Time for Protestants to lay claim to Irish music

John Moulden

John Moulden

Irish traditional music owes a huge and often forgotten debt to Protestants — who should now proudly claim their stake in it.

That is according to Dr John Moulden, a 72-year-old former principal of Braidside Primary, Ballymena, who has been invited to speak at the Tommy Makem Festival of Song in Armagh.

A Protestant singer and percussionist, with a musical history PhD, Dr Moulden said perhaps as much as 10 per cent of songs typically regarded as “traditional Irish” owe their origins to Scots, with perhaps another 20 per cent ultimately stemming from England.

Now living in Donegal, he said that the thrust of his talk will be the “immense” contribution of Protestants to a musical genre which is largely regarded as the cultural turf of nationalist Catholics.

This, he said, is mainly because the Troubles have “distorted our perceptions”.

He claims the evidence he presents, “should allow Protestant-unionists to reclaim a proud place in the world of Irish traditional music, and should cause Catholic-nationalists to reflect on their claim to be the owners of Irish traditional music.”

British folk songs crop up throughout Ireland, right to the south-west, he said, and even the instrumentation of typical Irish music itself owes a lot to Protestant influence.

The flute and the fiddle were both imported as instruments of the “genteel” classes in the early 18th century, which essentially meant Protestants.

The festival, now in its 14th year, is billed as a celebration of traditional Irish song.

Dr Moulden’s lecture will be at Armagh City Hotel on Thursday October 3, at 8pm.

“I’ve been led to expect there should be a fairly substantial attendance,” he said.

“What kind of reception I’ll get depends on what I say. But I intend to tell things as I understand and believe — coming not from wishful thinking, but from evidence.”

He was asked to speak by organisers of the festival, and was perhaps a bid “to get some representation of Protestant or planter culture which didn’t involve flags or marching”.

He said: “I hold that it is a shared music, and if Protestants and Catholics are to share life and culture in the north of Ireland, and Ireland in general, we have to be quite sure of what we actually hold in common, with the expectation that— as I discovered when principal of an integrated primary school — there is more that unites us that divides us.”




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