University of Limerick
Joyce_2011_carolan.pdf (147.36 MB)

Transforming Carolan

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posted on 2022-12-14, 11:06 authored by Sandra JoyceSandra Joyce
The life and music of the Irish harper / composer Turlough Carolan (1670-1738) have been imagined and re-imagined in many different cultural contexts from the eighteenth century. These imaginings frequently occur through engagement with sources of Carolan’s music, as the primary means by which this music has survived. However, there is often a rejection of any fundamental role for these literate sources within the general context of orally transmitted traditional music practice, and, consequently, an imagined oral source is frequently seen as more significant than the published one. Here, an alternative focus on the relationship between text and reader is proposed, suggesting that this represents the real life of this music. The vibrancy and changing performance contexts of Carolan’s music as it was transformed in different musical and cultural settings in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is highlighted, reflecting social issues, commodification, audiences, politics and class. By examining writing about Carolan and wider conceptualisations of Irish music from this period, themes such as antiquarianism, middle-class cultural nationalism, preservation and representation of the past are also explored in this first mediated form. Carolan is often regarded as a transitional figure between the worlds of classical and traditional music, between patrons of different classes and religions, between the orality of the old Irish harping tradition and the literate sources which preserve this tradition. This thesis explores how the myth of Carolan is created and recreated through published media in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and how these processes have influenced more recent imaginings of the man and his music.



  • Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Ó Súilleabháin, Mícheál





Department or School

  • Irish World Academy of Music & Dance

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