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Library Lecture: “I am longing for another voyage of discovery in the summer”: The Gill brothers and their collecting of folk songs from the Isle of Man (1894-94) by Stephen Miller

  • Date: 17th Apr 2019
  • Cecil Sharp House
  • Organiser: EFDSS
  • Website

“The Gill brothers, W.H. Gill (1839–1923) and Deemster J.F. Gill (1842–99) have remained marginalised and neglected figures in the collecting of Manx folk song, overshadowed by A.W. Moore (1853–1909), whose own Manx Ballads and Music appeared in 1896, and by Dr John Clague (1842–1908), whose collection was published in large part in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society between 1924–26, edited by A.G. Gilchrist. Ironically, the Gills have left more manuscript material behind than any of these collectors, found amongst the personal papers of Deemster Gill when they were released in 2000. They are now known to have made three collecting tours overall, travelling over most of the Island, making use of a network of helpers to locate twenty-eight singers and taking down one hundred and one tunes as a result. The outcome was Manx National Songs (1896), the lesser-known Manx National Music (1898), and the unrealised Manx National Airs. The letters from the helpers survive, as do notes made in the field, the annotations to the tunes allow the identification of the singers in the 1891 census, and the detail overall allows for the reconstruction of their collecting tours. The letters between the brothers detail the compilation of Manx National Songs and the argument over Manx National Airs. “Music hunting sounds charming,” wrote WH Gill in 1895, and it is this “hunting” itself that will be the focus of this talk.

Stephen Miller previously worked at the Austrian Academy of Sciences on the Austrian Academy Corpus and taught recently at the University of Vienna. Born in the Isle of Man, he has a BA in History and an MA in Folk Life Studies, both from the University of Leeds. He has combined interests in folkloristics and digitisation and has lectured on both. Research interests include Manx folklore, folk song, and folk dance, and the figures and collectors involved with the Celtic Revival. Other areas are the Scottish folklorists, the Rev. Walter Gregor and W.G. Black, and the institutional history of folkloristics in the British Isles.”