Jazz, Identity and Sexuality in Ireland during the Interwar Years

Johannah Duffy

The musical conjurings of place created by jazz in the interwar period created a musical mode of identification and othering. This paper examines how these changes in cultural phenomena occur, for example, how the ‘sacred’, might decline, or change. It also highlights the enormously significant role culture played – even, perhaps, served as one of the main causal factors – in the historical transition of Ireland to modernity. The aim of this work is to effectively appreciate the institutional relations that are involved in the production of Irish culture; how this culture is semiotically structured and coded, and the ways in which culture is actively interpreted by agents in asymmetrical relations of power. Music allows us to construct the past, to represent it in endless ways; it also creates a space in which to contest appropriations, interpretations and mythologizing tendencies. As musical taste and dance is informed by numerous conditions- what an individual values and enjoys varies: from urban to rural settings, from region to region, from generation to generation. And these individual musical tastes are subsumed into or struggle against larger, regional or national narratives that society perpetually reconstructs. This paper shows how the music of jazz sent successive shock waves throughout the conservative mass culture, and how these explosions left lasting marks on Irish social landscape. Ireland has struggled with questions of personal and national identity in the face of colonial dimensions that determines the questions we ask, the research we do, the lessons we teach, and the policies we shape. That such questions are posed is important to a larger understanding of the way in which the music of jazz functioned in Irish culture.

This study therefore proposes the creation and development of a quickly-paced musical and visual montage, using easily identifiable elements to tell a brief story about the reception of jazz in Ireland during the 1920s and 1930s. The story will answer the important questions: What is jazz? Where did it come from? Where does it fit into the Irish past, present and future? Tracing this music of black America, beginning with ragtime at the turn of the century, sent successive shock waves throughout the white mass culture, and how these explosions left lasting marks on Irish social landscape. An amalgam of people with diverse cultural influences and social conditions all came together and spawned what we call Jazz. On the East Bank of the Mississippi, 107 miles above the mouth of the Mother of Rivers, this Queen City of the Deep South was to be found. [1] The teeming life of the New Orleans streets called into being a new, earthy music which was the cultural complement to a new social environment. [2]

Jazz flowered into a unique art form in spite of appalling racial and musical prejudice and hysterical attacks by the press, the pulpit, and the proper music schools who regarded this body-based music as a sexual and cultural threat. Jazz was viewed as a lewd threat, a degenerate noise of a despised and impoverished subculture. In some ways, jazz music served as a fulcrum to overturn centuries-old fears and misunderstandings. Jazz not only reflected but also anticipated radical social change within both the United States and Ireland. Major shifts in the attitudes and behaviour of black jazz musicians and the white counter culture first took place among the community of jazz musicians and audiences.

The social effects of World War One, the War of Independence and Civil War on Irish society, in particular echoed this radical social change whether they led to the loosening of sexual taboos and changes in sexual meanings among the young, is increasingly becoming a vital area of research. It is clear that by the late 1920s public concern was being expressed about perceived ‘recent’ changes in sexual behaviour. On 2 March 1929, for example, The Irish Times carried an editorial in which, pointing to the evidence of recent trials and police reports, the writer expressed the fear that the ultimate result of a new sexual laxity was criminal acts such as rape and infanticide. Infanticide, it reported, had become a ‘national industry’, and was symptomatic of ‘general looseness of manners, contempt for moral decencies that are a wholly new feature of Irish life’ (Healy).

Dancing and Sexuality and the Church in Ireland

A protracted war of independence and a bitter civil war left the new Irish Free State with economic and social problems of enormous proportions- the economy and infrastructure were ravaged, unemployment and ill- health were endemic and the wounds of civil war were far from healed. But the agenda of perhaps the most powerful organised force in the country, the Catholic Church, was noticeably different. The role of the Catholic Church in identifying sexual ‘immorality’ as a social problem in this period has been widely investigated (White, 1971; Keogh 1986). Within the Lenten pastorals of 1924 the leaders made their preoccupations ecstatically clear: ‘The Irish bishops in their Lenten pastorals refer to the existence of many abuses. Chief among these may be mentioned women’s fashions, immodest dress, indecent dancing, theatrical performances and cinema exhibitions, evil literature, drink, strikes and lock-outs’ (History Ireland 51).

Among this litany of putative abuses, one obsession remained constant and central for the next decade: the dance attributed to the morals of the young posed by unlicensed dance halls and unsupervised dancing of any sort. This popular rural pastime became a classic terrain of fantasy projection and pseudo knowledge, involving a potent view of alleged sources of evil and degradation: cars, darkness, jazz music and the prospect of illicit and unsupervised dalliance between the sexes. Just as the advent of the railways was treated with horror by a section of Victorian England, and bicycle was condemned by The Times in 1898 as adding an ominous dimension of mobility to the ‘organised terrorism of the streets’, the motor car was seen as an instrument of seduction in the hands of unscrupulous males, Cardinal MacRory in his pastoral letter of 1931 stressed the danger of too much mobility: Even the present travelling facilities make a difference. By bicycle, motor car and bus, boys and girls can now travel great distances to dances, with result that a dance in the quietest country parish may now be attended by unsuitables from a distance (History Ireland 51).

The clergy were not against dancing in principle – as long as the dances were Irish (confined, of course, to the modest ceili dances and not the wider and less restrained set dances) and the supervision was close. It is clear that both by its public statements and by covert lobbying, and increasingly politically aggressive Catholic hierarchy pressurized the government to use legislation to impose Catholic moral norms on the state, arguing that non-Catholic objectors should be told that ‘a Catholic state and has a right to what is called a Catholic Morality’(Keogh 161). [3] During the 1920s a number of Catholic moral purity movements led by male clergy, such as Jesuit social worker Fr R.S. Devane, and laymen, like Frank Duff of the newly founded Legion of Mary, highlighted what they considered ‘moral’ as much as social problems: the influence of foreign ‘obscene’ newspapers and literature, loss of parental control over young single girls, rising numbers of unmarried mothers, sexual ‘laxity’ and prostitution. Why did the Church focus on sexuality in the 1920s? Why did the state legislate on the lines demanded by the Church? Is there evidence that growing socio-moral problems warranted this response?

Three government reports of the period, the 1927 Report of the Committee on Evil Literature, the 1927 Report of the Commission on the Relief of the Sick and Destitute Poor including the Insane Poor (referred to below as the poor law commissioners’ report), and the unpublished 1931 Report of the Committee on the Criminal Law Amendment Acts (1880-5) and Juvenile Prostitution (referred to below as the Carrigan Report) assessed contemporary socio-moral problems and suggested guidelines for legislation. These reports provide some indication of why legislation relating to birth control, dancing, unmarried mothers, sexual assaults and prostitution was introduced during this period.

The Carrigan committee was appointed to consider the legislative changes required to address problems of sexual crime and prostitution, gathered information in 1930-1, after the implementation of the 1929 ban on both contraceptive advertising and literature advocating birth control. Witnesses to the Carrigan committee pointed to the loss of parental control during ‘a period of upheaval’, ignoring of the admonitions in bishops’ pastorals, opportunities for ‘immorality’ offered in dance-halls and ‘picture houses’, and the ‘misuse of motor cars for luring girls’, as causes of the problem (Carrigan Report 12-13). The committee’s report suggested that Irish women were less advanced in coping with sexuality than their English counterparts:

Generally speaking Irish girls of 16-18 years of age, by nature, habits and training, possess less knowledge and experience of the moral and physical dangers to which they are sexually exposed. They are less capable of protecting themselves against such dangers than are girls at the same period of life in England, for these are mostly brought up from childhood accustomed to live in gregarious surroundings, which instil in them instincts of ‘canniness’ and self-discipline that the conditions of Irish agricultural life do not foster (Carrigan Report 17).

Such evidence suggests to the reader that the solution adopted during this period were inadequate to deal with genuine social problems: problems as much related to poverty, education and lack of opportunities for women in the Free State as to questions of morality. It is also clear that, not only in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but in the succeeding decade, in Irish society different class experience and class-related sexual meanings emerged, though to identify the factors involved in this, and to establish whether it was related to social upheavals of the First World War, War of Independence and Civil War requires further study. It also seems clear that as Ireland was in the process of adapting to independence, sexuality became a focus for a paternalistic Church and government in their efforts to construct a stable, Catholic society. The legislation and social policies introduced at this time, they created an impression that the state required conformity to Catholic norms – an impression which may have disguised rather than altered the fact that Irish society was complex and multi-faceted and that individual were subject to many influences both within the state and, given the new media, from abroad.

Simultaneously pressure for constraints on the dance halls was becoming intense. The Gaelic League re-launched its anti-jazz campaign in 1934 with a statement very much in tune with the sentiments of the bishops:

It is this music and verse that the Gaelic League is determined to crush…Its influence is denationalising in that its reference are to things foreign to Irishmen: that it is the present day instrument of social degradation is all too plain, even in Ireland. That was the reason for re-launching of the anti-jazz campaign, the reason it received the blessing of the church and the approval of the state (History Ireland 53).

‘It was eventually decided the dance halls should be the subject of separate legislation, which it passed in 1935 without debate in Dáil. The act was draconian, making it practically impossible to go to dances without the sanction of a ‘trinity of clergy, police and judges’ (History Ireland 54). It is generally accepted that the Public Dance Hall Act was enacted in response to pressure on the Government by some members of the Catholic Hierarchy. Almost from the date of its introduction it was been believed ironically to be a significant factor in the decline in the practice of traditional music in rural Ireland, particularly the decline in the house dances and crossroads dances. It was believed that the Act prohibited these activities, and that it was enacted specifically to discourage them. Writing in Dal gCais in 1977, Junior Crehan said:

the Dance Hall Act was passed. The Act banned the house dances and anybody holding such a dance after this was brought to Court and fined. The clergy started to build the parochial halls to which all were expected to go and the Government collected 25% of the ticket-tax. In these halls modern dance bands played a different type of music for a different style of dancing – Foxtrot, One-Step and Shimmy-shake. But country people found it hard to adjust and to them dance halls were not natural places of enjoyment; they were not places for traditional music, storytelling and dancing; they were unsuitable for passing on traditional arts. The Dance Hall Act had closed our schools of tradition and left us a poorer people. In addition to this, in the 40s, the rate of emigration increased rapidly. The youth saw nothing in their own country but poverty, and Government and Church collected their Dance-Hall dues from a falling population. The countryside was once more going through that terrible silence which it had suffered after the Famine, the silence of a departing people and a dying of music and song. These were indeed the black Forties (Crehan). [4]

The Impact of 2RN and the Concept of Nationality in Ireland

Irish broadcasting was established as a state service, 2RN, under direct control of the post office, a full year before John Reith was to persuade the British Government to reconstitute the BBC as an autonomous state service (McLoone 13). The cultural arguments mobilised in the Dáil against private enterprise involvement had won out and Irish broadcasting became one of the first wholly state-controlled services outside the Communist countries. Radio did not come into the world with its own readymade subject matter but had to look at pre-existing cultural forms for its ‘raw material’ (Gibbons 72). 2RN as the main broadcaster in Ireland during the interwar period was responsible for the provision of popular musical classics and was a substitute for the theatre, for the opera, for concerts, for lectures, for café music and for the local columns of the press. Radio, in other words, had to adjust itself to the prevailing cultural dynamic, and in Ireland this was closely identified with nationalism.

This is not unique to Ireland, but is the common inheritance of cultures subjected to the depredations of colonialism. As Paul Gilroy suggests in relation to the traumatic legacy of the ‘Black Atlantic’, ‘the concentrated intensity of the slave experience is something that marked out blacks as the first truly modern people, handling in the nineteenth century dilemmas and difficulties which would only become the substance of everyday life in Europe a century later’ (Gilroy 221). Due to the similar uprooting of Irish experience after the atrocities of the 1798 rebellion and the devastation of the Great Famine, previous interaction with mainland European culture proved productive for the Irish people precisely because they were carrying with them the nightmare of Irish history, the ‘ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry’ of the Irish political landscape. (Joyce 25 cited in Gibbons 6)

This insight was echoed in the words spoken in Dáil Eireann on 15 February 1924 by Major Bryan Cooper, Independent T.D. for Co. Dublin:

It is my very deep and profound conviction…that we cannot set up a Chinese wall around the country, or establish an exclusive civilization. If we wish to do that, let there be no wireless broadcasting […]. In the past-the distant past-we influenced Europe profoundly and I hope it will be our lot to so again. We shall not do it by pursuing a policy of isolation and by shutting out the education that comes from European civilization (Dáil Debates 6.1120).

The occasion was a debate on the Second Interim Report of the Special Committee established by the Dáil to investigate the structures and financing of a broadcasting service for the Free State. What is significant about this debate is that, while ostensibly it was concerned with the mechanisms for establishing a broadcasting service, in reality it broadened out to address wider issues of broadcast policy and its relationship to cultural identity. In particular, the debate was concerned with the potential of broadcasting to mediate and promote notions of national consciousness as well as its power to disseminate cultural expression and values from outside. For at the centre of the debate lie the aspirations of an emerging post-colonial nation and its apprehensions about a form of cultural imperialism associated with the power of broadcasting, only half- glimpsed at the time, but the nonetheless clearly enunciated. The fact that ‘the Chinese Wall’ which he warned about was indeed constructed around the new state and Ireland entered a forty year period of economic and cultural isolation. The new medium of radio broadcasting was mobilised behind this cultural project of ‘nation-building’ (McLoone 8).

At the end of 1923, when the Postmaster-General, J.J. Walsh introduced the White Paper, the government had still not legalised wireless ownership even though thousands of Irish people already owned receivers illegally and were tuning into the BBC as well as other continental services. Given the weak economy of the Free State and the ‘parlous state of public finances’ the first suggestion, set out in a White Paper, was that the station should be run along commercial lines so that it would not be a burden on the national exchequer. In reality the fact that British broadcasting was available in this way to the Irish audience before an Irish service was inaugurated was the significant factor in much of the debate that ensued. The purely economic logic of the White Paper ‘was replaced by a collective feeling among Deputies that the important national and cultural aims of broadcasting should not be left to the whims of private enterprise’ (Dáil Debates 7.384). When the Special Committee recommended that the state should own and manage the station in the national interest and that in the interim, while the new service was being established, licences were issued immediately to allow for the legal ownership of wireless receivers, Walsh seized on both points to make a tetchy rebuttal during the debates of February 1924. ‘We have legalised law breakers. We have deprived this country of a broadcasting station; we have turned it over to British music hall dope and British propaganda….’ (6.1085).

This debate marks the early appearance of an argument about media imperialism, which was a constant refrain in the debates on broadcasting in the Dáil over the next two decades, very often articulated through regrets at the amount of dance music or ‘jazz’ that was played on national radio. The debates of February and April of 1924 were not about the national aims of broadcasting- there was a general consensus on this, perhaps summed up by Patrick Hogan from Clare on 3 April. ‘I am mainly interested in this matter from one angle, that of the Irish language, Irish literature, Irish culture and Irish music’ (6.2864). This preference for an Irish Identity was generally accepted but was driven by a xenophobic fear of all things foreign. In particular, what Walsh referred to as the ‘Gaelic spirit’ was promoted against a fear and loathing of popular forms of broadcasting and this attitude was eventually focused on modern dance music, generically referred to as ‘jazz’. One of the Dáil’s many opponents of jazz music was Deputy Kehoe, from Fianna Fáil. In the annual debate of 25 March 1936, he was asked to define what he meant by the term and responded: ‘It seems to me to be a cross between a waltz and all-in wrestling’ (6.1.378). Historical understanding is crucial to overcoming the alienation induced by this derogatory stereotyping and cultural otherness evident in the reception and appreciation of jazz. The campaign against modern music was certainly vigorous and sometimes unreasonable- sometimes, as well, mischievous and light- hearted- but it reflected the censorship climate of Ireland in these years and throws up some interesting parallels for political culture in contemporary Ireland. It is worth a closer look.

Indeed only one year after 2RN hit the airwaves, in a rather unpleasant and extreme piece in the Irish Radio Review of March 1927, a regular contributor, who signed himself/ herself ‘AZ’, wrote:

I know that my feet will begin to tap the floor if I hear a Jazz-band strike up a tune. I know that the natural instinct is for me to move my body in all sorts of ridiculous ways that my ancestors discarded years ago… But I ask, is that all that Jazz can do? Can it not wake other animal instincts in me? Has it not other than ‘nigger’ qualities. I, for one, do not want to ape the nigger. I wonder if all those who profess to go into an ecstasy when they hear the haunting strains of the ‘Hoola- Hoola- Blues’, or such-like clap-trap, know that it is nothing short of a reversal to the primitive, when they allow themselves to be carried away by such arrant nonsense (Irish Radio Review). [5]

The protectionist nature of Irish cultural nationalism may not always have descended to such low levels of racist abuse and ignorance but it was, nonetheless, xenophobic, paranoid and authoritarian in equal measure so that the national culture that was to be protected and promoted by broadcasting was increasingly defined in a stifling narrow and oppressive manner. This concern over jazz was particularly focused on the increasing number of sponsored programmes, which, from the early 1930s onwards, became central to the finances of broadcasting. The context of this slowly simmering debate is interesting. Sponsored programmes quickly drew large audiences and an increase in the station’s advertising revenue. However, they raised a number of interrelated issues for their critics. It was the general policy of the Post Office to insist that only advertisements for Irish goods and services were to be allowed on air or advertisements for items that were not produced in Ireland and therefore offered no competition to native manufacturing. Sponsored programmes were put together by sponsors themselves and often depended on popular music formats for maximizing the audience. This gave rise to two complaints. First, there was a worry that the dependence on ‘foreign’ music and gramophone records meant that native musicians and bands were denied as much employment as they might otherwise expect from national broadcasting. Secondly, there was a feeling that these sponsored programmes promoted a foreign culture at odds with the high ideals of Irish nationalism and this more nebulous worry was to dominate most discussions on the topic. [6] Always behind this worry there lay the fear that the music itself was morally reprehensible, encouraging base emotions in listeners and leading to an unacceptable level of moral laxity (or the occasion of moral laxity).

Two definitions of cultural identity emerge here; there is a struggle between a tradition which is slowly being invented, re-invented and imposed and a modernity that announces itself popular forms and hints at an exciting world beyond the narrow confines of officially sanctioned national culture. What emerges from these early debates on broadcasting is a contradiction. On the one hand, the new state-sponsored system of broadcasting that was unique in Europe at this time. This was predicated on the foresight that the new medium was going to be a powerful influence in the construction of a sense of national identity and in mediating the influences of the culture of the outside world. It was premised on a feeling that purely commercial broadcasting would merely play to the needs of its investors rather than the needs and desires of the people. On the other hand, however, a certain defensiveness and suspicion of the new medium meant that it remained underfunded for many years and poorly equipped to offer the kind of alternative to the outside world that was originally intended. As can be seen in the words of Fr R.S. Devane when he wrote of the changing fortunes of the Gaelic revival in the first decade of the century noted ‘Native music and have given way to jazz, crooning, and the dances of African primitives’. While in the early 1940s, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs sought belatedly to reverse this trend by banning ‘jazz and crooning’ from the airwaves, as if it was only the false allure of popular music which was preventing Irish people from appreciating their true heritage. [7]

The Gaelic League was also quick to condemn politicians who were seen as behaving in an ‘anti-national’ fashion. The Secretary of the League, attacking the broadcasting of jazz on Radio Eireann, had this to say about the minister responsible: Our Minister of Finance has a soul buried in jazz and is selling the musical soul of the nation for the dividends of sponsored jazz programmes. He is jazzing every night of the week (History Ireland 54). A number of County Council adopted resolutions condemning jazz and all-night dancing and District Justices took up the refrain talking of the dangers of ‘nigger music’ and the ‘orgy of unrestricted all-night dances’. In January 1934 a large demonstration took place in Mohill, County Leitrim. It was made up mostly of young people and the press estimated the attendance at 3,000, with five bands and banners inscribed with ‘DOWN WITH JAZZ’ and ‘OUT WITH PAGANISM’. The campaign was given official state blessing in a letter from Eamonn De Valera: I sincerely hope that the efforts of Conradh na Gaeilge in your county to restore national forms dancing will be successful and within the reasonable hours which have always been associated with Irish entertainment (History Ireland 53).

It follows from this that nationalism, as it emerges in an anti-colonial frame, is radically different from the imperious, aggrandizing forms it assumes in the great colonial or world powers. It is worth remembering that cultural representations do not simply come after the event, reflecting experience or embellishing it with aesthetic form, but significantly alter and shape the ways we make sense of our lives. Identity is not simply a given which springs into position, fully formed, and still less is it transmitted through telepathy, by a mystical communion between members of a culture. Irish cultural identity, therefore, does not pre-exist its representations or material expressions, but is in fact generated and transformed by them- whether they take the form of mass media, literary genres such as the novel and drama, visual representations, or other cultural or symbolic practices. As Anthony D. Smith reminds us:

we cannot understand nations and nationalism simply as an ideology or form of politics but must treat them as cultural phenomena as well. That is to say, nationalism, the ideology and movement, must be closely related to national identity, a multidimensional concept, and extended to include a specific language, sentiments and symbolism (Gibbons 10).

Furthermore, it is worth noting that in postcolonial theory, nationalism itself has been recast as the ‘invention’ of the colonizer, the attribution to the colonized of those essential characteristic which distinguish the indigenous from the metropolitan culture (the supposed inferiority of these characteristics justifying the colonial conquest by emergent nationalist movements has been much commented on and has been the subject of much debate. The national is already deeply imbued with the ideologies of the oppressor, especially, and most debilitating, by its appropriation of colonialism’s essentialist definitions of difference. Thus the construction of ‘national’ difference, a prerequisite for a successful challenge to political and economic domination, is liable to be just as exclusivist and oppressive to internal minorities as the imperialist project was formerly to its colonial ‘other’. The Ireland at the centre of each of these statements is envisioned as an idealized and harmonious whole, where the individual, community, and nation become interchangeable and inseparable. As Benedict Anderson has argued, the emergence of modern national identities involves the creation of political communities, which are ‘imagined’ by its members as finite and internally coherent entities. The creation of national boundaries thus necessitates both processes of inclusion and of exclusion, along with an incumbent ideology which defines and embraces those who belong and rejects those who do not. A primary source of distinction is ‘culture’ in which ‘Native’ identities are preserved through the erection of ‘cultural fences’, which are portrayed as fixed, closed to the ‘other’ and exclusionary (Baumann). The perception of essential cultural ‘difference’ forms the basis of what Martin Barker has termed ‘The New racism’ (1981) that builds on the belief in ‘natural’ bounded units, which are distinguished from others through the possession of an in- built cultural knowledge, visioned as primordial and inviolable. ‘Culture’ then becomes a primary source and symbol of differentiation and boundary maintenance, in which ’nationhood’ and ‘way of life’ are indistinguishable: as Martin Barker writes, ‘The Nation is its “way of life”’ (17).

It is the perception of a ‘way of life’ under threat which forms the basis of Dr. Douglas Hyde’s vision, as stated in his speech at the opening of the station, underlining the difference between the cultural pedigree of the nation, and the artificial, political character of the state:

A nation cannot be made by Act of Parliament; no, not even by a Treaty. A nation is made from inside itself; it made first of all by its language, if it has one; by its music, songs, games, and customs…So, while not forgetting what is best in what other countries have to offer us, we desire to especially emphasize what we have derived from out Gaelic ancestors- from one of the oldest civilizations in Europe, the heritage of the Os and Macs who still make up the bulk of our country.

What this meant in political terms is that in Ireland after 1921, two states emerged in which the essentialist formulations of Irishness and Britishness dictated social and economic policy, ‘forging a politic which was insular, stifling, oppressive and intolerant of difference’ (McLoone 6). As we have seen the reception of jazz and the development of the media in Ireland has been constrained from the outset by the competing forces of the nation and the state, the ‘pleasure principle and the reality principle in Irish politics’. From the beginning, policy formation in Irish broadcasting operated under the assumption that the nation was already in place: only the state awaited completion as part of the unfinished business of securing a coherent Irish identity. The state derived its legitimacy from the existence of an antecedent nation, and thus the function of broadcasting was not to establish but to revitalize this nation, releasing the cultural energies which, it was believed, had accumulated over centuries. It was the state, in fact, which needed building, given the fragility of the political settlement after the Civil War.

The history of radio also demonstrates than when such an extreme position is adopted and influences cultural and economic policy than the people vote with their feet. In a larger sense, of course, they did this by leaving in their millions for Britain or the USA. Those who stayed, though, voted with their feet in another sense – despite official disapproval, they kept dancing to the ‘jazz’ tunes of modernity, clearly highlighting the music’s capacity to challenge a broad range of social conventions (as Marcuse, for example, has suggested). Jazz was both novel and, in origin, an art belonging to an autonomous subculture is significant for two reasons. First, because the machinery of commercial diffusion caught it, as it were, on the wing, in the middle of its formation and evolution. The reception of jazz was the opposite of phenomena like the ‘folk- music revival’, while at the same time the rapid spread of the music itself generated just such a taste for nostalgia and musical archaeology among the secondary public for jazz (Hobsbawm 266). Second, and more important, jazz was not received as a ‘Gebrauchsmusik’, another set of sounds to accompany dancing or beer-drinking, but as something symbolic and significant in itself. This is an important element in the Irish reception of jazz and it also highlights the reason why Jazz occupies a permanent place in the development of any nation’s progressive spirit.


1.Although sold by Napoleon to the United States in 1803 in the Louisiana Purchase, the memory of France persists in the name. Jazz was more or less an unconscious revolt of the individual against orthodox musical forms.
2.This was the city which produced jazz and “King” Buddy Bolden, Joe “King” Oliver, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, Freddie Keppard (cornets), Sydney “Pops” Bechet, Johnny Dodds (clarinets), Edward “Kid” Ory (trombone), Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, Clarence Williams (pianos) – and the white musicians headed by Dominic J. “Nick” la Rocca, leader of the now almost legendary Original Dixieland Jazz Band.
3.The Bishop of Ossory to the Minister for Justice, J. Fitzgerald-Kenney, 1929. Quoted in Dermot Keogh, The Vatican, the Bishops and Irish Politics 1919-39, Cambridge University Press, 1986. p. 161.
4.Junior Crehan, Dal gClais, 1977 cited in The Public Dance Halls Act 1935, The Dance Journal, Dublin, Brooks Academy, 1999.
5.AZ, ‘The Listening Post’, Irish Radio Review 3 (1), October 1927.
6.Brendan Corish of the Labour Party, in 1940, pleaded in relation to sponsored programming: ‘Let us have anything but crooning and Jazz; we have had too much of that’ and notes in the 1945 estimates debate: ‘I welcome the fact that they have cut a lot of the jazz music from continental countries and America because that was ruining our people’s taste for music’.
7.This crude protectionist measure was not accompanied by any change in the financial structure of broadcasting. The ‘preservation’ of national culture only proved attractive, it seems, when it added to the state’s coffers. In 1932-33, for example, at the same time that the radio service was being deprived of import duties, a similar tax was imposed on ‘alien’ newspapers which netted the exchequer a substantial sum of £140,000. Patrick Pearse’s famous dictum, that Ireland should be not merely Gaelic but free as well, was given a new commercial meaning when it came to the question of funding Irish culture.

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.

“AZ”, ‘The Listening Post’, Irish Radio Review 3 (1), October 1927.

Barker, Martin. The New Racism: Conservatives and the Ideology of the Tribe. London: Junction Books, 1981.

Baumann, Margaret. Date with Destiny. London: Hale, 1988.

Crehan, Junior. Dal gClais, 1977. The Public Dance Halls Act 1935, The Dance Journal. Dublin: Brooks Academy, 1999.

Dáil Debates 6, col. 1085. 14 February 1924; 6, col. 2864. 3 April 1924; 7 col. 384. 7 May 1924; 61, col. 378. 26 March 1936

Gibbons, Luke. Transformations in Irish Culture. Cork: Cork University Press, 1996.

Paul Gilroy. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. London: Verso, 1993.

Healy, John. Editorial, The Irish Times. 2 March 1929.

History Ireland Ltd. History Ireland, Vol. I, no. 2. Dublin: History Ireland Ltd., 1993

Hobsbawm, Eric. Uncommon People. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998

Irish Government. Report of the Committee on Evil Literature. Dublin: Stationery Office, 1927

Irish Government. Report of the Commission on the Relief of the Sick and Destitute Poor Including the Insane Poor. Dublin: Stationery Office, 1927

Irish Government. Report of the Committee on the Criminal Law Amendment Acts (1880-5) and Juvenile Prostitution (Carrigan Report) Dublin: Department of the Taoiseach, 1931 (unpublished) (National Archives, 85998)

James Joyce. Ulysses. New York: Modern Library, 1946.

Keogh, Dermot. The Vatican, the Bishops and Irish Politics 1919-39. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Marcuse, Herbert. An Essay on Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969.

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Whyte, J.H. Church and State in Modern Ireland, 1923-1970. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1971.