Irish traditional music, according to Irish button accordionist Tony McMahon requires a “search for the local footprints of those who have gone before” and if found “a care of not trampling on them.” It necessitates, he believes “a search for the music and songs of one’s own place, and if that is not successful, a search for the music to which the individual musical spirit can reverberate.” This recording, in keeping with such sentiments, represents an attempt to retrace the musical imprints of the Sliabh Beagh region of Monaghan / Fermanagh, seeking to reunite material recovered from unpublished music manuscripts and archival recordings with the some of the region’s current traditional musicians.
The Whiteside Manuscript
Arising from the PhD dissertation of project co-ordinator Seán McElwain, this recording draws on a number of unexplored sources of regional music significance. The first of these is the music manuscript of Sliabh Beagh collector James Whiteside (1844-1916). From Knockatallon, Co. Monaghan, Whiteside was a correspondent of both P.W. Joyce (1827-1914) and Capt. Francis O’Neill (1848-1936), two of the major collectors of Irish traditional music. Included in O’Neill’s ‘Irish Minstrels and Musicians’ (1913) publication, he was in the Chicago collector’s estimation a ‘genius’ in equal parts ‘scholar, poet, musician and composer”.
The esteem in which Whiteside was held during the period is further illustrated through his connection with Limerick collector P.W. Joyce. Central to this relationship was a manuscript of music collected by Whiteside in the Sliabh Beagh region during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Including, among other sources, material collected from the last of the region’s blind itinerant fiddlers Mick ‘Dall’ Rooney (1826-1867), Whiteside’s manuscript, is of paramount importance to the musical heritage of the Sliabh Beagh region. Indeed, such is the unique nature of Whiteside’s collection that it was lauded at early Feis Ceoil and Oireachtas competitons, winning prizes in the “Best Unpublished Airs” category. To further emphasis its importance to the musical heritage of the region, uilleann piper Leo Rowsome later described it as representing “a great asset to the Nation”. No doubt conscious of the manuscript’s inherent quality, Joyce had intended to include a portion of Whiteside’s material in a second volume of his Old Irish Folk Music publication. However, with his death in 1914, this planned publication remained unfinished and Whiteside’s material remained unpublished. Whiteside’s own death in 1916 further contributed to the diminution in awareness of Whiteside’s music manuscript, with knowledge of its existence gradually slipping from both local and national musical consciousness. Relocated during the PhD research of Seán McElwain however, Whiteside’s manuscript presents an unique opportunity during this recording to reclaim a forgotten musical heritage.
The Bogue Collection
Further material for this project has been identified in a number of additional sources including the music manuscripts of Bernard Bogue (1860-1930). Like Whiteside, Bogue has become a forgotten figure within Irish traditional music and his manuscripts have similarly remained largely unstudied. From a thorough examination of its content, however, material of regional relevance has been identified for recording. Examples of regional material identified for recording include: ‘Knockatallon Cross’ (Jig), ‘A Truagh Clog Dance’, ‘The Sporting Lads of Scotstown’ (Reel).