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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 been presented in lectures, articles, books and in broadcasts – Publications and Presentations. lists those I regard as most important..

Importantly, I never intended to lead a life of study; it happened. In the same way, this website has grown gradually. Blog entries signalled that a new article had been posted and how it could be accessed. The articles went up in the order they were written or published and were posted unaltered (except for obvious mistakes of typography etc.). Each is 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 one on the Menu. They can also be accessed from the links below.

This last will become the name of my Blog when I begin to develop it as a vehicle for random thoughts.

  • During my attempts to make sense of what and how people sing I have found methods of research that work for me. I share them at a page called:
  • Song Research
  • I also ran Ulstersongs supplying books and recordings of traditional song and music, mainly from Ulster but stopped when academic work began to take up my time. I still have some:
  • Books and Recordings Available

I have now made the site more easily navigable. Every item can be accessed from the five links above, within the period in which they were composed. They can also be accessed from the Main Menu. This allows access to items that contributed to the main areas of my interest. Each page of the menu gives the thinking behind that area of my activity. Main menu headings may be supplemented by sub-menu headings to which they are linked. In turn, each sub-menu page is linked to contributory articles and presentations and cross references will also be linked. This means that my work will be available in the order of its production, but also, thematically. Please let me know if there are any problems.

Click HERE to see summaries and access all the pages of the site, ranged below their menu headings.

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

Robin Morton 1939-2021

Robin Morton, who has been mentioned in these pages, died suddenly last Friday, 1st October. His life was important for me and I should not allow his death to go unremarked. What follows is impersonal; the personal I will keep for myself.

Robin Morton was one of my oldest friends, almost sixty years. We worked together intensively in the early days of ‘folk’ in Belfast but since his removal to Scotland in around 1970 we met only sporadically but never lost touch. I saw him most recently just over two years ago when Rosie and I were over.

He was born in Portadown on 24th December 1939 and, when I met him (around 1962), had just returned to Northern Ireland having trained as a Special Needs Teacher in Manchester, and was at Queens studying for a Diploma in Social Work. He sang at The Belfast Folk Song Club at the Continental Rooms and at the just formed Queen’s Glee Club. He also, early in 1963, founded the Queen’s Folk Music Society. More study intervened and he spent a year in London, gaining a qualification as a Psychiatric Social Worker and went to Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s Singers’ Club and to The Fox at Islington, where Bob Davenport operated a different philosophy of what singing was about. These and other experiences informed his activities on coming home. Continuing study, again at Queens, he began a degree in Economic and Social History and in 1965 founded the Ulster Folk Music Society which met on Sunday evenings, the slot that had been occupied by the Continental Rooms Club. This continued for some years until the premises were closed and Robin’s pressure of work meant UFMS ceased. In all of this Robin was an important catalyst bringing Tommy Gunn, Cathal McConnell, Seán MacAloon, James McMahon, Paddy Tunney, Arthur Kearney and Frank Kelly to the Society and in encouraging the fledgling ‘Queen’s Festival’ to book Doc Watson, Margaret Barry and Michael Gorman, The Watersons, The Young Tradition and organising city centre concerts with The Liverpool Spinners, Bob Davenport and Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. Unfortunately, the night before that appearance, the promoter Jim Aiken put on the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem at the same venue; the market had been saturated.

That was the ‘folk side; but he quickly, for various reasons, became enraptured by the traditional. His aunt, Sally McCreery sang, and her husband, Tom, took Robin to a pub at the loyalist heartland of Tartaraghan (near Maghery). There the almost entirely protestant customers sang him dozens, maybe hundreds, of songs, which, after a time he began recording. These and people he met in Belfast and among the McConnells in Fermanagh introduced him to singers elsewhere in Armagh, north Tyrone and Fermanagh, among them the incomparable John Maguire from Tonaydrumallard, Roslea. From these encounters, Robin produced his set, of book and 2 LPs, “Folksongs Sung in Ulster” (1969) and the book and LP Come Day, Go Day, God Send Sunday (1973) which outlined John Maguire’s songs and life. By the time this emerged he had moved to Scotland and begun another life.

Initially with Cathal McConnell and Tommy Gunn, he had formed The Boys of the Lough (once immortalised as “Cathy McConnell and the Boys of the Laugh”) – Tommy, who was much older, withdrew and Robin and Cathal combined with Mike Whellans and Aly Bain; and the rest is history. Robin eventually left the band but not before moving into management and into operating a recording studio and record label from the home he had set up with his wife, the harper and glass-engraver, Alison Kinnaird, in a disused church at Temple, Midlothian – Temple Records. Robin operated in a highly ethical fashion, managing artistry and being content with moderate returns; he produced among the first commercial recordings of Gaelic singers. His Scottish career earned him a place in the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame and universal respect. However, despite the much shorter time spent there, he holds a really important place in Ireland and especially the north.

He was among the first students of Irish traditional song to insist on the importance of context, of the life of the singer and of the lives represented in the songs, and he never lost his love for Irish music and song which he made great efforts to preserve and promote. He made his own record An Irish Jubilee with Cathal McConnell and produced classic records by Cathal as well by as the singers Len Graham, Kevin Mitchell, Geordie Hanna and Sarah-Anne O’Neill and by musicians: John Rea (Dulcimer), Seán MacAloon (pipes), flute players, Packie Duignan, Séamus Tansey and Josie MacDermott and fiddlers, Séamus Horan and Vincent Griffin. Most importantly, his field recordings, many, many more than ever were issued and his lengthy, in-depth interviews with John Maguire and Tommy Gunn have been preserved. He presented them to the Irish Traditional Music Archive where all has been processed and most are available for listening – a few CDs were marred in the transfer and have not yet been redone. There are marvels there – Arthur Whiteside, Robbie Doonan, Ellie Mullarkey, Tom Todd, Davie Menish – mostly unknown names but a tribute to Robin’s loving energy and steadfast valuation of the voices of the people. It is for us to set them breathing again and in doing so to remember and honour the man who saved them for us.

Much of what is told here is in Robin’s own words at and in his citation at the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame website –


16th September 2021 – Links Corrected

When I last posted, on 3rd September, I boasted that I had cross-referenced most of my pages by inserting internal links; then the trouble started! Several people contacted me to say that they had found a problem, some links worked only if the user had a WordPress Account and signed in. I looked for reasons and a solution. Eventually a member of the WordPress User’s Forum showed me that each page boasts a settings icon which reveals the page settings and gives a unique ‘Permalink’. It was these I should have used rather than the one given in ‘Editor mode’. I believe I have now updated all the internal links to comply with this need and nobody should have any further problem; I hope.

This post is an appeal as much as a boast – please let me know if there are any problems, dead-ends, or whatever – or anything else you’d like me to do. As I’ve gone though my (now 96) pages, I’ve noted a few things I’d like to augment – such as to include links, as I have in a few cases, to online performances of the songs I used (or at least to something similar). This can be irritating, since YouTube generally involves Advertisements, but it’s better than nothing.

So, I have in mind:

  1. To do a general tidy.
  2. To add a few more links to illustrations, visual and aural.
  3. To add some more pages – I have several more presentations that cry out to be published.
  4. To add a site map
  5. To carry though my threat to use this site as a regular self indulgent Blog and really turn into –

I’d be very grateful of some feedback – or even complaints!

3rd September 2021

I now believe that I have inserted enough internal links to allow users a much easier passage though this site – perhaps I’ll link all the items of my Publications and Presentations Page to their representations here; just not yet – it feels like one of those paralysingly boring jobs and I’d rather be doing anything else.

The next move is to read it all again and clarify, I’m sure there’s a lot that needs it – while looking for omissions and casting about for other things that deserve a wee bit of a rant – wait for those!

In the meantime – those of you who are sufficiently interested to have signed up to get notifications of a post like this one – please point out dead links, or where more are needed. But, please, if you disagree, or can add anything, please argue; we may both learn.

Best wishes,


The last of the First Lot – 16th August 2021

I’ve now posted most of my work and, for the immediate future, I’ll work to make it more coherent and less repetitious. At the same time, I keep finding presentations – I think pretty well all my publications are now represented – that I think can add to the argument, so I’ll be putting them on the site bit by bit. Hence the Blog, though it will begin to reflect whatever has caught my mind, will continue to flag recent additions.

Here’s what has been added in August 2021:

  • Several pages have received updates:
  • About Songs and Singers has an augmented third paragraph
  • Notes – Book Notes: A Preface for Fergus Woods’ Kind friends lend an ear which gives the story of Fergie’s friendship with Tommy McCabe of Swan’s Cross, Monaghan and his extended family, and the songs collected from them.
  • Reviews – Book Reviews – Commentary now includes a review of The singing will never be done: Tom Munnelly: Collected Essays and Lectures, 1990–2007 (2014)
  • Reviews – Album Reviews has three additions
    • Mariah Wade – Drink Deep and Depart – CD (London, self published, 2015)
    • Early Ballads in Ireland (re-issue) Double CD (Dublin, An Góilín, 2016)
    • Róisín White ‘Tis pretty to be in Ballinderry: Robert Cinamond, 1884-1968
  • In addition, a number of presentations, previously shown as a series of slides, have received some commentary and explanation and most of them, and some other pages, have been linked to performances of some of the songs used (or versions of them).

Now to go though it all, making things more user friendly, clarifying, adding pictures and even adding complete items – I’ve one new thing on the way – in the meantime –

Any questions, corrections, quibbles???? PLEASE!


Almost the Final Items – 27th July 2021

We’re almost there – this month sees the last but one tranche of the items I think are the most important or representative of my work; most of my publications have been posted and a good number of the presentations. Next month will see that process completed. After that I will concentrate on two things – making the whole site more easily navigated and on adding pictures and, if I have enough storage space on a free WordPress site, sounds – the songs that are the reason for the site and without which nothing here makes full sense. I also plan to post any publications or presentations that have got left out and deserve to be preserved. Finally, I flagged my self-indulgent intention to use the Blog as a Blog rather than as an index to what has been recently posted. However, that is still necessary – here goes!

Three Pages have been updated:

  • Singers now contains tributes to three more singers:
  • Geordie Hanna, Derrytresk, Co Tyrone – (The Hannas, Derrytresk and traditional singing)
  • Charlie McGonigle, Cloontagh, Clonmany, Co Donegal (Obituary)
  • Dan McGonigle, Doaghmore, Isle of Doagh, Clonmany, Co Donegal (Obituary)

  • Reviews – Album Reviews has two new items:
  • The flax in bloom. Traditional songs, airs and dance music in Ulster recorded by BBC in 1952 in Fermanagh, Donegal and of Wexford travellers in Belfast
  • I Pray you pay attention Fermanagh singers recorded in the late 1980s

There are five new pages:

  • Notes – Book Notes – Notes Contributed to Enclyclopaedias is complete with the posting of my nine articles – Ballad, Boys of the Lough, Counties Antrim and Derry Fiddlers’ Association, Sam Henry, McPeake Family, The Nation (newspaper), Seán Ó Baoill, Traditional Song in English, Paddy Tunney:
  • Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland

  • Another article arising from academic work has been posted under Changing Tradition – Studies. It is an examination of an account of ballad singing, selling and printing in Dublin in the later 1820s by the miniaturist, song writer and ‘humorist’, Samuel Lover.
  • Ballads and Ballad Singers

And that’s your lot. – Until the next time!


Additions 11th June 2021

I’m limping towards having most of my writings and presentations from 1969 represented on this site – at that stage, I’ll begin to fill in gaps but will also begin to use this Blog self-indulgently. In other words I’ll start to develop a few idle thoughts – ideas that have arisen during the Covid crisis, some matters that have come under discussion on internet sites, especially among friends on Facebook or within the restrictions of the two Groups I administer – Re:Zoomed Singing Sessions, and Irish Song Research.

I will also continue to make this website a bit more user friendly, especially by using links to make things internally navigable. Also, please note, that while articles and presentations will not change (although I may add notes, which will be flagged), my commentary on them will remain fluid.

The additions made since my last post have brought things up to about 2012 and I reckon that two or three more tranches will bring us to date – July, August and maybe September – a year since I began.

Additions 11th June 2021

Since my last post there have been updates to:

  • Reviews – Song Book Reviews this now contains
  • Len Graham Joe Holmes: here I am amongst you: Songs, Music and Traditions of an UlstermanI regret the error I made in writing this review. It is fully explained on the relevant page.
  • Hugh Shields (edited by Lisa Shields) “All the days of his life”: Eddie Butcher in his own words: Songs, stories and memories of Magilligan, Co. Derry.

  • Notes – Album Notes now contains
  • Cathal Lynch The Jolly Roving Tar

  • Collectors – Commentators has been augmented with my obituary praising one of my heroes, High Shields.


Three pages have been added:

  • Song Cultures – Regional Song Cultures
  • Singing in Ballyliffin and the Isle of Doagh” in Rosemarie Doherty (ed.) Hotels, Holidaymakers and Heretics: an account of Ballyliffin and the Isle of Doagh (Ballyliffin Rural Enterprises, 2012)

  • Notes – Notes Contributed to Encyclopedias
  • Companion to Irish Traditional Music (2011) – new or updated articles on:
  • Ballads – especially transmission, in song books and though migration
  • Broadcasting, especially in Ulster via BBC and UTV, in the programmes ‘As I roved out’ and ‘From Glen to Glen’.
  • Song organisations (singing circles etc.( especially Belfast Folk Clubs of the 60s & 70s).
  • Loyalist Songs
  • Kevin & Ellen Mitchell
  • Ulster-Scots song & singing style

  • Changing Tradition – Studies
  • Popular Songs” Chapter 53 of James Kelly (ed) The Oxford History of the Irish Book vol. 4

I have now removed from this page, all previous Blog posts – they can be read in reverse sequence on the BLOG page.