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Archiving Irish America: Music, Dance, and Culture Conference

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Archiving Irish America: Presenter Bios and Abstracts

Erick Boustead

Living Clay: The Archive in Cultural Practice (see below for abstract)

Erick Boustead is a video artist and Irish Studies scholar whose great-grandparents hail from County Mayo. He recently completed a Masters in Irish Studies: Literature & History through the National University of Ireland-Galway, where he focused his thesis on nineteenth-century Chicago Irish male assimilation through the lens of archived media. Erick was also a participant in the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s ‘2021 Art and Politics Summer School’, which led to collaborating with several artists focusing on issues related to collective grief and relationships to (de)colonization. Erick is interested in cultural practices as sites of belonging and (re)connection in the Irish diaspora.

Harry Bradshaw

Bill Stapleton and the Irish Recording Company

Harry Bradshaw has served as a radio producer, record producer and sound engineer, and writer and lecturer on Irish traditional music, and is Ireland’s leading expert in the remastering of archival recordings. Born in Wicklow and reared in Dublin, Bradshaw worked in Eamonn Andews Studios before joining RTÉ as a sound engineer in 1968 and becoming a radio producer there in 1979. He specialised in traditional music programmes and was the producer for seventeen years of the RTÉ Radio 1 flagship series The Long Note. Other series included An Droichead Beo, Folkland, Music of the People and The Irish Phonograph. He has carried out intensive fieldwork throughout Ireland, making recordings of over 1,000 individual singers and musicians, as well as of festivals and summer schools, and of musical oral history. A producer and engineer of many classic albums for companies such as Gael Linn and Claddagh Records, he specialises on his own label Viva Voce in research into Irish musicians of the 1920s and 1930s in America and the restoration of their recordings. In recent years he has also remastered some 15,000 items from RTÉ’s earliest field recordings of Irish traditional music.

Nick Brown

Tracing the music used in Oscar & Malvina

Nick Brown was born in Illinois and raised in Ontario, and first started playing Irish music when he was in his late teens. From the beginning he has been interested in the origins of the music: his first two recordings of Irish music, given by his teacher, were field recordings of Willie Clancy and Seamus Ennis; and in 2005, he met Pat Sky and was introduced to the O'Farrell collections of music. Nicolas has not only become a proficient musician and sought-after music teacher; he has also developed a vast knowledge of the history of Irish music, old musicians, tune origins, Irish music in America, and more. In 2020, during the isolation of the pandemic, he released his solo album Good Enough Music For Them Who Love It. The album consists of music from the late 1700s, played on an antique set of Irish or Union pipes made at the same time.

The grand ballet pantomime Oscar & Malvina premiered in 1791, and featured one of the first stage performances of the instrument that became known as the uilleann pipes. The music used for the pantomime was both newly composed and repurposed, a practice that continues in Irish traditional music to this day. During the pandemic, I recorded three tracks of material associated with Oscar & Malvina. In this presentation I'll present the archives, collections, and other resources used to find and compile the music that was used in the pantomime, I will identify which pieces were mostly likely newly composed and which were reused, as well as from where, and I'll discuss the process I followed to select this material for my recording. Of special note, some of their material is still commonly played by Irish traditional musicians to this day.

Jean Butler (Keynote)

Our Steps, Our Story: An Irish Dance Legacy Archive

Jean Butler is a dancer, choreographer, and leading figure in the world of contemporary Irish dance performance. Her most recent production, a site-specific promenade piece entitled What We Hold premiered at the Dublin Theatre Festival in October 2022 and was most recently staged at New York’s Irish Arts Center, to critical acclaim. In 2018 Butler founded Our Steps, a not-for-profit organization committed to expanding the way we think about history, practice, and performance of Irish dance. Partnering with the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library, Butler initiated the first living Irish dance archive, entitled Our Steps, Our Story: An Irish Dance Legacy Archive. To date, this ever-expanding archive has created over 200 hours of video and audio resource materials never previously documented. Butler has taught at Princeton University, University College Dublin, University of Notre Dame Global Center, Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick and Glucksman Ireland House, NYU. She choreographed and starred in the original Irish dance productions Riverdance and Dancing on Dangerous Ground, and is the recipient of many prestigious awards and honors.

Siobhan Butler (she/her)

Bridging the Gap: Uncovering the Bond Between Traditional Irish Dance and Music

Siobhan Butler is a traditional dancer and dance researcher whose creative and academic work aims to “bridge the gap” between traditional Irish music and dance. A fierce advocate for traditional dance in archives, Siobhan attributes much of her knowledge of Irish dances to the documentation and archiving of traditional dance. Combined with kinesthetic embodiment and ethnographic field work, she regularly uses archives to offer a more holistic understanding of the dancing and its historic and/or cultural contexts. Recently, Siobhan has been uncovering some of the audio recordings from the 1920s and 30s that featured traditional dance. This research has led her to further explore the possibility of using dance as a musical instrument (even theorising the bodhran replacing dance’s rhythmic accompaniment), and to question the narrative that Irish dance and music have become irreversibly divergent. 

This presentation will engage the role of creative practices in partnership with research methodologies, and how such an approach affects the way knowledge and creative interpretations are transmitted. She will also present the early stages of her new online archival project which highlights prominent traditional instrumentalists who also danced, but aren’t remembered as dancers. Her work is intended to inspire a new perspective on how Irish dance and music are related, and how this relationship can potentially be accessed through archives.

Liz Carroll (Keynote)

The Music That’s In It

Liz Carroll was born in Chicago, of Irish parents. She's a Junior and Senior All-Ireland Fiddle Champion, and has toured as a solo artist and with the Green Fields of America, Trian, String Sisters, and as part of the duo Liz Carroll & John Doyle. She's featured on eleven albums and has appeared on many more. Liz is a recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship Award (1994). In 2010 she became the first Irish-American musician nominated for a Grammy. In 2011 she became the first American-born composer honored with the Cumadóir TG4, Ireland's most significant traditional music prize.

Marta Cook

Jenny Picking Cockles: Performance-Based Research on the Irish Harp

Marta Cook is a traditional musician with roots in Limerick and Clare. Her singular approach to the development of the Irish harp as a solo instrument in traditional music has been heard throughout Europe and North America. She is also known as a versatile accompanist on both the harp and piano. Her article “Subjects of Tradition” appears in the 2024 Irish Studies Review special issue on Irish Capitalism, edited by Aidan Beatty and Conor McCabe.

The modern lever harp is a percussion instrument. Sound production happens before each pluck, during the approach to and manipulation of the string, and in the manner of leaving the string; it does not happen continuously as a note is sustained. Pitches must be re-articulated if interrupted. Legato, on what we now call the “Irish harp,” is the impossible made practical by the creative imagination of the musician. 

The instrument I play is simultaneously a futuristic artifact (to the likes of Donnchadh Ó hAmhsaigh,) an emblem of hegemonic power, and a gateway for engaging embodied knowledge. My artistic practice in traditional music focuses on the practicalities of the impossible, of archives as time travel, of an entangled world that exists simultaneously before, now, and in the future. 

The creative process for Jenny Picking Cockles (2021, 2’10”), a harp performance inspired by a 1953 recording of Donegal fiddler Néillidh Boyle (1889-1961), deeply engaged these questions. By presenting my practice-based engagement with archival material, I aim to provoke impossible but practical futures that arise from archived knowledge animated by embodied processes of imaginative action. 

Listen. Rewind. My fingers flick: feedback. How many flicks before I notice that nothing starts in the fingers at all? How many, before poetic imagery transforms into practical advice? If the sounds I dream become real, what else could?

Marta Cook, Brian Ó hAirt, Emmanuel-Sathya Gray, Erick Boustead

Living Clay: The Archive in Cultural Practice

In 1950, Conamara writer and activist Máirtín Ó Cadhain (1906-1970) delivered a lecture in Dublin, entitled “Béaloideas” (“Folklore”), for Cumann na Scríbhneoirí (The Writers’ Association). In it, Ó Cadhain mobilized the concept cré, translated as “clay,” to illustrate the reality of béaloideas as teaching (oideas) from a living mouth (béal). To a rioting audience, Ó Cadhain proclaimed that even contained and cataloged in an archive, cré lives: “[T]o us there is no mouth (béal) but the living mouth, no clay (cré) but living clay.” 

In this roundtable discussion, we wish to grapple with Ó Cadhain’s analysis of archival theory and practice in relation to Irish language, music, song, dance, and narrative arts. Themes of immanence, embodiment, and practice-based knowledge comprising the nonlinear evoke David Lloyd’s call to "retrieve…the never finally erasable potential for…re-igniting the recalcitrant potential of subordinated cultural formations” (2009). Our personal experiences with archival practices and materials show how cré beo (living clay) guides our engagement with urgent issues surrounding data collection and management. In doing so, we hope to contribute to Irish diaspora participation in ongoing discussions of consent, privacy, and ethics, including those raised by Sekula (1986), Jimerson (2005), Sutherland (2023), the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance (2018,) and the Feminist Data Manifest-No (2019.)

Moderator: Jimmy Keane, Performer/Composer


Marta Cook

Brian Ó hAirt

Emmanuel-Sathya Gray 

Erick Boustead

Aileen Dillane


Aileen Dillane is an Associate Professor in Music at the University of Limerick where she co-directs the Centre for the Study of Popular Music, Popular Culture. Aileen received her Phd in Ethnomusicology from the University of Chicago, and is currently finishing a monograph on Irish & Irish American music based on over 20 years of engagement with the scene in Chicago and in Ireland. She also writes on Irish Popular Culture and is starting work on a short book about an Irish protest singer.

Seán Doherty

Annotations in the Francis O'Neill Collection at the University of Notre Dame

Dr. Seán Doherty is a composer, musicologist, and performer. He was introduced to music through the Irish fiddle tradition of his hometown of Derry. He read music at St. John’s College, Cambridge, after which he completed a PhD in musicology at Trinity College, Dublin. He is an Assistant Professor of Music at Dublin City University. His compositions are commissioned, broadcast, and performed nationally and internationally. His research in Irish traditional music is on the melodic structure of dance tunes, namely an analytical survey of the seminal collection O’Neill’s The Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems (1907). His analysis of the double-jigs classification of this collection has been published in the Journal of the Society for Musicology in Ireland. This article examines the jigs in terms of their patterns of motivic repetition. This dataset demonstrates the prevalence of four standard melodic structures, previously unrecognised in scholarly discourse.

Francis O'Neill (1848–1936) was an Irish-born American police officer and collector of Irish traditional music. He bequeathed his personal library and letters to the University of Notre Dame, where it is still held at the Hesburgh Library. A Keough-Naughton Library Research Award in Irish Studies allowed me to research this archive in October 2023. O’Neill annotated his significant collection of printed Irish music with notes and other marginalia. The annotations include ticks and crosses, instructions such as 'different' and 'get this', and notes on variant names of tunes or on the source of a tune. Several pages of important sources are dog-eared, either recto or verso, which point to passages that highlight the scholarly knowledge of earlier collectors, which were to inform O’Neill’s own historical understanding. This presentation will give an account of how these annotations give an insight into O’Neill’s editorial principles for the two highly influential collections: O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (1903) and The Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems (1907).

Patrick Egan (Pádraig Mac Aodhgáin)

Key factors for interacting with Irish traditional music in North American archives: Some survey results

Patrick Egan (Pádraig Mac Aodhgáin) is an independent researcher based on Cork, Ireland. He has spent 10 years at University College Cork as a scholar and lecturer of ethnomusicology with digital humanities. His PhD project explored ways of developing digital visualisations using metadata from the archival records of the Seán Ó Riada Collection at the Boole Library. In 2019, he moved to Washington DC for a year as a Fulbrighter and Kluge Center Digital Studies scholar at the Library of Congress, where he was researching collections of audio in the American Folklife Center. His recent publications include topics such as digital cultural heritage, open science, and interdisciplinary studies. A concertina player since the age of seven, Patrick has recorded two commercial albums and continues to teach and perform Irish traditional music in Ireland and internationally.


In 2019 I conducted a survey of over 528 practitioners of Irish traditional music across North America. This was the first survey of its kind to develop a comprehensive understanding of this group and collect feedback about engagement with archival audio files. Insights emerged about the musical landscape and a diversity of cultural practices with archival audio. This is grounded by a forthcoming study analysing survey results, demonstrating overall trends, practitioner backgrounds, and their experiences with a wide range of media formats and materials. 

In this paper I build upon that work and focus on demographics within the survey to examine three ways that respondents may relate to archival materials. Drawing upon open-text responses this research engages deeply with participant insights. The evidence presented will demonstrate: 1) Respondents' descriptions about their attitudes towards archives of Irish traditional music 2) Resources that they shared and how those resources break down within different demographics and 3) Suggestions that were presented by these practitioners on how material could be made more relevant to performers in North America.

Cait Finley and Will Woodson

The Phonograph Project: Learning and performing music from early Irish American recordings

Caitlin Finley (fiddle) and Will Woodson (flute, uilleann pipes) play sparky and driving traditional Irish music that’s grounded in the textures and rhythms of the rich Irish-American soundscape of the 1920s and 30s. With roots in the living Irish musical cultures of New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston, and a tremendous admiration for the first generation of recorded Irish musicians, the duo conjure up the sounds of the dance halls, vaudeville theaters, and house sessions central to Irish-American music from the first half of the twentieth century. The two released their first album, The Glory Reel, in 2019. From 2020 to 2021, they published an online series, The Phonograph Project, featuring their takes on classic Irish-American 78 recordings from the 1920s and 30s. The two now reside in Portland, Maine; when they’re not playing music, Will works as a maker of uilleann pipes and Caitlin works as a medical physicist.

In April of 2020, we launched The Phonograph Project, a study of early recordings of Irish music made in America. The project, which was subscriber-supported through Patreon, deliberately coincided with the 100th anniversary of Michael Coleman’s first commercial 78. Each month, we picked two recordings from wax cylinders or 78s, many of which we found through the Ward Archives. We studied the playing of the musicians, and adapted the tunes to be played as a duet on our instruments: fiddle and flute or pipes. We recorded and published videos of us playing the tunes, and distilled everything into tutorials for our subscribers.

The project ran until August 2021, but music from this era continues to inspire our playing. Our current performance repertoire is entirely made up of tunes that we have learned from early Irish American recordings, and our personal practice is devoted to capturing the style and repertoire of the masterful musicians heard on these recordings.

During this performance, we will play tunes that we learned from these recordings, including some of our personal favorites from the Ward Archives. In addition, we will discuss our approach to learning tunes from archival recordings.

Sarah Gerk

Reading Irish-American Archives Against the Grain

Sarah Gerk is Assistant Professor of Musicology at Binghamton University (SUNY). Her current book project, titled Music in a Nation of Immigrants: U.S. Musical Practice and Irish Diaspora in the Nineteenth Century explores ways that Irish immigration shaped American music. She has published on Irish-American topics in Journal of the Society for American Music, Nineteenth-Century Music Review, and a collection of essays on Thomas Moore.

Irish immigrants to the US have always been more diverse than archival sources can tell us. Biased structures and unequal power relationships in Irish-American culture, in research institutions, and in libraries have meant that those whose lives and work are deemed valuable enough to preserve and study have been cis-male, hetero, English-speaking, and middle class or wealthy. Moreover, Irish-American popular culture and historical writing have asserted particularly hagiographic histories that vaunt a chosen few and ignore sociological perspectives.

The archival invisibility of massive constituencies who should be included in our histories is not unique to Irish-American studies. Facing a near total absence of indigenous musical records in nineteenth-century Columbia, Anna Maria Ochoa entreats us to read the archive “against the grain.” In this paper, I suggest ways that we can build a more complete and equitable understanding of Irish-American musical history by following Ochoa’s lead. I review my research projects on variety theater phenoms Harrigan and Hart, and their very popular series of pieces that include Dan Mulligan that were premiered in the 1870s and 1880s, to show how the methods developed in postcolonial studies and by ethnomusicologists have allowed me to develop very different ways of seeing the Mulligan series that account for anti-Black racism, the influence of English comic theater on this crucial time in US-based theatrical history, and ways in which popular music developed towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Emmanuel-Sathya Gray

Living Clay: The Archive in Cultural Practice (see above for abstract)

Emmanuel-Sathya Gray is a fiddle player and teacher born and raised in Myaamia, Shawnee, Cherokee and Osage territories, in what is known as the Ohio River Valley. As a traditional musician, they were mentored by Justin Bridges and James Kelly. As a PhD student of Community Psychology at the University of Cincinnati, his current research is grounded in the experiences of youth climate justice activists, particularly BIPOC, POC and LGBTQ+ identifying individuals. Their broader interests and investigations include the psychology of decolonization among both activists and small communities. This roundtable discussion will be framed by his work in subjective community research practices.

Kathryn Holt 

Dancing with the Archive

Kathryn Holt holds a PhD in Dance Studies from the Ohio State University. She is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Jane Nelson Institute for Women’s Leadership at Texas Woman’s University. Her research focuses on dance and the politics of gender, race, and ethnicity, primarily in Ireland and the Irish diaspora. Her most recent publication in the Irish Studies Review investigates the relationship between Irish American identity and whiteness in commercial Irish dance shows like Riverdance and The Lord of the Dance.

In this presentation, I explore how the written archive acts in concert with embodied practice to allow artists and scholars in Ireland and Irish America to connect to the past in their bodies and through the written word. This presentation will explore two important aspects of the relationship between the archives and dance in Ireland and Irish America. First, I will discuss the significance of archival research in writing about Irish dance history to help fill in gaps and better understand embodied histories that may not have been passed down through a clear lineage. Using examples from archives across Ireland and the United States, I will demonstrate how newspapers, legislation, personal writings, and correspondence help to paint a picture of the contexts surrounding dance practices and provide further insight into the social and cultural significance of these practices. Second, I will analyze how dancers use archives to inform their work in various ways. Analyzing work by choreographers like Colin Dunne, Jean Butler, Áine Stapleton, and junk ensemble, I demonstrate the myriad ways dancers embody archival materials in their choreography as a means of bridging the past and the present.

Dan Isaacson

Craft: Oral History Interviews from the Workshops of Benedict Koehler and Patrick and Aaron Olwell

Dan Isaacson began his study of traditional Irish music in Boston’s vibrant session scene in the mid-1990s. Self-taught on the uilleann pipes, concert flute, and bouzouki, he performs in a variety of venues, from small pubs to the Kennedy Center, and has made appearances on Irish and US television and NPR. Based in Baltimore since 2003, he is a mainstay of the thriving session scene and has organized concerts and workshops for some of the finest exponents of the tradition. Music has been composed for him by Tommy Peoples (Dave and Dan’s) and Billy McComiskey (The Diamond), and he has produced and played on three studio recordings with The Magic Square (2003, 2006) and Dan Isaacson’s Simple System (2010). He recently completed his Master’s in Library and Information Science at the University of Maryland (December, 2023) and works in the Digitization Center at Hornbake Library. For the field study component of the MLIS program, he worked with the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin in collecting oral history interviews with US-based instrument makers Benedict Koehler (uilleann pipes) and Patrick and Aaron Olwell (concert flutes).

The collecting scope of archives can range far beyond the classic realm of physical items, sheet music, and ephemera. In the case of Irish and Irish-American musical traditions, impactful  initiatives have included oral history projects as a means to gather and preserve traditions and repertoire held and traditionally passed by ear. An area that is not often fully recognized is the role of archives in documenting and preserving knowledge around instrument making. For instance, uilleann pipers owe the current popularity of their instrument to work by archives such as Na Píobairí Uilleann, which has helped to ensure that generations of pipers have access to the repertoire AND technology around the instrument. This presentation will discuss a collection project that documented the work of three influential flute and pipes makers in America - Benedict Koehler, Patrick Olwell and Aaron Olwell.  Through the University of Maryland's MLIS program and a partnership with the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin, these oral histories investigate the incalculable impact that these craftsmen have had on the sound of Irish music in America - through the manufacture of new instruments, and through the crucial practice of repair and reed making for new and historic instruments. This presentation will discuss these three makers, their research into the history of their instruments, their innovations in reed technology, and the larger impact of archival practices in preserving and sharing their knowledge.

Samantha Jones


Samantha Jones is an ethnomusicologist, dancer, and musician. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, where she also earned her PhD. Her current book project examines the role of musicality in Irish dance transmission. Her interests in the intersection of memory and embodiment also extend to research into early American film production, sensory experiences at music festivals, and the Folk Dance Education Movement. Samantha is an active teacher and performer of Irish traditional step dancing, the improvised style of sean-nós dancing, and social Irish Set Dancing. She joined the board of the Ward Irish Music Archives in 2022.

Jimmy Keane

Horse: A Personal Archive

Jimmy Keane is an accordion virtuoso born in London of Irish-speaking parents from Connemara and Kerry. His late father Jimmy was a magnificent sean-nós (old style) singer, and along with young Jimmy’s mother Mary, actively encouraged him to take up traditional Irish music. He has always been an avid collector and arranger of old tunes and is becoming increasingly known for his original compositions, many of which have become part of the mainstream of traditional Irish music around the world. In the realm of music business, he has a keen interest in the topics of traditional music and intellectual property, having recorded and produced numerous albums. Additionally, he worked closely for many years with the legendary Mick Moloney. Jimmy is a renowned musician, composer, and curator formerly resident in Ráth Cairn, the Meath Gaeltacht settlement that Máirtín Ó Cadhain helped establish.


In 2020, I embarked on a small project to assemble a recording of my late Dad, sean-nós singer Jimmy “Horse” Keane, from a handful of home and studio recordings. During the search for his songs, I found reel-to-reel and cassette recordings of myself learning to play traditional music from the earliest beginnings, as well as recordings featuring a variety of Irish musician friends in Chicago and beyond.

Ultimately, I cleaned and mastered 192 audio tracks and prepared 271 pages of liner notes, tune transcriptions, and photographs, spanning 1968-2019. The music and songs in the collection became a personal history of this great Irish music community. I released the project in 2021 on my Dad’s birthday and named it in his honor: Horse.

This will be multimedia presentation of tracks, images, and stories from Horse, as well as reflections on the process of creating and publishing a personal archive that is of some public interest. As Dr. Dan Neely wrote in The Irish Echo, (September 2021), Horse is “a project that speaks as significantly to the “tradition” in traditional music as it does to the musical life of the individual behind it,” telling “a major story about Irish America.” I don’t know about all that, but Horse is a story I am honored to share, as traditional musicians have always cherished and passed on our stories. www.horsekeane.com

Helen Lawlor (she/her)

‘Hear the Harp of Tara’: Research-Led Performance of the Princess Grace Song Sheet Collection

Dr. Helen Lawlor (neé Lyons) specialises in research on music in Ireland with a focus on the musical practice, education and history of the harp.  She lectures in music at the TU Dublin Conservatoire. Her latest book, co-edited with Sandra Joyce is Irish Harping: World Harp Traditions (2024). She is author of Irish Harping 1900–2010 (2012) and co-editor with Sandra Joyce of Harp Studies: Perspectives on the Irish Harp (2016). Her work is also published in The Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland, Ancestral Imprints, Sonus, American Harp Journal, JSMI and JMI. Helen is Executive Editor of the Journal of the Society for Musicology in Ireland (JSMI) and Secretary of Performance Research Ireland. She is an advisory board member of Irish Musical Studies and previously served as Chair of the Irish national committee of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM Ireland). Her current research projects include a collaboration with the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco based on the PGIL Song Sheet Collection. Other ongoing work includes Sounding Empowerment, an edited collection of essays co-edited with Adrian Scahill. Her research is grounded in the discipline of ethnomusicology, drawing also on performance practice and musicological methodologies. Helen has shared her research both nationally and internationally. She has lectured/performed at Harvard University, Boston College, New York University, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, University of Limerick, University College Dublin and at many music festivals including the Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy and Gaelic Roots. Television appearances include: Comhluadar Ceoil (2021, TG4) and The Flourishing (2022, RTE 1). Helen has supervised PhDs and Masters by research in Irish traditional music, arts practice, ethnomusicology, music education, musicology and composition.

Princess Grace acquired a unique collection of 1,682 sheets in 1978 from Michael E. O’Donnell (USA). She was known internationally before her marriage to Prince Ranier III of Monaco as Grace Kelly, Academy Award winning actress. Her paternal grandfather emigrated from Mayo to the United States in 1867. Her Irish heritage is celebrated through the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco. 

This paper is focused on my ongoing research into the PGIL collection. The research engages with the imagery, musical style, and thematic content of the collection to produce a curated cross-section of songs by both male and female composers. The collection tells, through music, the story of Irish emigration and diasporic community formation. Symbolic identifiers of Ireland are employed by song writers to express diverse notions of ‘Irishness’ through song. I will discuss my approach to curating performances of the collection and how artistic and academic considerations are combined to showcase the musical and cultural richness of this collection. 

Brian Miller (he/him)

Songs of an Irish Lumberman-Saloonkeeper

Brian Miller has been active in the Irish music world for over 25 years and is sought after as a performer and teacher. He is an authority on the history of Irish music in the Upper Midwest and his work on that has earned him the Parsons Fund Award from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and several grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Miller is Director of Celtic Junction Arts Center’s Eoin McKiernan Library in St. Paul, where he creates annual exhibitions, articles and presentations on regional Irish cultural history. He performs regionally-sourced Irish folk songs with Milwaukee musician Randy Gosa as “The Lost Forty”.


Michael Dean was born to Irish immigrant parents near Canton, New York in 1858. He followed his father into the woods of northern New York as a teen and worked his way westward across the Great Lakes as a logger before settling in Hinckley, Minnesota in 1885. In Minnesota, Dean became a saloonkeeper catering to the loggers, railroad workers and freshwater sailors he was surrounded by his entire life. In 1922 he published a songster, The Flying Cloud, containing 166 songs from his personal repertoire. He was subsequently contacted by several song collectors and enthusiasts. In 2012, though my research, I was able to connect 33 mysterious wax cylinder recordings archived at the American Folklife Center with a 1924 visit paid to Dean by collector Robert Winslow Gordon.

In this performance, I will sing both unaccompanied and arranged versions of songs from Michael Dean's repertoire. Songs will be contextualized by historical photo projections and stories drawn for my extensive research into Dean's life and times. His repertoire is a fascinating embodiment of 19th century Irish-America from trans-Atlantic broadside ballads to north woods occupational songs to Irish music hall hits and obscurities.

Daniel Neely


Daniel Neely is a musician and ethnomusicologist (Ph.D, New York University 2008). He's written the weekly column about traditional music for New York's Irish Echo newspaper since 2012 and has been a member of Ward Irish Music Archive's board of directors since 2021.  From 2008-2023, he was the Public Relations Officer for the Mid-Atlantic Region of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann and from 2012-2016 he was the artistic director of the Augusta Irish Week in Elkins, West Virginia.  In addition, he led the popular traditional music session at Lillie’s Bar and Restaurant in Manhattan from 2009-2017, he played tenor banjo with the champion New York Céilí Band in 2016-2017, and from 2005–2013 he led the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra, a New York-based group that was modeled on the Irish-American dance bands of the 1920s and 1930s.  He learned to play the tenor banjo with Mick Moloney and is a fiddle student of Brian Conway's.  He's taught master's level courses on Irish music at NYU's Glucksman Ireland House and has given invited lectures on Irish music history at Boston College, Technical University Dublin, Na Píobairí Uilleann, the Catskills Irish Arts Week, the Baltimore Irish Banjo Summit, and the Ward Irish Music Archives.

Brian Ó hAirt

Soiléir I bhFolach: A Dancer Hidden in Plain Sight

Brian Ó hAirt is a musician, singer, dancer, and Irish speaker and activist who approaches independent research through a necessary decolonial framework. This framework also informs his curriculum offered through the Community Education program at Portland Community College. Within this panel discussion they will be sharing their experience with archives/collections as it relates to presentation of traditional singing and dancing in performance and community settings.


In March of 2021, a singer and peer in Dublin shared with me a URL link to the Fox Movietone News Collection at the University of South Carolina. In their exploration of the collection, they came across footage of a young girl feeding her ducks while singing a well-known song in Irish called Sail Óg Rua. This song was notable within the FMNC, along with snippets of singing, turf cutting, and children playing, due in part to the language the subjects of this footage were speaking - Irish Gaelic. As intended, I immediately launched my own survey of this Irish-language material to have what can only be described as a 'Dunn Family Cylinders moment' when I located what I believe to be the oldest to date media representation of damhsa ar an sean-nós or sean-nós dancing. Filmed nearly 95 years ago in May 1929, these mere two minutes of footage illustrate, among other things, remarkable continuity within this dance tradition. Therefore, I propose presenting this footage at the Archiving Irish America Conference and discussing its relevance to current academic and community research. I will also contend why the footage's original context, subsequent negligent cataloging, and resulting erasure draw attention to the benefits of the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance and how these principles mitigate the paradoxes archives create as products of coloniality. 

Michael O’Malley

Michael O’Malley is professor of US history in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University. His research focuses mostly on the era from 1865-1919, with publications that engage the history of music, technology, money and exchange, digital media and digital history, and the history of immigration. His most recent book is on the life of Capt. Francis O’Neill - The Beat Cop: Francis O’Neill and the Invention of Irish Music, published by the University of Chicago Press in May 2022.

Emily Paulson

“How do I find Irish Music?” - Creating Resources for Celtic music at the Archives of Traditional Music

Emily Paulson is a graduate student in library science specializing in music librarianship. She earned her BA in Music from North Dakota State University and is currently in the final semester of her master’s degree at Indiana University. Along with her studies, she works as a graduate assistant at the Archives of Traditional Music, the Cook Music Library, and as a processing assistant in the manuscript collections of the Lilly Library. Over the course of her graduate work, she has gained a passion for increasing collection access and discoverability. This passion inspired the creation of her libguide for Celtic music resources at the Archives of Traditional Music. She hopes to create further resources on folk music collections and heritage centers in her professional career. Her current research interests lie in studying the history and methods of traditional ballads and folksongs, particularly in Ireland and Scotland.


The Society of American Archivists defines an Archives as an organization dedicated to preserving the documentary heritage of a particular group or groups and providing a space where people can find firsthand facts, data, and evidence from primary sources. The most important job we have as an archivist is to ensure important records will be preserved and available for research by current and future generations to come. The other side of these efforts, though, is making sure these resources are easily discoverable and finding opportunities to make the public aware of their existence. 

In this presentation, I will highlight my experience searching for Irish and otherwise Celtic music archives/collections in the U.S. as well as my own efforts to improve the searchability of Celtic collections with my LibGuide: Celtic Music Recordings and Collections at the Archives of Traditional Music. I will also showcase some of the Irish music field collections housed at the Archives of Traditional Music that I believe deserve more attention. 

Through this presentation I want to bring awareness to ways we can heighten our users’ ability to find and access these materials in our institutions. I also want to use this opportunity to shine a light on some of our lesser-known collections of Irish music and culture at the Archives of Traditional Music in hopes of providing possible connections and inspiration to researchers of Irish and Irish American music and culture.

Richie Piggott

Chicago Archive of Irish Traditional Musicians & Storytellers

Richie Piggott was born in Cobh, Co. Cork and has lived in Chicago for the past twenty-five years. His father, Johnny Piggott, was an accordion player from Dooks, near Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry, and his mother, Margaret Flannery, came from Dingle. Her family were involved with the Dingle marching bands down through the years. Although not a musician himself, his love of the music has led to a life-long interest in the social history of Irish traditional musicians and he has amassed a vast collection of traditional music recordings, music books and music manuscripts. He has contributed several historical recordings and manuscripts to the Irish Traditional Music Archive and Na Píobairí Uilleann and delivered lectures on his researches in Chicago, Boston and Ireland. In 2022 he published the results of 12 years research into Irish Music in Chicago in a book entitled Cry of a People Gone (richiepiggott.com).

Over the past 12 years I have researched Irish immigrants (and some of their children) who played traditional music in Chicago over the past 100 years (1920-2020), the results of which I have self-published in a book entitled Cry of a People Gone. The fieldwork was done through personal interviews of these musicians or with the families of those who passed. During my interviews, I received many donations from the families of these musicians, resulting in a large archive of photos, manuscripts, videos and recordings which I started to upload onto my website (richiepiggott.com) to freely share with all interested parties. My presentation will detail this archive through live (online) demonstrations.

Scott Spencer


Scott Spencer is an Assistant Professor of Musicology (World Music) at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. He publishes on the intersections of oral tradition and digital technology, often through the lens of Irish music. Spencer runs the USC Levan Institute for the Humanities working group “Sound in Sacred Spaces” and is co-founder of the USC Center for Music, Brain and Society. His forthcoming book is on the history of the NYPD Emerald Society bagpipe band, and their creation of the line-of-duty funeral.

Elizabeth (Beth) Sweeney

An Archival Partnership to Document Boston's Irish Music

Elizabeth (Beth) Sweeney curates the Irish Music Archives at Boston College’s Burns Library. As a librarian with a music background, she has worked for over two decades to acquire music materials for the interdisciplinary Irish collections at Burns Library. As a curator, she also helps make music materials available to the public while engaging with classes and outreach. She played a key role in editing and producing the Boston College Libraries’ 2016 digital collection The Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music and has collaborated with BC’s Irish Studies Program in organizing many music events. For the 2023 RTÉ documentary, Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin: Between Worlds, she was honored to speak about Ó Súilleabháin’s 1990 founding vision for BC’s Irish Music Archives. She is delighted to be a participant in the 2024 conference, “Archiving Irish America.”

In 1990, the pioneering composer, pianist, and academic Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin (1950-2018) helped establish an Irish Music Archives at Burns Library, Boston College. In this effort he was inspired by the work of the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA), a national reference archive that had been established just a few years earlier in Dublin. In 2023, the connection between Burns Library and ITMA came full circle in a partnership to document Irish music in Boston and New England. The components of this project, as outlined by ITMA, will require a high degree of collaboration between the two archives over multiple years. To help facilitate collaboration between the two institutions, Burns Library’s Irish Music Archives is hosting a student internship in 2023-2024 funded by the Bookbuilders of Boston Education Fund. The rationale is that learning about Burns Library archival holdings and practices while assisting with tasks will help the intern contribute effectively to the joint Boston/New England project once the internship has ended. This presentation will offer details about the internship as well as observations on the impact of the partnership at Boston College.

John Waters

Cross-cultural Experiments in the Mick Moloney Archives

John Waters, Department of English and Glucksman Ireland House, New York University

This talk will explore the ways in which traces of Mick Moloney's interests in cross- and inter-racial solidarity are and are not present in the work of collecting and preservation that he did alongside his career as performer, teacher, and folklorist. Moloney's keen interest in Black Irish relations in the US in the 19th and 20th centuries is reflected in some of the objects he collected. These objects, though, are traces of a broader history that, for a variety of complex reasons, did not find full and enduring expression in material form. I explore the tensions between presence and absence via a set of pataphysical conceits, objects that belong in the tradition that the composer Jennifer Walshe has explored in her work on the phantasmatic Irish Avant-Garde. What would it mean to approach archives as creative expressions of the history we feel we deserve?

Sean Williams

Sean Williams is professor of ethnomusicology and Irish Studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Her musical interests focus strongly on fiddle tunes and Irish-language songs, but also musics from Indonesia, Brazil, and Japan. She plays over twenty musical instruments (not all of them well!). Her books include Bright Star of the West: Joe Heaney, Irish Song-Man, which she co-wrote with Lillis Ó Laoire, and the textbook Focus: Irish Traditional Music. Her current research explores liminality—the in-between—and the role of music in making connections. Sean was very fortunate to have studied with the sean-nós (old-style) Connemara singer Joe Heaney in the last several years of his life, and counts him as one of her most important musical influences. She has also worked with Gearóidín Breathnach, Máirín Uí Chéide, Lillis Ó Laoire, Celia Ní Fhátharta, Bridget Fitzgerald, and many others.


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About the Ward Irish Music Archives

The Ward Irish Music Archives (WIMA) collects, promotes, preserves, and disseminates Irish and Irish-American musics in all their forms.  WIMA makes these cultural resources available to researchers, artists, and the general public now and into the future for the purposes of teaching, scholarship, and practice.

Established in 1992, WIMA houses one of the largest public collections of Irish music in America. The pieces in the Archives, as well as events, traveling exhibits, CD projects and our online digital collections ensure this important part of Irish American history is preserved and accessible to collectors, enthusiasts, students and lovers of music in any form.

This conference is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

This conference is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Emigrant Support Programme

With support from the Emigrant Support Programme

Milwaukee Irish Fest Foundation

With support from the Milwaukee Irish Fest Foundation

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WIMA 25th Anniversary Celebration, Sat. Oct 21, 2017

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