Using the Database

The Irish Song Project database has been designed with a range of audiences in mind. We welcome scholarly interest in the manuscripts and printed sources to which we have provided open access and look forward to seeing further work from within the academy and beyond, based on our initial research. We also hope that performers will make use of this resource and that in this way the database might encourage the re-introduction of songs which have not been performed for many years into the repertoire. The selections on the database are drawn from a wide diversity of sources, in terms of historical period, genre, language and musical forms.

The ‘free search’ function can be used to search for titles, sources (both tune and text), lyrics, categories, topics and the information contained within the notes on each song. Search results are returned in order of earliest date of the tune, but can also be listed alphabetically by title.

The defined search options allow the user to return examples according to genre, melodic type and date.

Genre refers to the structural form of a song (e.g. ‘ballad’ rather than ‘political’).

Melodic Type refers to one of the central aims of the project, which is to reclassify examples of Irish song by ‘type’ rather than content or theme, thus concentrating on melody rather than lyrics. Type 1 songs are defined as ‘chant-like’ and include many forms of religious singing from the medieval period, as well as some examples from the tradition of the Gaelic bards. Type 2 songs are loosely defined as ‘simple melodies’. These consist of a short repeated structure, such as work-songs, plough whistles, lullabies and other quasi-improvised forms of singing, examples of which often lack a defined set of lyrics. Finally, type 3 songs are more complex forms of singing, such as ballads, songs considered today to be from the sean nós tradition, and forms of literary song, such as art music arrangements, which were particularly popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Date: Searching by year will return examples by their earliest date of transcription or printing. This might take the form of a handwritten copy in a manuscript or a published tune / text in print form (book, magazine, song-sheet, ballad sheet). Some songs are undoubtedly much older than their first printing, and users should refer to the individual note in each citation for further information concerning the song’s origin.

Upon returning results users can view a series of tabs, each of which contains different information.

‘Citation’ will present users with analysis of:

Type: Based on the type analysis described above

Tune structure: A basic outline of the tune’s structure with upper-case letters representing ‘parts’ of the tune, and lower-case letters representing phrases within a tune where that tune has only one ostensible part. A number after a letter represents the number of bars in the relevant part. For example:

  • A8 B8 = a tune of two distinct parts (usually separated by a double bar line in the original source), each of which has eight bars
  • aaba (4 bars) = a tune of four four-bar phrases
  • 26 bars = a tune of no defined structure totalling twenty-six bars.

Please note that bar counts are taken from the first full bar of singing. This excludes upbeats and instrumental introductions and closing passages.

Verse structure: Verse structures are given in the following shorthand:

  • v = verse
  • l = line
  • ch = chorus

The numbers given after each of these letters indicate the number of lines found in each. For example:

  • 4v 4l = four verses of four lines each
  • 4v 8l + 2l ch. = four verses of eight lines each, plus a chorus of two lines.

Time signature: The time signature as it is given in the original source. Where the time signature alternates or changes, we acknowledge this by presenting all the relevant information.

Key signature: The key signature as it is given in the original source. Where the key signature alternates or changes, we acknowledge this by presenting all the relevant information. Where no key signature is indicated, but one is apparent from the use of accidentals, we have indicated this in brackets, e.g. (#). We have endeavoured to make a note of any key signatures which are incorrectly ascribed to a piece.

Tonal centre: The tonal centre of the song. Although some examples contain modulations, we have tried to indicate a tonal centre which best represents the whole song. Given the musical complexities of many examples, particularly from the Gaelic era, we have employed the term 'tonal centre', rather than 'key', as it can be more broadly understood in the context of melodies which derive from modal systems.

Incipit: We have catalogued the songs using a letter-name incipit system based on the work of prominent scholars, such as Breathnach and Fleischmann. The incipits represent the first 12 notes of a song, excluding any upbeat(s) or anacrusis, standardised to the key of G.

Genre: Songs are categorised by genre based on their structure and shape. These categories have been drawn broadly and include many diverse and identifiable sub-genres.

Text source: The text source is the earliest relevant source for the words of a song. Where possible, we have selected the earliest Irish printing of a text.

Tune source: The tune source is the earliest relevant source for the melody of a song. Where possible, we have selected the earliest Irish printing of a tune. However, where no Irish example has been identified, we have provided sources from elsewhere. For example, the song 'The Night before Larry was Stretch'd', although composed and sung in Dublin, was first printed in The Festival of Anacreon (London: George Peacock, c.1790).

First line: The first line of the song as given in the source, in the source language.

Notated incipit: The stave incipit plots the twelve pitches of the incipit on a musical stave. All sharps and flats are recorded as accidentals.