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  • New books published: “After the Flood” on post-war Irish America, “Musical Traditions of Northern Ireland and its Diaspora”

    Friday, July 17th, 2009

    Two books published this week will surely be of interest to scholars of the Irish diaspora.

    “After the Flood: Irish America 1945-1960”, edited by James Silas Rogers and Matthew J. O’Brien, takes a fresh look at the Irish-American experience during the post-war period. The publishers say:

    The essays in this volume examine diverse aspects of the Irish-American community during the postwar years and cover both the immigrant community within the US – which witnessed a surge in immigration from Ireland – and the subsequent expressions of an Irish identity among later generation ethnics. Essays consider both social and political history, such as ethnic anti-communism and American responses to Partition, and significant representations of Irish life in popular culture, such as The Last Hurrah (1956) or The Quiet Man (1952). The study shows that the Irish-American community was lively and, in many ways, dissimilar from “mainstream” American life in this period. The supposedly deracinated descendants of earlier immigrants were nonetheless well aware that the larger culture perceived something distinctive about being Irish, and throughout this period they actively sought to define – often in deflected ways – just what that distinctiveness could mean.

    “The Musical Traditions of Northern Ireland and its Diaspora: Community and Conflict” is as much about the North’s cultural dynamics as it is about the music itself. From the publishers:

    For at least two centuries, and arguably much longer, Ireland has exerted an important influence on the development of the traditional, popular and art musics of other regions, and in particular those of Britain and the United States. During the past decade or so, the traditional musics of the so-called Celtic regions have become a focus of international interest. The phenomenal success of shows such as Riverdance (which appeared in 1995, spawned from a 1994 Eurovision Song Contest interval act) brought Irish music and dance to a global audience and played a part in the further commoditization of Irish culture, including traditional music.

    However, there has up to now been relatively little serious musicological study of the traditional music of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland remains a divided community in which traditional culture, in all its manifestations, is widely understood as a marker of religious affiliation and ethnic identity. Since the outbreak of the most recent ‘troubles’ around 1968, the borders between the communities have often been marked by music. For example, many in the Catholic, nationalist community, regard the music of Orange flute bands and Lambeg drums as a source of intimidation. Equally many in the Protestant community have distanced themselves from Irish music as coming from a different ethnic tradition, and some have rejected tunes, styles and even instruments because of their association with the Catholic community and the Irish Republic. Of course, during the same period many other Protestants and Catholics have continued to perform in an apolitical context and often together, what in earlier times would simply have been regarded as folk or country music.

    With the increasing espousal of a discrete Ulster Scots tradition since the signing of the Belfast (or ‘Good Friday’) Agreement in 1998, the characteristics of the traditional music performed in Northern Ireland, and the place of Protestant musicians within popular Irish culture, clearly require a more thoroughgoing analysis. David Cooper’s book provides such analysis, as well as ethnographic and ethnomusicological studies of a group of traditional musicians from County Antrim. In particular, the book offers a consideration of the cultural dynamics of Northern Ireland with respect to traditional music.

    For more information:

    Emigrant stories make great Christmas gifts

    Friday, November 28th, 2008

    There have been plenty of emigration-related publications this year that would make delightful Christmas gifts. Several Irish centres have produced oral histories detailing the lives of emigrants to America and Canada, as well as the stories of those who have returned to Ireland.

    Here’s the rundown of this year’s publications:

    “Memory Brings Us Back: Irish Stories of Farewells and Fortunes”: This film by Derek Woods is the followup to “While Mem’ry Brings Us Back Again” – the 2006 hit book, produced by New York’s Aisling Irish Centre, detailing the lives of older Irish emigrants living in America. This DVD tells the stories of ten men and women who left for America between 1929 and 1965. With music by Joannie Madden, this film is sure to be a treat.

    Order both the DVD and the original book at the Aisling Irish Community Centre’s website.

    “Coming Home” – Frances Browner, the editor of “When Mem’ry Brings Us Back Again”, has returned to Ireland and compiled the tales of 36 emigrants who returned to their native land thanks to the help of the Safe Home organisation. Safe Home reports that this is a hot seller for Christmas. Their website says, “Frances Browner has conducted thirty-six fascinating interviews that highlight the heartache of leaving home; the struggles and successes of survival in a new land; the joy, and sometimes trauma, of returning.”

    Buy it at the Safe Home website.

    “A Story to be Told”: This gorgeously produced book tells the stories of 129 emigrants to Canada in their own words. Edited by Eleanor McGrath and with photographs by William C. Smith, this book reveals the diversity of the Canadian Irish experience, telling the tales of artists, mothers, a labour leader, a bus driver, a dance teacher, an actor, an engineer, an accountant. Their Irish identities are diverse as well, with tales of people from what seems like every possible background: rural farmers; Belfast Protestants and Catholics; Lithuanian descendants; Jewish Dubliners; American-and English-born, Irish-raised emigrants.

    Many of them express love for both Ireland and their adopted home of Canada: “Today I am a very proud Irish Canadian who is blessed to call two of the greatest places on the planet home”, says one interviewee in a sentiment echoed by many others – although some express greater loyalty to one country or the other. A moving book and a great addition to the increasing library of oral history books.

    Order the book from the Liffey Press.

    For another Canadian treat, Ottawa’s Irish Drop-In Group has created a wonderful miscellany called “Memories of the Past: Stories and Recipes from Ottawa’s Irish Drop-In Group?. The eclectic collection of reminiscences, poems, jokes, photographs and more is a splendid insight into the lives of the 40+ seniors in the drop-in group, which meets every week at Margaret Mary’s Church in the south end of the Canadian capital. This book has the most ‘home-produced’ feel, but with about 60 recipes, including for such traditional favourites as barm brack, colcannon, champ, porter cake, beef stew, and soda bread, this spiral-bound volume has much to offer.

    See the website for the Irish Society of the National Capital Region.

    For a musical treat (albeit a commercial one), check out “The Irish Scattering” from Galway traditional singer and musician Sean Keane. Available as both a CD and a DVD, the music tells diverse tales of Irish emigrants through the centuries, including the travels of Irish monks, Irish settlers in Montserrat, Irish soldiers abroad, and the Ulster-Scots in America. The CD features 16 songs; the DVD of the live performance features 28 songs with music and dancing from some of Ireland’s finest practitioners.
    Buy it at Sean Keane’s website.

    Any suggestions? Post them in the comments below.