temperance bands and the rise of the flute in Ireland

temperance bands and the rise of the flute in Ireland

A comment on the sleeve note of Kevin Krell’s "Woodenflute Obsession" CDs that I only just noticed: "the flute probably became popular in [rural Ireland in the second half of the 19th century] because of the development of a band movement, initiated in Father Mathew’s temperance movement and perhaps facilitated by British military bandsmen and the development of seasional migratory labour between the west of Ireland and England or Scotland".

Anybody done a history of the temperance band movement? What I can find on the web relates mainly to the Protestant North, but temperance seems to have been a far bigger movement in Catholic Ireland - it was a huge phenomenon (and one that could easily link up with nationalism for an extra political boost). The Northerners seem to have done similar stuff to Orange bands today, which is a bit peripheral to the Irish mainstream. It’s the Catholic side I’m more interested in.

I am a bit sceptical about the role of seasonal migratory workers. Why would working on a railway line in the Midlands or a potato farm in the Lothians encourage you to take up the flute in a band when you got back to Mayo?

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It’s much more likely that the flute became popular in the band movement because all of the orchestral players were flogging them of for buttons when the bought themselves them new fangled boehm whatsits.

And that they became popular with diddley players for the same reason. It was a great time for diddley players.

Imagine you and your mate down the pub in in your back kitchen. And you played your crappy old plank of a fiddle ‘cause that’s all you could afford. And for the same price, you got yourself a top notch flute for the same pennies.

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Migratory workers may not have been enticed to join a band on return, they certainly had more opportunity to pick up flutes on their travels.

Also don’t forget the significant number of (earlier) 20th century fluteplayers saying they took up the flute after one was sent back to them by emigrated friends/neighbours/relatives from England or the US.

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Fintan Vallely’s done quite a bit of research on this, as has Aoife Granville, whom I think may have been doing some kind of thesis on the subject. Both have included this topic in talks given at Hammy Hamilton’s "Flute Gathering" in Ballyvourney in the past 3 years.
Hammy, Conal O’Grada, Colm Murphy and several local flute players have revived this tradition in their community - [ in all probablility, without the "Temperance" ], - as has Aoife in Co. Kerry .
I seem to remember Aoife having posted on this website in the past, Jack. I’ll try to find her ID here and get back to you. I’m sure she’d be very happy to answer any queries you might have.

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She hasn’t posted here since 2010, but she’s still on the Member’s list under the name "aoifeg".

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Re: temperance bands and the rise of the flute in Ireland

I believe Seamus Tansey has done research and presented on this as well (early ’90s at the South Sligo Summer School, maybe?).

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I’d have an interest in local history in Ireland and I can observe from reading various journals and local history books that many small towns and even villages in the late 1800s and well into the 1900s had small bands of one form another. Quite often brass bands but also marching bands. Can’t recall seeing specific ref to flute bands per se like the Orange tradition up north.
I guess they served a social purpose and also provided entertainment both for those in the band and at local public events in times when people had to make their own fun etc.
I think a lot of these small community bands died out when the TV came in etc., though the tradition would still be alive in the various marching bands of Wexford say. These got a great run during the 1798 bi centenary celebrations in 1998 when there were almost weekly unveilings of plaques and statues etc.
As to Fr.Mathew - I suppose his take on it was to fill the hands of his errant flock with musical instruments rather than pints!

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Sometimes there isn’t a concrete logical reason WHY an instrument becomes popular at a certain time; it just does.

And nowadays when popular music is dominated by guitars it’s hard for us to imagine a time when the flute was an extremely popular instrument. But there was such a time, much of the 18th century and first half of the 19th century, when the biggest stars of music, the pop stars of their day, were flutists. Music concerts were beginning to become a public thing and the stars were most often flutists. And nearly every house had a flute in it.

I’m talking Britain here, and Western Europe. The situation in Ireland, I’m guessing, was not too different, at least in the urban areas.

Note that the huge popularity of the flute was well before the Boehm flute came onto the scene. The flute which was the "pop" instrument was the ordinary six-hole wooden flute, with one to eight keys.

I tend to doubt any story that’s told over and over but for which no evidence is ever presented, and the story that the Irish folk musicians took up the flute when classical musicians were switching over to the Boehm flute is just such a story. The timing doesn’t seem right to me, and I’d wager that the flute was well established in Ireland long before the British and Irish "classical" players began switching to the Boehm flute in large numbers (these places being amongst the last to do so).

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"…nearly every house had a flute in it" !!! Evidence for that please ?

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What key were the flutes these bands used ? In interview Matt Molloy said that the Eb flute he used on early recordings was sold to him by a man who had played in a band. If they were Eb, Bb etc would there have been a flood of them when orchestras went to Boehm ?

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A=460 (i.e. "E flat") was a common pitch for flutes well into the 20th century.

But it’s not very relevant to the period when the temperance movement was at its height. Several different pitches were in use then, some close to the modern one and some not.

It would be nice to see *some* piece of contemporary documentation that would back up Krell’s statement. I know the Scottish temperance movement at the same time made use of brass bands, but not flute bands (or bands with flutes) as far as I’ve seen. (They didn’t have bands of their own, they got locally available ones to help out, if they could in the generally temperance-hostile political climate). Maybe Ireland around 1840 was very different, but I can’t at present imagine why, except that its temperance movement took off much faster.

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From Hamiltons article "The second approach proposes that the major source of exposure to the flute as an instrument was via its military use. Ireland, particularly after the Act of Union of 1801, had many garrison towns, and many regiments had fife and drum bands which would have played regularly in public.

In some contexts, including that of the early Orange Order, the Temperance and later Land League bands, the idea was directly copied, and perhaps as a continuation of this, many villages and towns in Ireland boasted a fife band as late as the 1950s. There is little or no direct evidence to suggest that the fife was used as a solo instrument in the dance music tradition, but those who would argue that its pitch (nominally B flat) mitigated against this should remember that until ensemble playing began to appear in the early twentieth century, there was no standard or common pitch for Irish traditional dance music."

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CCÉ still has a flute band category in its Fleadh Cheoil competitions. This has been dominated by bands from The Rosses region of County Donegal for the last twenty years, particularly The Mullaghduff Fife and Drum Band.

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I have read that in the first century of the colonies in New England, the fife was the most common instrument, found in many homes, and frequently played at dances and gatherings. I suspect it is because the instrument is fairly simple to manufacture, and rather durable. These days, the fife is primarily remembered for its military application, especially in the Revolutionary War.

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O’Neill wrote that no instrument was as popular among the Irish peasantry as the "flute," by which he classifies everything from "the humble tin whistle to the fully keyed concert instrument," or words to that effect, he wrote this in his 1913 book Irish Musicians and Minstrels. An anecdote to be sure but you aren’t going to get much else here.

Hand me down instrumental traditions are nothing new, one account of traveling pipers from the late 19th century mentions the fact that they all had one or maybe two regulators at most, thus instruments which were about 80 years out of date technology wise, as the full set with 3 regs became standard early in the 19th. Early Irish flautists well may have picked up discarded baroque 1 key or early multi key models of flutes, which were passe in the glory days of Rudall and Rose, when 8 keys became the norm. Or perhaps they made flutes from elder etc.

Many of the pictures in O’Neill’s book and from the 78 RPM era show German style flutes, no surprise with musicians in America, where such instruments were easily obtained from suppliers such as Lyon & Healy or Sears & Roebuck.

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I’m not getting the connection between the temperence movement and innovations in Irish music. What was it that the tea-totalers were doing(or not doing, but let’s overlook the obvious) that was not happening at any other place where the Irish were playing music?

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Were the temperance bands handing out flutes free to the new pledges?

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"What I can find on the web relates mainly to the Protestant North"

This may be of interest to you, Jack:

http://corkbarrackstreetband.org/about.html

"The Barrack Street Band, affectionately known as the "Barracka" was officially founded as a temperance band by Fr. Theobald Matthew in 1837. During the early years, the band, which was the main attraction of his temperance society, was situated at No 1 Barrack Street. When weather permitted, the band would march the ill-paved, dim, gas-lit thoroughfares of Cork by night, playing inspirational airs, accompanied by a large following of temperance supporters parading in torch light procession in order to give hope to those who had lost their way. As the years rolled by, the band and its society became one of the strongest temperance and politically motivated institutes in Ireland. They achieved musical excellence due to the training and guidance of the military bandsmen from the nearby military barracks, Elizabeth Fort and they went on to win many brass and reed band contests."

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Great stuff, Weejie. That’s a vivid picture of what a band could do for the movement. Problem though - it’s a *brass* band, as temperance bands were in Britain.

It’s hard to imagine a British Army barracks band giving any help to a temperance band in Fr Mathew’s time. The early temperance movement was politically radical, associated with Chartism in Britain (and in Ireland it must have been associated with nationalism, given that the British establishment owned the booze industry). So maybe it had a different composition back then, less brass-heavy?

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If you look at some of the old pictures in the gallery, there seems to be a flute or two.

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Were the bands playing in Equal Temperament?

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hey,
I know I’m nine months late to this thread but just came across it when searching for something on flute bands. I’m currently working on a paper on female band and flute players in Ireland….which is very much a work in progress. There is a thesis in University College Cork on Temperance Bands by Aiveen Kearney (written in the 1980s). My own PhD focused on the wren tradition as opposed to just marching bands. I’m going to read through the comments now again actually!! Aoife g