In this section we introduce you to the key individuals in the Dusty Bluebells Project. Hugh Shields, the collector; Lisa Shields curator and illustrator, and of course the 66 performers whose voices and songs are the heart of this collection.

Hugh Shields (1929–2008)

Dr Hugh Shields (1929—2008) grew up in Belfast. His mother and father both liked singing and were familiar with children’s street rhymes and songs. After a secondary education at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, he went on to study at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). He graduated in 1952 with a first-class BA in modern languages and literature. He later returned to lecture at TCD, principally in mediaeval French literature, and became a fellow of the college.

Hugh first encountered traditional folksong as part of living community culture in 1953, when he spent a year teaching in Coleraine in north Derry. There he formed a lasting friendship with singer Eddie Butcher of Magilligan. This experience, combined with his extensive field collecting, led him to research on the traditional song of Ireland, Britain, and Europe, and deepened his professional interest in medieval culture and popular art.

He published books, articles, and sound recordings on the subject of traditional song. His study, Narrative Singing in Ireland: Lays, Ballads, Come-all-yes and Other Songs (1993), has become a standard work on the subject.

Nicholas Carolan writes:

“Hugh Shields collected songs (words and music) in the field for some forty years, at first on paper and then on magnetic tape, mainly in his vacation time. Most were in English, but he also made valuable collections in Donegal in Irish and in France in Occitan and French. The Irish songs are found in all the narrative and lyric forms of the tradition, and their subjects likewise range over the spectrum: love, work, religion, praise of place, emigration, drinking, politics, comic incidents, death, national and local history, and the rest. He also collected riddles, children’s rhymes, stories, talk about songs and their sources, and a small amount of instrumental music when the occasion arose in social singing contexts … The material, valued for its own sake and shared whenever possible, formed an archival seed-bed from which came over the years radio programmes, articles, public lectures at music festivals and summer schools, commercial sound recordings, and books.”

— Nicholas Carolan, “Hugh Shields and Irish traditional music,” Béaloideas: the journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society 85 (2017), pp. 223—241

Hugh and Lisa Shields donated to ITMA over 200 original audio tapes of field recordings made in Co Derry, other parts of Ireland and in France, as well as many manuscripts, off-prints, books, and serials. Among these are Folk Music Society of Ireland publications written or edited by Hugh Shields (some available for download from ITMA’s digital library).

In addition, Hugh Shields made several editorial contributions to ITMA:

Hugh Shields and Irish traditional music

Carolan, Nicholas, 'Hugh Shields and Irish traditional music.' Béaloideas: The Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society vol. 85 (2017). 

An article documenting Hugh Shields's extensive contribution to Irish traditional music is available to read in the viewer below. It is also available to download under the conditions of use noted below.

With sincere thanks to The Folklore of Ireland Society/An Cumann le Béaloideas Éireann for permission to include this article in the exhibition.

Please note conditions of use: Copyright of Béaloideas: The Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society is the property of Folklore of Ireland Society and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.

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Lisa Shields

Lisa Shields, a graduate in modern languages from Trinity College Dublin, worked for the Irish Meteorological Service for many years as Librarian / Translator. Since the 1990s she has been a session player of the anglo concertina and a student of the uilleann pipes.

Following  her marriage to Hugh Shields, she accompanied him on many of his field-recording expeditions. Together with Hugh she edited ITMA’s second volume from the 19th-century James Goodman manuscripts: Tunes of the Munster Pipers, completing the work after Hugh’s final illness. After Hugh’s death she edited for ITMA his unpublished book (with 3 CDs) All the Days of His Life: Eddie Butcher in His Own Words. Songs, Stories and Memories of Magilligan, Co Derry.

Lisa has made an invaluable editorial contribution to the Dusty Bluebells Exhibition. She has provided detailed information on the materials included in the project and guided the narrative on the chronology and descriptions. She has identified and processed the sound recordings and added Roud numbers to the individual song notes. Lisa has also created the 2019 PDF edition of Dusty Bluebells, an amalgamation of Hugh’s 1970, 1971 and 1975 versions of the text, and included her own 1970s pen-and-ink illustrations.


The performers in Dusty Bluebells are a truly inter-generational and varied group. They range from a four-year-old joining in while being dandled and bounced by his grandfather, to an eighty-seven-year old with a remarkably strong voice singing an amusing pastiche. 

Full list of performers and links to their playlists