The Otherworld

Published in Blogging Irish History, Book Reviews

We have some very good stuff on the blog today, in the form of some tunes and tales of the supernatural. These are taken from The Otherworld, an anthology of music and folklore culled from the vast archives of the National Folklore Collection, housed in UCD. The NFC is one of the largest collections of its kinds in the world, and tends to be shamefully ignored by many Irish historians (explaining the reasoning behind that is another days work). The Otherworld is the latest anthology from its archives to be published in recent years, and its guiding principle is very simple: encounters with the supernatural through which Irish people made sense of their world, and so, as the editors put it, the anthology ‘reflects some of the circumstances, hopes, anxieties, fears and beliefs of Irish people’.

It is not so much a book as a lavish and beautifully produced accompaniment to the two CDs that actually contain the recordings. These consist of a wide range of songs and stories, in both Irish and English, and a wide range of music, all of which deals with some kind of engagement with the supernatural. This is especially true in relation to the music; it appears that the great bluesman Robert Johnson wasn’t the only musician to meet a mysterious stranger at a crossroads, and to subsequently up his game (either that, or the story conforms to a universal type, plentiful examples of which are to be found here). The material chosen for inclusion has been collected from as far back as the 1930s (when the NFC was founded) up to the present, and is nothing if not diverse: there is music (both instrumental performances and singing, usually unaccompanied, in Irish and English, and from both settled and traveller communities), along with folklore from the cities as well as the countryside: the banshee, for example, was apparently a regular fixture in the Ringsend area of Dublin.

This superb anthology is a triumph of design. The book itself is a magnificent production, lavishly illustrated with a range of often haunting black and white images that bolster its underlying purpose, and it is prefaced by a lively and lucid introduction. Each track on the CDs, whether songs or stories, comes with an explanatory essay (which are far more substantial then just notes) and, where necessary, transcriptions and translations. There is some great stuff to be heard in The Otherworld. Have a listen to these samples via the links below, and make up your own minds.

Thanks to the editors and to Anthony Tierney of Four Courts Press for providing the recordings.


Tam Lin

The Fiddler And The Fairy

The Gold Ring

Port na bPucaí 

Amhráin na Siógaí

The Fairy Fort





Ríonach uí Ógáin & Tom Sherlock (eds), The Otherworld: Music & Song from Irish Tradition (Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éireann, 2012)


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