of the materials so that a researcher can find them and use them. To accomplish this goal, we survey the collection materials, arrange them in a meaningful way, and house them in acid free folders and boxes. At Boston College, this work is being done by two Project Archivists in a modified work space at the Theology and Ministry Library (TML). A short walk down the hill from the John J. Burns Library leads to the Brighton campus, where you can find us working in a large room with lots of tables to spread out the massive amount of papers and objects in these collections and be able to adequately process them. 

The Edward P. Boland congressional papers is one of these collections. Boland was a Congressman in the House of Representatives in the 2nd District of Massachusetts (Western Massachusetts) from 1953-1989. A Democrat, Boland was known for his civility and worked very closely with his colleagues and Republicans on a number of important legislative issues. He was also a contemporary, friend, and, for a time, even a roommate of Tip O’Neill.

While he was in office, he worked on legislation about education, environmental concerns, economic issues, and urban development that shaped the fabric of many policies which still exist today. The materials in the collection often reveal the strong opinions the public and lobbyists had regarding the government and representatives. 

Boland served on the Appropriations Committee for almost his entire career, was a respected member of the Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, and participated in the Iran-Contra investigations in the 1980s. As part of his work on Appropriations, he was heavily involved in NASA’s funding and attended launches, retrievals, and celebrations. 

Working with the collection, it is clear that Boland was very focused and committed to his job as a public servant, and he was always available and willing to help his constituents and, more broadly, Americans. The war in Vietnam was a topic that greatly concerned Boland, and led him and fellow Congressman Silvio Conte on a joint inspection tour in 1966. While there, he met men from Massachusetts in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade.

Photograph of Boland shaking hands with troops in Vietnam, December 15, 1966

Boland shakes hands with Sgt. Robert C. Rose of Holden, Massachusetts in Tay Ninh, Vietnam, December 15, 1966. Edward P. Boland congressional papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

He never faced serious election opposition, except for a 1968 challenge from Charles V. Ryan, the mayor of Springfield, during the controversy over the closing of the Springfield Armory. After an intense campaign battle, Boland was victorious in his re-election. While these papers are still currently being processed, we anticipate that they will be available for research and study by January of 2020. 

  • Alison Harris, Project Archivist for the Edward P. Boland Congressional Papers
Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, congressional archives | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Acquisition: Ioannis Petraloysii Praenestini Missarum Liber Tertius

Among the most eye-catching books acquired recently by Burns Library is this collection of masses by  the prolific and influential Italian composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Printed in 1570, in Rome, this is the first edition of the third collection of Palestrina’s masses (the first book was printed in 1554; the second in 1567). It includes eight masses for four to six voices.

Image of title page, Ioannis Petraloysii Praenestini Missarum Liber Tertius, by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Title page, Ioannis Petraloysii Praenestini Missarum Liber Tertius, by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

On opening the volume, the first thing you notice are the elaborate woodcut depictions of musical instruments and allegorical figures which border the title page. The decorative elements and large format appear to signal a major composer at the zenith of his career, however by 1570 Palestrina’s prospects were actually dimming. In an essay memorably titled “Publish or Perish,” Jane A. Bernstein writes:

[Palestrina] dedicated his second and third books of masses to Philip II of Spain during a period of financial uncertainty when he was not employed by the papacy and had left his appointment at Santa Maria Maggiore. We know that Palestrina was looking for a position with a foreign ruler at this time, since in 1567 he had entered into negotiations with Emperor Maximilian II in Vienna. His dedications to Philip II also suggest that the Roman composer might not have been in sympathy with the reigning Pope Pius V, since at this time there were clashes between Philip and Pius concerning control exercised over the church in Spain by the crown.

Publication was thus a shrewd, though financially risky, act of self-promotion. Printers in 16th-century Italy operated more like vanity presses than modern publishing houses, so Palestrina probably funded the venture himself.  Though he did not secure royal patronage, Palestrina’s financial worries were resolved when he was offered his former position as chapelmaster at the Cappella Giulia, thereafter enjoying a long and prosperous career.

Typical of polyphonic vocal music of this era, the typeset music is represented by mensural notation. Devised in the late 13th century and in use until about 1600, mensural notation used different shapes to convey the rhythmic duration of notes, an innovation which remains an essential feature of modern musical notation.

Image of leaves A2v-A3r

Leaves A2v-A3r, Ioannis Petraloysii Praenestini Missarum Liber Tertius, by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Of note are the pages where the printer has amended errors by pasting a corrected section over the misprinted staff. The book is bound in full vellum with the initials C.R. stamped in gilt on the front and back covers.

Image showing pasteover corrections .

The discolored areas are pasteover corrections. Ioannis Petraloysii Praenestini Missarum Liber Tertius, by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Image showing vellum, front cover.

Front cover, Ioannis Petraloysii Praenestini Missarum Liber Tertius, by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, John J. Burns Library, Boston College












Unfortunately we don’t know who C.R. was, but we do have some clues about a later owner. In pencil on the inside front cover is written “Acquistato da Domenico Mancini di Roma il 23 VI 1971.”

Image of inscription on front pastedown.

Inscription, front pastedown, Ioannis Petraloysii Praenestini Missarum Liber Tertius, by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

This is a bookseller’s annotation, noting the purchase of the book on June 6, 1971 from one Domenico Mancini, perhaps referring to the 20th-century Italian falsetto singer of that name. 

Emblematic of the Roman School, and a tangible reminder of Palestrina’s reputation for rescuing polyphonic music from the strictures of the Counter Reformation, this volume complements Burns Library’s holdings of Renaissance music, which include a 14th-century Franciscan Antiphonary and a 1546 edition of Cristóbal de Morales’s Missarum liber primus.

  • Noah Sheola, Special Collections Cataloging Librarian, John J. Burns Library.


  • Bernstein, Jane A. “Publish or Perish? Palestrina and Print Culture in 16th-century Italy.” Early Music 35, no. 2 (2007): 225-36.
Posted in Acquisitions, Rare books | 1 Comment

Celebrating Excellence: Boston College’s Thea Bowman AHANA Intercultural Center

This summer, the Boston College Options Through Education Program (OTE) celebrated its 40th Anniversary. Alumni from the OTE Program, including all the way back to its early days as the Black Talent Program in the 1970s, returned to BC’s campus for a weekend of reconnecting, sharing, and meeting the current OTE class of 2019 (graduating class of 2023).

Image of BC Chronicle newspaper page March 27, 1997

Boston College Chronicle, March 27, 1997. Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center Records, Box 3, BC1986-023.

Burns Library houses the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center Records, containing pieces of the office’s history ranging from yearbook and graduation photographs to campus event flyers and featured articles in The Heights. Yearbooks from OTE classes dating from the summer of 1984 to the summer of 2017 can be found in these records. 

The Thea Bowman AHANA Intercultural Center (BAIC) supports several programs and resources for Boston College Students such as College Counseling, Nursing Outreach, Options Through Education Summer Program, Study Abroad Tuition Remission, and Summer Tuition Remission. Over the last five decades, the BAIC has made and continues to make strides in supporting BC students from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.

2001 Image of OTE class of 2005.

Options Through Education Class of 2005. Picture from summer of 2001. Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center Records, Box 5, BC1986-023.

Since its founding in 1968, The AHANA Office has undergone several changes, adapting its name to be more inclusive, adding a vast number of on-campus resources, and creating programming geared toward student success.  In 1968, BC President Fr. Michael P. Walsh, SJ, (whose records are also held at Burns Library) began the Negro Talent Search (NTS) Program; over the next decade the program name would change to the Black Talent Program, then Minority Student Programs in 1975.

In 1978, Dr. Donald Brown became Director of Minority Student Programs. During Dr. Brown’s tenure as Director from 1978-2005, the Options Through Education Program was established along with several others, such as the Benjamin Elijah Mays Mentoring Program

In 1979 students Alfred Feliciano and Valerie Lewis led a student group that campaigned the Boston College Board of Trustees to change the office’s name from Minority Student Programs to the Office of AHANA (African, Hispanic, Asian American, and Native American) Student Programs (OASP).

1992 image of OTE class of 1996.

Options Through Education Class of 1996. Picture from summer of 1992. Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center Records, Box 5, BC1986-023.

That same year, Dr. Brown changed the name of the office’s “Summer Program” to Options Through Education/Transitional Program. In 1988, the office’s name changed from 72 College Road to the Thea Bowman AHANA Center, in honor of Sister Thea Bowman and her many years of activism and ministry. Sister Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A., Ph.D. strove to bring faith and cultural awareness to children across the United States and various countries. After teaching for almost two decades, she served as Consultant for Intercultural Awareness for the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi. During this time, she implemented traditional Black teaching techniques and practices that incorporated song, dance, poetry, drama and story. She made over 100 public appearances each year, participating in conferences, recitals, lectures and workshops, where she advocated cross-cultural collaboration. 

Sister Thea received an honorary Doctor of Religion from Boston College in 1989. In 2014, the AHANA office changed its name to its current title, Sister Thea Bowman AHANA Intercultural Center (BAIC). Continue reading

Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, BC History | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Digitized Irish Music Now Includes Unpublished Fiddle Playing by Michael Coleman

During a review of recently-digitized audio in John J. Burns Library’s Joe Lamont Irish Music Recordings, we asked our friend and former BC colleague Séamus Connolly to listen to a fiddle segment on tape reel #6 that Joe Lamont’s tracklist identifies as Michael Coleman performing the tune “Collier’s.”

Michael Coleman (1891-1945) was one of the 20th century’s best-known performers of Irish traditional instrumental music. Connolly, an All-Ireland fiddle champion who cites Coleman as a major influence, was delighted to hear this version of “Collier’s.” Since Coleman’s rendition of this dance tune is not found in published discographies or compilations, it seems likely that Lamont had dubbed Coleman’s playing of “Collier’s” from an unpublished—possibly homemade—78-rpm disc. It is preceded by another reel, “Ownie Davis’.”

We invite you to listen to the set of reels here. Example #1 below is the original version digitized from open-reel tape. In example #2, the digitized version has been adjusted to a slightly slower pitch and speed.

Audio Example #1:

“Ownie Davis'” and “Collier’s Reel” performed by Michael Coleman (fiddle) and unidentified accompanist, 99567 (reel 6), Joe Lamont Irish music recordings, IM.M145.2005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Audio Example #2:

“Ownie Davis'” and “Collier’s Reel” adjusted for speed and pitch, performed by Michael Coleman (fiddle) and unidentified accompanist, 99567 (reel 6), Joe Lamont Irish music recordings, IM.M145.2005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College



Photograph of Michael Coleman, Box 19 Folder 21, Séamus Connolly papers, IM.M064.1999, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Coleman learned traditional fiddle and dance in the district of Killavil, a rural part of south County Sligo renowned for music. He left Ireland in 1914, settling in New York just before U.S. recording companies began to focus on the Irish American market. According to the Coleman Irish Music Centre, he made circa 80 commercial recordings (40 two-sided discs) between 1921 and 1936.

Both Coleman and Joe Lamont played traditional Irish fiddle, and both lived in the Bronx. Lamont arrived in New York from County Derry in 1926. He became active in music clubs throughout New York City such as the Paddy Killoran Irish Music Club.

In the 1950s, Lamont acquired an open-reel tape recorder and began amassing and cataloging Irish music field recordings. Joe Lamont Irish Music Recordings features live Irish traditional music in New York from the 1950s and 60s, as well as dubs of commercial and homemade sound discs created years earlier. His collection of open-reel tapes was donated to Burns Library’s Irish Music Archives by his nephew, James Lowney.

Boston College Libraries digitized and described the collection as part of a Recordings at Risk digitization grant project. Plans are in development to stream additional digital audio from selected reels.

We would like to thank former Sullivan Artist-in-Residence Séamus Connolly, as well as accordionist Daithí Gormley, for generously sharing observations and insights about this material while visiting Boston College. We thank Dan Neely and Jimmy Keane for identifying “Ownie Davis.” If you have information to share, a correction to suggest, or would like to inquire about access to collections, we invite you to contact us.

  • Elizabeth Sweeney, Irish Music Librarian

Sources consulted

Bradshaw, Harry. “Coleman, Michael.” In Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland, edited by Harry White and Barra Boydell, 214-215. Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2013.

Bradshaw, Harry. Liner notes. Michael Coleman, 1891-1945. Michael Coleman. Gael Linn CEFCD 161. CD. 1992.

Coleman Irish Music Centre. “The History of Michael Coleman.” colemanirishmusic.com  https://www.colemanirishmusic.com/the-centre/the-history-of-michael-coleman/  (accessed June 6, 2019)

Lowney, James F. “Ireland’s Hills Alive with Fiddler’s Music.” Asbury Park Press. March 12, 1978, p. F12.

O’Shea, Helen. The Making of Irish Traditional Music. Cork: Cork University Press, 2008.

The Session. “Ownie Davis.'” https://thesession.org/tunes/4364 (accessed June 10, 2019)

Smith, Jesse. “Coleman, Michael.” In Companion to Irish Traditional Music, edited by Fintan Vallely, 141-142. Cork: Cork University Press, 2011.


Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Digital Projects, Irish Music Archives, Irish Studies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments