Digitized Irish Music Now Includes Unpublished Fiddle Playing by Michael Coleman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discographies or compilations, it seems likely that Lamont had dubbed Coleman’s playing of “Collier’s” from an unpublished—possibly homemade—78-rpm disc.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.


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1916 Easter Rising

This is the last 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 Easter Rising was a short lived rebellion in Dublin, Ireland during Easter week of April 1916. It was staged to gain international recognition for Ireland in order to negotiate independence from Britain. The timing of the Rising was deliberate, as Britain was already engaged in the First World War and had few resources to divert to an Irish rebellion, so there would be more pressure to negotiate with the rebels. The Easter Rising was not a popular rebellion supported by the majority of the Irish population, but was rather a radical effort led by the military council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), with cooperation from the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, and Cumann na mBan. [1]

The Easter Rising was a chaotic affair, suffering from a lack of support from the general population as well as last-minute changes.  The leaders of the Rising had organized a coordinated attack throughout all of Ireland but the actual result, due to contradictory mobilization orders,  was a Dublin-centered insurrection.

Irish Volunteers Membership Card

Membership card for the Irish Volunteers (blank), front cover. Box 2, Folder 16, Kathleen Daly Clarke Papers and Collection of Thomas Clarke and Irish Political Materials, 1897-1972, undated (MS 2001-007), John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Eoin MacNeill, head of the Irish Volunteers, did not support rebellion and didn’t even know the Rising was in the works. Once he became aware, he planned to cancel the Volunteers’ usual training maneuvers scheduled for the Easter weekend, but changed his mind upon receipt of the Castle Document.  This document, stating that the British government intended to disarm the volunteers and arrest many of the leading officials in the Irish nationalist movement (Collins 2016, 16), had allegedly been smuggled out of Dublin Castle, the center of the Irish government,  to the IRB. According to Lorcan Collins, “Dublin Castle was quick to label the document as ‘bogus’, but it was certainly based on something authentic.”(Collins 2016, 16) This information—along with information that the Germans were sending arms to support the Rising—convinced MacNeill to support the Rising. He issued an order to the Volunteers to resist disarmament, but countermanded that order when the Aud, a German ship carrying the expected arms, was scuttled off the coast of Cork and Roger Casement, the man who had orchestrated the deal, was arrested.

Inside a Volunteer Membership Card

Membership card for the Irish Volunteers (blank), first 2 pages, Box 2, Folder 16, Kathleen Daly Clarke Papers and Collection of Thomas Clarke and Irish Political Materials, 1897-1972, undated (MS 2001-007), John J. Burns Library, Boston College

The organizers of the Rising met to address this issue and sent a countermand of their own for Sunday and decided to postpone the Rising until Easter Monday due to above confusion. (Collins 2016, 18) The changes in orders caused confusion in rank and file, and many members of  the Volunteers and Cumann na mBan arrived at their assigned positions on Easter Sunday, but did not receive a mobilization order because of the rescheduling. A large number of the force returned home on Sunday night, unaware the Rising was to occur the following day. This severely limited the forces available for the Rising on Monday April 24th.

The military council of the IRB printed the 1916 Proclamation of Irish Independence, which was effectively the manifesto of the Easter Rising, calling for the establishment of an independent Irish Republic in which Irish men and women had rights as citizens. It is important to emphasize that both genders would have rights under the new Republic, as women did not yet have the right to vote in British occupied Ireland.  According to Brendan O’Brien, “by the time the Proclamation was read out the seven signatories knew that defeat was inevitable.”(O’Brien 2007, 12) The fighting would continue for six days in various garrisons throughout Dublin, but the nationalist forces eventually surrendered. Many of the nationalist participants were arrested, and, after trials, 15 men were executed.. This outcome not only created martyrs for Irish independence, but also contributed to greater popular resentment of the English government, which served to retroactively legitimize the Easter Rising and increase support for the radical republican platform.

Burns Library holds the Thomas MacDonagh Papers as well as the Kathleen Daly Clarke Papers and Collection of Thomas Clarke and Irish Political Materials.  Thomas MacDonagh and Thomas Clarke were two of the leaders of the Easter Rising and were both executed as a result of the trials that followed. Kathleen Daly Clarke was a founding member of Cumann na mBan and continued to be an influential Irish Republican after the Rising. One interesting item in the Kathleen Daly Clarke collection is a set of “Sinn Fein Rebellion” postcards which feature images of Dublin in ruins after the Rising.   

Sinn Fein Rebellion Post Card

The “Sinn Fein Rebellion” is a misnomer, as Sinn Fein was not heavily involved in the Easter Rising. However, this party was subsequently blamed for the Rising, and used this reputation to its benefit.. Sinn Fein become more widely supported by connecting their militant nationalism to the Rising and to the martyrs executed by the British. Box 3, Folder 17, Kathleen Daly Clarke Papers and Collection of Thomas Clarke and Irish Political Materials, 1897-1972, undated (MS 2001-007), John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Burns Library also holds the Alfred Noyes Papers, a series of which focuses on Noyes’ Research relating to Roger Casement, his involvement with the German arms deal for the rebel forces, and his trial once arrested.  This series contains correspondence relating to the debate over Casement’s trial, as well as Noyes’ research notes and relevant primary source material he collected, including correspondence from Casement as well as one of his diaries. There is also material on the play Noyes wrote about Casement, The Accusing Ghost, accompanied by related promotional material.

KIC Image

This 1910 broadside, created by Inghinidhe na hEireann (the Daughters of Ireland), dissuades Irish girls from interacting with Irishmen who had volunteered for service in the English army by arguing that interacting with the soldiers who were serving “Ireland’s oppressor” was disloyal to Ireland. Box 2, Folder 12, Kathleen Daly Clarke Papers and Collection of Thomas Clarke and Irish Political Materials, 1897-1972, undated (MS 2001-007), John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Burns Library also holds a large amount of published material related to the Easter Rising.  An example of published primary source material is Voices from the Easter Rising, an edited collection of eye witness accounts of the events of Easter week 1916. Another is the Questionnaire on the Rising of Easter Week 1916 and Associated Events which was produced by the Irish Bureau of Military History and used to gather information from participants or eyewitnesses after the Rising.  The Irish Bureau of Military History has made witness statements from this questionnaire available online. Secondary sources relating to the Rising are also abundant at Burns Library and cover a large variety of topics such as discussion of the trials which followed the Rising, summaries of the Rising, books on the major figures, studies based on individual garrisons in Dublin, and women in the Rising.  Burns Library staff used these resources to create an exhibit in displayed in March of 2017 entitled Irish Women Rising: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Ireland, 1900-1923. (Broadside Irish Girls)


  • Sadie Sunderland, Reading Room Assistant, MA Candidate in the Department of History


[1] Established in 1913 in reaction to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers, The Irish Volunteers was a republican military force dedicated to protecting the rights of Irish citizens. Cumann na mBan was the sister organization of the Volunteers, a women’s organization separate from the Irish Volunteers, but who would work with them as allies to further the cause of an independent Irish republic.  The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) was a fraternal organization determined to establish an independent Irish republic which organized and led the Easter Rising.



Collins, Lorcan. 1916: The Rising Handbook. Dublin: The O’Brien Press, 2016. John J. Burns Library.

O’Brien, Brendan. Pocket History of the IRA From 1916 Onwards. Dublin: The O’Brien Press, 2007.

British Broadcasting Corporation. “The Rise of Sinn Fein.” bbc.co.uk http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/easterrising/aftermath/af03.shtml (accessed May 1, 2019)

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Offbeat, Irreverent, and DIY: The Poetry of Mass Transit

Photo detail of a newspaper clipping with the caption:

A 1973 Washington Post article profiling Mass Transit and Some of Us Press. Box 11, Folder 6, Terence Winch papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

For many of us, the political protest, music, and fashion of the 1960s and 1970s are the most recognizable aspects of the countercultural revolution. But the literature of that era can provide a window into that movement’s values, its struggles, and the society it was trying to create.

In the early 1970s, a group of poets in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. began meeting over the Community Book Shop. They would eventually become known as “Mass Transit” or the “Dupont Circle School.” This group included writers Terence Winch (whose papers we hold), Ed Cox, Michael Lally, Tim Dlugos, Tina Darragh, and Doug Lang. They created a magazine, also titled Mass Transit, with a rotating editorship. Among the early contributors to Mass Transit was the future actress Karen Allen, of Indiana Jones fame, who befriended Terence Winch and others in the circle when she attended readings as an aspiring writer.

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Ireland’s Great Famine, An Gorta Mór

This is the sixth 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.

Potato infected with

This is an image from the Smithsonian Institute of a potato affected by P. infestans. For more details on this bacteria, visit this link

The Irish famine (An Gorta Mór in Irish) of the 1840s remains a topic of interest for scholars.  The famine can be studied through many different facets including social and economic consequences, political processes for relief or lack thereof, and the creation or maintenance of an Irish diaspora as a result of mass exodus of people from Ireland. The famine’s effects  were catastrophic and stressed the already tumultuous relationship between Ireland and England. The fungal infestation Phytophthora infestans caused crop failure, and, spreading quickly in damp conditions, attacked “first the leaves and the stalk, before penetrating beneath the soil to consume the tuber.” (Gray, 1995, 35) Other factors maintained the famine and caused large-scale economic, social, and political disaster: Ireland’s export-centered economy, Irish over-reliance on the potato, and British focus on British interests and use of laissez-faire economics. This famine led to about 1 million Irish deaths through starvation and related consequences (such as illness and disease) and the emigration from Ireland of at least twice that number. Burns Library holds many monographs which focus on Irish famine emigration.

Ireland had experienced a potato famine before in 1741, which Peter Gray cites as having “led to the worst demographic disaster before 1845: up to a quarter of a million died out of a population of around 2,400,000.”  He argues this famine was largely forgotten because it was “followed by a long period of economic development and demographic expansion,” as well as not being seen as anyone’s fault politically. (Gray, 1995, 16) The famine in the 1840s was different, and whether or not the British caused and let this famine flourish through both their action and their inaction is a continued subject of debate. Continue reading

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The Young Ladies Instructor

What does it mean to be educated? How much knowledge, in what areas, are you required to have? The question changes drastically depending on time period, geographic location, gender and class. With such variable answers, books that are meant to give their intended readers a complete education can also provide a window in what being learned meant to certain times, places, and situations.

A small, brown volume here at Burns Library, to which some prior owner carefully affixed the label “Ladies Instructor 1778,” gives one answer to the question of what comprises an education.  Bound in this volume are two books: Mentoria, or, The Young Ladies Instructor in Familiar Conversations on Moral and Entertaining Subjects Calculated to Improve Young Minds, in the Essential, as well as Ornamental parts of Female Education, and its sequel, The sequel to Mentoria or, The Young Ladies Instructor: In Familiar Conversations, on a Variety of Interesting Subjects, in which are introduced, Lectures on Astronomy and Natural Philosophy, expressed in terms suited to the comprehension of Juvenile Readers.

Small, brown volume with label

Burns Library’s copy of Mentoria, or the Young Ladies Instructor … and its sequel.

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Uncovering Irish Attitudes to Shakespeare

This week we feature a guest post by our current Burns Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies, Patrick Lonergan, Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies at the National University of Ireland, Galway

On 23 April 1916, the British academic Israel Gollancz published A Book of Homage to Shakespeare, a beautifully produced volume that gathered poems and essays to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It’s an impressive volume, including contributions from major British writers such as Galsworthy, Kipling and Hardy – but it also did much to invent what we might now call ‘Global Shakespeare’ by featuring work not just in English but in Hindi, Urdu, Afrikaans, French, Russian and many other languages.

It also includes a contribution in Irish. Written by Douglas Hyde, a founder of the Gaelic League and (later) the first President of Ireland, it’s a poem written in the form of a dream vision, in which an Irish soldier finds himself in Stratford-upon-Avon and, falling asleep on the banks of the river, he encounters all of Shakespeare’s characters. At the end of the poem he describes how Shakespeare has changed him forever: although he considers it acceptable to view England through a ‘fever of hate’, he says that:

…that Druid has worked a druidism
Which I now set down here in my verse:
He has won pardon for me for his land:
I at Stratford on the Avon

Irish and English translations of "On me that Druid has worked..." verse

Hyde, Douglas. “Rud Thárla do Ghaedheal ag Stratford ar an Abhainn (How it fared with a Gael at Stratford-on-Avon)” in A Book of Homage to Shakespeare, edited by Israel Gollancz. Oxford : University Press, H. Milford, 1916.

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Gallagher Family Commonplace Book

This week we feature a guest post from a visiting researcher, Dr. Pádraig Ó Liatháin, Assistant Professor at Fiontar & Scoil na Gaeilge, DCU. Dr. Ó Liatháin has been working extensively with one of our Irish language manuscripts.

On page 166 of the Gallagher family commonplace book, we can find the main scribe outlining the raison-d’être of his endeavors:

This book was wrote by Charles Gallagher for the Instruction and Improvement of the Ignorant in letting them know the Various Revolutions, and Memorable Transactions, and Warlike Atchievements, that was performed by Our Illustrious and Unparallelld ancestors: So that it might awaken them from their lethargy, and illuminate their Understanding: so as to follow their footsteps in that which landed to Virtue, and to Shun that which bore the affect of Vice, which is the Ardent Wish of your Ever Devoted Friend. &c.

This fascinating manuscript was obtained by Boston College in 2012, one of 14 Irish Gaelic manuscripts in the John J. Burns Library, mostly dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. Written on white pa with a brown cover, with page measurements varying between 20 x 16 cm or 19 x 14.5 cm, most of the manuscript is paginated from 1-278, although further pages follow, and there are loose leaves in addition.

The Gallagher manuscript appears, by all internal evidence, to have been commenced in County Donegal in the second half of the 18th century, and brought to New York City sometime in the late 18th or early 19th century. The last verifiable date takes us across several generations to the 1890s.

Image of page 199 of the manuscript showing High Reilly's signature and "Bally Shannon"

Page 199 of the manuscript shows Hugh Reilly’s signature and “Ballyshannon”. Gallagher Family Commonplace Book.

It is extraordinary for many reasons, and it is more than just a cultural artifact, or a literary and linguistic source. It evidences a continuous vibrant literary tradition in the Irish language, and it bears testimony to Irish emigration and settlement in the New World over the course of the 19th century. Furthermore, these were pre-famine emigrants, and economically successful ones at that – the last pages of the manuscript relates real estate purchased in Manhattan, ultimately resulting in a legal dispute in the 1890s over property owned. What is also revealing is the impressive level of education of the main scribe, a medical doctor, and a multilingual man of letters. Continue reading

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