George Petrie (1790–1866)

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Above: The antiquarian George Petrie, who patronised Thady McMahon, the source of many of the songs and airs recorded in Petrie’s published collections of ancient Irish music.

The son of a portrait-painter, George Petrie was among the leading figures in Dublin’s intellectual circles in the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century. His interests encompassed antiquarianism, painting and sketching, and he was an avid collector of ancient Irish music. His skill as an artist led to his election as a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, while his contribution to Irish antiquarianism was marked by his election to the Royal Irish Academy. In the 1830s Petrie worked closely with the scholars Eugene O’Curry and John O’Donovan in the topographical department of the Ordnance Survey. Petrie served as the founding president of the Society for the Preservation and Publication of the Melodies of Ireland (est. 1851), which oversaw the publication of The Petrie collection of the ancient music of Ireland four years later. The index to The Petrie collection usefully records the sources of every air, amongst whom are a varied cast of peasants, street ballad-singers and musicians. Given his significance in Irish scholarship in the mid-nineteenth century, it is no surprise that Petrie emerges from the story of Thady McMahon as the fulcrum figure within the small but influential circle of scholars.


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