Recent investigations into the survival and dissemination of traditional songs have elucidated the intertwining relationship between print and oral song traditions. Musical repertories once considered distinct, namely broadside ballads and traditional songs, now appear to have inhabited a shared space. Much scholarly attention has been focused on the print and oral interface that occurred in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain.
Less attention has been paid, however, to music in Ireland where similar economic, cultural and musical forces prevailed. Yet, Ireland’s engagement in various nationalist activities throughout the nineteenth century added a distinctly political twist to Ireland’s print–oral relationship. Songbooks, a tool for many nineteenth-century nationalist movements, often embodied the confluence of print and oral song traditions. Lacking musical notation, many songbooks were dependent on oral traditions such as communal singing to transmit their contents; success also depended on the large-scale distribution networks of booksellers and ballad hawkers. This article seeks to explore further the print–oral interface within the context of Irish nationalism. Specifically, I will examine how one particular movement, Young Ireland, manifested this interface within their songbook, Spirit of the Nation. By examining the production, contents, and ideology of this songbook, the complex connections between literature, orality and nationalism emerge.