Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence

Publication Details

Successfully presented in fulfilment of the requirement for the award of PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) by Prior Publication, Technological University Dublin 2020.


The following thesis critically examines the essential thematic malleability of traditional Irish song narrative, with particular focus on the penetrative influence of the audience on both composer and performer alike. Such narrative fluidity is specifically examined within the context of works narrating attested historical events, output which could be reasonably assumed to adhere to factual and chronological consistency. The research concludes that the audience continuously exerts a powerful cultural influence on the performance space, and further demonstrates the considerable extremes that both composers and singers will routinely embrace in order to satisfy the constantly shifting demands of their audiences, even if this is to be ultimately achieved at the expense of historical fact. The five peer-reviewed papers documented in the present work examine distinct, yet simultaneously interrelated, ethnomusicological trajectories, namely: the noted Irish horse-racing ballad ‘Skewball’; and the specific sub-genre of death ballads found throughout the Irish Republican song tradition. Section 1.1 of the thesis details the cultural and musicological interplay between singers, composers and the audience, as evidenced in each of the published articles under consideration. Section 1.2 discusses the theoretical and methodological approach deployed within the original research, while Section 1.3 further explores the associated thematics of anti-colonialism and heroism, again within the specific context of the published articles under review. With a view to facilitating a more rigorous interrogation of the published research, the thesis further expands the trajectory of the original papers by examining composer-singer-audience dynamics within broader academic frameworks. Thus, Section 2.1 considers the excision, interpolation and censorship of traditional song narrative in more diverse ethnomusicological, social and political contexts. The resultant cultural outcomes of such manipulations — both intended and unintended — along with the more noted academic disputations surrounding same, are also comprehensively analysed. Section 2.2 critically considers some of the inherent difficulties of song classification and associated nomenclature within the wider canon of traditional song. Such issues are particularly problematic in terms of suitably housing a text of such noted diversity and longevity as ‘Skewball’, a challenge which is similarly reflected in musical output from the militant Irish Republican tradition, with all of its attendant ideological subtlety and nuance. By expanding the thesis beyond a simple re-examination of the original articles themselves, the final two sections are deliberately presented as an additional interrogation of the published research and to further complement the successful peer-review and editorial processes.