“And we’ll dance a reel or an Irish jig on the good old barn floor”

Today we’re going Irish! To celebrate the Irish Presidency of the European Council, the Digital Agenda Assembly which is taking place this week in Dublin, and the associated Europeana Conference tomorrow at Dublin Castle, we have a guest blog from Grace Toland, Librarian of the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA). 2,000 items from the fantastic ITMA collections are now available in Europeana. Here’s what Grace has to say about it…

Welcome to the Irish Traditional Music Archive, the world’s largest multimedia collection of  Irish traditional music material. Through our Digital Library, we invite you to discover the rhythms, melodies, voices and instruments of this vibrant expression of Irish culture.  ITMA, now celebrating its 25th year, is proud to share with you the unfolding story of Ireland’s traditional music via the Europeana portal.

To help you along your musical journey, ITMA staff have selected some of their personal song, instrumental and dance favourites from the sound recordings, videos, images and texts available. We also recommend browsing the various media playlists which are curated and introduced by ITMA Director, Nicholas Carolan. Updated bi-monthly, there will always be something new to discover, as well as the pleasure of returning to favourite pieces.

LP covers ITMA premises

 LP covers ITMA premises, ©ITMA


The development of sound technology can be followed in our audio playlists, from wax cylinders to contemporary digital recordings. From this timeline, Brian Doyle, our Digitisation Officer, has selected dance music, polkas played by Killoran’s Pride of Erin Orchestra. These ‘crackling’ 78 rpm disks transport us across the Atlantic to 1930s New York and the new life of emigrant Irish musicians.

Pride of Erin Orchestra Courtesy

 Paddy Killoran’s Pride of Erin Orchestra, Courtesy ITMA


Composition and colour prompted Treasa Harkin, our Melodies & Images Officer, IT, to choose They Love Music Mightily, an image gallery of musicians and singers photographed in their own environments by Paul McCarthy. Photographs, paintings and drawings richly evoke the era and roots of the music and musicians.

Mary Macnamara

Mary MacNamara, ©Paul McCarthy, 2000.  Courtesy ITMA


Elaina Solon, ITMA Sound Recordings Officer, has chosen contemporary Irish dance videos. While group dancing is also practised in Ireland, this particular video shows a solo genre sean-nós (old style) which has seen a revival among younger dancers in recent times. Witness the symbiotic relationship between dancer and musician (and even sweeping brush) as well as the considerable ‘support’ from an admiring audience.

Brush Dance

Brush dance, Willie Clancy Summer School, 2005, Courtesy ITMA


The passing of music and songs orally from generation to generation is characteristic of Irish traditional music. The 19th century saw the emergence of the antiquarian collector and the transcription of tunes and songs in manuscript and printed works. From our George Petrie Collection (ca. 1790−1866) Maeve Gebruers, ITMA Printed Materials Officer, has selected a manuscript tune transcription. Musical literacy and the oral tradition continue to play central roles in music transmission and education. Our online Interactive Scores are among the range of newly emerging teaching tools, enhancing older printed sources for a new generation.

George Petrie Music Manuscripts, 1850s

George Petrie Music Manuscripts, 1850s, Fiddle class Willie Clancy Summer School, Courtesy ITMA and Willie Clancy Summer School


Grace’s choice is the Inishowen Song Project, a celebration of the local voice and a window to the world of unaccompanied singing in Ireland. Singers such as Dan McGonigle and Cathal O’Neill connect us with an oral tradition that has preserved songs and singing in communities to this day.

Inishowen Song Project

Inishowen Song Project – coming to Europeana soon!  ©ITMA

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