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Catalog Archive / Fall 2022

Collecting Music in the Aran Islands
A Century of History and Practice

Winner, Durkan Prize for Books on Language and Culture, sponsored by the American Conference for Irish Studies

Winner, NUI Irish Historical Research Special Commendation Prize

“A compelling and highly original study of Irish traditional music collecting. No author has previously undertaken such a comprehensive local study of music collections in Ireland, locating them both in terms of Irish cultural and wider disciplinary history. This is a major contribution.”
—Diarmuid Ó Giolláin, University of Notre Dame

For more than 150 years, individuals have traveled the countryside with pen, paper, tape recorders, and even video cameras to document versions of songs, music, and stories shared by communities. As technologies and methodologies have advanced, the task of gathering music has been taken up by a much broader group than scholars. The resulting collections created by these various people can be impacted by the individual collectors' political and social concerns, cultural inclinations, and even simple happenstance, demonstrating a crucial yet underexplored relationship between the music and those preserving it.

Collecting Music in the Aran Islands, a critical historiographical study of the practice of documenting traditional music, is the first to focus on the archipelago off the west coast of Ireland. Deirdre Ní Chonghaile argues for a culturally equitable framework that considers negotiation, collaboration, canonization, and marginalization to fully understand the immensely important process of musical curation. In presenting four substantial, historically valuable collections from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, she illustrates how understanding the motivations and training (or lack thereof) of individual music collectors significantly informs how we should approach their work and contextualize their place in the folk music canon.


Deirdre Ni Chonghaile. Deirdre Ní Chonghaile is an ethnomusicologist and curator from the Aran Islands. Her work spans a variety of fields including music, broadcasting, film, public folklore, and digital humanities.




“Ní Chonghaile's expertise in both musical scholarship and the Irish language adds value to her innovative contribution. Singers, musicians, and collectors emerge in their full humanity, their emotional attachment to their culture clearly apparent.”
—Lillis Ó Laoire, National University of Ireland, Galway

“A most remarkable book. . . . One of the most important and fascinating books about Irish traditional music in recent memory. Research like this is hard to conceive of in the first place, but realizing it with such skill and sensitivity is a different thing all together. This book is very, very highly recommended to fans of traditional music, but it should be read by anyone who has any interest in understanding the music’s history. Top shelf stuff.”
—Daniel Neely, The Irish Echo

“Elegantly written... rapping more than a few sacred knuckles... it jolts the reader into modernizing their strict view of Irish singing culture.”
—Fintan Vallely, Folk Music Journal

“An exemplary study... a feat of research.”
—Proinsias Ó Drisceoil, Feasta

“Elegant and eloquent. . . . A tremendous achievement as a scholarly investigation into the collecting of songs and music on Aran.”
—Adrian Scahill, The Journal of Music

“A fascinating insight into nearly 120 years of musical culture on the Aran Islands.”
The Journal of Music

“As a measured, critical, and deep historiography of collecting in the region, this work has no equal. For musicians and scholars of the materials being examined, it is normal to look through the lens of the collector rather than squarely at the collector. Collecting Music in the Aran Islands offers a valuable and necessary corrective to us all; it reinforces the importance of understanding who is doing the collecting, transcribing, translating, and notating, so that the materials can be most usefully contextualized.”
—Sean Williams, Journal of American Folklore

“[An] exemplary work of historical scholarship. . . . A profoundly important and welcome celebration.”
—Paul Cowdell, Folklore

“A pioneering, masterful work. . . . [Ní Chonghaile’s] adroit treatment of the music, its makers and its collectors provide a vivid sense of people, place and time. She has brought them in from the cold.”
—Mairéad Conneely, Ethnomusicology Ireland

“A fascinating and beautifully written piece of research. . . . An important and original scholarly study.”
—NUI Irish Historical Research Prize selection panel



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Collecting Music in the Aran Islands: Cover of an abstract painting comprised of blue, white, gray, and some yellow and some red. It evokes images of waterfalls, boats, and shells, but there are no fine details. Design by TG Design.

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New in Paperback!
October 2022
LC: 2020044313 ML
352 pp. 6 x 9
19 b/w illus., 6 musical examples, 2 maps

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ISBN 9780299332440
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ISBN 9780299332402
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