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The Sound of Politics in Early Nineteenth-Century Ireland

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 April 2021


In the early 1800s, Jonah Barrington, an Irish judge, bemoaned that the air chosen as the march for the Irish Volunteer Movement had “no merit whatever, being neither grand, nor martial, nor animating,” contrasting it with the zeal of French revolutionary music. The emotional impact of music might be a matter of taste, but such a statement is suggestive of an aesthetics, where political music, or music used for political purposes, should have specific qualities that could be identified and judged by listeners. This article explores how people in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Ireland identified music as political, using theories of the effects and affects of sound during the period and a corpus of Irish political music as an access point into historical experiences of musical enjoyment. While the impacts of music on the body are challenging for historians to retrieve, scholarship from the history of emotions highlights the important role of normative frameworks of emotion in accessing embodied experience. Working from this perspective, this article argues that we can begin to access the sound of politics for audiences of this period, contributing to our understanding of the role of music in political life.

Special Forum: Music and Politics in Britain, c.1780-1850
Copyright © The North American Conference on British Studies, 2021

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1 Barrington, Jonah, Historic Memoirs of Ireland: Comprising Secret Records of the National Convention, the Rebellion, and the Union; With Delineations of the Principal Characters Connected with These Transactions, vol. 2 (London, 1835), 176–77Google Scholar; italics in original.

2 Love, Timothy M., “Gender and the Nationalistic Ballad: Thomas Davis, Thomas Moore and Their Songs,” New Hibernia Review 21, no. 1 (2017): 6885CrossRefGoogle Scholar; quotation is from Davis, Leath, Music, Postcolonialism and Gender: The Construction of Irish National Identity, 1724–1874 (Notre Dame, 2005), 140Google Scholar.

3 Davis, Thomas, Essays Literary and Historical, ed. O'Donoghue, D. J. (Dundalk, 1914), 269Google Scholar, quoted in Love, “Gender and the Nationalistic Ballad,” 79.

4 Davis, Thomas, ed., The Spirit of the Nation: Ballads and Songs (Dublin, 1845), v–viGoogle Scholar; Davis, Music, Postcolonialism and Gender.

5 Thuente, Mary Helen, The Harp Re-strung: The United Irishmen and the Rise of Irish Literary Nationalism (Syracuse, 1994), 204Google Scholar; Love, “Gender and the Nationalistic Ballad,” 81.

6 Davis, Spirit of the Nation, vi; Clare O'Halloran, “Irish Recreations of the Gaelic Past: The Challenge of Macpherson's Ossian,” Past and Present, no. 124 (1989): 69–95.

7 “Spirit of the Nation,” Nation, 21 December 1844.

8 “Spirit of the Nation,” Nation, 21 December 1844.

9 “Moore and His Successors,” Nation, 1 September 1849.

10 Katie Barclay, “Sounds of Sedition: Music and Emotion in Ireland, 1780–1845,” Cultural History 3, no. 1 (2014): 54–80; Richard Leppert, “Social Order and the Domestic Consumption of Music: The Politics of Sound in the Policing of Gender Construction in Eighteenth-Century England,” in The Consumption of Culture 1600–1800: Image, Object, Text, ed. Ann Bermingham and John Brewer (London, 1997), 514–34.

11 Mary Helen Thuente, “The Folklore of Irish Nationalism,” in Perspectives on Irish Nationalism, ed. Thomas E. Hachey and Lawrence J. McCaffrey (Lexington, 1989), 42–60; Catriona Kennedy, “‘A Gallant Nation’: Chivalric Masculinity and Irish Nationalism in the 1790s,” in Public Men: Masculinity and Politics in Modern Britain, ed. Matthew McCormack (Basingstoke, 2007), 73–92.

12 E. J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge, 1990).

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14 Una Hunt, Sources and Style in Moore's Irish Melodies (London, 2017); Davis, Music, Postcolonialism and Gender; Kate Bowan and Paul Pickering, “Songs for the Millions: Chartist Music and Popular Aural Tradition,” Labour History Review 74, no.1 (2009): 44–63; Peter E. Gilmore, “Refracted Republicanism: Plowden's History, Paddy's Resource, and Irish Jacobins in Western Pennsylvania,” Pennsylvania History 83, no. 3 (2016): 394–417; Mary Louise O'Donnell, “A Driving Image of Revolution: The Irish Harp and Its Utopian Space in the Eighteenth Century,” Utopian Studies 21, no. 2 (2010): 252–73; Timothy M. Love, “Irish Nationalism, Print Culture and the Spirit of the Nation,” Nineteenth-Century Music Review 15, no. 2 (2018): 189–208.

15 Barclay, “Sounds of Sedition”; Richard Leppert, “Social Order”; see also Tom Cochrane, Bernardino Fantini, and Klaus R. Scherer, eds., The Emotional Power of Music: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Musical Arousal, Expression, and Social Control (Oxford, 2013).

16 Richard Parfitt, “‘Oh, What Matter, When for Erin Dear We Fall?’: Music and Irish Nationalism, 1848–1913,” Irish Studies Review 23, no. 4 (2015): 480–94.

17 Richard Leppert, Music and Image: Domesticity, Ideology, and Socio-cultural Formation in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1998).

18 Cochrane, Fantini, and Scherer, Emotional Power of Music; Patrick N. Juslin, ed., Handbook of Music and Emotion: Theory, Research, Applications (Oxford, 2010).

19 Monique Scheer, “Are Emotions a Kind of Practice (and Is That What Makes Them Have a History)? A Bourdieuian Approach to Understanding Emotion,” History and Theory 51, no. 2 (2012): 190–220.

20 Katie Barclay, Men on Trial: Performing Emotion, Embodiment and Identity in Ireland, 1800–1845 (Manchester, 2019).

21 Paddy's Resource (Belfast, 1795); Thomas Davis, ed., Spirit of the Nation, lib. ed. (Poole, 1845).

22 Georges Denis Zimmerman, Songs of the Irish Rebellion: Irish Political Street Ballads and Rebel Songs, 1780–1900 (Dublin, 1967).

23 George Petrie, The Petrie Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland, ed. David Cooper (Cork, 2002).

24 Petrie, Petrie Collection, 45.

25 See Barclay, Men on Trial.

26 Barclay, “Sounds of Sedition.”

27 Richard Leppert, “Social Order”; Tim Carter, “Music and Dance,” in The Bloomsbury Cultural History of Emotions, ed. Claire Walker, Katie Barclay, and David Lemmings (London, 2018), 53–69.

28 Barclay, “Sounds of Sedition.”

29 Maria McHale, “Singing and Sobriety: Music and the Temperance Movement in Ireland, 1838–43,” in Murphy and Smaczny, Music in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, 166–86; “Advantages of a Knowledge of Vocal Music,” Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier, 17 June 1845; “Power of Music,” Belfast Commercial Courier, 17 December 1810.

30 “Music and Morals,” Cork Examiner, 21 November 1842; “Effect of Music upon the Nerves,” Belfast Protestant Journal, 27 January 1849; James Kennaway, Bad Vibrations: The History of the Idea of Music as a Cause of Disease (London, 2016).

31 “Music and Morals,” Cork Examiner, 21 November 1842. See also “To the Editor of the Erne Packet,” Enniskillen Chronicle and Erne Packet, 19 November 1829.

32 See also “Literature,” Belfast Newsletter, 27 September 1844.

33 “Irish Songs,” Nation, 4 January 1845.

34 Petrie, Petrie Collection, 36; Richard Roe, The Principles of Rhythm (Dublin, 1823).

35 Thomas Davis, “Essay on Irish Songs,” in The Book of Irish Ballads, ed. Denis McCarthy (Dublin, 1846), 42–43; also, Barclay, “Sounds of Sedition.”

36 “Douglas Jerrold's Magazine,” Vindicator, 29 January 1845; Davis, Spirit of the Nation, vi.

37 “Irish Songs,” Nation, 4 January 1845. See also the discussion in Roe, Principles of Rhythm, 72–108.

38 Petrie, Petrie Collection, 44.

39 “Account of the First Part of the British Empire in Europe, written by the celebrated John Lewis De Lolme [sic], L.L.D.,” Walker's Hibernian Magazine: Or, Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge (Dublin, 1787), 533–35, at 535.

40 Petrie, Petrie Collection, 69.

41 G. F. Patton, A Practical Guide to the Arrangement of Band Music (New York, 1875), 6.

42 James W. Wilson, The Musical Cyclopedia: Being a Collection of the Most Approved English, Scottish, and Irish Songs (London, 1836), xii.

43 Quoted in Petrie, Petrie Collection, 91.

44 “Grand Concert in Armagh—The Distin Family,” Newry Telegraph, 23 November 1839.

45 “Married,” Belfast News-Letter, 16 April 1833.

46 “The Soldier's Progress,” Newry Examiner and Louth Advertiser, 22 September 1849; “The Saxon Shilling,” Waterford Chronicle, 21 January 1843; “Capture of Constantinople by the Turks,” Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier, 15 December 1827.

47 Gary Owens, “Nationalism without Words: Symbolism and Ritual Behaviour in the Repeal ‘Monster Meetings’ of 1843–5,” in Irish Popular Culture, 1650–1850, ed. James Donnelly and Kerby Miller (Dublin, 1998), 242–70; Maura Cronin, “Claiming the Landscape: Popular Balladry in Pre-famine Ireland,” in Land and Landscape in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, ed. Úna Ní Bhroiméil and Glenn Hopper (Dublin, 2008), 25–39.

48 Petrie, Petrie Collection, 44.

49 Claire Nelson, “Tea-Table Miscellanies: The Development of Scotland's Song Culture, 1720–1800,” Early Music, no. 28 (2000): 597–619.

50 “Influences of Music,” Belfast Newsletter, 29 December 1840.

51 Barclay, “Sounds of Sedition.”

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53 Thuente, “Folklore of Irish Nationalism.”

54 Gilmore, “Refracted Republicanism.”

55 “Liberty and Equality; or Dermot's Delight,” in Paddy's Resource, 1.

56 “Captain Doorley and the Boyne,” in Zimmerman, Songs, 152.

57 “General Munro,” in Zimmerman, Songs, 157.

58 “The Sorrowful Lamentations of Dennis Mahony,” and “General Munro,” in Zimmerman, Songs, 200.

59 E. N. Shannon, “Sonnet,” in Davis, Spirit of the Nation, 11.

60 See various in Davis, Spirit of the Nation.

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65 Dwight, John, Dwight's Journal of Music, vols. 13–14 (Boston, 1859), 126Google Scholar.

66 Moore, Complete Encyclopædia, 479.

67 Roe, Principles of Rhythm, 186.

68 Thanks to the reviewers for improving this discussion.

69 Barrington, Historic Memoirs of Ireland, 2:173–80.

70 Johan Fornäs, Signifying Europe (Bristol, 2012), 149–201.

71 Barrington, Historic Memoirs of Ireland, 2:173–80.

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