From Milan to Kilbaha: Bronzing Irish traditional music
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Commins, Verena (2019) 'From Milan to Kilbaha: Bronzing Irish Traditional Music'. Éire-Ireland 54 (1-2):275-296.
Monuments represent important anchoring devices, tying “collective remembering” to physical places and mobilizing a sense of shared memory and identity consolidation (Rowlands and Tilley 500).1 In the specifically Irish context of the last half-century, the types of events and people remembered by this process of monumentalization has changed significantly. Yet as the current decade of centenaries (2012–22) demonstrates, the erection of monuments persists in constituting a significant backdrop for both the representation and framing of national and local identities in public spaces (Commins, “Musical Statues”). Demonstrating their agency as devices to (re) create emotional bonds with particular histories and geographies, monuments focus attention on specific places and events, offering spatial and temporal landmarks loaded with memory. Situating itself within a body of work examining the growth of this monumental culture within Ireland (Breathnach-Lynch; Hill; Johnson; P. Murphy, “Introduction”; Whelan), this article examines Irish traditional music as a cultural channel that has more recently come to embrace monumentphilia. It considers the particular intersections of collective memory with local and national identity (and identities) as represented by monuments specifically raised to commemorate and celebrate Irish traditional musicians. In a rapidly changing world in which identities are increasingly fluid, the subsequent perception that cultures are becoming homogenized or indistinguishable from one another is widely shared (Tovey et al.), raising the attractiveness of the concept of tradition. This research addresses how the “in-placeness” of monuments—their materiality and physical presence—brings these “traditions” to a much wider public, and in this particular case, beyond the listening and performing community of practice of Irish traditional musicians. In order to do so, it bookends its investigation with two monuments, indeed two moments, that commemorate uilleann piper Willie Clancy (1918–73): both located in Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, and raised in 1974 and 2013 respectively (figure 1).