Sounds of Mid-20th Century Irish America: Irish Traditional Music in Boston and New York

Burns Library’s Irish Music Archives is delighted to announce that a significant trove of unpublished, open-reel audio from the 1950s and 1960s has been digitized and described, and can be requested for listening in the Burns Library Reading Room. With support from a Recordings at Risk grant, sound recordings from two collections, James W. Smith Irish Music Recordings and Joe Lamont Irish Music Recordings, can be accessed at the Library, facilitating the study of traditional Irish music in mid-20th century Boston and New York.  

Reel-to-reel tape boxes, James W. Smith Irish music recordings

Reel-to-reel tape boxes, James W. Smith Irish music recordings, IM.M016.1991, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

The Smith and Lamont collections capture live performances of Irish traditional music on fiddle, flute, whistle, and accordion, with occasional piano accompaniment, banjo, and vocals. Since Irish music is traditionally learned by ear, field recordings such as these are a key resource for learning about repertoire, influences, social contexts, and tune variations. In addition to the live performances, the collections contain recordings from radio, as well as dubs of phonograph discs.

Now you have me intrigued by those two archival collections … That was such a formative period for Irish musicians, with the availability of air travel opening up much greater communication between Ireland and the States.” — Helen O’Shea, author of The Making of Irish Traditional Music.

James W. Smith Irish Music Recordings document musical gatherings at the home of James W. Smith (1929-1990) in the Allston neighborhood of Boston. Featuring some of Boston’s most prominent Irish musicians of the time, the recordings also include music in homes of his musician friends and in other settings. The informal nature of the recordings captures the spirit of this evolving musical genre. The collection of open-reel tapes, 86 hours of which have been reformatted to 140 digital audio files, was donated by James W. Smith’s sister Mary Smith Duffy.

Joe Lamont and his sister, Sr. Mary Malachy, 1954.

Joe Lamont and his sister, Sr. Mary Malachy, 1954. Box 3 folder 1, Joe Lamont Irish music recordings, IM.M145.2005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Joe Lamont Irish Music Recordings include performances of Irish traditional music in the greater New York City area. A fiddle player from County Derry, Joseph A. Lamont (1905-1972) immigrated to New York City in 1926 and settled in the Bronx. Lamont was a founding member and officer of the Paddy Killoran Club, a branch of the Irish Musicians Association of America. The Lamont collection features selected events of the club and performances by many well-known Irish musicians. Lamont’s tracklists offer details of performers and musical selections. The collection of open-reel tapes, which the Library reformatted to 110 digital audio files (80 hours), was donated by Lamont’s nephew James Lowney.

Colleagues across the Boston College Libraries collaborated for 12 months to digitize, describe, preserve, and develop a model for in-house access to these sound recordings.  The above links to the finding aids offer details about both collections. 

We invite you to review the above finding aids to learn more about these collections. If you have an inquiry or a comment, please feel free to get in touch using the Burns Library contact form.  If you would like to schedule a visit to listen to this material, please contact us at least one business day in advance with a list of the recordings you would like to listen to. When compiling your list of reel numbers and/or digital content numbers, we encourage you to cast a broad net. We are happy to field questions to help identify relevant materials.


Image of Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder

Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder. Image from Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording.

When you are ready to request material, you may schedule an appointment by creating your Burns Library Account. We will then request delivery of the selected files to the Burns Reading Room for your use. Burns Library hours are listed on the Boston College Libraries hours page.


The Irish Music Archives research guide includes links to both of the finding aids, as well as to our other Irish music collections. We hope you enjoy the following sample audio clips from the Smith and Lamont collections, and we look forward to receiving your questions and feedback.

Elizabeth Sweeney, Irish Music Librarian



Audio examples from James W. Smith Irish music recordings:

Reel performed by Paddy Cronin (fiddle) and Gene Frain (piano), 99446 (reel 27), James W. Smith Irish music recordings, IM.M016.1991, John J. Burns Library, Boston College:

Jig performed by Brendan Tonra (fiddle) and Eddie Irwin (piano),  99484 (reel 64), James W. Smith Irish music recordings, IM.M016.1991, John J. Burns Library, Boston College:

Introductory remarks by Smith: “This medley of tunes is being played by Brendan Tonra on the violin and Eddie Irwin on the piano.”

Reels performed by Jimmy Kelly (banjo) and Sally Kelly (piano), 99444 (reel 24), James W. Smith Irish music recordings, IM.M016.1991, John J. Burns Library, Boston College:


Audio examples from Joe Lamont Irish music recordings:


“Moving Cloud” reel performed by Peggy Riordan (fiddle), 99599 (reel 38 side 1), Joe Lamont Irish music recordings, IM.M145.2005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College:


Reels performed by Paddy Killoran (fiddle) and others, 99567 (reel 6 side 2),  Joe Lamont Irish music recordings, IM.M145.2005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College:

Introductory remarks by Killoran: “You had asked me to make a few records. And, we have the great help here of Andy Conroy, Bob Conroy, and our good friend Mike Flynn. But nobody give[s] any help to the announcer who is doing all the announcing. Of course you know him anyway, Martin Feeney, our president of the club. And he has said so much about us that well Rob Conroy and Mike Flynn said, somebody has to say a word about Martin. So, we’ll just say a few words. Now we wish to dedicate those numbers to your good mother who is out here and hope that she will like them [INAUDIBLE] and play them for some of those great old Kerry friends and lovers of Irish music over there. Thank you.”


Reels performed by Pat Murphy, Joe Coleman, Joe Lamont (fiddles), 99619 (reel 58 side 1), Joe Lamont Irish music recordings, IM.M145.2005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College:

Introductory remarks by musicians: “Will you want to keep it to one or switch into something else? “Ah go ahead, play anything you only want to … every man for their self. You play one thing, I’ll play something else.”



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The 1798 Rebellion

This is the third in a series of seven blog posts highlighting and summarizing important events in Irish history, and Burns Library resources which aid in further study of the topic.  Burns Library holds many Irish history resources and is an invaluable resource for scholars in this field.

Ireland's Revolt in '98

This book was written for the centenary of the 1798 Rebellion. It provides an overview of the 1798 Rebellion, but does so in an interesting fashion—written as if those who participated in the Rebellion are telling the story to young relatives. From Ireland’s Revolt in ’98 by F. Tuite, Burns Library, Boston College.

John Burk, in 1799, noted  that much writing was produced on the 1798 Rebellion before his volume, History of the Late War in Ireland. (Burk, 1799, IV) Burns Library has many sources available on this topic, spanning from the late 18th century to the modern day, including Burk’s work, which provides a contemporary account of the rise of the United Irishmen and the Rebellion itself.  Joseph Stock’s A Narrative of What Passed at Killalla provides further insight into the French connection to the rebellion. Burns Library also holds works on major figures in the 1798 Rebellion, including Wolfe Tone and Henry Joy McCraken. The rise of the United Irishmen, their continuous presence after this conflict, and government documents relating to them can also be researched at Burns Library.

The 1798 Rebellion in Ireland occurred in the Age of Revolution, following the footsteps of the American and French Revolutions. The 1798 Rebellion is also referred to as the United Irish Rebellion, after the group which planned and carried it out. Initially formed by Ulster Presbyterians, the United Irishmen wanted parliamentary reform in Ireland and greater Irish representation within the British parliamentary system, they did not set out to rebel. The United Irishmen wanted to bring Ireland together under a common identity as Irish people, avoiding sectarian religious divides which they believed to be  imagined and imposed by British rule and influence. (Burk, 1799, 37) Continue reading

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Ciaran O’Neill, Fall 2018 Burns Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies

photo of Ciaran O’Neill, Fall 2018 Burns Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies

Photo of Ciaran O’Neill, Fall 2018 Burns Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies

Professor Ciaran O’Neill, Ussher Lecturer in History at Trinity College Dublin, has become a familiar face in Burns Library since his arrival in September. Ciaran is in residence this semester as Boston College’s Fall 2018 Burns Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies.

On Wednesday afternoons, Ciaran has been conducting his course on “History and Fiction in Irish Culture” in the Burns Library Irish Room. He has been drawing on our collections to introduce his students to original and early editions of works they have been reading, including George Egerton’s Keynotes, Maria Edgeworth’s Tales and Novels and our original proofs version of George Moore’s Héloïse and Abelard. They have also examined copies of Sharon Turner’s History of the Anglo-Saxons in tandem with the second American edition of Sir Walter Scott’s classic historical romance novel, Ivanhoe, some of which was based on Turner’s History.

On Tuesday, November 6, at 4:30pm, Ciaran will offer a public lecture titled “Love, Power, and Consent in Pre-Famine Ireland: A Dublin Courtship.” Based on an examination of an unpublished diary held at Trinity College Dublin, the talk will consider the power dynamics of mid-19th-century love affairs and how historians handle intimacy and emotion in their work. A reception will follow in the Irish Room.

image of the diary of James Christopher Kenny

Diary of James Christopher Kenny. Trinity College Library Dublin, IE TCD MS 10800, p. 115. Courtesy of Manuscripts & Archives Research Library.

On Saturday, December 1, Ciaran will host a daylong symposium on history and fiction at Connolly House, home of the Boston College Irish Studies program. The symposium will feature a keynote by Dublin-born writer Emma Donoghue, who has published in a variety of genres from coming-of-age novels to mysteries, from short stories to stage and radio plays, from biographies and historical fiction to young adult fiction. The full program will soon be posted to the Irish Studies website.

Prior to his appointment at Trinity College in 2011, Ciaran was Irish Government Senior Scholar at Herford College, University of Oxford. He received his doctorate from the University of Liverpool after earning master’s and undergraduate degrees from the National University of Ireland Galway.

Cover of Catholics of Consequence

Ciaran O’Neill. 2014. Catholics of Consequence. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press.

Ciaran’s first book, Catholics of Consequence: Transnational Education, Social Mobility and the Irish Catholic Elite, was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. It won the 2015 Donnelly Prize presented by the American Conference for Irish Studies for the best book published in history or the social sciences. In 2013, Ciaran edited Irish Elites in the Nineteenth Century for Four Courts Press. With Enda Delaney and Maria Luddy, he co-edits the “Reappraisals in Irish History” series for Liverpool University Press. Ciaran served as president of the Society for the Study of Nineteenth Century Ireland from 2014-2018.

Recent essays appear in Eire-Ireland, Gender & History, The Public Historian, and Historical Research, as well as the Cambridge History of Ireland (2018) and Cambridge Social History of Ireland (2017). The wide scope of Ciaran’s interests and publications embrace public history, modern Irish and British literature, the social and cultural history of Ireland, and Britain and the Empire in the nineteenth century.

Since 1991, the Burns Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies program has brought to Boston College a long and distinguished series of academics, writers, artists, journalists, librarians, and notable public figures who have made significant contributions to Irish cultural and intellectual life. Burns Visiting Scholars teach courses, offer public lectures, and engage with the rich resources of the John J. Burns Library in their ongoing research, writing, and creative endeavors.

  • Christian Dupont, Burns Librarian, John J. Burns Library
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The Penal Laws in Ireland


This is the second in a series of seven blog posts highlighting and summarizing important events in Irish history, and Burns Library resources which aid in further study of the topic. Burns Library holds many Irish history resources and is an invaluable resource for scholars in this field.

The Penal Laws were established in Ireland in 1695 to lessen Irish Catholic power, dismantle their culture, and anglicize or ‘civilize’ Ireland.  The Penal Laws were not all created at once in 1695, new Penal Laws were added throughout the 1690s and the early 18th century. Burns Library has many resources for studying the Penal Laws, including 11 original printings of some of the laws.  

Letter From Edmund BUrke

Letter from Edmund Burke which expresses his thoughts about the Penal Laws against Irish Catholics. From A letter from a distinguished English commoner (Rt. Hon. Ed—d B–ke) to a peer of Ireland on the Penal Laws against Irish Catholics, by Edmund Burke, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Public reactions to the Penal Laws and sources relating to the repeal process are also present. Content of note includes a letter from Edmund Burke on the Penal Laws, a Statement of the Penal Laws, and A Refutation of the Statement of the Penal Laws which is a response to the previous material.  Several histories of the Penal Laws and inquiries into how they affected Irish Catholics in practice are also present in Burns Library.

In his book which discusses the experience of Irish Catholics under the Penal Laws, Cardinal Moran wrote “it was not that England had not long before laid aside the delusive hope that Ireland could be driven by the sword to embrace that pretended Reformation; but she continued nevertheless to heap afflictions upon the Irish Catholics, and she ceased not to pursue them with relentless hatred, that thus she might at least impress the stigma of a reproach upon their faith, and degrade the religion of which she had failed to destroy.” (Moran, 1899, 2) Continue reading

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A New Weapon: Highlighting Irish Hunger Strikes in Two Recently-Opened Collections at Burns Library

Prison hunger strikes became an integral part of protesting in the struggle for Irish independence over the course of a century. Two recently opened collections at Burns Library, both newly processed, include materials that reflect how hunger strikes were used during times of rebellion and struggle in Ireland.

Sheehy Skeffington & suffrage cartoon

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington photograph, Box 4, Folder 37, Loretta Clarke Murray collection of women in revolutionary Ireland, MS.2016.016, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. Irish Women and the Vote: Suffrage and Citizenship Conference 2008, Box 4, Folder 63, Loretta Clarke Murray collection of women in revolutionary Ireland, MS.2016.016, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Loretta Clarke Murray collection of women in revolutionary Ireland documents the critical roles women held during the years of conflict surrounding the 1916 Easter Rising. Women not only fought alongside the men involved in the Rising and subsequent struggles, but, according to Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, were also the first to implement hunger strikes as a form of protest in the movement.

On June 13, 1912 Sheehy Skeffington was arrested and imprisoned for smashing windows at Dublin Castle as a protest for women’s rights. She and three other female prisoners went on hunger strike in prison in support of fellow suffragettes. In her memoirs, Sheehy Skeffington wrote, “Hunger-strike was then a new weapon–we were the first to try out in Ireland–had we but known, we were the pioneers in a long line. At first, Sinn Féin and its allies regarded the hunger-strike as a womanish thing…But the public was, at least, not apathetic, and a feeling began to be voiced that there was something unreasonable in refusing women the vote” (Sheehy-Skeffington, Hanna, and Ward, Margaret, Editor, 2017, 77). The suffrage and Irish independence movements were closely interconnected, so it’s no surprise that hunger strikes became a means used by both men and women to fight for political causes throughout the 20th century.

Irish republicans began to see the effectiveness of using this form of protest for their own uses, starting in 1917 with Thomas Ashe, whose death by force-feeding while on hunger strike caused a rise in anti-British sentiment. Hunger strikes began to gain popularity in the following years and garnered much attention and support for the republican movement. Handbills from the Loretta Clarke Murray collection show how popular propaganda leveraged what was happening inside the prisons. Continue reading

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From the Bronx to Belfast: Michael Schwartz, Photojournalist with a Compassion for Children

Born in the rough-and-tumble Bronx in 1944, photojournalist Michael Schwartz became attracted to the still tougher neighborhoods of West Belfast during the late stages of the political conflict known as “The Troubles.” During the decade leading up to the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that ended the violence in Northern Ireland, Schwartz made annual visits to the militant republican enclaves along the Falls Road, camera in hand. The hundreds of photos he brought back of children in the embattled streets are now available in Burns Library.


Michael Schwartz talking with boys in Divis Flats housing complex. Photograph by Sean Allen, Box 1, Folder 6, Michael Schwartz Northern Ireland Photographs (MS.2018.005), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Schwartz learned to turn his lens on street life as a staff photographer for the New York Post from 1984-1994. He subsequently freelanced for the New York Daily News, which gave him more creative latitude. Schwartz’s photos were published in major US and European newspapers and magazines, garnering him several prizes, including multiple “best spot” awards from the New York Press Club, National Press Photographers’ Association, and Society of the Silurians, one of the oldest and most prestigious press clubs in the nation. Schwartz was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, the second time for a now-famous photograph of Mother Teresa with Princess Diana waving from the doorway of a Catholic mission in South Bronx.

Photograph of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana

Mother Teresa and Princess Diana. Photograph by Michael Schwartz, Michael Schwartz Photography.

Schwartz succumbed to cancer in August 2017. Following his death, fellow photojournalist and friend Ardina Seward helped his sister, Suzanne Ashley, find a suitable repository for the project for which he most wanted to be recognized. Searching the Internet led them to discover our holdings of Northern Ireland photographs by Bobbie Hanvey. Last December, Ashley donated the entire collection of her brother’s Belfast photos, comprising more than 300 large-format black-and-white prints and associated negatives, contact prints, and slides, along with a small file of correspondence with Sean Allen, an amateur photographer whom he met in West Belfast and who accompanied him on his photo shoots. Ashley also transferred copyright to the images to Boston College to facilitate their publication by researchers.

photograph of two boys in a debris-filled lot

Two boys in a debris-filled lot, silver gelatin print, Box 4, Michael Schwartz Northern Ireland photographs (MS.2018.005), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Schwartz’s stirring photographs of children playing beside graffitied walls amid smoke and rubble were the subject of several exhibitions at the Soho Photo Gallery in Lower Manhattan and other venues. Early in the morning on September 14, 1998, before the opening of his solo exhibition “Faces of War: Children of Belfast,” a suspicious fire broke out in the Cooper Gallery in Jersey City. Police investigated it as an act of political bias. Schwartz told a reporter for the New York Times, “The subject matter obviously antagonized a person or a group … even though my intent was to try to show some compassion for these little kids that are victims over there, and maybe change some people in thinking about the peace process, all it did was the exact opposite” (Chen 1998). All 23 of Schwartz’s prints for the show were ruined, but fortunately he had kept the negatives in a safe deposit box. They are now safely deposited with us.

Schwartz received two modest “BRIO” grants from Bronx Council for the Arts to support his travels to Northern Ireland, but he largely financed the ten-year project on his own. All told, he shot 173 rolls of black-and-white film in Belfast. His contact prints provide insights into his creative process, showing the numerous images it took to get to one that met his standards for an outstanding photograph, which he stated in a 1999 interview with Photographer’s Forum, must “evoke an emotional response from the viewer, and have strong emotions shown by the subjects themselves” (Schaub 1999, 28). Continue reading

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A Rare Vellum Printing

A book may be interesting on the basis of its physical features, its intellectual content, or its history of ownership. Here we have the trifecta: a book of unusual, even beautiful, material construction, containing a text of scholarly interest, and a well-documented sequence of former owners. It is among the most exciting books I have had the pleasure of cataloging since I arrived at John J. Burns Library last November.


Don’t be misled by the title page. This book was not printed in Leuven, Belgium, in 1674 but in Dublin, Ireland, in 1829.

The full title is The Bleeding Iphigenia, or An excellent Preface of a Work Unfinished, Published by the Authors Friend, with the Reasons of Publishing It. Written by Nicholas French, Bishop of Ferns, Bleeding Iphigenia is a rallying cry for the property rights of Irish and English Catholics during the upheaval following the Restoration of Charles II. The title refers to the mythological Greek princess sacrificed by her father to appease the goddess Artemis. Here Iphigenia represents Ireland, sacrificed and betrayed in the wake of the Restoration. French intended the text as a preface to his 1674 polemic The Dolefull Fall of Andrew Sall, which castigated his friend and colleague, an Irish Jesuit, for converting to Anglicanism. For reasons unknown, this preface was omitted and issued separately, perhaps in 1675 or slightly later, and with no title page. Continue reading

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