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 number of pages nested below this on on the Menu – Home – How it started – which also says what, on 1st September 2020, was on the site – How it went on, 1980s to 1995, The ‘Crossroads’ Years, 1996 to 2001 and Excursion into Academia, 2001 to 2009. This list will be further 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

Additions – 27th April 2021

My Review of Robin Morton Folk Songs Sung in Ulster has been removed from its own page and is now the first item on a page devoted to reviews of song books – unsurprisingly called – Song Book Reviews

Other Song Book Reviews – John McLaughlin: One Green Hill; Jimmy Smyth In Praise of Heroes; Ballads and Songs of the GAA

Book Reviews – Commentary Fintan Vallely Tuned out: traditional music and identity in Northern Ireland

  • Notes – Album Notes: Cascades of Song: Clare Festival of Traditional Singing; and (Consultation only) Róisín White – Le Buíochas – With Thanks and (also consultation only) Songs from the Sperrins: Traditional Songs from Mid and North Tyrone – appended here is a rejoinder to what I though was an unreasonable review of the latter item.

Four new pages have been added:

  • Under Changing Tradition – Studies
  • “Clodhopper”: Alexander Crawford, Leck, Ballymoney, Co. Antrim, his songs, life and philosophy
  • Two Dimensions to Orality in Nineteenth-Century Ireland: a discussion of the functioning of printed ballads
  • Limerick ballad makers, printers, singers and sellers 1785-1880
  • Under Songs in Education
  • Broadcasts for Schools – Script and Teachers’ Notes – “Songs of Work”


Additions – 17th March 2021 – St Patrick’s Day

It’s a good day! Despite having taken over a month to be able to post the results of my work between 2002 and 2006; there was more of it than I thought, it’s St Patrick’s Day – time for a song; the Inishowen Singing Weekend is upon us virtually and I got my first dose of vaccine ten days ago – feeling safer if there’s still no end to the wood! Anyway, indulgence over, the details of what I have posted are given below:

Five pages have been updated with new material:

  • Singers now contains an obituary of Paddy Tunney
  • Songs on a Subject – Emigration Songs contains an article that reflects a talk I gave at The McGlinchey Summer School (Clonmany, Co Donegal) in 2001.
  • Reviews – Book Reviews – Commentary carries a review of Ian Russell and David Atkinson (eds.) Folk Song, Tradition and Revival
  • Reviews – Album Reviews has a review of Around the Hills of Clare
  • Notes – Album Notes has notes for That Highland Thing and a brief note on the north Antrim based musician and teacher, Dick Glasgow that I wrote for his 1997 cassette To the Bridge

There are nine new pages located across the site:

  • Home – Excursion into Academia
  • Songs – Song Histories – William Hill the Forger
  • Collectors – The Songs of the People Collection (Sam Henry) – Scottish Influence on the Songs of the People Collection
  • Song Cultures – Sectarian Song Cultures – Country Music is Ulster Music
  • Notes – Media Presentation Notes (Contains notes on songs for a Radio series called “They’re playing our song.)
  • Notes – Notes Contributed to Encyclopaedias – Encyclopaedia of Ireland (2003)
  • Changing Tradition – Studies – The Printed Ballad in Ireland Thesis Summary
  • Songs in Education – Songs and History Teaching
  • Songs in Education – The Traditional Song Education Pack (2002)

Latest entries – a lot! on 11th February 2021

The last additions to this site were made on 22nd December 2020. These are the first of 2021 and cover the years 1996 – 2001. I’ve been really surprised at how much I did in that period and progress in organising them has been (again) much slower than I had hoped. However, with the items posted in this tranche, there is only another twenty years worth to go – though those are probably my most productive. 1996, as has been said in the new page At the Crossroads, marked a new phase in the general approaches to Irish Music and Song – and two divergent tracks! 2001 saw a personal Cross Roads when I was granted a scholarship to study the relationships between the cheaply printed song trades of Britain and Ireland at National University of Ireland. Sporadic work became intensive and I’d less time for other things; more about that will accompany the next posting.

So, what’s new?

There have been significant updates to a number of pages:

  • Home – Publications and Presentations gives the location on this site of each article or presentation, when, or just before it is posted.
  • Singers – Song Makers has more material concerning High McWilliams
  • Song Cultures – Sectarian Song Cultures now contains more information about the attitudes of ‘loyalists’ to Irish music and a couple of articles I wrote for newspapers
  • Changing Tradition – At the Crossroads traces the origins of the Crossroads Conference and its importance and includes details of a slight controversy over the nature of tradition
  • Reviews – Album Reviews has two more items – reviews of albums by the southern English singer Bob Hart and of one of the original ‘Radio Ballads’ “Singing the Fishing’
  • Notes – Album Notes – – Notes for Albums by Archie McKeegan from the Glens of Antrim and of Maggy Murphy from Fermanagh.
  • Notes – Notes in Books now contains a new item – the Introduction I wrote for John Kennedy: Together in Time, while an item that previously had its own page, ‘Appendix’ to Folk Songs Sung in Ulster, (under Changing Tradition – Early Articles has been moved to this one

There is a number of new pages:

  • Home – The ‘Crossroads’ Years, 1996 – 2001 outlines my activities during this time
  • Songs – Songs on a Subject has three subordinates – Songs of the First World War, Two aspects of 1798, and The Irish Railways in Song
  • Singers – Singer Collectors has a subordinate page Songs of Elizabeth Cronin
  • Song Cultures – Sectarian Song Cultures had had two pages added, The Orange Song Tradition and Dolly’s Brae, 1849
  • Reviews has a new page Folklore and Customs which contains two reviews – “Displaying Faith” regarding trade union and sectarian banners, and “Folklore of Wexford”.
  • Notes – has a new page Notes Contributed to Encyclopaedias under which (on it’s own page) are the notes I wrote for the 1999, First Edition of The Companion to Irish Traditional Music
  • Changing Tradition – At the Crossroads receives three postings Sing us a folk song, Mouldy to which reference has been frequently made and which is readily available from Musical Traditions http://www.mustrad.org.uk, a subsequent article “A Future for Irish Traditional Singing” and my comments on a report issued by a group of which I was a member, The Traditional Music and Dance Development Forum. All express disquiet regarding some ways in which attitudes to the music were changing.

Most of these headings will receive further updates in the next tranche which will cover the years 2002 to 2006 when I finished my thesis, by then reimagined and renamed, “The Printed Ballad in Ireland: a guide to the popular printing of songs in Ireland, 1760-1920”

Hopefully these will appear early in March.


Additions made 22nd December 2020 – the last of this difficult year. These are posted with best wishes for the Christmas Season and 2021, in hope for Peace and Security and Good Health for all who read.

Here are the details of the last changes and additions to the website that will be made in this difficult year, they were nearly the first of 2021. I’ve been much slower that I had hoped, sorry if you’ve been on tenterhooks since the 9th November. However, we’re almost ready to go!

A page has been added – under Home – Books and Recordings Available. I have some items left from my Ulstersongs publishing and distribution venture and, periodically I see in charity shops, am given or am sent books and CDs that I already have. They are priced according to what they cost me, in money or effort; postage is extra so ask me about the full cost.

Some significant updates have been made to existing pages – Collections – Songs of the People (Sam Henry) – North American Influence on a Northern Irish Song Collection the Powerpoint slides have been added to complete the presentation whose audio element is already accessible. Home – How it went on – 1980s to 1995 has seen the addition of a description of my activities from 1989 to 1995 and a list of material of that time has been added to the website.

This months additions are:

Songs – Song Histories will carry, James Donnelly’s Downfall (1993), Charming Mary Neal (1994), Ann Jane Thornton, the female sailor (1994, 2001 & 2007) and The Amazon, or, British Bravery(?) (1995, 2006 & 2010)

Singers – Song Makers will house material regarding Hugh McWilliams, some of which has already appeared on Song Makers

Under Song Cultures – Regional Song Cultures will appear The Trim Little Borough

My single article “Is our tradition living? A very wise Irishman responds” will be found at Changing Traditions – Early Articles – 1995, A very wise Irishman responds and will be the last item of my Early Articles: with the posting of these items, we have arrived At the Crossroads in which, when they have been formatted, will be posted articles from 1996 to the early part of 2001.

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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