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Petrie and the Music of Clare by Brendan Breathnach

Petrie and the Music of Clare


In his ‘Irish Folk Music Song and Dance’, published by the Cultural Committee of Ireland, Donal O’Sullivan refers to George Petrie’s ‘Ancient Music of Ireland’ in the following terms:

It would be difficult to speak too highly of this monumental work. It contains one hundred and forty seven airs with copious notes of the greatest value, both historical and analytical. Knowledge without enthusiasm may be cold and forbidding, but enthusiasm without knowledge can be a dreadful thing, and it has too often plagued this subject of Irish music. Petrie combined knowledge and enthusiasm in full measure, and on this book he should be rated a great nation-builder in the cultural sphere as was O’Connell in the sphere of politics.

George Petrie

This collection of Petrie’s, published in 1885 by the Society for the Preservation and Publication of the Melodies of Ireland, should be of particular interest to music lovers in Clare. Petrie had an extraordinary esteem for the music of the county and major contributions to his collection were made by three Clare men, Eugene O’Curry, Teige MacMahon and Frank Keane. While elaborating on these two aspects of Petrie’s work, the assessment of Petrie’s achievement in the field of Irish music, just quoted, will also be noticed.

Petrie and the Music of Clare by Brendan Breathnach first appeared in Dal gCais vol. 2. (1976). We are grateful to Ms Niamh Breathnach for permission to reproduce this article.

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