Moore Publishes

Already one of the most popular poets and songwriters of his age, Thomas Moore became a household name after the far-reaching popularity of his Irish Melodies. His work earned him acclaim as Ireland’s national bard.

Summary of Event

Thomas Moore’s youth coincided with upheavals that were to influence the future course of Irish history. The dominant Anglican ascendancy had come under attack from both Protestant Dissenters (mainly Presbyterians) Presbyterians;and Dissenters[Dissenters] and Roman Catholics Ireland;Roman Catholics . Discontent was first publicly aired in Presbyterian Ulster, under the enlightened leadership of Henry Grattan Grattan, Henry (1746-1820), but Dublin Castle and Westminster failed to meet Grattan even halfway. Had they done so, and had his message been heeded, there might have emerged some reconciliation of sectarian and ethnic strife in a common Irish patriotism. Irish Melodies (Moore)
Moore, Thomas
Dublin;Irish Melodies
[kw]Moore Publishes Irish Melodies (1807-1834)
[kw]Publishes Irish Melodies, Moore (1807-1834)
[kw]Irish Melodies, Moore Publishes (1807-1834)
[kw]Melodies, Moore Publishes Irish (1807-1834)
Irish Melodies (Moore)
Moore, Thomas
Dublin;Irish Melodies
[g]Ireland;1807-1834: Moore Publishes Irish Melodies[0340]
[c]Literature;1807-1834: Moore Publishes Irish Melodies[0340]
[c]Music;1807-1834: Moore Publishes Irish Melodies[0340]

Thomas Moore.

(R. S. Peale/J. A. Hill)

Reconciliation was not to be, although 1793 saw the repeal of some of the harshest and most discriminatory penal laws. In 1798, a largely Roman Catholic Roman Catholics;Irish revolt, inspired by an anticipated but aborted French invasion, resulted in savage repression and permanent alienation of Irish from English, and Irish Catholics from Irish Protestants, eventually leading to the emergence of the Orange Lodges to counter the ideal of a united republican—and essentially Roman Catholic—Ireland.

On Act of Union of 1801;and Ireland[Ireland] January 1, 1801, the British government pushed through Parliament an Act of Union of the English and Irish parliaments that, while intended as a step forward, in effect disempowered the Dublin parliament while failing to serve Irish interests in Westminster because the Catholic majority was still Voting rights;in Ireland[Ireland] disenfranchised. By that time, Grattan’s moderate and patient leadership had been replaced by the firebrand oratory of Daniel O’Connell O’Connell, Daniel (1775-1847), whose founding of the Catholic Association of 1823 aimed to will into being a Catholic nation. These heady events form the backdrop to Moore’s Irish Melodies, which he began publishing in 1807.

The Irish Melodies may have been inspired during Moore’s days at Trinity College, Dublin, Dublin when he and his friend Edward Hudson played airs together and discussed the misfortunes of Ireland. Moore ever after noted that his passion for Irish music Music;Irish was directly inspired by Hudson, who collected airs (Hudson, however, was arrested in 1798 for activities with the United Irishmen). Moore also was influenced by the 1792 festival of nine Irish harpers, the only nine who could be located. James MacDonnell had organized the festival in Belfast and Edward Bunting Bunting, Edward transcribed the music. Bunting thereafter traveled throughout Ulster, Munster, and Connaught, assembling a collection he published in 1796 as A General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music. Moore obtained a copy of Bunting’s work and was inspired to write lyrics for traditional airs.

The festival and Bunting’s transcriptions were part of a larger movement to rescue, restore, and codify national music. Other collections of Irish melodies had been published, including Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards (1786) by J. C. Walker (d. 1810), Celebrated Irish Tunes by James Jackson, Curious Selection of Favorite Scenes by J. Brysson, Hibernian Muse (anon.), and The Repository of Scots and Irish Airs by J. McFayden. England saw the publication of E. T. Warren’s thirty-two-volume collection of popular songs, including glees, madrigals, and canons, and John Stafford Smith’s Ancient Songs (1799) and Musica Antiqua (1812). In Scotland, George Thomson published the six-volume Selected Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice (1793) and Sir Walter Scott published his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-1803). Glee clubs and madrigal societies proliferated in this era, called the age of the Celtic Revival, groups of individuals who loved to play and sing popular music.

Within the year following Moore’s infamous duel with Lord Jeffrey (interrupted by Bow Street police) over Jeffrey’s scathing review of Moore’s Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems (1806) in the Edinburgh Review
Edinburgh Review , Moore was approached by the Dublin music publisher William Power, who, aware of Moore’s talent and reputation, asked him to write lyrics to traditional Irish melodies, a proposal he accepted with pleasure in that it seemed “so truly National.” When Moore met his future musical collaborator Sir John Stevenson Stevenson, Sir John , he recited odes from his 1800 work Odes of Anacreon (a work so acclaimed that he was long afterward referred to as “Anacreon Moore”), from which Stevenson later composed several glees.

Moore’s Irish Melodies had become a sensation not only because Moore was a talented musician but also because he was a talented poet who could create songs in which poetry and music coalesced. His aesthetic agenda promoted the idea not only that a sound should seem like an echo of the sense but also that sound and sense, music and lyrics, should be one. Also, at a time when Irish relations with the English were poisoned by rebellions and repressions, Moore was able to give voice to Irish feelings in the idiom of his time: motifs of sentiment, sensibility, nostalgia for a golden past, desire for freedom and equality, and reverence for the beauties of nature. He did so in a way—often allegorically and never overtly threatening to the English—that made his songs accepted, adored, and performed in homes across Great Britain.

Because part of his contractual obligation was that he should himself perform the Irish Melodies, he wrote the lyrics for his own voice. They showed his talent not merely for poetry but also for writing words that enhanced the beauty of the sung lyric. As a biographer noted, “No one has ever so considered the voice” nor so brilliantly suited the words to the lyrical cadences of the airs.

Moore had his critics, however. Some accused him of being unfaithful to his Irish heritage and to the cause of Ireland by living among the well-to-do in London and becoming more a Whig than an Irish nationalist. Other critics compared the Irish Melodies unfavorably to the works of the major Romantics. Moore, however, wrote Irish Melodies for song, not to be read as poems; criticism leveled against him as a poet based on silent reading of the words was necessarily erroneous. Contemporaries also charged that he had tampered with the purity of a national treasure by altering the airs to suit his own voice, changing the character of the traditional melodies.

Bunting’s collection was transcribed from contemporary harpers’ performances—and there can never be “authorized versions” of folk music; Moore previously knew some of the airs. When they had preexisting Gaelic lyrics, Moore was able to adapt them, but he did so intuitively, for he knew no Gaelic. His technical collaborator, Stevenson, made his own changes, and he did so to the disapproval of Moore.

An academic musician, Stevenson arranged the airs for piano, which Moore himself did not use when performing. Moore lamented that “the hand that corrects their [the airs’] errors is almost sure to destroy their character, and the few little flowers they boast are pulled away with the weeds.” He resented the academic hand of Stevenson, but knew that he could not execute the arrangements himself. In Moore’s notes to performers, he instructed them that the timing ought to be secondary to other matters, so that the timing would not detract from the lyrical expression and the “curve” of the air. The debate over Moore’s respect for the integrity of the original airs, and of Stevenson’s part in their formal arrangement, faded into an uneasy consensus: Moore’s project was so well executed that the point was moot.

Despite the overt Irish nationalism of the first two installments of the series, which included songs commemorating the 1798 and 1803 rebellions, Moore received critical and popular acclaim. By 1810, though, he found himself on the defensive against charges of “mischievous” politics, and, thereafter, his nationalism was couched in allegory.


Thomas Moore provided a fresh infusion of pure lyric into British poetry, a process that began with his Odes of Anacreon and was crystallized in the Irish Melodies, injecting pure musicality and the cadences of Irish folk song into English poetry. Considered a major poet by his contemporaries, he was read by many Romantics, and his influence can be seen in their works. His personal and literary relationship with Lord Byron is well known. Indeed, the Irish Melodies influenced Byron’s Hebrew Melodies (1815), wherein Moore’s “The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Hall,” for instance, becomes Byron’s harp of King David, and Moore’s Romantic Irish nationalism, with its themes of exile and repression, defiance and melancholy, colored Byron’s work.

A master craftsman, Moore brought into English-language poetry the lilt of Irish song and the atmosphere of Celtic magic. His far-reaching influence is unmistakable in the works of the younger Romantics in England, in the anapestic feet of the American gothic poems of Edgar Allan Poe, in the images of the Pre-Raphaelite Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood[PreRaphaelite Brotherhood] poems of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and in the works of the great Irish modernist William Butler Yeats, whose poems have been a schoolroom for much of the best lyric poetry of the twentieth century.

Some said that although Moore never participated actively in the cause of Irish nationalism, he did more for the cause through his literary work than he could have done in any other way, for his immense popularity throughout Great Britain brought the Irish and their problems into parlors across the isles in the most endearing and enduring of manners.

Further Reading

  • Davis, Leith. Music, Postcolonialism, and Gender: The Construction of Irish National Identity, 1724-1874. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006. A history of Irish nationalism that takes into account gender identity and popular culture. Includes the chapters “A ’Truly National’ Project: Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies and the Gendering of the British Cultural Marketplace” and “In Moore’s Wake: Irish Music in Ireland After the Irish Melodies.”
  • DeFord, Miriam Allen. Thomas Moore. New York: Twayne, 1967. A good background work on Moore’s career. Contains a chapter on the Irish Melodies.
  • Jones, Howard Mumford. The Harp That Once: A Chronicle of the Life of Thomas Moore. New York: Henry Holt, 1937. Critical biography that portrays Moore as the national bard of Ireland.
  • Jordan, Hoover H. “Thomas Moore: Artistry in the Song Lyric.” SEL 2 (1962): 403-440. Detailed study of Moore’s aesthetics from a technical standpoint.
  • McMahon, Sean. The Minstrel Boy: Thomas Moore and His Melodies. Cork, Ireland: Mercier Press, 2001. An updated biography of Moore, with a focus on his classic work. Includes selections of Moore’s verse.
  • Moore, Thomas. Irish Melodies: The Illustrated 1846 Edition. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2000. A reprint of Moore’s classic work, with illustrations by Daniel Maclise.
  • Strong, Leonard A. G. The Minstrel Boy: A Portrait of Tom Moore. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1937. Critical biography that examines Moore’s aesthetics.
  • Tessier, Thérèse. The Bard of Erin: A Study of Thomas Moore’s “Irish Melodies,” 1808-1834. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistic, 1981. Detailed examination of the Irish Melodies.

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