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

Julia Clifford with Stroh violin. Photo by Séamus Connolly. 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. Continue reading

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Hidden Gems

While working as a student assistant in the conservation lab of the John J. Burns Library was never something I knew I wanted to do, it has become such an informative part of my career at Boston College. Many who work on campus have told me about their work study experiences, and this led me to believe that most work study jobs are a great means to get your homework done while getting paid. Considering all bags and backpacks must be secured before entering the lab, it’s easy to see this is not one of those jobs. These past few weeks have been like stepping into a whole new secret world on BC’s campus; one senior I encountered even went as far as describing the Burns Library as “Boston College’s most hidden gem.” After seeing the rows and rows of rare books and artifacts, getting to go inside private rooms while I collect climate control data, and learning so much about female Irish revolutionaries while working on dozens of artifacts’ exhibit supports, I couldn’t agree more with her analogy.

In a short amount of time, the Burns’ conservator, Barbara Adams Hebard, has taught me so much about the tasks of conservation. There are specific methods for using a board shear, cleaning materials, making a basic exhibit support, and locking stubborn doors after collecting climate control data. Recently, we worked on assembling Irish Women Rising: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Ireland, 1900-1923, an exhibit about the participation of Irish women in revolutionary activities from the turn of the twentieth century through the Irish Civil War. I had little knowledge of Irish history, so exposure to completely new material by means of unique, fascinating artifacts has surpassed any history book I’ve ever read. Reading entries from diaries, Christmas cards mailed from jail, and political cartoons while building the exhibit support for each object sparked questions and conversations with Barbara and other members of the Burns staff who are happy to gush about events that fascinate them.

A few particularly interesting items in Irish Women Rising are several pieces of jewelry which I examined in order to assist with their condition reports. Equipped with white gloves, a magnifying glass, and the internet, I dove in to find out more about Tara Brooches and rare Irish jewelry.  The main purpose of my research was to discover the names of particular jewelry components so the condition reports could be properly completed with any problem areas accurately  described and located.


Brass brooch, early 1900s. [Loretta Clarke Murray Collection (MS2016.016, cat. no. 87), Burns Library, Boston College]

Historically, brooches were not just decorative jewelry, they were also practically employed to secure one’s cloak. Some brooches were lavish and expensive, while others were cheaper and plain, but they all were and remain beautiful representations of Celtic art. The first brooch I examined is similar in style to the Tara Brooch. This style, featuring a long pin attached to a ring with a small gap in it, is known as a pseudo-penannular brooch, and on either end of the gap are two plates known as terminals. (An annular brooch is comprised of a completely circular ring.) While the terminals add to the decorative quality of the jewelry, over time the right terminal of our piece has unfortunately warped, making it slightly misaligned with the other side. This brass piece is engraved with “Inghinidhe na h-Éireann” (Daughters of Ireland), dates from the early 1900s, and a jeweler’s mark on the brooch indicates it was made in Dublin by E. Johnson Ltd. I found these tidbits of information to be some of the most fascinating parts of the brooch because all these years later it’s origin remains traceable.


Cumann na mBan gold badge, [ca. 1916-1921?], in original leather Hopkins & Hopkins Jewellers Case. [Loretta Clarke Murray Collection (MS2016.016, cat. no. 88), Burns Library, Boston College.

The other two artifacts I examined did not have maker’s marks, but were in substantially better condition than the bent Tara style brooch. Stamped on the back of the rifle shaped CnamB badge (an abbreviation for Cumann na mBan, an auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers) was the number 14 in a square box, indicating that it was made of 14 karat gold. This piece, dating between 1916 and 1921, is in much finer condition than the Tara style brooch, with only a minor imperfection on the back, probably due to soldering.

The final piece of jewelry I reviewed was a pin made from bog oak wood, which is  wood that was buried in a peat bog for hundreds to thousands of years and preserved by these particular conditions such that it begins to fossilize. This piece, dating from ca. 1860, was easily my favorite due to the fine, Celtic details of the carved harp motif and gold clovers which highlight the exquisite craftsmanship.


Irish bog oak carved pin with central harp motif within a gold-leafed oval band engraved with the words “Erin go Bragh,” embellished by gold-leafed clovers. Ca. 1860. [On loan from Loretta Clarke Murray]

There are so many hidden treasures in the Burns Library and I am excited to see visitors’ reactions to the new Irish Women Rising exhibit. Many people have worked diligently on this project, and the end result is truly something wonderful. Having completed my work with the Irish jewelry,  I will now be creating protective mylar jackets for Graham Greene’s library, learning about leather treatment in order to repair rare Jesuit books, and much, much more. There are gems hiding everywhere among the stacks of books, artifacts, and people at the Burns Library, and throughout my time here I hope to uncover as many as I can.

  • Katherine Oksen, Burns Library Conservation Assistant and Boston College, Class of 2019 

Works consulted:

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Irish Women Rising: Constance Markievicz (1868-1927)

“The history of her family – typical of a hundred and one Anglo-Irish families – pointed the way to only three kinds of life: either she became an ornament , at best graceful, of the little social round that divided itself between the drawing-rooms of Sligo, and the drawing-rooms of Dublin and London; or she became a philanthropist, in Ireland or out of it and with more hope of requital out of it than in it; or she might snatch, from whatever Victorian society still retained of the traditions of the Anglo-Irish bucks, as gay and unconventional a life as she dared and her allowance could afford.”

Constance Markievicz lived all three kinds of life, but was a woman different from most of her group.  She operated outside expected roles, breaking with many traditions, and is commemorated for doing that. “She is the only woman of the Big Houses to whose memory a public monument has been erected by the pennies of the simple folk of Ireland.”


Constance Markiewicz at Lissadell House, ca. 1900. Unknown photographer. From Dublin and the “Sinn Féin Rising” … Issued by Wilson Hartnell & Dublin, 1916.

Constance was born a Gore-Booth, a descendant of the Gore family that had been granted land in the seventeenth-century  for ancestor Paul Gore’s  service in a  cavalry troop led by the Earl of Essex. Land acquisitions and marriages ensued over the years, but, by February 4, 1868 when Constance was born, the family was well settled in Lissadell House, one of the ‘Big Houses’ in County Sligo.

Typical of the leading landowners in Ireland the Gore-Booths entertained many visitors, and enjoyed riding, hunting, and driving.  Constance and her sister, Eva enjoyed an upbringing that reflected their class and social standing. Home-schooled, they were taught to appreciate music, poetry, and art. Constance was presented to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in 1887, making her formal debut into society.

Despite her family’s objections, Constance attended the Slade School of Art in London and also gained a great interest in the suffrage movement. In 1898, to further her studies, she took art classes in Paris and met Count Casimir Dunin-Markievicz, a Pole whose family held land in Ukraine.  They married in 1900, and had a daughter, Maeve, the next year.

The Count and Countess lived in Dublin where they socialized, collaborated artistically, and performed with artists like William Butler Yeats, Æ (George Russell), Maud Gonne, and many others who represented varying political and social views. It was also in Dublin that Markievicz witnessed the desperately poor, unskilled, and unemployed people who were living in Dublin’s crowded tenements.   


Kitchen in the basement of Liberty Hall; Countess Markievicz is pictured stirring a pot of soup accompanied by members of Cumann na mBan. Unknown photographer.

By 1908, Markievicz was heavily involved with Irish social and political issues, and she helped organize soup kitchens for striking workers and their families after the 1913 Dublin Lockout. Markievicz grew into a celebrated feminist, cultural patron, nationalist, and socialist, advocating for workers’ rights, and like many other radicals at the time, believed in an independent Ireland.

In 1915, Markievicz co-founded the Fianna Eireann (The Fianna of Ireland, named for Finn, the heroic leader of his band of soldiers in one of Ireland’s mythological tale cycles), a nationalist youth organization akin to the Boy Scouts, and become editor for Bean na hEireann (The Irish Woman), the monthly publication of Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland). Bean na hEireann regularly published pieces supporting a variety of causes, including suffragism, labor, the Irish cultural revival, and nationalism.


Constance Markiewicz with pistol. Loretta Clarke Murray Collection (MS2016.016), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

During the Rising, Constance was second-in-command of the troops garrisoned at St. Stephen’s Green and was jailed for her part in the rebellion. After the Rising, she was elected to the British House of Commons in 1918 as a member of Sinn Féin (We Ourselves), becoming the first female member of Parliament. Yet, like other Sinn Féin partisans, she refused to take her seat. As Minister for Labour in the Irish Dáil (Assembly) in 1919, she became both the first Irish female cabinet minister and second female government minister in Europe. During the Civil War she was arrested for support of the Anti-Treaty forces. She was a leading figure, along with Éamon de Valera, in forming the Fianna Fáil (Soldiers of Destiny) political party in 1926. She was elected to the Fifth Dáil the following year, but died before she could take her seat

Her life was one of political, social, and labor activism and as an integral player in the many causes she supported, she broke with traditions and stereotypes, particularly those of the Victorian era. Constance Markievicz, not surprisingly, is one of the more famous revolutionary women of this period.

  • Kathleen Williams,  Senior Reference Librarian, Bibliographer for Irish Studies, John J. Burns Library
  • Michael Bailey,  Student Assistant to Kathleen Williams and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History

Works Consulted:

O’Faolain, Sean. Constance Markievicz. London: Sphere, 1968.

Senia Paseta. “Markievicz, Constance Georgine Countess Markievicz Gore-Booth”. Dictionary of Irish Biography. (ed.) James McGuire, James Quinn. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2009. (

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Irish Women Rising: Maud Gonne (1866 – 1953)


Maud Gonne. F. Czira, photographer, 1887. Loretta Clarke Murray Collection(MS2016.016), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In a letter to her suitor, William Butler Yeats, who complained that he was unhappy without her, Maud Gonne wrote “Oh yes, you are, because you make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and you are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry. The world should thank me for not marrying you.” This letter both succinctly captures the extraordinary Maud Gonne and, paradoxically, overshadows her. Known as Yeats’ unrequited love, Gonne was, in her own right, a powerful woman committed to social, cultural, spiritual, feminist, and nationalist causes.

In the 1890s,Gonne witnessed evictions of Irish tenants and incarcerations of men for rebellious acts. She believed each to be unjust, and this inspired her lifelong commitment to issues of humanitarianism and social justice. In 1900, Gonne was a founding member of Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland),  a nationalist women’s organization that supported an independent Ireland, the promotion and education of Gaelic culture and language, the promotion of Ireland’s domestic economy, and discouraged all uses of English and displays of English culture. It began a monthly publication, Bean na hÉireann (Woman of Ireland), in 1908 and published pieces supporting women’s rights and suffrage as well as Irish nationalism.She served as its president until 1914 when the group merged with Cumann na mBan (The Irishwomen’s Council).

Through this endeavor, Gonne was introduced to and included in a wide web of Irish activists that included fellow female radicals such as Constance Markievicz and Helena Molony. Gonne’s activism also extended to the labor movement, where she coauthored “The Right to Life and The Rights of Property” with famous Irish Socialist and 1916 Proclamation signer James Connolly.


Maud Gonne. Unknown photographer, dated 9/23/1939. Loretta Clarke Murray Collection (MS2016.016), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In 1918, Gonne was accused of assisting the “German plot,” and imprisoned alongside Constance Markievicz, Kathleen Clarke, and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington in Holloway women’s prison in London. Following the  War of Independence, Gonne opposed the Free State, was imprisoned twice, and worked tirelessly on behalf of republican prisoners and their families. A prolific writer on many social causes, she was also very much an active participant in aiding the poor, the dispossessed, and disenfranchised.

The letter mentioned at the start indicates much more than her curious relationship with Yeats. It hints at the language of a strong, feminist woman who believed in her own strength and put her beliefs into action. She was active and influential in women’s suffragist, labor, humanitarian, cultural and nationalist causes. Maud Gonne is best understood not as Yeats’ unrequited love, but as a strong and influential woman.

  • Michael Bailey,  Student Assistant to Kathleen Williams and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History
  • Kathleen Williams,  Senior Reference Librarian, Bibliographer for Irish Studies, John J. Burns Library

Works Consulted:

Maud Gonne, The Autobiography of Maud Gonne: A Servant of the Queen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938.

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The Red Scare and the Liturgy and Life Pamphlet Collection


The Parish Turns “Red” – price, ten cents. Box 411, Liturgy and Life collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The odds are high that, at some point, you have noticed the pamphlets that tend to be offered in the vestibules of churches and other houses of worship. Often cheaply designed and produced, usually free to take or sold for a trivial cost in religious bookstore racks, pamphlets of this nature often offer advice to the first-time visitor for following the proceedings, argue for the veracity of the denomination’s theology, or stake out a position on a moral or social issue. Among the most ephemeral of literary productions – lost or discarded, as a rule, more often than kept – such pamphlets may appear at first as an odd thing for a library to archive. The John J. Burns Library does, however, maintain a collection of these pamphlets – no fewer than 319 boxes of them, organized by subject as part of the Liturgy and Life collection. The collection’s value lies, perhaps paradoxically, in the very cheapness and ephemerality of its constituent items. These pamphlets, published for maximum accessibility, form the record of the printed advice and argumentation that would have been most familiar in the discourse of popular Catholicism, particularly among the poor and the working class, in the years 1925-1975. Astute readers will note that that fifty-year span covered by the collection begins at the tail-end of the First Red Scare and ends in the midst of the Cold War. Perhaps unsurprisingly for their time, several entire boxes consist entirely of pamphlets devoted to attacking Socialism and/or Communism; without exception, the pamphlets addressing the issue weigh in on the side of Western capitalism. These pamphlets afford us an often quirky and surprising look into mid-century popular American Catholic propaganda.


Communism Today, Or Red Fascism, by Raymond T. Feely, S.J. Box 410, Liturgy and Life collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Catholic Left does find occasional representation in the pamphlet collection. The November 1939 issue of Christian Social Action (price, $0.10), while rejecting Communism per se and dismissing its leaders as Utopian “phonies,” does denounce Catholic publications printed without the “union bug” (indicating that it had been produced by unionized labor) and contains some harsh critiques of the West. A feature titled “Why This War?” asserts that “A liberal bourgeois’s condemnation of Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia was as convincing as an inebriate’s harangue against drunkenness. There were never wars more unjust than those in which Americans robbed and murdered Mexicans, Spaniards, and Indians” (173). The source of these unjust wars? “The trouble comes from the inherent tendency of Capitalism toward imperialism” (171), a view the author might well have pulled straight out of Marx. The author’s bold and unvarnished conclusion that “Industrial Capitalism is not the American way” (174)  seems to open a space for a Catholic Left rethinking of its role in American politics and economic life. Unfortunately, the author fails to follow through with what that would look like, leaving the readership outraged but without a plan. Continue reading

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Irish Women Rising: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Ireland, 1900-1923

On April 24, 1916, Patrick Pearse launched an armed insurrection in Dublin. Nationalist forces took control of several of key locations and government buildings, including the General Post Office, where Pearse stood to read the proclamation of new independent Irish republic, free from British control. The Proclamation was a powerful statement of freedom, sovereignty, and equality. Although British authorities forced the revolutionaries to surrender after six days and executed Pearse and the other leaders in the weeks following, the Easter Rising marked a turning point in Irish history that would bring an end to centuries of colonial rule. The Rising was not just a product of men’s struggles for independence and freedom: Irish women, too, were instrumental in the rebellion. Some organized a paramilitary auxiliary to the all-male Irish Volunteers called Cumann na mBan. Others founded activist organizations and publications, and advocated for labor causes and women’s suffrage. For Irish women, the Easter Rising did not mark the birth of their political consciousness, but rather a manifestation of it.

The current Burns Library exhibit, Irish Women Rising, which will remain on display through March 25, 2017, examines the participation of Irish women in revolutionary activities from the turn of the twentieth century through the Irish Civil War in 1922-23. Beginning with an exploration of  the lives of six exemplary women, the exhibit illustrates the ways many women participated in the struggle toward an independent Ireland in ways that have been overlooked in traditional historical narratives. Drawing from the recently acquired Loretta Clarke Murray Collection, Irish Women Rising showcases dozens of artifacts and papers from the revolutionary period. One exhibit highlight is a remarkable embroidered panel, designed and executed by Maud Gonne, that features the flags of the four provinces of Ireland and motifs from Celtic mythology. Another standout is an original copy of the Proclamation of 1916 on loan from the Strokestown Park National Famine Museum.


Inghinidhe na hEireann assembly, unknown photographer, 1908 (?). [Courtesy of Kilmainham Gaol Museum, 13PO-1B54-14]

The exhibit explores the themes of nationalism, suffrage, labor, and the Celtic Literary Revival to highlight the ways in which women engaged with revolutionary republicanism and how they contributed to political, labor, and charitable movements. Over the next several months, this blog will present the lives of six women of the Irish Revolution as lenses through which the exhibit’s broader themes and concepts can be examined. Look for upcoming posts about Maud Gonne MacBride, Constance Markievicz, Mollie Gill, Margaret Skinnider, Hannah Sheehy Skeffington, and Kathleen Clarke.


Kathleen Williams,  Senior Reference Librarian, Bibliographer for Irish Studies, John J. Burns Library

Elizabeth Pingree,  Student Assistant to Kathleen Williams and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History


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Hilaire Belloc: Correspondence and Family

This sampling of correspondence between Hilaire Belloc, notable British author of the twentieth century, and his son Louis, a pilot for the 84th Field Company of the Royal Flying Corps, the antecedent to the Royal Air Force, provides insight into how families of soldiers attempted to maintain a sense of normalcy through communication. Sons and parents exchanges updates about life on the front and events at home. Even through the uncertainty of war, Louis always made an effort to share updates, drawings, and well-wishes to his family. Throughout the course of these exchanges, the love shown between father and son remained clear.

In spite of the distance between the two, Hilaire still upbraids his son for removing a book from his private study without permission. This seemingly normal correspondence between Hilaire and Louis almost makes one forget that there was a war going on. In becoming upset with his son over a more trivial matter, Hilaire was trying to restore a sense of normalcy to their lives.


Letter to Louis Belloc from Hilaire Belloc, Box 4, Folder 21, Belloc Family Correspondence, Ms.2007.007, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Continue reading

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