John Moulden

The Irish Social Singing Tradition in English

This site mounts my musings and meanderings concerning Traditional Singing in Ireland, written or presented, over the past fifty years. The first of my articles was published in 1969 when I was living in Belfast. Since then, I have lived in Portrush, Co. Antrim; Tullaghan (Leitrim); Galway; and in Inishowen, Co. Donegal. Each of these places marks a new emphasis, as fresh experiences worked on my perspectives, though some overlap exists.

The main theme of my work has been social singing (as distinct from singing in public) in Ireland though more in Ulster (I am not primarily interested in songs but in their place in society) – this has taken several forms and been presented in lectures, articles, books and in broadcasts – those I regard as most important are listed on the Menu – Home – Publications and Presentations.

Importantly, I never intended to lead a life of study; it happened. In the same way, this website will grow gradually. A blog entry will signal that a new article has been posted and how it can be accessed through the menu. The articles will not be on the blog. Mostly, things will go up in the order they were written or published and will be posted unaltered (except for obvious mistakes of typography etc. to which attention will be drawn) but each will be prefaced by an explanation of how it contributed to my thinking. I hope that no-one will drown – or be scunnered by repetition.

I explain the progress of my interest more fully in a page nested below this on on the Menu – Home – How it started – which also says what, on 1st September 2020, is on the site. This list will be updated as new material is added.

On a tablet or phone, the site is best viewed in landscape. Navigation is via the Menu above, or, via the page listing below, which reflects the site structure. If you find that the Header Menu is a bit sticky, especially on a tablet, the page listing works better.

This site is dedicated to my dear wife, Rosemarie, who has shared her experiences and insights regarding social singing and much else. Her ideas and arguments have contributed very largely to the perspectives I now enjoy.


Latest from the Blog

New Content 9th November 2020

Things regarding my work in the 1980s were a bit more complicated than I thought so I’ve not managed to stick to my self-imposed schedule of adding material each fortnight and a slower work-rate may be forced on me. However, there will be at least one posting per month; please keep checking the main pages.

There have been a couple of changes to the site structure:

  1. I have added a heading to the Main Menu:
    • Songs in Education – this contains the rationale for my promotion of songs as source material in the topic of Emigration in History teaching – more about the use of songs in more general topics will follow
  2. I have added a sub-menu under Home – continuing How it Started will be How it Went On. Later these will be followed by How it Continued, How it Became Academic and How it is Now.

Items added under current menu headings are:

  • Album Reviews:
  • Johnny Doughty & The Ling Family (actually 1976 but left out of its proper place).
  • Mary Ann Carolan (1982)
  • Collectors – Songs of the People
  • North American Influence on a north Ulster Song Collection (1986 revised 2007) (Sam Henry)
  • Changing Tradition – Early Articles – The 1980s
  • Two Letters to Treoir
    • On the unreasonable characterisation of Ulster song during the Men’s Singing in English Competition at Fleadh Ceoil na hÉireann in Buncrana, 1981-2
    • On the promotion of a spurious set of words for The Bonny Blue Eyed Lassie, as being those sung by Elizabeth Cronin.
  • The Blooming Bright Star of Belleisle
  • The Irish Connection – three articles on the ballad sheet and small song book collections of the Belfast Libraries
  • Songs in Education
  • The Green Fields of America – Ulster American Folk Park Project: Emigration Songs in School
  • Singers – Singer Collectors – The Higgins Manuscript
  • Transcription and description
  • Songs – Songs on a Subject – Emigration Songs
    • Introduction to Thousands are Sailing (2004)
      • The Blooming Bright Star of Belleisle which is at Early Articles – The 1980s – 4 Items, also has relevance.


New Content – 14th October 2020

New items have been loaded to this site but before I list them I want to make quite certain that everybody who looks at the site is aware that all the words, all the arguing (mostly with myself) is underpinned by wonder! I have never forgotten the wonder of a song, well loved, well known, well grounded, well sung. It is this wonder, this encompassing joy, that drives me to keep trying to understand, to keep trying to help other people understand, but most of all to expose others to the wonder that has moved and impelled me over these nearly eighty years. It is that wonder that moves others, that makes a community of song lovers, of singers, and makes us respectful of one another and our efforts to sustain this habit that we call a tradition. It’s a good habit; never lose that sense of wonder!

The items now posted are:

Two descriptive assessments of: 1. The Songs of the People Collection and 2. the part of it collected by Sam Henry, have been posted under Collections

New articles, 1975-79 – Four Items, are under Changing Tradition – Early Articles

  • Assertions (1975, revised around 1980)
  • In what sense Popular? (1976)
  • Songs of the People – Preface (1979)
  • Songs of the People – Appendix (1979)

Three sets of Album Notes that I wrote between 1975 and 1981 are under Notes – Album Notes

A review of Seán O’Boyle’s The Irish Song Tradition will be found at Reviews – Book Reviews – Commentary.

New Content Added – 1st October 2020

In keeping with the pattern of posting new material every fortnight or so, I have added today, six items on two pages. They appeared in a range of outlets and widely spaced in time so it didn’t matter that they were repetitious – the idea was to get the ideas out there, however, at this remove, it may seem they do no more than consolidate the ideas I have been promoting. The next tranche will bring us to 1979 and my Sam Henry book, and then the 1980s, when, for several reasons I will explain, my output was sparse.

  • Under Changing Tradition – Early Articles – ‘1971-1973 – Five Items‘ (on a single page)
    • Irish Traditional Music and the Common Market (1970, published 1971)
    • On the Freedom of the Artist in Folk Music (1971)
    • The Great Folk Heresy (1972)
    • The Reality of Ulster Folk Music (1972)
    • Dissent, or, Heresy? (1973)
  • Under Notes & Reviews – Book Reviews – Commentary
    • ‘Irish Jig’ Review of Brendan Breathnach Folk Music and Dances of Ireland in Fortnight, No. 40 (May 25, 1972), pp. 18-19

New Content Added – 15th September 2020

I have just posted four items which are introduced at Changing Tradition – Early Articles:

  1. Under Changing Tradition – Early Articles – 1969:
    • “Folksinger at Work” and
    • “Folksong A & M”;
  2. Under Notes and Reviews – Notes: Folksongs Sung in Ulster, Appendix and;
  3. Under Notes and Reviews – Reviews: “Sing a Song of Ulster”, a Review of Folksongs Sung in Ulster

This has meant also that content, previously on Changing Tradition – Early Articles, has been moved, altered, to Changing Tradition – Early Articles – 1969 and new material substituted in Changing Tradition – Early Articles.

Website Now Live – 1st September 2020

This website went live on 1st September 2020 with minimal content – just enough to let readers know what I’m trying to do, and, hopefully to provoke thought. It will make most sense if you start with the Home Page and follow the suggestions. I would also like to provoke discussion. Please use the Contact Form and I will respond, as soon as I have a good answer.

At 1st September all the pages on the Menu have content but only a few have much of significance; these are:

  • Home
    • How it started
    • Song Research
    • Publications and Presentations
  • Songs and Singers
  • Changing Tradition
    • Childhood – “What did we sing before there were folk songs”

Also, there is some detail on “About this website” and, as I’ve said, the Contact Form is there to be used.




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