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  • Flowing Tides: History and Memory in an Irish Soundscape by Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin
  • Sean Williams
Flowing Tides: History and Memory in an Irish Soundscape, by Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin, pp. 311. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. $45.

Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin is well-known to specialists in Irish music across the world. As a concertina player and scholar, he has spent his life digging deeply into the sounds and locations of County Clare’s rich musical tradition by playing, learning, and asking questions as a well-informed participant observer. His newest contribution to the library of Irish music scholarship is simultaneously a page-turner, an inspiration, and a “who’s who” of the Clare scene at home and abroad. Ó hAllmhuráin’s years in France (and Francophone Canada) are revealed in the titles of the introductory chapter: “L’Entrée; Clare and its Soundscape” and the conclusion, “L’épilogue: Remembering and Forgetting.” Because languages and wordplay bring him so much joy, and because he peppers both his conversations and his writing with both French and Irish, it is no surprise to see that some of Flowing Tides is written with the assumption that his readers know at least a cúpla focal agus quelques mots. This is not a hindrance; this is the rightful understanding and general knowledge of a citizen of the Irish music world.

In the introductory chapter (“L’Entrée …”), County Clare is set up as both the center of the Irish musical world and as a “periphery on the edge of a periphery,” depending on one’s perspective. Tourism-marketing warts and all, Clare remains the de rigeur destination of any dedicated musician’s visit to Ireland. The specificity of its regions, and the ready naming of those regions in discussions of Clare music, hint at potential divisiveness among both residents and players; in pointing out that the book is emphatically not intended to encompass all of Ireland’s music, Ó hAllmhuráin allows his readers to explore the region without the annoying device of putting forth a reductive “Irish music is …” statement.

Chapter One, “Recentering the Musical Periphery,” celebrates the documentation of the region’s early musical history. Drawing from Appadurai, Ó hAllmhuráin repeatedly connects sound and space by noting the influences of outside musicians, recordings, instruments, personalities, sheet music, and other elements on both the people and the sounds of Clare. Chapter Two, “Napoleon [End Page 144] to Parnell: Before and After the Famine,” builds on and greatly expands Ó hAllmhuráin’s work in his chapter on the Famine and its impact on Irish music for Arthur Gribben’s The Great Famine and the Irish Diaspora to North America (1999). Focusing on the internal and external upheavals brought about in the nineteenth century—from Napoleon to the Famine to emigration to Europe’s many revolutions—we are led through the processes by which local music and musicians responded to events and people both near and far. In noting the appearance of both temperance-based marching bands and the Anglo-German concertina, one sees the growing influence of the outside. Yet, a theme of local reclusiveness emerges that served to safeguard and support, in many ways, the groundwork being laid for music in the twentieth century and beyond.

In some ways, transportation drives Chapter Three, “Fifters, Tans, and Jazzers: Soundscape in Transition.” Starting with the work of Chicago’s Captain Francis O’Neill in the early twentieth century and continuing with the ways in which the political currents of Irish nation-building—both heady and deadly—had their brutal day in Clare, Ó hAllmhuráin catalogs each step toward Ireland’s dark decades of the 1940s and ’50s through the lens of clashing political and musical moments. The Public Dance Halls Act of 1935, aimed at the direct suppression of the Irish dancing body with the collusion of church and state, had an impact in Clare as much as anywhere else in Ireland. Yet even with that suppression came the appearance of outsiders—such as Séamus Ó Duilearga of the Irish Folklore Commission—with recording equipment and anthropological training, bringing Clare traditions to the outside.

In Chapter Four, “Hearth and Clachan: The Musical...


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