Irish music in America: Continuity and change

Michael Moloney, University of Pennsylvania


Though Irish music acts as a powerful symbolic force in Irish-American community life, very little is known about the factors that influence continuity and change in the many genres of Irish music in America. Some of these genres have cross-fertilized, some have exhibited varying degrees of acculturation, some have become marginalized or have disappeared, and some have been remarkable resistant to acculturative influences. This study set out to investigate continuity and change in all aspects of Irish music in America, to examine the music in its various forms and to obtain an understanding of how the various forms evolve, thrive, cross-fertilize, decline and sometimes disappear. The study demonstrates that it is only possible to reach an understanding of the dynamic relationship of the forces that interplay to promote continuity and change in a particular ethnic culture in America by using an ethnographic approach to investigate the multiple social and individual meanings of the music in a complex multicultural setting. In the course of every ten years of ethnographic research in Irish-American communities it was ascertained that the factors promoting the continuity of Irish musical culture in America include: the extensive, unbroken, ongoing Irish emigration to America, the ease of communication and the lack of political and ideological boundaries between Ireland and America, the nature of the musical learning, transmission and enculturation processes, the constant composition of new material in traditional idioms, the influence of technology, publications and sound and video recordings, the multiplicity of social contexts in which Irish music is performed in the United States, increased economic benefits to musicians, a resurgence in Irish-American ethnic identity and pride, support and participation from non-Irish-Americans, and cultural revitalization initiatives of various kinds. Factors promoting musical innovation, change, disappearance and hybridization include culture contact, changing tastes, disappearance of traditional performing contexts and modernization. It was discovered that modernization encourages both continuity and change in Irish music as many genres now enjoy an unprecedented level of visibility and affirmation in the western media.

Subject Area

Folklore|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Music

Recommended Citation

Moloney, Michael, "Irish music in America: Continuity and change" (1992). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9227728.