Notre Dame Dublin and ITMA launch new partnership, host Irish traditional music concert

Author: Margaret Arriola

Yt Thumbnail Itma Concert

On August 25, 2023, the University of Notre Dame Dublin and the Irish Traditional Music Archive presented a concert of Irish traditional music, song, and dance in Dublin’s historic Pepper Canister Church.

With a large number of Notre Dame alumni and friends in town for the ND vs. Navy football game being played in Dublin the following day, Saturday, August 26th, the concert was an opportunity to showcase the Irish musical tradition to a mainly international audience.

The church was filled to capacity, and the audience of nearly 300 people was treated to performances from Matt Molloy and Kevin Conneff of The Chieftains, sean-nós dancer Edwina Guckian, and Oscar-nominated actor Stephen Rea alongside ITMA and Notre Dame Dublin's very own. 

Liam O'Connor, fiddle player and ITMA director, and Seán Potts, uilleann piper and ITMA manager, performed several solo pieces, including three tunes inspired by the history of Notre Dame that O'Connor composed especially for the concert. Eimear Clowry Delaney, senior associate director and singer, and Robert Black, assistant director and dancer, represented Notre Dame Dublin on stage.

The occasion also marked the announcement of a new partnership between the University of Notre Dame and ITMA. Going forward, Notre Dame and ITMA will collaborate in areas of mutual interest: education, research, archival collections of Irish music, song and dance, contemporary analysis of the Irish tradition and reciprocal residencies to enable scholars, students, and artists to develop their studies and practice.

Notre Dame and ITMA possess powerful overlapping values in education, culture, tradition, and heritage, and the need to adapt positively to a continuously changing world.

The partnership will see both organizations exploring the liminal space between 21st-century technology and ancient traditions. ITMA houses the largest collection of materials, historic, and contemporary, relating to Irish music, song, and dance in the world. The transformation from physical to digital taking place is not only safeguarding and making freely accessible the rich cultural sources housed there, but also opening up new possibilities around research and artistic development. ITMA is a dynamic source of inspiration through its outstanding artistic programme "Drawing from the Well," a series that connects contemporary traditional artists with archival materials to animate new art and compositions.

As ITMA enhances the transfer of its materials from physical to digital, they will examine where new tech, automation, artificial intelligence and digital analysis can enhance the understanding and appreciation of a shared cultural heritage in a global context.

This work has already begun with Dr. Seán Doherty, composer and assistant professor of Music at Dublin City University and recent recipient of the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies Library Research Award. Doherty will head to Notre Dame in October of 2023 to explore the famous O’Neill Collection of Irish Traditional Music in the Hesburgh Library.

The O’Neill Collection of Irish Traditional Music was donated to the University of Notre Dame in 1931 by Chicago Police Captain Francis O'Neill, among the most important collectors of Irish music. O'Neill's library of Irish history, or "Hiberniana" as he called it, is an invaluable scholary resource, including all the important books on Irish music of the 18th and 19th centuries.

An informal partnership began this summer when three Notre Dame undergraduate students interned at ITMA with the Irish Internship Program. Shannon Kelly ('24), Claire Bosch ('25), and Claire Burks ('25) worked dilligently in the digitization of ITMA's extensive reel-to-reel collections, under the supervision of archivists Dr. Adam Girard and Maeve Gebruers.

Though she has spent her fair share of time in archives as a double major in Anthropology and Irish Language & Literature with a minor in Medieval Studies, Kelly said working with video and audio materials was new to her, and she found the recording technologies needed to preserve older analogue materials fascinating.

"The past becomes much more vibrant and familiar when you hear and learn from the voices of people that you would not otherwise have been able to meet, and it is so rewarding to know that I am helping other people experience that too."

The ITMA interns' summer experience included the opportunity to travel with the archive's team to the world class Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy, a week-long summer school in traditional music and set dance held annually in Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare. Kelly, Bosch, and Burks assisted in recording lectures, concerts, and artist interviews while taking courses in the Irish music tradition over the week.

Bosch, a double major in History and Theology, described the Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy as an "unparalleled experience, a complete immersion in the culture that surrounds Irish traditional music today." The school gave context to the importance of the preservation work the interns were doing in the archive as it informs the living tradition of Irish music.

Burks, a double major in History and Music concentrating in Vocal Performance, said she "felt so privileged to be able to meet some of the greatest traditional musicians alive, and it was inspiring to see that the tradition is so vibrant in the younger generations."

Originally published by Margaret Arriola at on September 26, 2023.