An Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland: The Debate at Its Inception

The Freemasons' Grand Lodge on Molesworth Street, Dublin.

An Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland: The Debate at Its Inception

On Friday, after years in preparation, the Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland was launched by President Michael D. Higgins at the Freemason’s Grand Lodge on Molesworth Street Dublin. The two-volume book, published by UCD Press and priced at €100, was put together with the contributions of over 230 individuals. An electronic version of the book or its contents does not appear to be available at present.

Edited by Harry White (based in UCD) and Barra Boydell (based in NUI Maynooth), the Encyclopaedia is intended to provide ‘a map of Irish musical experience unrivalled in its depth of engagement and collaborative expertise in bringing to light the topography and history of music in this country’. There are over 2,000 entries on Irish musical life contained in the book.

Harry White first proposed the idea of the book in 1990, writing that Ireland needed such a project to bring its music into focus. ‘If music is at the edge of Irish intellectual consciousness, how to move it to the centre? Certain precedents argue the case for one solution to these questions above all others. That solution lies in the making of an encyclopedia of music in Ireland.’

Some years later, in 2007, when work on the Encyclopaedia was underway, the project caused some debate in these pages, then The Journal of Music in Ireland. Writing in March of that year, Barra Ó Séaghdha, was concerned that the Encyclopaedia would be informed by a ‘thinly veiled disdain for traditional music as evinced by White’ and would be hampered by a percieved resistance to criticism. Boydell responded to say that Ó Séaghdha’s criticisms were a ‘personal diatribe’, though Ó Séaghdha’s comments were not addressed. Ó Séaghdha then wrote that his intention was merely to explain ‘how generous in spirit such an encyclopaedia should be’.

Around the same time the prospect of the new Encyclopaedia also drew comment from Fintan Vallely, who authored the Companion to Irish Traditional Music, who similarly feared that a possible bias against traditional music would affect the project’s focus. Vallely wrote that ‘assumptions and conventions concerning prestige, class, genre and style continue to dominate musicological thinking in the off-the-ball contest for access to people, power and income’ and asked if it was ‘realistic to expect objective editorial commentary [in the Encyclopaedia] on ‘the ethnic repertory’ in the forthcoming important text with such active prejudice lingering?’

Published on 4 October 2013

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