Documentary on One

Song Collector

A radio documentary on the last full time professional collector of traditional song in Ireland, Tom Munnelly (First Broadcast 1984)

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Song Collector

Tom Munnelly was born on May 25th 1944 in Rathmines in Dublin.

In his mid teens, whilst at a scout camp, he became interested in folk songs. Shortly after he acquired a tape recorder – and the rest as they say is history – well, as a result of his tape recorder, a living history.

In 1965 Tom met an Irish Traveller John "Jacko" Reilly and recorded "The Maid and the Palmer". He called it "The Well Below The Valley". This set Tom off on a lifetime of song collecting.

He was introduced to D.K. Wilgus, professor of Anglo-American folk song. In 1969 Munnelly became Wilgus's assistant.

In 1970 Tom founded the Cumann Cheoil Tíre Éireann (the Folk Music Society of Ireland) together with Breandán Breathnach. In 1971 he joined Breathnach at the Department of Irish folklore at University College Dublin, eventually becoming the only full time professional collector of songs in Ireland.

Tom recorded over 20,000 songs of folksong and folklore during his lifetime.

In 1978 he relocated from Dublin to County Clare. He married Annette and had three children. He was chairman of the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin from 1987 to 1993.

This documentary, ‘Song Collector’, was recorded in 1984 when Tom was in full health and at the height of his powers in song collecting.

On 19 June 2007 he received an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland at Galway for services to Irish traditional music.

Almost 25 years after this documentary was made, the 'Documentary on One' revisited Tom and made a further documentary on his life. This is available in to listen on this page.

Tom Munnelly died on August 30th 2007 in Miltown Malbay, County Clare.

Song Collector was produced by Cathal Goan

For further information on Tom, click here

First broadcast 12th Decemeber 1984.

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.

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