Written from the perspective of a scholar and performer, Traditional Music and Irish Society investigates the relation of traditional music to Irish modernity. The opening chapter integrates a thorough survey of the early sources of Irish music with recent work on Irish social history in the eighteenth century to explore the question of the antiquity of the tradition and the class locations of its origins. Dowling argues in the second chapter that the formation of what is today called Irish traditional music occurred alongside the economic and political modernization of European society in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Dowling goes on to illustrate the public discourse on music during the Irish revival in newspapers and journals from the 1880s to the First World War, also drawing on the works of Pierre Bourdieu and Jacques Lacan to place the field of music within the public sphere of nationalist politics and cultural revival in these decades. The situation of music and song in the Irish literary revival is then reflected and interpreted in the life and work of James Joyce, and Dowling includes treatment of Joyce’s short stories A Mother and The Dead and the 'Sirens' chapter of Ulysses. Dowling conducted field work with Northern Irish musicians during 2004 and 2005, and also reflects directly on his own experience performing and working with musicians and arts organizations in order to conclude with an assessment of the current state of traditional music and cultural negotiation in Northern Ireland in the second decade of the twenty-first century.
’... this is a skilful, sustained trawl through traditional music’s evolution’. The Irish Times ’This is a well-researched social and cultural history of the development of traditional music in Ireland. Dowling uses his multi-disciplinary scholarly background to show how non-musical factors influenced the development and establishment of the tradition. It is a clear-sighted work, contextually grounded and critical of inherited narratives, making it a valuable contribution to scholarship on traditional Irish music’. Spéis, ICTM Ireland ’... a wonderful set of timely, fresh and represented information of great value to musicians and of long lasting merit in Traditional music study. Dowling’s achievement in this has been to add an important volume of thinking to what he once commented on as ’the scanty shelf of books on Irish music available to its students’. ... it should be ordered for every library in the country’. An Piobaire ’Dowling writes in an engaging and welcoming manner; readers will not be lost in the jargon-laden minutiae that characterize some works. Instead, he moves effectively from one issue to the next with transitions that make sense ... His ability to communicate in this manner bodes well for the use of this book across disciplines and at different levels of readership: from the upper-level undergraduate to the professor or interested layperson, the language is both informative and sometimes surprising in the best ways. Traditional Music and Irish Society is of particular value for its interdisciplinary approach that connects music to history, literature, the diaspora, economics, class, politics, nation-building, dance, religion, education, and identity. ... it grounds some of the common (and uncommon) knowledge about the music in such a strong framework that those of us who work in other fields will find this book to be an engaging and effective resource grounded in both contemporary interviews and original source materia