Gerard Curran reviews Songs of Irish Rebellion: Irish political street ballads and rebel songs 1780-1900 by Georges Denis Zimmermann, Four Courts Press, £19.99, (24.95 euros) pbk
FIRST PUBLISHED in 1960s, Zimmermann’s book has long been recognised as the standad work in the field. Alongside references to 350 songs, 100 of which are printed here in full with notes, and an extensive bibliography, the new edition includes a new preface. The author has studied thousands of broadside ballads and hundreds of song books printed between 1780 and 1900.
All of the songs reproduced here are preserved in libraries in Dublin, Belfast, Cambridge and the British Museum . Even if all the histories and historians vanish we can always relive the flavour of historical events by looking up and singing the relevant songs. Zimmermann examines the themes, symbols, the recurrent text forms and the music of songs that are typical of the different periods from the 1798 rebellion and the Napoleonic era through to the tithe war, O’Connell’s repeal campaign, the Young Ireland movement, the ‘famine’, Fenianism, the land struggle and Parnell.
Songs of the Orangemen are included. One printer, Nicholson, produced songs for both sides, making money out of his enterprise and adding to sectarian strife.
The book also suggests further research on this important historical and cultural phenomenon —- one that has affected many Irish people and been an important influence for many Irish writers.
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