A Hidden Ulster – book

‘A momentous publication … a treasure trove of words, a cultural and social history, a work of great tenderness and bighearted loyalty. Proud and heartbroken, it is an heroic attempt to remember.’    

                                                                                                  Michael Longley

Michael Longley and Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin

Michael Longley and Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin

A Hidden Ulster – people, songs and traditions of Oriel by Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin – now in its third print – was published by Four Courts Press (Dublin) in 2003, to widespread critical acclaim. Shortlisted for the 2005 Michaelis-Jena Ratcliff Prize in Folklore and Folklife, it was also listed among the Books of the Year both in the London Times and the Irish Times.

It was launched in the National Library Dublin, by Cathal Goan, in the Linen Hall Library Belfast by the poet Michael Longley and Dr Pól Ó Muirí, in Oriel by Dr Diarmaid Ó Doibhlin and Dr Tom Collins, and by Dr Tom Munnelly at the Clare Festival of Traditional Singing 2003.



As the song tradition does not exist in isolation, this research places it at the heart of the social life of the people with its traditions, singers, musicians and rituals, which are chronicled and recalled in great detail. Much of this material survived in disparate, fragmentary form, mainly hidden away in libraries, archives, museums and private collections, and in most instances the song airs were lost, but following extensive research by the author, who is also a traditional singer, a once vibrant and vital song tradition was recreated.


Patrick Byrne

Patrick Byrne 1876- 1883. Photographc.1843

Another feature of this work is the inextricable link between the literary, song and harp tradition, showing poets and harpers in close collaboration (AHU pp.337-57), and songs of the poets and the people surviving in the harpers repertoire collected by Edward Bunting c.1800 (AHU p.372-3). Included were detailed biographical information on poets and harpers from c.1650 – 1863. It shows how both genres can inform each other in relation to repertoire and interpretation.


Fiddler in Oriel 1912

Although Oriel is known as an area very rich in traditional music, other collections emerged during research that had not been published before in mainstream collections, notably the Patrick McGahon and Luke Donnellan collections (AHU pp.435-507). They are published in A Hidden Ulster in manuscript facsimile form, and are finding a way back again into the national repertoire of tunes. There is an extensive list of the repertoire of a piper called Philip Goodman,  as well as song airs and tunes published in the County Louth Archaeological Journal.


Due respect and credit is paid to the last keepers of the oral Gaelic tradition in Oriel – singers and storytellers and the many collectors, photographers and transcribers who had the wisdom, patience and endurance to record these valuable treasures for posterity (AHU pp. 358-416).

The outcome of this publication is a new awareness in the wider national community of one of Ireland’s richest sources of song and music; a sense of pride and ownership in the local community of a noble and ancient inheritance; a plethora of television and radio documentaries, recordings, new research, awards and events celebrating this magnificent national treasure trove has followed.

Sections of A Hidden Ulster have been reprinted in various literary anthologies, and it is essential reading on the music, language, anthropology and folklore courses in various faculties of third level institutions throughout Ireland.

Oirialla sean-nós awards

Piaras Ó Lorcáin le Diane Cannon

Piaras Ó Lorcáin, from County Armagh, receiving Corn Cuimhneacháin Sheosamh Úi Éanaí trophy for sean-nós singing from singer Diane Cannon Oireachtas na Gaeilge 2016

When young Piaras Ó Lorcáin, from south Armagh, won the Corn Cuimhneacháin Sheosaimh Uí Éanaí trophy in the national Oireachtas na Gaeilge sean-nós competion 2016, singing the old renewed version of Séamus Mac Murfaidh (from on An Dealg Óir CD and A Hidden Ulster), competing against the finest of young Gaeltacht sean-nós singers, it was symbolic of the work having come full circle.

Feilimí O’Connor had paved the way for Piaras and other Oriel singers when he won Corn Cuimhneacháin Amhránaithe Sean-Nóis Mhúscraí trophy in his category in 2015, singing A Hidden Ulster songs which he learned from his mother, Eithne Ní Uallacháin. He turned the tide of sean-nós singing by bringing an Oireachtas na Gaeilge sean-nós award to Oriel for the first time.

Feilimí O’Connor from County Louth, winner of 2015 Oireachtas na Gaeilge sean-nós trophy Corn Cuimhneacháin Amhránaithe Sean-Nóis Mhúscraí.

As a result of the publication of A Hidden Ulster, a once tenuous, fragile, ancient tradition is becoming more accessible and enjoyed by a younger community and also generating informed scholarship and performance, with a renewed confidence and a vibrancy in the Gaelic oral traditions of Oriel.

ORIEL ARTS aims to replenish the well, by bringing elements of this great Oriel legacy full circle, and returning it back to the community – restored and renewed.

A Hidden Ulster -people, songs and traditions of Oriel is available on order from Four Courts Press, Dublin: http://www.fourcourtspress.ie/books/archives/a-hidden-ulster/

Oriel Arts © Ceoltaí Éireann 2018