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Burns Library’s Irish Music Archives is delighted to announce that a significant trove of unpublished, open-reel audio from the 1950s and 1960s has been digitized and described, and can be requested for listening in the Burns Library Reading Room.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 finding aids (linked above) to learn more about these collections. If you have an inquiry or a comment, please get in touch using the Burns Library contact form.  To listen to this material in the Reading Room, please contact us with a list of the recordings you would like to hear. We are happy to field questions to help identify relevant materials, and we encourage you to cast a broad net. Burns Library hours are listed on the Boston College Libraries hours page.

Image of Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder

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

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.”


 

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

Located in the original Bapst Library building on Boston College's Chestnut Hill campus, the John J. Burns Library offers students, scholars, and the general public opportunities to engage with rare books, special collections, and archives.
This entry was posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Boston History, Digital Projects, Irish Music Archives, Irish Studies and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. Jack Walsh says:

    I’ll ask the obvious question: Why aren’t all the recordings online? Are you really forcing folks who want to listen to come to BC? I love the samples, but I live in Lowell, and am older than dirt; trips to BC are pretty much out of the question.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s