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: