Scattered Musics, edited by Martha I. Chew Sánchez and David Henderson (University Press of Mississippi, 2021)
“A world tour of the expected yet unexpected transformations of music and musicians on the move”
I am honored to have contributed Chapter 1, “‘An Ireland over There’? Dance Halls and Traditional Music in the Irish Diaspora, 1945-70.”
Among the Irish communities in British and American cities after World War II, dance halls took primacy as social venues that featured a historically rural music alongside more modern, urban forms. Despite their commercial function, they figured prominently in migrants’ lives as key settings for community and identity formation. The fact that so many ethnic venues thrived in the post-war era reflected the recognition that participation in Irish cultural practices – in this case music and dance – served as a mechanism of adjustment in an unfamiliar milieu. They enabled migrants to directly enact a connection to ‘home’, displacing feelings of marginalization, while the adapted settings, style, and format of the music also evinced a new situation and needs. Analysis of the tensions between old roots and new through musical practices reveals how diasporic Irishness was negotiated and contested, interpreted and performed. This chapter argues that both cohesion and diversity emerged from the mix.
Original oral histories collected from Irish traditional musicians who went to the United States and Great Britain between 1945 and 1970 offer a window into the experiences of the post-war migrant generation. Comparative historical analysis of Irish music in three cities across the diaspora – London, New York, and Boston – shows that while similar processes of identity formation occurred, local demographical and geographical trends resulted in different experiences for migrants. Incorporating historical and cultural analysis of Irish traditional music in dance halls highlights the symbiotic relationship between place and diasporic identities.
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