Rev Daniel J. Murphy Rev Daniel J. Murphy (1858-1935)

In 1890s America, there were an estimated 400,000 Irish speakers. Over 10,000 of them had left their Gaeltacht homes in Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Galway, and Kerry to work in Pennsylvania's coalmines and in Philadelphia's mills and factories. From 1885 to 1935, two Irishmen – Fr. Dan Murphy of Sligo and J.J. Lyons of Galway – set about transcribing folklore and songs from their fellow countrymen and women all around Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Together, they transcribed over 1,100 sean-nós songs, many of which did not survive the decline of the language in Ireland. A song collection of such magnitude and high quality puts this largely unknown opus on a par with the work of Ireland’s best-known and most prodigious music collectors: Edward Bunting, George Petrie, Sam Henry, Séamus Ennis, etc. However, the achievement of Murphy & Lyons is all the more extraordinary for having emerged from an atypical context: an industrialized urban cosmopolitan centre on the East Coast of America. In scale and context, it echoes the celebrated work of their contemporary and fellow countryman Chief Francis O’Neill (1848-1936), who collected c.1,850 tunes in Chicago.

With each song transcription recording a unique moment of encounter and art, the Murphy-Lyons collection demonstrates forcibly but eloquently the extent to which the Irish diaspora treasured, performed, and celebrated their home-country heritage in their new homes in America. This website tells the story of how these two men preserved the memories and songs of scores of Irishmen and women living in Philadelphia and its environs over a 50-year period, of how they created a monument to Irish heritage, to American heritage, and to the diasporic experience.