Music tradition in Cork was first documented in the sixth century breviary lessons of St Finbarr, whose monastery had a library. Cork grew to be a music centre of merit. By the start of the nineteenth century, for example, there were nine music shops and eleven firms making musical instruments. Music, once the amusement and preserve of the rich with their private collections, was now being taken up by the middle classes. The establishment of the Opera House in 1855 made musical culture accessible to all and gave a focus to creative leisure. The tradition, stories, and anecdotes from the “Gods” (upper balconies) are part of Cork folklore. Drama, music, and opera have also been a source of pride for Cork critics at all levels of society.
Cork character, biting wit from the wags, one-upmanship and sentimentality all come together in Corkonians’ pride, love, and relationship with music. Examples of these characteristics abound in the comments and stories told and retold over time. The friendly rivalry between Northside and Southside are clear in the Northsiders’ claim that nobody in the Middle Parish can sing unless they are in a cage.
The story is well known of the famous singer in the Opera House who, after the fifth encore, asked, “How many more times would you like me to sing this?”, to which a Cork wag replied from the ‘Gods’ (upper balcony): “Until you get it right”.
From the end of the nineteenth century to today, communities have participated in music-making through pipe bands, gramophone circles, operatic societies, choral societies, jazz bands, and groups promoting traditional Irish music. Cork social and political history is echoed in the tradition of Cork ballad writing and singing. The Singers Club exemplifies the communal base of this genre.
The Music Library was established in 1978 by Cork City Council to support and develop these traditions. The library’s well established gramophone recitals are part of the communal expression of the city’s culture of music. Our well-stocked collections seek to represent and express this local musical fabric of cultural life.
While Cork’s local traditions are very important, there are international influences stemming from many sources. New communities in Cork are enriching the musical culture. Cork, the city of musical festivals, is now home to the Jazz Festival, the Folk Festival, and the Blues Festival.
Icons such as Aloys Fleischmann, Seán Ó Riada and Rory Gallagher are a few among many who enriched our musical traditions. Our music library was renamed the Rory Gallagher Music Library in 2004 to acknowledge Gallagher’s impact on the international rock scene and to provide inspiration within the library setting for young talent.
The name of Aloys Fleischmann is synonymous with music in Cork. His initiatives, such as, the Cork International Choral Festival, with its seminars on contemporary choral music and his collaboration with Joan Denise Moriarty, for the Cork Ballet Company productions, broadened the appeal and international stature of music in Cork. The Cork Orchestral Society in the words of Seamus De Barra “is an example of his gift for galvanizing community effort”. He was a campaigner and organizer, a colossus not only in Cork but in Irish music nationally. The Irish Music Index is one of his many legacies. Fleischmann understood the value of promoting music in the school curriculum. He worked tirelessly to increase the number of people teaching and learning music at all levels, and to encourage an understanding and love of music.
Sean Ó Riada was one of Fleischmann’s most distinguished pupils. Ó Riada revolutionized Irish music and again made it accessible worldwide. “Nothing is fixed and all is possible” was a basic part of his music philosophy.
The philosophy, communal ownership, and enthusiasm for all music traditions inspires and informs the vision for the development of services in the Rory Gallagher Music Library, promoting the values of community, accessibility and inclusiveness, and education for all.
For more information on Cork Music and musicians, visit the website of the Rory Gallagher Music Library.