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The Literary and Political Influence (Exhibit Case 7)
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An exhibit of material from the collection of Lewis Becker, Professor of Law, Villanova University School of Law. March 13, 2006 – April 28, 2006 Falvey Memorial Library Villanova University

The Literary and Political Influence (Exhibit Case 7)

The connection between literature, history, and traditional song is strikingly illustrated with respect to Ireland. Perhaps more so than any other country, Ireland has, within the corpus of its traditional song, a body of what may be called “national songs.”  These reflect its history, particularly its historic struggle for nationhood, and continue to be sung today. Although Ireland’s national songs have been sung over a long period of time – one indication of traditional song – they were often composed as poems by a named author and then set to music. These tunes typically had already been used for a different song.  The struggle for independence is a theme that runs through the work of Irish poets of the 19th century.


Hayes, Edward. The Ballads of Ireland. 6th ed. 2 v.
Dublin: Duffy & Sons, 1869

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MacDermott, Martin. Songs and Ballads of Young Ireland.
London: Downey, 1896

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Varian, Ralph. Street Ballads, Popular Poetry, and Household Songs of Ireland.
Dublin: M’Glashan and Gill, 1864

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Davis, Thomas Osborne. National and Historical Ballads, Songs, and Poems.
A new and rev. ed.
Dublin: James Duffy, 1869

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MacDermott, Martin. The New Spirit of the Nation, or Ballads and Songs by the Writers of the “Nation”, Containing Songs and Ballads Published since 1845.
London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1894

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The connection between literature and song is strikingly illustrated in the work of John Keegan Casey.  Casey, who wrote under the name of Leo, was jailed by the British as a Fenian, and died at the age of 23 on St. Patrick’s Day, 1870.  It is said that his imprisonment hastened his death. Casey’s poem, “The Rising of the Moon”, was later set to an earlier tune and remains widely sung to this day.

Casey, John K. The Rising of the Moon, and other Ballads, Songs, and Legends.
Glasgow: Cameron & Ferguson, 1869

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This copy is inscribed on the dedication page, “To My Friend DB Cronin, From the Author, 26th July 1869.”

The close relationship between history and song can be seen in other books. The failed rebellion of 1798 produced many songs. Shown here is History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798, which tells the story from the English perspective, and is accompanied by illustrations of stereotypical Irish “barbarians” at work during the rebellion. The Irish perspective, of the same event, can be seen in the songs from Songs of Irish Rebellion.

Maxwell, W. H. History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798, With Memoirs of the Union and Emmett’s Insurrection in 1803.
London: Baily Brothers, 1845

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Zimmermann, Georges Denis. Songs of Irish Rebellion; Political Street Ballads and Rebel Songs, 1780-1900
Hatboro [PA]: Folklore Associates, 1967

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Unfortunate events in Irish history constantly formed a basis for further song writing.  The plight of the Irish poor in the mid-19th century and the deadly effects of the Great Hunger (1845-1849) are illustrated by the two displayed books, Ireland’s welcome to the Stranger… and Transactions of the Central Relief Committee…

Nicholson, A. Ireland’s Welcome to the Stranger, or, An Excursion through Ireland, in 1844 & 1845: for the Purpose of Personally Investigating the Condition of the Poor.
New York: Baker and Scribner, 1847

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Transactions of the Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends during the Famine in Ireland, in 1846 and 1847.
Dublin: Hodges and Smith, 1852

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One effect of the great suffering caused by the famine was unprecedented emigration to the United States and elsewhere.  The number of emigrant songs is legion.

Wright, Robert L. Irish Emigrant Ballads and Songs.
Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1975

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The Easter Rising of 1916 was another traumatic event in Irish history which helps to illustrate the connection between history and song.  This exhibition pairs a magazine publication of a year later devoted exclusively to the Rising with a later songbook devoted to the songs of 1916.

Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook, Easter, 1916. A Complete and Connected Narrative of the Rising, with Detailed Accounts of the Fighting at all Points.
Dublin: Weekly Irish Times, 1917

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The 1916 Song Book. In: 250 National Songs, Ballads and Recitations of Ireland.
Dublin: Irish Book Bureau, [1940-1960?]

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Reprint of eight songbooks published by the Irish Book Bureau and all with a staunch nationalist perspective. The other seven songbooks are The National Comic Song Book, The Soldier’s Song Book, The Fenian Song Book, The ’98 Song Book, The Tri-Colour Song Book, Love Songs Grave and Gay, and National Recitations.

O’Hanlon, John. The Irish Emigrant’s Guide for the United States.
Boston: P. Donahoe, 1851

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