University of Limerick
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Sean-nós singing and Oireachtas na Gaeilge: identity, romantic nationalism, and the agency of the Gaeltacht community nexus

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posted on 2022-12-19, 10:34 authored by Éamonn Seosamh Costello
This thesis examines the relationship between a style of Irish vernacular song, commonly known as sean-nós, and the Oireachtas na Gaeilge festival, Ireland’s oldest arts festival. The Oireachtas is essentially an Irish language festival that was established in 1897, at a time when Romanic nationalism was very much the intellectual zeitgeist throughout Western Europe. As such, the Oireachtas tends to be viewed in the literature as a Romantic nationalist movement. Romantic nationalism is often described as a homogenising ideology, and a number of scholars suggest that the Gaelic revival of the late 19th century, which spawned the Oireachtas, has had a standardising influence on various forms of vernacular Irish cultural expression. Much of the literature that deals with so-called ‘folk-revivalist’ movements, like the Oireachtas festival, frames them as gentrifiers and expropriators of vernacular culture. While this is undoubtedly true in many ways, it is an interpretation that tends to overlook the agency of the so-called ‘folk’ in revival movements. It is also an interpretation that imagines the revival movement and the ‘folk’ as essentially two separate cultural formations. Here I argue that —although initially the Oireachtas exploited and gentrified vernacular Irish language song for its own nationalist agenda— over time vernacular singers increasingly came to have more power within the movement’s membership. In fact, I would argue that the singing competition should be regarded as a discrete musical community made up of individuals from within and from outside the Irish speaking districts of Ireland (Gaeltacht). I suggest that what is considered appropriate musically and aesthetically within this musical community has been informed by a blending of Romantic nationalist ideas — concerning cultural essences— with more idiosyncratic ‘native’ ideas concerning good performance.



  • Faculty of Science and Engineering


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Joyce, Sandra

Second supervisor

Keegan, Niall





Department or School

  • Irish World Academy of Music & Dance

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