Deirdre Ní Chonghaile, “Collecting Music in the Aran Islands: A Century of History and Practice” (U Wisconsin Press, 2021)

Deirdre Ní Chonghaile is a writer, musician, broadcaster, and curator from the Aran Islands. Working bilingually in Irish and English, she is drawn to voices, contemporary and historical, especially those that have been marginalized, and to what they have to say or sing. She read Music at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, and worked at the University of Notre Dame and the Library of Congress. Deirdre is currently curating an exhibition for Roinn na Gaeilge at NUI Galway on the first professor of Irish there, Tomás Ó Máille, and also preparing an anthology of over fifty traditional songs composed in the Aran Islands from the nineteenth century to the present day.

In this interview, she discusses her new book Collecting Music in the Aran Islands: A Century of History and Practice (U Wisconsin Press, 2021), which uses interlocking case-studies of traditional music collection to investigate questions of preservation, curation and marginalization.

Collecting Music in the Aran Islands, a critical historiographical study of the practice of documenting traditional music, is the first to focus on the archipelago off the west coast of Ireland. Deirdre Ní Chonghaile argues for a culturally equitable framework that considers negotiation, collaboration, canonization, and marginalization to fully understand the immensely important process of musical curation. In presenting four substantial, historically valuable collections from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, she illustrates how understanding the motivations and training (or lack thereof) of individual music collectors significantly informs how we should approach their work and contextualize their place in the folk music canon.

Aidan Beatty is a historian at the Honors College of the University of Pittsburgh

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