Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Thomas Davis was a significant figure in the flourishing movement of cultural nationalism in mid-nineteenth-century Ireland. A cofounder of _The Nation_, Davis used the journal’s pages as a medium through which to promote a nationalist vision for Ireland distinctive for its nonsectarian appeal. Along with impassioned editorial prose, Davis employed poetry and song to carry his message to the public. “Young Ireland,” as Davis and his colleagues became known, focused their efforts especially on the traditional Irish song, elevating it as a symbol for their cultural heritage while harnessing its emotional power to strengthen their political cause. The songs printed in _The Nation_ quickly became one of the journal’s most popular features, spawning the publication of an 1843 anthology entitled _Spirit of the Nation_. The songbook itself was popular enough to warrant multiple reissues in the years that followed. Davis, as Young Ireland’s chief lyricist, successfully revitalized the tradition of political songwriting. And yet, despite their broad ramifications for Irish culture, several aspects of Davis’s legacy remain unexamined. How did Davis select the melodies for his songs, and how did he fashion new texts for them? To what extent did Davis use music in his nationalist movement? Did he engage with the traditional repertory beyond its mere political expediency? Through a careful analysis of Davis’s lyrics in the context of nationalist politics, an examination of his song tunes in the context of Irish folklore, and a close reading of his notes and correspondence, this dissertation explores Davis’s approach to creating his influential songs and the way in which he employed music in his nationalist campaign. I also identify Davis’s personal engagement with traditional music and assess his role within the larger antiquarian movement in Ireland. Last, by examining Davis’s musical and nationalist influences, I place his Young Ireland movement within a broader European and Irish context. Already well known to scholars of Irish literature and history, Davis emerges from my study a towering figure of Irish music as well.



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Committee Chair

Boutwell, Brett



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Music Commons