I was born in Northern Ireland in a little town called Craigavon in County Armagh in 1997. I came from a strong Irish Catholic family until my mother found the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and moved us to America. Growing up, I was always aware of my Irish heritage and proud of it. So, when I came across the works of Thomas Moore in University found out that he was Irish, I wished to learn more about him. Even more, when I found out what time he lived in, I grew more interested. In my last semester of University to obtain a BA in History and a Minor in English, I had to take Senior Thesis. In that class we had to write a 20-25 page paper on a topic of our choice. The topic I chose (the Northern Irish Troubles from 1968-1998) led to me spending much of my research time studying the centuries of Irish and English interactions that occurred prior to this. So, when I saw just what time period Thomas Moore was born in, I wanted to see if any of it affected his writing.
Born in Dublin, Ireland on May 28, 1779 in a Catholic family, Thomas Moore lived during a truly interesting time of Irish history. In the year of his birth, though the island of Ireland was already heavily controlled by its sister island, it was still technically independent and an official nation. Yet, by the time that Thomas Moore was 22, the Act of Union would be passed, effectively bringing about the creation of the United Kingdom. With this Act, Scotland, England, and Ireland united under the name of ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’. This Act would continue to hold effect until 1921 when–upon the War of Irish Independence–the Anglo-Irish Treaty was passed, allowing the lower 32 counties of the island of Ireland to break off from Great Britain (the six northern countries stayed within the UK and became known as Northern Ireland). Thomas Moore would die on February 25, 1852, meaning that he also lived through the time period of the Irish Famine that lasted from 1845 until 1849. With so many important events occurring during his life, this Irish poet allows people in modern times to look back on that time period through the study of his writing.
In wishing to find out more, I read the various ballads that are found in his major poetic work, Irish Melodies which is a collection of around 130 ballads that he wrote and set to music with the help of Sir John Stevenson. It was this collection of 130 ballads that I focused my portfolio on, finding the lyrics of each of them as well as recordings of the music or merely the sheet music that existed, trying a few of the tunes out on my flute to get a small glimpse of how it would sound when I couldn’t find a recording. It was a lot of fun working on this, seeing the beautiful tunes these two men came up with and just how they added to the poetic words that were written by Thomas Moore. Each tune has a soothing feel to it, and to me has almost a pastoral atmosphere. I learned in researching this work of his that much of the music was based on traditional Irish music, often free with no strict pattern or meter to it. There is an innocent feel to many of the tunes, fitting songs of love, of nature, of life. Yet, there are also many hidden messages and stories in his various poems set to music- scenes of battle, of mourning, of sad events, of melancholy remembrances, of dark statements of slavery and death.
It truly is a sharp contrast seen here in these poems set to music, I have learned through studying them. In them, I can see peekings of the history that Thomas Moore lived through- of the Irish rebellions and sufferings which would culminate with the four years of Great Famine that would lead to deaths of 1 million Irish citizens and another million sent abroad and away from their homeland. Here in these lilting tunes and poems is found the history of Ireland that Thomas Moore lived through in his life, suffering that he was powerless to stop.
Timeline of Thomas Moore’s Life and Works
May 28, 1779- Thomas Moore is born in Dublin, Ireland to a Irish Catholics John and Anastasia Moore.
1798- Irish Rebellion led by Edward Fitzgerald.
1799- Moore graduated from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, having been allowed to attend despite the Penal laws that existed prohibiting Catholics from attending.
1799- Moore traveled to London to study law at Middle Temple.
1801- Act of Union was passed that unified Ireland, Scotland, and England into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
1803- Second Irish Rebellion led by Moore’s friend, Robert Emmet.
1803- Moore appointed registrar to the Admiralty in Bermuda. Led to him living there and afterwards traveling around the United States and Canada.
1804- Moore arrived back in Britain through means of the Royal Navy.
1806- Moore wrote Odes, Epistles, and other Poems; was insulted, leading to duel with critic Jeffrey.
1806-1807- Moore changed his writings at the request of Irishmen James and William Power, leading to him writing lyrics to Irish tunes.
1807-1834- Moore wrote the various ballads for his Irish Melodies.
1808-1810- Moore occasionally joined the Kilkenny Players for charity-based performances filled with professional Irish actors.
1811- Moore married actress Elizabeth ‘Bessy’ Dyke. Wrote a comic opera named M.P.. Spent the next decade writing various political satires.
1817- While living in London with his family, Moore wrote his work Lalla Rookh. His daughter Anna Barbara would die this year at the age of 5.
1818- Moore wrote The Fudge Family in Paris. Started his biography of Richard Brinsley Sheridan.
1819- Due to monetary problems, Moore was forced to leave Britain and ended up touring the European Continent (spent time with Lord Byron in Venice where he was given Byron’s memoirs and was made his literary executor).
1825- Moore published Memoirs of the Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan.
1829- Moore was painted by Thomas Lawrence. His daughter Anastasia Mary died this year at age 17. His daughter Olivia would also die later after only living a few months.
1829- the Catholic Relief Act was passed, ending much of the discrimination that existed legally against Catholics in Ireland. This led to Moore stepping away from politics.
1830- Moore edited and published Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, with Notices of his Life, six years after Lord Byron’s death.
1830- Moore sang for the future Queen Victoria as a duet with Victoria’s mother (later on he would write the song ‘Sovereign Woman’ in tribute to her).
1831- Moore wrote the Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, who was the 1798 Irish Rebellion’s leader.
1835- Moore wrote The Fudge Family in England, a sequel to his 1818 work The Fudge Family in Paris.
1842- The death of Moore’s son John Russell at 19 years of age.
1845-1849- The Irish Famine, bringing much death and suffering for the Irish people.
1849- The death of Moore’s son Thomas Lansdowne at 27(the last of his five children).
February 26, 1852- After a stroke later in life which left him disabled and unable to perform for others, Moore died in Wiltshire, England in the care of his wife. He was buried at St. Nicholas churchyard beside his daughter Anastasia- the church yard was near his home.
Thomas Moore as a Person and Writer
Growing up, Thomas Moore was determined to become a lawyer. Much of his writing was good but generic. It wasn’t until 1806 and 1807 that this began to change, though. Due to the request of publishers James and William Power, Thomas Moore set out to write song lyrics to various Irish tunes following after Hayden’s backdrops of British folk songs. In this quest, he had Sir John Andrew Stevenson to help him with the musical factor, though Thomas Moore had always been a gifted musician as well. It was this request that led to the creation of his ten volumes of Irish Melodies which he and Stevenson worked on from 1808 until 1834. Around 130 songs were composed in this span of 20 or so years, many of them having become staples of Irish music. The most popular ones are ‘The Minstrel Boy’, ‘Let Erin Remember the Days of Old’, ‘The Last Rose of Summer’, and ‘Oft in the Stilly Night’.
This work was immensely popular and became the trademark of Thomas Moore. It led to him gaining an annual income of 500 pounds for the next 25 years of his life. In fact, it was these songs that set the poet up to be a recognized Irish Poet. Many of his most well known works are in this collection of 130 songs. Before this, Thomas Moore was known about, but it was truly this work that put him on the map in terms of literature. Thomas Moore’s lyrics were so popular that following the publication, many tried to collect as many copies as they could so that they could improve the music and tunes to each, believing that they were ‘too simplistic’ to fit with the beauty of Thomas Moore’s words.
Previously, much of his works were on political areas, so this was a complete shift of his writing style. It almost seems like the second he wrote these poems and sent them out into the world that he finally found what called to him. It was from this publication that he joined the ranks of Romantic Poets, due to the emotional nature of his lyrics as well as their connection to nature and love. It was this work that led to the popularity of his later works, such as the various biographies that he wrote for different important figures.
This work also bled into his life as a performer. Thomas Moore had always loved music and so had gravitated towards a life filled with it. It was during performances with the Killkenny Players that Thomas Moore met his future wife, Elizabeth ‘Bessy’ Dyke. He wrote many different plays and operas during and following the creation of this collection of Irish Melodies, often playing wherever he could. He acted often as well in various plays, specifically comical roles. It also allowed him to state his political and cultural identity in a more subtle way than before. Many of the songs are enjoyable to hear and listen to, but when you focus on the words or you look into the history of the songs, you find that they were written about Irish suffering and the pain many felt.
Take ‘The Minstrel Boy’ for instance; an incredibly popular song that he wrote in this collection and yet it is connected to the men who fought on the Irish side in the 1798 Irish Rebellion and shows them as honorable; and yet here he is performing this song and others for mostly English audiences. It was with these performances and the subtle lyrics that Thomas Moore probably hoped that those who were listening would begin to feel sympathy and maybe even support the Irish nationalists who were dissatisfied with Ireland’s new political connection to Great Britain after centuries of military and economic control of Ireland by its sister island.
Another important factor of this collection’s creation is that Thomas Moore’s Irish patriotism and support for the Irish nationalist cause made him an Irish hero in the eyes of many Irishmen and women. Here is this man who is incredibly popular, living in London and surrounded by the British Elite, but he was born an Irish Catholic in a time when many Irish were being treated as less than equals by the British. Who is out and proud about his country of origin and his own religion which was legally discriminated against in this time period. Yet Thomas Moore was able to push through all of that to become successful and still stood up for those who were suffering and struggling. It was this collection’s creation that really started the path and legacy of Thomas Moore as one of Ireland’s Greatest Poets and led to him still being remembered favorably in Ireland today.
It was this work that also heavily influenced Thomas Moore’s creation of the narrative poem Lalla Rookh (1817), which he wrote while still compiling the Irish Melodies. This narrative poem focused on the ‘Oriental majesty’ and is told in four narrative poems with prose connecting all of them. It was this poetic work that truly set Thomas Moore up as a contemporary of figures like Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott, said to be the poem that was translated the most of the time and gained a high price of payment for that period. The Irish Melodies truly changed and evolved Thomas Moore’s writing style to a more expressive type as each song played with various emotions of sadness, death, love, etc. so as to get across other political and cultural ideas and beliefs. It is this blended piece of work of music and lyrics that, when studied, is truly exquisite and shows just how incredible of an artist that Thomas Moore was.
One interesting critical essay on Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies is Leith Davis’ essay titled, ‘Irish Bards and English Consumers: Thomas Moore’s “Irish Melodies” and the Colonized Nation’. In this essay, Davis talks about how they are approaching their reading of the Irish Melodies as “products of a colonized country, taking into account the various factors influencing their conception, dissemination, and reception…to unfold and explain the multiple readings to which the Melodies have been subjected by both Irish and English readers”. Davis starts off by focusing on those who praise the collection as a show of Irish patriotism and of reclaiming the arts of Ireland that have either been suppressed or have been commandeered by other cultures. Others, such as the famous writer Yeats, disparage the work as the panhandling of a man who is using the terrible events in Ireland to gain money and success. Davis states that the Melodies are an extension of the work that Moore has already been creating since his time as a Trinity College student, where he sympathized with the Irish rebels and that this was merely expanding on that fact. Davis states the fact that Moore himself saw his Melodies as politically radical as it was aimed at the elites.
The female personification of Ireland, often called Erin, is seen throughout these 130 songs, showing the connection and loyalty that Moore plays to that. Others have revolutionary tinges to them and push for Irish liberty. Davis states that the popularity in England of these songs was more due to the “Romantic image of Irish defeat and subordination” at the hand of the great British Empire than any real sympathy. Davis also states that this work was a push to create an Irish national identity when Irish customs and independence were slowly being diminished. Davis states that Moore began to represent Ireland in the eyes of the English. It is true, though, that the Melodies were influenced by the popularity of Scottish melodies with English words, Davis states and that Moore had only been sought after by the Power brothers due to his work with classical literature, not his Irish heritage. At the end of the day, Davis states that the London market was too dominant for Moore to ignore, completely beating out any Irish industry.
A second article written by Leith Davis on this collection is titled, ‘A “truly National” Project: Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies and the Gendering of the British Cultural Marketplace’. In this article, Davis focuses on just how contrary the work itself was. Here is a man, born in Ireland yet working in London, writing a collection of Irish lyrics and poems all based on the idea that he wishes to reclaim the Irish identity and customs in a patriotic act. Yet it was incredibly popular in England, leading to Moore himself performing and reciting many of his Melodies for British citizens, these poems being ones that talk about Irish rebellion and suffering at the hand of the British themselves. Davis explores the early works of Moore in terms of his sympathy and support for Irish rebels, starting from college and continuing on in this pattern throughout his life.
Yet, despite Moore’s own cultural and political background, his Irish Melodies were created with a British audience in mind, meshing together Irish songs and music with British culture and society. Or how the two Irishmen who requested the work–James and William Power–chose to request it based on the work of Johnson with his books on Scottish melodies with English words. Or the fact that, though Moore was sympathetic to the Irish cause, he spent most of his adult life in England, making only the occasional visit to Ireland and how he even died and was buried in London. Davis also focuses on the publication debacle that occurred over the publication of this work between James and William Power and how, in the end, the publication seat of power for it was placed in London and not Dublin.
Yet, it is still a work that is trying to pull together and keep an Irish identity; an identity that is often being dominated by the British identity. Davis then goes into an analysis of the different texts that make up the Melodies, sussing out the meanings and political implications of each one Davis explores. It’s here that Davis reaches the gendered part of the essay, stating how due to the popularity of the work mostly residing with females, that the work itself (and all of Moore’s other work) gained a feminine veneer to the public as a piece of female consumption.
Another interesting critical take on this work is Una Hunt’s ‘Source and Style in Moore’s Irish Melodies’. In this, Hunt focuses on the lasting effect that this collection has had on literature, music, and politics in the case of Ireland and Britain, something that many in the time period it was written in (even Moore himself included) saw as his greatest work that would most likely be the one to continue to be read centuries later. Hunt focuses on the revival of Moore’s work that she has seen happening in the past twenty years in British and Irish literature, especially with the connection his Melodies have with the political events that occurred at the times such as the 1798 rebellion and Moore’s friend, Robert Emmet. Hunt explores how the Irish patriotism and suffering that is spoken about in Moore’s collection is becoming more clear and understandable now.
Hunt focuses on how Thomas Moore’s performing abilities blended well into the advertisement of this work as he often read or performed them for different gatherings over the years. Hunt explores how the wide-reaching impact of this work in Moore’s own time allowed this work to stand out in the face of all of the Romantic Era works that were created in this time and even the other works by Moore to still be well-loved and studied today, its influence having even spread all the way to the Americas during Moore’s lifetime. Hunt focuses on how the Irish Melodies were created with it being based on George Thomson’s collection of Scottish Airs. She also studies the lyrical poetry that Moore created with these ballads as well as where this work fits into and is influenced by history. These are all the main points of her argument.
A third argument on this collection is made by Karen Tongson with her essay titled, ‘The Cultural Transnationalism of Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies’. In this essay, Tongson compares the success of Moore’s Melodies with the current popularity of Celtic sound, and how it was this popularity in Moore’s time that led him to continue to spread the Irish culture. Tongson explores the influence of Moore’s efforts on cultural nationalism in this time period, arguing that Moore is taking advantage of the international market by using direct and emotional imagery through his collection. Tongson states that the enticing nature of Moore’s collection allows it to be widely accepted by different audiences despite the colonial aspect that is often mentioned inside. Tongson tries to understand this idea through the cultural and political implications of Moore’s actions in writings and spreading this work.
Tongson states that Moore’s explanation as to why he wrote this book, directly pulls the idea of national identities into any discussion on the work, showing who he wishes his audience to be. Tongson states that this work is directly pointed towards those in the upper class, in Moore’s effort to get them to talk about such matters and to begin to understand the issues mentioned in his collection. Moore is truly trying to appeal to the English in his Melodies in order to push forward the Irish cause. Tongson also points out that Moore was not alone in being criticized by this work, but that his fellow composer Sir John Stevenson was criticized for the nationalistic and cultural implications found in the work as, while the words were seen as ‘too Irish’, the music was influenced by Handel and Haydn, making it ‘not Irish enough’. It is the cultural implications of Moore’s Melodies that Tongson focuses on the most.
My Creative Response
What can one say when others ache?
What can they do to bring about change?
What can they do when faced with oblivion-
Of culture, of life, of identity, of being?
Do they act with anger, tempers unchecked?
Do they plead for mercy from the ones in control?
Do they seek a middle ground in a bid for peace?
Or do they merely sink into the ground without a move?
What can one man do, when facing such odds?
When through Britannica his dear Erin has nearly dissolved?
More must be done, he calls, something must evolve.
Yet, no one listens, and so he chooses to be that switch.
For music can reach into the depths of men’s hearts,
Playing strings in a way that reverberates beyond what can be seen.
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“Bio.” Una Hunt, https://unahunt.com/bio.
Davis, Leith. “A ‘Truly National’ Project: Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies and the Gendering of the British Cultural Marketplace.” Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, edited by Lawrence J. Trudeau, vol. 283, Gale, 2014. Gale Literature Resource Center, https://link-gale-com.byui.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/H1420116767/LitRC?u=byuidaho&sid=LitRC&xid=be20640f. Accessed 17 July 2020. Originally published in Music, Postcolonialism, and Gender, U of Notre Dame P, 2006, pp. 140-163.
Davis, Leith. “Irish Bards and English Consumers: Thomas Moore’s” Irish Melodies” and the Colonized Nation.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 24.2 (1993).
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