Traditional Music, Old and New: The Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music

photograph of Séamus Connolly,

Séamus Connolly, circa 2006. Photo by Bachrach Studios.

Irish traditional music followers worldwide can now access hundreds of music tracks in The Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music, a digital collection produced and published by the Boston College Libraries. This collection of tunes and songs was compiled over fifteen years by ten-time All-Ireland fiddle champion Séamus Connolly, a 2013 National Heritage Fellow and the Sullivan Family Artist-in-Residence in Irish Music from 2004 to 2015. Featuring audio recordings of some of the best-known performers of Irish traditional instrumental music and song, the collection’s audio, sheet music, stories, and essays display and play seamlessly on mobile phones, tablets, and desktop and laptop computers. The audio is freely available on both the fully-responsive website and via SoundCloud.

Connolly’s stories on the full site, together with the audio, sheet music, and song lyrics, offer a window into traditional music through his long experience as a performer and teacher. In “A Message from Séamus Connolly,” he explains that many of the new performances in the collection were inspired by older source recordings he had compiled over several decades. Connolly listened to his source recordings with an artistic ear, choosing tunes that were particularly meaningful to him and that are perhaps not often heard today. He invited specific musicians to listen to these early recordings and record their own interpretations of the same tunes.

The new performances of older tunes contain many subtle and exciting changes, as illustrated by selected audio clips featured in this blog post. The sheet music is often based on the earlier source recording, rather than on the new performance. In an essay  titled “Merging the Past with the Present,” music scholar Sally K. Sommers Smith Wells observes that the musical transcriptions provided in the collection are “bridges between the source recordings of original musicians and the contemporary interpretations.” Reading Connolly’s stories helps make these connections with the earlier recordings, as he pays tribute to musicians of the past whose music inspired the new performances.

julia clifford with stroh violin

Photo of Julia Clifford with Stroh violin. Box 93, Folder 9, Séamus Connolly Papers, IMC.M064, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

One source musician who influenced Connolly greatly was the renowned Sliabh Luachra fiddle player Julia Clifford (1914-1997) from Lisheen, County Kerry. He writes, “When I was just sixteen years old, Mrs. Clifford offered to play tunes for me to record, learn, and add to my repertoire. This generous lady, along with her son Billy on flute, played some lovely music for me.” This musical encounter proved to be a milestone in Connolly’s life, as detailed by music critic Earle Hitchner in his biographical essay, “Seamus Connolly: A Living Legend in Irish Traditional Music.” Hitchner notes that part of this collection’s genesis came from Clifford’s question, “You don’t have it, do you?”, a remark she made occasionally to make sure she was adding new tunes to the teenage Connolly’s repertoire, and not repeating what he already knew.

Sharing of time and talent is highly valued across the Irish music community, as witnessed by the generosity of over 130 international musicians and others who contributed to Connolly collection. Over 330 tunes and songs in ten playlists are freely accessible worldwide under a Creative Commons License (CC-BY-NC 4.0). Connolly and the Boston College Libraries are grateful to all of the performers, composers, editors, writers, artists, and other collaborators and rights holders who generously contributed content and made this collection possible.

Chrysandra "Sandy" Walter Connolly

Chrysandra “Sandy” Walter Connolly. Detail of photo by James Higgins.

Connolly acknowledges his debt to friends and colleagues who helped bring this collection into being. He dedicates the collection to the memory of two people who meant much to him: his wife Chrysandra “Sandy” Walter Connolly (1947-2011) and the music collector and RTÉ broadcaster Dr. Ciarán Mac Mathúna (1925–2009). Their influence inspired him to collect and compile the music in this collection.

With performances that convey deep understanding of tradition, The Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music pays tribute to earlier generations and today’s musicians. At the same time, the collection looks toward the future, in anticipation of these tunes being put into wider circulation.

 Audio examples: new settings of older recordings

Below are a few brief audio clips that compare older source recordings with new performances. Each source clip is paired with a new clip of the same tune from the digital collection.

Examples 1 & 2: Mrs. Galvin’s Barndance

Mrs. Galvin’s Barndance is one of four tunes in the collection for which Mrs. Galvin is the source performer.

1. “Mrs. Galvin’s Barndance,” played by Mrs. Ellen Galvin of Co. Clare on fiddle, likely early 1960s:

2. “Mrs. Galvin’s Barndance,” played by Séamus Connolly, Kevin McElroy and Barbara MacDonald Magone:

Examples 3 & 4: Dunboyne Straw Plaiters

Dunboyne Straw Plaiters is one of five tunes in this collection for which Dan Sullivan’s Shamrock Band is the source performer. 

3. “Dunboyne Straw Plaiters,” reel played by Dan Sullivan’s Shamrock Band, circa 1926:

4. “Dunboyne Straw Plaiters,” reel played by Jerry O’Sullivan on uilleann pipes:

Examples 5 & 6: Jack O’Hanley’s

5. “Jack O’Hanley’s,” reel played by Jack O’Hanley of Weymouth Massachusetts on fiddle, 1984:

6. “Jack O’Hanley’s,” reel played by John Daly, fiddle with Kevin Brehony on piano:

Examples 7 & 8: Mordaunt’s Fancy

7. “Mordaunt’s Fancy,” jig played by Terry Lane, button accordion:

8. “Mordaunt’s Fancy,” jig played by Séamus Connolly and Geraldine Cotter:

Learn More

Digital production of The Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music involved staff from many Boston College Libraries departments, including Digital Initiatives and Services, Scholarly Communication, and the John J. Burns Library Irish Music Archives.

The digital collection complements the Séamus Connolly Papers, which is one of several archival research collections in the Irish Music Archives. Many of the earlier source performances can be located in the field recordings within Connolly’s papers, and are available for listening at the John J. Burns Library upon request.

For more information please contact the John J. Burns Library at or 617-552-4861.

  • Elizabeth Sweeney, Irish Music Librarian, John J. Burns Library


Smith, Sean. “The Connolly Collection: BC Libraries Present Groundbreaking Digital Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music.BC News, Dec. 09, 2016. Accessed January 31, 2017.

Moloney, Mick. “The Legacy.” Boston College Magazine, Winter 2017. Accessed December 14, 2020.

This entry was posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Digital Projects, Irish Music Archives, Irish Studies and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Traditional Music, Old and New: The Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music

  1. J.B. Walsh says:

    Absolutely brilliant music and article. Thanks to all !

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