Speaker Biography: Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin is a leading authority in Irish traditional music, history, memory and diaspora research.
He is a prolific writer, speaker and performer. A five-time All Ireland Champion uilleann piper, concertina player and former member of Ireland’s legendary Kilfenora Céilí Band, he has presented more than 1,000 concerts on four continents during the past 30 years.
>> Betsy Peterson: Hello, everyone. I’m Betsy Peterson, director of the American Folklife Center here at the Library of Congress and I want to welcome you to the latest presentation in the Benjamin Botkin Lecture Series. The Botkin series is an opportunity for the American Folklife Center to present the very best research from leading scholars in folklore, ethnomusicology, world history, and cultural heritage. It also allows us to enhance our collections. And by that, what I mean is each of these lectures are videotaped and they become a part of our archive. They also are eventually posted in the library’s website and made available to Internet patrons throughout the world and are preserved for future generations. So with all of that description, please let me ask if you have any electronic devices turned on at this point, please turn them off. We would greatly appreciate it. And while you’re doing that, let me tell you a little bit about today’s lecture. Today, I have the owner honor of introducing the distinguished scholar Gear�id � hAllmhur�in. Professor � hAllmhur�in is an award-winning Irish musician ethnomusicologist and cultural historian. He is formerly the Jefferson Smurfit Professor of Irish studies and Professor of Music at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. And he currently holds the bilingual Johnson chair in Qu�bec & Canadian Irish studies at Concordia University in Montr�al. A native of County Clare, he has performed, broadcast, adjudicated, and lectured on Irish music throughout Europe and North America. He holds degrees from University College Cork, Queens University Belfast and the Sorbonne. His musical career is as distinguished as his academic career. A formal member of the Kilfenora Ceili Band, he is a five-time all-Ireland champion musician on uilleann pipes, concertina, and ceili band. And he is a fourth-generation Clare concertina player. He’s also produced numerous CDs, documentary films, and radio programs, and is a frequent commentator on Irish music and culture. He is also the author of a pocket history of Irish traditional music, which has just been re-released as a short history of Irish traditional music as well as writing numerous chapters and articles on Irish music and culture. His widely acclaimed book, Flowing Tides: History and Memory in an Irish Soundscape, was published by Oxford University press in 2016. Both books are being offered for sale today by the LOC bookshop just right outside. And Professor � hAllmhur�in will be taking part in a book signing immediately following his talk. So again, thank you for coming today, and please join me in welcoming Profewssor � hAllmhur�in for his talk on Flowing Tides: Musical Memory, History, and Global Culture in County Clare, Ireland. Thanks.
[ Applause ]
>> Gear�id � hAllmhur�in: Thank you so much. Thank you so much.
[ Speaking Irish ]
Good afternoon, and welcome. I should like to say at the onset that it’s a singular honor to be invited to give a Benjamin Botkin lecture by the American Folklife Center, and to be given an opportunity to present that lecture here in the historic Library of Congress. Before commencing, I would like to start by thanking Betsy Peterson for that wonderful, warm introduction. It’s a pleasure to cross the Canadian border and travel down the historic East Coast to this historic center. I know I’m in the company of Beethoven and a whole lot of other musical greats. Before commencing, I would also like to extend my sincerest thanks to the directors, librarians and staff of both the American Folklife Center and also the Library of Congress for making this opportunity possible. And while I’m thanking people, I would especially like to think Kia [phonetic], John [assumed spelling], Mike [assumed spelling], Grant [assumed spelling], and all of the IT team for working with me so diligently for the last hour. I’d also like to thank the bookshop people for selling the books. They are offered today at a discount, so I would be more than honored to go home with all of you.
[ Laughter ]
I first read about the Library of Congress as a child growing up in a small town in the west of Ireland where our own small library was our center of cultural and intellectual engagement. And I remember being so impressed by the vision of James Madison, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson that led to the birth and the early development of the Library of Congress. As a child, I remember being extremely envious of the number of books housed here — almost 24 million, I believe, at the present time, and 164 million different items — and thinking as a child how lucky Americans were to have such a Promethean storehouse at their disposal. Walking in here this morning, I was again struck by that same sense of wonder, but this time, it was for real. Indeed, there is an awesome sense of pride and reassurance in knowing that the vision of these Founding Fathers continues to resonate in this place, particularly at this difficult time in our history when science and intellectual culture are being denigrated by political expediency. My presentation today, however, takes us beyond the world of books and the world of text into the world of sound. To another time and another place on the western fringe of Europe, where culture and politics have also clashed, leaving in their wake a soundscape that has endured and thrived both locally and globally. Ireland, as many of you know, is a natural haven on the Atlantic seaways that link Nordic Europe with the Mediterranean Sea. For 8,000 years, it has experienced cultural and economic contact with people and civilizations along this oceanic fringe from Cork to Compostela, from Limerick to Narvik. These exchanges brought priests, traders, migrants and settlers to Ireland over the centuries. From Mesolithic hunters who crossed the land bridge from Scotland to Ireland to the Eastern European’s who serviced the recent Celtic Tiger economy, each wave of newcomers brought artistic and material goods, languages, music and folkways that mingled and merged to form Ireland’s vibrant mosaic of cultures. Guarding Ireland’s main river archery, the Shannon, Clare separates the barren wilderness of the western province of Connacht from the rich farmlands of Munster in the south of Ireland. Prolonged periods of geological time conspired to surround Clare on three sides by water and insulated from its neighbors. Its only land access is through the mountains of Slieve Aughty or across the [inaudible] of the Burren where according to one Cromwellian general, there was not enough wood to hang a man, enough water to drown a man, or enough dirt to bury a man.
[ Laughter ]
This is what the Burren looks like today, as it did when the Cromwellian cynic visited. Indeed, human history in the Burren predates the Cromwellians by 6,000 years. Its first Neolithic farmers arrived about 4000 BC. And since then, human traffic in and out of Clare has continued unabated. Its 7,000 archaeological sites contain Bronze Age tombs, Iron Age forts — like this one — and early Christian churches.
Clare also contains the remains of Viking, Norman, and [inaudible] settlers. This is a well-known landmark in County Clare that I’m sure many of you are familiar with, Bunratty Castle, which was built by the Norman Richard the Clare. Landlord estates, garrison towns, chapel villages and railroads reshaped the geography of Clare in more recent times, as did famine, eviction, and immigration. From a land perspective, Clare is a remote, liminal place in the west of Ireland to where the Celts supposedly retreated in the centuries before the birth of Christ after fighting a long rearguard action from the Alps to the Atlantic. Creative writers and social scientists have been intrigued by this liminality. In literary and socio-analytical text, Clare and its hinterlands are designated sanctuaries of tradition and authenticity, not to mention back orders of madness, repression, and social enemy. A maritime compass, however, presents a very different perspective of this region. Situated at the mouth of the Shannon, Clare was in the slipstream of ocean trade and migration since early Christian times. The cults of its early Christian saints, for example, can be found in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany. In the wake of the voyages of discovery, Ireland, which was once on the edge of the known world now found itself near the center of the New World. During this extended age of sale, coastal communities on Clare’s Erris Peninsula provided river pilots for toll ships going up the river Shannon to Limerick, which was a last port of call for fleets crossing the North Atlantic. Before the arrival of railroads in the mid-19th century, a network of satellite ports dotted Clare’s fractal coast from Lough Derg on the Shannon to Lukead [phonetic] on the Atlantic and North towards Galway Bay. Like this Port of Kilrush, which is on the mouth of the river Shannon, they all shared some sense of clans’ local engagement with the outside world. [Inaudible] culture currents reached Clare from rather unlikely destinations in the past two millennia. Coptic stonework, for example, similar to carvings found in the lower reaches of the river Nile, survives in early Christian churches in the Burren in the Aran islands, it’s geological annex. Here, for example, you see one of these crosses in the village of Kilfenora. And I’d like to direct your attention to the second panel beneath the bishop. And if you look at the figure on the right-hand side of the screen, you will notice the flat, Coptic Egyptian cross. This is a rare example of stone masonry that traveled from the lower reaches of the Nile across the Mediterranean, out through the point of Gibraltar and around Spain, traveling north into the western part of Ireland where these stonemasons created Coptic artifacts.
During the 12th and 13th centuries, avant-garde European scholasticism found eager patrons in Clare when the old Gaelic world synergized by a new European age of faith. Here, for example, is the Franciscan Friary in Ennis in County Clare dating from the mid-13th century, and again evidence of European migration to the west of Ireland. The arrival of mendicant orders, particularly the Augustinians, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, changed Irish Christianity and linking it with a new renaissance of European Christianity. Outward-bound currents, too, were impressive. Clare [inaudible] families sent their offspring to University in Prague, Leuven, and Paris during the Penal Era when its military exiles fought imperial wars and explored New World colonies from new Newfoundland to Brazil. Nowhere is the imprint of global culture flows more pronounced, however, then in Clare’s traditional soundscape. That has been a site of cultural convergence and coalescence for centuries. Music, irrespective of genre, is a nomadic art whose journeys are frequently lost in what French historian Jacques Le Goff called the “indefinable residue of historical analyses.” The transcultural odyssey of the Arabic guitar, the African banjo, and European Baroque dancing all bear witness to this phenomenon. In contrast to the architects of the Celtic twilight in the late 19th century who saw the west of Ireland as a place of timeless, romantic authenticity, Clare musicians have a long history of moving beyond the injunctions of the past. By the end of the 18th century, the Italian violin — which we see here in the case beside us — had reached Clare and was notarized and nativized as the Irish fiddle, [speaking Gaelic]. Baroque flutes and fifes were also nativized. In the half-century after the great famine, the region welcomed German concertinas — which you’ll hear at the end of this performance — Sicilian coral societies and British and German style brass bands, American Victrolas in jazz, Italian accordions, and Balkan bouzoukis all arrived during the next century, ferried in by trains, planes, and automobiles. Clare’s bricolage of Irish tunes today contains Scottish reels, French galops, Bavarian marches, and North Hungarian horn pipes, while its set dancers trace their ancestry to the choreographers of [inaudible] France. Despite their so-called geographic isolation on the outer edge of Europe, Clare music makers have released an impressive corpus of tunes and songs into the transcultural tide of world music. I’ve no doubt that many of you are familiar with these figures. Master performers like Martin Hayes, Michael Tubridy, and Sharon Shannon are not just local carriers of tradition. These are the global faces of Clare today. Similarly, the Kilfenora Ceili Band, the oldest dance band in Ireland, performs Clare’s repertoire in symphony halls and folk festivals across the globe. In the market speak of Irish cultural tourism, Clare, for the music, is a ubiquitous calling card that beckons tourists west from Dublin to the festivals and singing pubs of Clare. Every summer, its towns and villages become makeshift academies of tradition, none more so than Milltown Malbay and Doolin, Ireland’s mecca of traditional music, known to music pilgrims and aficionados from Jura to Japan, from the Austrian Alps to the Pampas of Argentina. Today, traditional music in Clare no longer lives in little thatched cottages in isolated places, nor does it travel by donkey and cart along lonesome country roads. It is, in fact, a polyverse of music communities whose voices are as vibrant in the music pubs of New York, Washington, D.C., Montr�al, Chicago, and San Francisco as they are in the dance halls of Kilfenora and Tulla. Focusing on the interplay between history and memory, which are not synonymous, by the way, my book Flowing Tides — which is available today — examines the impact of global cultural flows on Clare’s so-called isolated soundscape from the Napoleonic wars to the Celtic Tiger boom in the period from 1995 until 2005. It focuses ostensibly on musical roots but also musical routes, both in Clare and beyond, to a century of austere British colonialism and an equally strained century of post-colonialism, both of which exposed the region to intense musical traffic.
Allow me to take you through very briefly some of the key musical moments and what they tell us about the local as well as the global music history of the region. Several key political and economic events sourced in Clare during the 19th century and that were felt throughout the British Empire and among Irish diasporic communities throughout the world are centered and located and articulated initially in Clare before spreading outwards throughout the island of Ireland and elsewhere throughout the British Empire. For example, the election of Catholic lawyer Daniel O’Connell to the British Parliament for Clare in 1828 and the passing of Catholic emancipation a year later changed the lives of millions of Catholics not just in Ireland but throughout the British Empire. Although the Penal Laws, which delight denied civil and religious rights to Catholics, were now officially revoked, the long-term impact of rapid population growth and unsustainable economic practices in Ireland proved ultimately far more catastrophic. This was evident in Clare in the decades following the Napoleonic wars. But its population peaked as never before. Remember today the population of Ireland is approximately 4 million people. In 1821, the population of County Clare was 208,000. But it grew to 286,000 on the eve of the Great Famine, which began in 1845. Clare, however, was decimated by this catastrophe. And I want to show you some images that speak to that catastrophe. Unlike other famines and particularly modern famines, the Great Irish Famine — which is was one of many famines throughout the 17th and 18th century and indeed into the latter years of the 19th century — the Great Famine was not a pictorial famine. There were no photojournalists like Steve Winick [phonetic] —
[ Laughter ]
— or any other major photographic figure. The people who chronicled the Great Irish Famine were government statisticians. Eventually, the London Illustrated News sent illustrators to Ireland to document the famine, and here we have an example of their work. This is a deserted village in the Erris Peninsula in Southwest Clare, which was not simply deserted by famine but was evicted by the local landlord for — excuse me — nonpayment of rent. What’s interesting is that if you travel throughout the west of Ireland you’ll see many examples of village communities completely abandoned leaving nothing in their wake except the foundations of their houses. Here is another example perhaps if I can use the expression, the poster child of the Great Irish Famine, Brigit O’Donnell and her children photographed or drawn so to speak in 1849 by the illustrator from the London Illustrated News. The area of Clare and particularly Southwest Clare topped the national grid in famine deaths and evictions. By 1851, its population had fallen to 212,000. A century later, less than 100,000 people lived in Clare. By now, its voluntary exiles were dispersed throughout the New World in Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. An estimated 400,000 people left Clare in the past two centuries. People of Clare extraction today who live overseas outnumber those who live in Clare by a ratio of three to one. All of these events, from the excitement of Napoleon Bonaparte’s battles and campaigns to Daniel O’Connell’s electoral victories, to the human tragedy of famine and diastral all found a voice and a sonic memory in the music, song, and dance of County Clare. The long campaign to remove Ireland from the British Empire had a critical impact on the lives of Clare people. From the Fenian movement — which you are very familiar with here in the United States — and the land war to the plan of campaign and the War of Independence. But this particular photograph is interesting. Is a photograph from the land war in County Clare. And remember within a 30-year window, now we have photojournalism. Now we’re familiar with the sight and sounds of cameras chronicling political events, unlike the experience of the Great Famine which was not a photographic event. And again, we’re still singing songs and ballads about the land war in County Clare. Ninety years after electing Daniel O’Connell, Clare elected the American-born Eamon de Valera to Parliament on a Sinn Fein ticket in 1917. Born in New York City of an Irish mother and a Spanish father, Eamon de Valera was a daunting and enigmatic political figure. He dominated Irish life for most of the 20th century as a national and international statesman and an architect of social and cultural change. All of these symbolic events and characters are remembered as much in music and song as they are textual history. Feigning separatism, and 19th-century politics are still sung about today in Clare and among Clare exilic communities. Likewise, the first and second temperance movements, public processions led by marching bands were popular rituals of this anti-drink crusade. Fife and drum bands formed to rally the faithful and to route the evil of drink in rural and urban Ireland. Imagine that.
These drum bands were formed initially to perform at religious events. But eventually they began to arouse less devout congregations of Irish hurling matches and football matches, at land league rallies and trade union meetings, eventually morphing into brass and reed bands. As funds improved, these ensembles also spread musical literacy. Like this particular brass and reed band from Kilfenora in County Clare. And this band was a very active musical ensemble until the Irish War of Independence when the blackened towns, destroyed their instruments, in an act of social and cultural reprisal. Some were trained by British Army band masters who had sufficient peace time on their hands between the Crimean and the Second Boer War to make a real artistic contribution to her majesty’s subjects. New instruments were also introduced during this period, in particular the Anglo-German concertino — which you’ll hear in a few moments — which became a sonic insignia in Clare that brought musical liberation, particularly to women in a male-dominated world. Cultural nationalism designed, brokered, and delivered by the Gaelic league was a potent mobilizing agent in late 19th century Ireland, especially its rhetoric of linguistic pride, grassroots activism, and competitive music making that spread systemically from metropolitan areas like Dublin, Cork and Limerick out into the rural peripheries of Ireland. This ideoscape reached its apogee in Clare and in other parts of the country with the Rebellion of 1916 and the War of Independence that followed in 1919. Caught in a vortex of chaos and terror, musicians, too, fell victim to the atrocities of war. Especially the Black and Tans which were who were irregular British troops sent to Ireland to reinforce the Royal Irish Constabulary police.
During these turbulent times, house dances were rated, instruments were destroyed — as in the case of this band — and musicians were forced to immigrate to escape political violence. In the wake of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and Civil War, the fledgling Irish Free State proved rather powerless to hold back the rising tide of the roaring ’20s from America. That flowed without end, it seemed, into Ireland, particularly in the form of jazz and its attendant sins.
[ Laughter ]
Here is an example of an Irish jazz band, which came to prominence in the 1920s and ’30s, taking their cues from similar kinds of jazz bands that were active throughout the United States. Ireland’s moral response to jazz was to pass a draconian Dance Halls Act in 1935 which radically altered the musical life of the nation. By the time World War II began in 1939 and the Irish Free State declared itself neutral, Ireland’s audiences had already developed a taste for Hollywood and indeed modern as well as ceili dancing. Now you will notice that in both of these prints, this is a ceili band from County Clare an early example of a ceili ensemble. But you’ll notice that the fiddle player just to the right of the piano is, in fact, the banjo player at the center of the jazz band. So they’re going back and forth between two traditions. The countryside in Clare and in other areas of Ireland was now dotted with small cinemas and dance halls. Most of them managed by the priest, the Catholic priest, who brokered moral agendas, vetted movies, formed ceili bands, and paid the musicians. If the Emergency — which was the official title for the World War II period in Ireland. Ireland, because it was neutral, never referred to it publicly at least in the press the war. It was always referred to by the rather euphemistic term in our Irish parlance as The Emergency, which lasted between 1939 and 1945. So the Emergency, which was the official term, seamed the country off from the outside world. And indeed, the depression that followed failed to stem the tide of freeing exiles. This flight of people sparked a crisis that entered the psyche of the nation as the hungry ’40s. Now I’d like to show you a photograph taken by the famous American photographer Dorothea Lange, who most of you Americans will know for her work chronicling the Great Depression and the internment of Japanese communities, etc., etc. And these two ladies were photographed in County Clare in the fall of 1954, and they’re just about to leave Ireland for America. The immigration of young women, particularly from rural areas, is very significant because for the most part, women did not inherit land. And so they became the diasporic members of the family, as in the case of these two women the O’Hallaren [phonetic] sisters from Mount Callan in County Clare. These dull, sepia-toned years saw hundreds of Clare musicians fall victim to anti-jazz crusades, priestly purges, and indeed forced exile to quote/unquote heathen England —
[ Laughter ]
— and America. If Clare was on the periphery of Irish economic life in the early decades of Irish independence, that isolation came to an end on the 24th of October 1945 when Captain Charles Blair — who most of you will know is the husband of actress Marine O’Hara — piles at the first commercial flight from New York to Shannon in a four engine DC-4. For the next four decades, Shannon County Clare, the most westerly international Airport in Europe — although I suppose the Portuguese would dispute that — was a gateway for traffic crossing the Atlantic. It also became the world’s first duty-free zone and a hub of international industrial development, all of which changed perceived notions of centers of peripheries in Clare and its west of Ireland hinterland. From now on, America had moved closer to the social and cultural life of the region. As American aircrews were ferried back and forth to local hotels to rest between flights and indeed relatives took vacations to the Old Country. In the 1960s, Shannon was Clare’s horn of plenty, a site of paid factory work, a place where material progress was possible close to home without the burden of immigration. And indeed, if industrialization lifted the region out of agrarian dependency, it did not make it impervious to economic change. In the past half-century, Shannon has experienced good and bad economic times, the latter which brought prolonged periods of unemployment and immigration. Ennis, Clare’s County town, followed a similar although less intensive trajectory. Traditionally a farmers’ town that hosted historic fairs and markets, Ennis acquired light industry after Irish independence. And attempting to follow Shannon’s lead it expanded its industrial base in the 1960s. However, it really became an international town in the 1990s when it became Ireland’s first Information Age town, a town in which every home was connected to the Internet and every child became computer literate. Clare’s cultural life also responded to these postwar changes. Brokered by Northern piper Sean Reid — who you see here in the back row second from the right — Reid and his cohorts at [speaking Irish] which is Ireland’s music Association — you also have a branch of that organization here in the area of Washington, D.C. Baltimore. And I should remind you that [inaudible] in Bethesda is hosting its annual Mad Week next week, which is music and dance week. And please take home some information from outside. And if you’re free, it’s a wonderful way to engage in what we call some wonderfully constructive musical enjoyment and laziness. All constructive, of course. But back to Clare. In 1954 [speaking Irish] came together in County Clare and they campaigned to bring the All-Ireland Flack Hill Music Festival to the region. This is the World’s Fair of Irish music. And indeed, they made that happen in 1956. Now, it will convene for the fourth time in Ennis next month. So if you’re in Ireland between August 14th to 21st, you should not miss this event. Now Reid was a very interesting gentleman. He was what I describe as a Renaissance man, interested in classical music, jazz, philosophy, and athletics. He came to County Clare to work as a civil engineer in the 1930s and he broke all the rules of social engagement. He did not stay and associate with members of his own class. He sought out the plebs, the people who played traditional music, sang songs, and engaged in traditional dancing, which was not kosher among bourgeois society in Ireland in the 1940s. So Reid stepped away from that bourgeois small-town world and became a cultural revolutionary in every sense. He campaigned vigorously to bring the All-Ireland Music Festival to the region and succeeded. Now this new forum attracted musical exiles from Britain and America, and it marked a turning point when traditional musicians for the first time claimed urban space.
This kind of music was a traditional rural form of music that you would not usually find in metropolitan Dublin or Limerick or Cork. And finally, with the arrival of the music festival, the feile ceoil, people came to perform music in urban spaces. A model of civic engagement, tourism, and business enterprise, the 1956 festival in Ennis was also a site of visceral public discourse on Irish musical authenticity. Not least the issue of whether set dancing was actually Irish. Was it authentic? Most people didn’t think so. In fact, people saw it as a foreign abomination. The people who belonged to the Gaelic League especially saw it as something quote/unquote that came to Ireland with Cromwell’s dragoons. What an awful legacy. And, in fact, it took most of four decades for traditional set dancing to purge itself of this strange, European historiography. Indeed, the feile itself was an acoustic lieu de memoire of par excellence, thanks to the great Robbie McMahon [phonetic], a ballot maker who immortalized it in song. The feile down in Ennis in 1956 is still remembered today as a rare Nirvana of traditional song, particularly because of its initial excitement. This was Clare’s Woodstock, if you will. And even last year you see here one of the two ceili bands that traveled to Ireland from Japan. Twenty ensembles like this competing for the world title of Irish ceili band music. A six hour marathon. Not for the weak of heart.
[ Laughter ]
And if you’re in Ireland again, as I say, in August, you will probably get to hear the Toyota ceili band who won a standing ovation from the crowd. They did not win the title, by the way, but they certainly changed the feile. Ireland’s traditional soundscape experienced accelerated commodification between the 1960s until the Celtic Tiger boom in the 1990s. If this new departure was linked to tourism, regional development, and new professional opportunities, it also fueled an increasing excitement among young people who for the first time choose to learn traditional music in formal educational settings. Intercultural organization of the music of Clare shifted in the 1960s away from rural kitchens and country settings into formal school rooms. Where we had a tradition of informal classes, now the music became part of the school curriculum. In the same way as a child going to school in Ireland could learn Gaelic, they also now had the opportunity to learn traditional music. One of the key architects of this pedagogical revolution was Frank Custy who began teaching in the small hamlet of Tulla in 1963. In a sense, taught music to hundreds of young people for most of 50 years. Many of his students, among them Sharon Shannon and James [inaudible] and went on to become superstars of the Celtic music industry. When the manufacturing industries have come and gone from Clare, tourism has long been its economic and cultural elixir. In the early 19th century, steamboats transported day trippers from Shannon down the river to Kilrush and Kilkee from Limerick. While Bianconi coaches made overland trips for those willing to put up with the discomfort of bad roads and poor lodgings. However, the completion from Ennis to Limerick of the Railway in 1859 brought new traffic along the River Fergus valley. And eventually, Clare’s famous railroad, the West Clare Railway — it was always late, at least according to Percy French — in the 1880s finally opened up access to the coast. Victorian tourists, however, were very different from the mass tourism that developed in Clare after World War II. Victorian tourists were aristocrats, professional families, who frequented the seaside resorts in Kilkee and Spanish Point and Lahinch or indeed they went to take the sulfur baths in Lisdoonvarna at holiday in expensive lodges and hotels that were accessible only to the rich and the well-endowed. In contrast, the development of Shannon in the 1950s opens the floodgates to cheap holidays for returning immigrants, and particularly Irish Americans, many of whom made a once-in-a-lifetime trip home, particularly after seeing John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in that famous movie in the 1950s. If mass tourism created seasonal and full-time jobs in the transport and service industry, it also fueled a huge surge in the heritage industry. So we began packaging tradition and artifacts from medieval castles to folk villages. And indeed, the people who packaged Clare for tourist consumption walked a very fine line between preserving the past and embracing the future. Yes, they capitalized on movie and postcard images of Ireland and they capitalized on the marketing synergies of airline and vacation companies. And indeed by the 1970s Clare tourism kicked into high gear offering medieval banquets, music festivals, golfing holidays, river cruises and luxury tours through Clare’s unspoiled heartland. Positioning itself as a homely and a pastoral antidote to the speed and the stress of the 21st century, Clare continues to market its history, its cultural capital and its exotic landscape. Ironically, the products and the vistas that are packaged today are largely the same as those that first enticed Victorian tourists to the region a century and a half ago: the Crescent Strand in Kilkee, the Spa Wells in Lisdoonvarna, the archaeological wonders of the Byrne — which you’ve seen — and of course Clare’s icon, the Cliffs of Moher, the latter of which attracted a million visitors a year during the height of the Celtic Tiger boom. Now not all cultural heritage however fared as well as that which was packaged for tourists. Juxtapositioned with the rise of industrial tourism in Clare was an equally precipitous decline in the Irish language in the region. In the early 19th century, most of Clare was Irish-speaking. Throughout the 18th century, English was confined mainly to colonial bureaucrats, the courts, and the Protestant church. It made progress outside of the rural areas by the end of the century as a result of newspapers, commerce, and indeed British soldiers billeted in garrison towns. The primary conduit of English in 19th century Clare and other parts of Ireland were what we call the national schools that were set up throughout Ireland thanks to Lord Stanley who passed an educational bill in the 1830s. That’s the same Lord Stanley who many of you hockey fans appreciate so much.
[ Laughter ]
Designed to educate quote/unquote good English children. I’ll say that again. Designed to educate good English children, these national schools became bedrocks of education in most Irish villages. They discouraged the use of Irish in the classroom and they had a tally stick which child wore around his or her neck. And the tally stick was designed so that your parents were required to put a little notch on the stick every time you spoke Irish at home. And when you showed up at school the following day, you were punished. Now this story was told to me by this gentleman when I was about my son’s age. And his name was Anraoi de Blaca. He was one of the last of the Gaelic speakers of Clare. And tragically, in my lifetime, I’ve lived through the actual decline of the Gaelic language, the oldest spoken language in Western Europe, in my particular region. However, north and south of Clare, Irish is still very much a successful vernacular and very much part of the Irish cultural mainframe. Clare’s recent Irish-speaking past, while inaccessible and invisible to most tourists and non-natives, had a very profound impact on its music and folk life.
Clare musicians, people like Willie Clancy, Chris Droni [phonetic], were all first-generation English language speakers. They grew up in a bicultural world shaped by a Gaelic past that endured for centuries on modern times that emerged from the colonial ashes of World War I. Their speech, syntax, and their wits reflected an older world of poets and characters. And their collective psyche really sat uncomfortably beside the progressive crust of the 20th century. Now new media and new audiences reshaped Clare music since Ireland joined the European Economic Community, which you know today as the EU, in 1973. Less preoccupied with jaded notions of authenticity, young audiences reshuffled older definitions of Irish music, moving it away in a sense from its former ethnic moorings into mainstream culture. Countercultural and transcultural elements were also scooped up in this trajectory, particularly in the village of Doolin, which I’m sure many of you know. In Clare, the village of Doolin and the small town of Milltown Mel Bay became nodal points in this transformation. Now 40 years later, Doolin is a paradoxical musical sanctuary. In a sense, it’s a postmodern simulacrum of its former self where today the people who came and settled I Doolin radically outnumber the natives of the village. So the pilgrims now outnumber those they came to worship and honor. What’s interesting is that Doolin has become highly commodified, as you can see, with the confusion at the crossroads. Whereas Milltown Mel Bay, on the other hand, which is the site of Ireland’s largest summer school has avoided the paradox of its northern neighbors. Now we’re running a little short of time, but I did have a clip from, believe it or not, Central China Television, which is a multilingual television service coming out of China. A number of years ago, they sent a team to record at the Willie Clancy Summer School, which was just finished, by the way. It was on last week. And what they were quite intrigued by coming from China to experience in Irish cultural revolution, they were quite intrigued by the number of non-Irish people who came to participate in this great gathering of musicians. And in the clip — which we won’t have time for formally but I’ll be glad to show to you on my smaller laptop at the end of the talk — they speak with Russian dancers, they speak with Malaysian flute players, they speak with Argentinian pipers and Cuban pipers, and hundreds of people from all over the world who are now, if I can use the expression, prosthetically inducted into the world of Irish music. They are more Irish than the Irish themselves in many respects. We speak about the Normans who came to Ireland in the 13th and 14th centuries becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves. They stopped speaking French. I love saying this in Qu�bec to my students.
[ Laughter ]
They stopped speaking French so that they can know, learn, and speak Irish and become Gaelic poets. And this is the kind of transformation we’ve had throughout late medieval Ireland. And I think it’s intriguing that what’s happening today in the Irish world soundscape is that throughout the world, not just in the United States or Canada, but in South America, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Alaska, places along the edges of Western civilization — if I can use that expression — are now becoming inducted and becoming excited about Irish music and dance; and in fact becoming master performers of that genre, which is truly intriguing and very, very complementary to Irish performers. The economic boom during the Celtic Tiger years from 1995 until 2005 also transformed Clare’s soundscape. And indeed, music became a key element in the branding and the commodification of the region, particularly by tourism managers, bar owners, and other culture entrepreneurs. That a term we’ve become very used to in our Ireland, cultural entrepreneurship. And music is a key asset in that process. A time of new trends, creative alliances, and conspicuous consumption. Cultural production in the Celtic Tiger years spawned a whole new generation of Clare superstars and Clare super groups. People like Sharon Shannon, Martin Hayes, and Maura O’Connell, and indeed the Kilfenora ceili band, who I like to describe as the avant-garde ceili band of Celtic Tiger Ireland. They graduated from the village hall to the national concert hall and indeed the International Folk Festival. The [speaking Irish], the Irish Music Association, was also synergized during these opportunistic times, sometimes challenging the onslaught of change and indeed more times quite powerless to alter its trajectory. Internet sociology and indeed new cultural flows also reconfigured Clare music particularly outside of Clare. In the process, another musical Clare emerged, one that was virtual on vicarious. If cultured tourism filled the region with European and American music tourists in the 1970s and 1980s, by the end of the century it was not uncommon to meet young Asian, particularly Japanese and Chinese musicians, as well as Australians and South Americans, all performing music from Clare in Clare, and bringing that music home to their respective nations and spreading the music quite passionately among their own people. As I said, they were passionate about the region and its music. These tourist performers, vicarious Clare people of sorts, galvanized their new identities in sessions and in summer camps — like Mad Week, which is happening next week. Please, if you’re at all interested come and enjoy. Now indeed there are dedicated communities of Clare musicians in Paris, Buenos Aires, New York, Tokyo, Washington, D.C. And indeed, few have any ethnic connection to the region, yet they continue to redefine its soundscape in absentia. While global culture flows continue to create new topographies and new memories of Clare music, they also mask deep crevices of musical forgetting and amnesia. And this, we’re rather reluctant to talk about in Clare, not least the cultural fallout from the loss of the Irish language in the region. While the region today basks in the success and notoriety of its music, it seldom takes stock of the musical losses of the past, not least the vast storehouse of songs that disappeared with the decline of the Irish language, that once kept them alive. While cultural nationalists still regard Irish traditional music is a sacred cow, a kind of lost Eden, it is also an evolving ideoscape where tensions between past and present, remembering and forgetting, nationalism and revisionism collide and rebound through various spheres of Irish cultural discourse. In this sense, players’ traditional soundscape is no different from any other soundscapes where musicians are asked to preserve as well as perform tradition while at the same time carrying it forward in time. As mediators of tradition, musicians are called upon to shape the destiny of their heritage in the world that is constantly shifting beneath their feet. I have little doubt that this creative and symbiotic tension between musical roots and musical routes will continue to impact the soundscape of Clare as it will in other traditional soundscapes irrespective of where they are in our ever-changing world. Thank you.
[ Applause ]
Now you didn’t get an opportunity to hear the music from Central China Television, so I thought I would leave you with some of the music live. The first short piece I’ll play for you is a [inaudible] for the musical immigrants who left Ireland during the centuries since the Napoleonic wars. It is particularly associated with the western part of County Clare. It’s a tune called [speaking Irish]. And I’ll follow with a very short jig, which we know in County Clare as the Green Fields of America. The Green Fields of America is a very popular theme both in song and in dance music. American musicians are quite familiar with the real version. I would leave you today with the jig version reminding you that this again speaks to that universal theme of cultural flow and musical engagement that travels and has sustained itself so successfully over the centuries. So again [foreign language spoken], thank you. And thank you sincerely. Might I mention, before closing, all of the wonderful people who I’ve met since arriving this morning. And I would particularly like to thank my friend Dr. Nancy Gross [assumed spelling] for her wonderful logistical and professional coordination of this event during the past six months since I was invited. And thank you all for coming out this afternoon.