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The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress
The Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series and
Rediscover Northern Ireland Events 2008 present

An Acquisitions & Presentation Project

December 4, 2008 Event Flyer

"I am a Wee Weaver":
Weaving and Singing in Northern Ireland

Presented by Maurice Leyden

Maurice Leyden event flyer

Maurice Leyden is a traditional singer and song collector from Belfast in Northern Ireland. He was born in 1950 in Cookstown, County Tyrone, a small rural town in the center of Northern Ireland. Neither of his parents was interested in traditional music or songs.

Leyden's conversion to unaccompanied singing came in the early 1970s with the folk revival, which introduced him to such folk groups as Planxty, and to the singing of Robin Morton and Cathal McConnell, from the internationally acclaimed group the Boys of the Lough. By the end of the 1970s he had deepened his interest in Ulster songs by listening to the singing of Len Graham, Eddie Butcher, John Maguire, Joe Holmes, John Kennedy and Paddy Tunney.

After a few years as a singer, Leyden realized that he had been living in Belfast for over fifteen years, but had no Belfast songs in his repertoire. He went to library collections in Belfast, Dublin and London in search of Belfast songs in ballad sheets, chapbooks and song collections. He compiled these into his first book, Belfast, City of Song. He also issued a cassette tape of a selection of the songs.

The Belfast book had a chapter devoted to Children's street songs and games. However, Leyden had discovered a surfeit of children's material during his research. He decided that all this material deserved a book on its own. Thus, his second was Boys and Girls Come Out to Play, which was also accompanied by a cassette.

The publication of the children's book led to an unexpected development in Leyden's singing career: he was invited by many Primary schools across the political and social divide in Northern Ireland to come and teach these traditional street games to children. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland commissioned Leyden and his wife Jane Cassidy to visit primary schools throughout the province to inculcate these traditional songs and games into the children. This continued for almost ten years until, due to the time commitment required by his regular employment in the social housing sector, Leyden could no longer devote the time to touring around the schools.

In the mid 1990s Leyden attended the local university for a degree in Local Studies. One of the modules was on the history of the Linen Industry in Ulster. He had been collecting songs on this topic over the years, and had the idea to write a social history of the industry, using the songs of the workers as a focus. He abandoned his course at the University to concentrate on research. This has resulted in his third book, The Linen Workers, which is due for release in 2009. It will also be accompanied by a CD.

Leyden is recognized as a fine traditional singer, and he has chosen the songs of the handloom weavers for today's performance. These were composed by linen weavers between the 18th and 20th centuries, and some have not been sung for scores of years. He will explain the historical context of the songs as well as the folk customs associated with the weavers.

Handloom weaving was dominated by men in the 19th century, but the Industrial Revolution changed all that, and enabled women to take over the dominant role in the factory production of weaving. Leyden will be looking at the reasons for which this happened, and the impact of this change on the singing tradition.

In addition to his work as a scholar and collector, Leyden is known as a radio host and lecturer. For over eleven years he produced and presented Folkal Point — a program of traditional and folk music and song on Downtown Radio. In addition, Leyden has been celebrating the 2008 centenary of the birth of song collector Sean O'Boyle with a series of illustrated lectures entitled Sean O'Boyle: in Search of the Raw Bar 1952–1955. During those years, O'Boyle (1908–1979) travelled the length and breadth of Ulster on behalf of the BBC Northern Ireland in search of traditional music and unaccompanied songs, which resulted in the most comprehensive archive of Northern music and song ever undertaken.

Leyden does not believe in collecting songs for mere academic interest; he passionately believes that they should be sung and passed on to other singers. He has been collecting folk songs since the early 1980s, and has amassed a large repertoire of songs. He continues to bring them to a wider audience as a singer in the northern style and is in constant demand for his 'singing' lectures, which have now brought him to Washington for the first time.

Maurice Leyden

This event was co-sponsored by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland

Rediscover Northern Ireland Events 2008: The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is the lead development agency for the arts in Northern Ireland. It is the main support for artists and arts organizations, offering a broad range of funding opportunities through our Exchequer and National Lottery funds.

American Folklife Center Logo The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American Folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the American Folklife Center Archive of folk culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. Please visit our web site.


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