The 'Irish Melodies' Of Poet Thomas Moore Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, Renee Montagne talks to music commentator Miles Hoffman about 18th century poet Thomas Moore. He's best known for the famed, "Irish Melodies."

The 'Irish Melodies' Of Poet Thomas Moore

The 'Irish Melodies' Of Poet Thomas Moore

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, Renee Montagne talks to music commentator Miles Hoffman about 18th century poet Thomas Moore. He's best known for the famed, "Irish Melodies."


MAUREEN HEGARTY: (Singing) 'Tis the last rose of summer left blooming alone.


We're listening to "The Last Rose Of Summer," one of the most famous and beautiful of the collection "Irish Melodies" by Thomas Moore. Today, of course, is St. Patrick's Day and here to help us - well, celebrate for one, but also to talk about Thomas Moore and his "Irish Melodies" is MORNING EDITION music commentator Miles Hoffman. Good morning.

MILES HOFFMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That was a lovely version of "The Last Rose Of Summer," and...

HOFFMAN: I agree. The singer was Maureen Hegarty, Renee, and she's an Irish woman, which won't surprise you.

MONTAGNE: Not in the least, Miles. I could kind of hear that, but...

HOFFMAN: (Laughter).

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about Thomas Moore. Tell us more about him.

HOFFMAN: He was born in Dublin in 1779, and during his lifetime, he was considered the national poet of Ireland. But he wasn't just famous in Ireland; he was famous all over the world. In the early 1800s, he published 10 volumes of his "Irish Melodies," 124 songs in all. And in the 19th century, Americans alone bought a million and a half copies of the sheet music for "The Last Rose Of Summer."

MONTAGNE: These melodies - was this collection completely love songs?

HOFFMAN: No, no, no. He branched out, Renee. He was a - Moore was a very committed Irish patriot. He actually made a small fortune singing his own songs, mainly in England where he was a kind of private rock star for the wealthy. Women swooned for him. They wrote him love notes. They kept locks of his hair. But because Moore sang for the English, many Irishmen considered him a hypocrite and a sellout. What he would do is after charming his English listeners with love songs, he would bring out the songs that were very radical politically and even revolutionary.


TOMMY MAKEM: (Singing) The minstrel boy to the war is gone. In the ranks of death, you'll find him. His father's sword he has girded on, and his wild harp slung behind him.

HOFFMAN: That's Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy with "The Minstrel Boy." And the last lines of that poem, of that song, are thy songs were made for the pure and free. They shall never sound in slavery. About as far from a love song as you can get, Renee. And, in fact, that song has become a kind of an anthem for soldiers and firemen and policemen, especially those of Irish extraction.

You know, it's been largely forgotten these days, but for Irish people of earlier generations, especially those who have left their country, Moore's "Irish Melodies," both the political songs and the love songs, functioned as a kind of symbolic link and a very powerful and emotional link to the homeland.

MONTAGNE: Definitely. And, Miles, you started this discussion about Thomas Moore as a poet, but did he have a hand in the music that his poetry was set to?

HOFFMAN: Every once in a while, he contributed a little bit to the arrangements, but he wasn't a composer. What he did was he took folk tunes, mostly old harp tunes - in some cases these were tunes passed down from harper to harper over hundreds of years - and he wrote words for those tunes and the image of the harp figures in a number of Moore's melodies - many of them.


JAMES FLANNERY: (Singing) Dear harp of my country, in darkness I found thee. The cold chain of silence had hung over thee long.

HOFFMAN: Tenor James Flannery, Renee, singing "Dear Harp Of My Country," and the Irish harp was played by Janet Harbison.

MONTAGNE: And it is certainly not hard to understand how people could have an emotional attachment, quite a deep attachment, to these songs.

HOFFMAN: You know in my local used bookstore, Renee, I found an 1852 edition of the "Irish Melodies." And in the preface, the editor wrote, it is certain that universal literature presents no lovelier or more affecting tribute to a nation's minstrelsy than the "Irish Melodies" of Thomas Moore.

MONTAGNE: A perfect way to start St. Patrick's Day. Thank you, Miles.

HOFFMAN: Thank you, Renee. And why don't we go out with one more of the Irish melodies of Thomas Moore, the Clancy Brothers singing "Let Erin Remember."


THE CLANCY BROTHERS: (Singing) Let Erin remember the days of old ere her faithless sons betrayed her. When Malachy wore the collar of gold that he won from the proud invader.

MONTAGNE: "Let Erin Remember" on this St. Patrick's Day, and helping us remember is Miles Hoffman. He's the violist of the American Chamber Players and author of "The NPR Classical Music Companion." This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.


THE CLANCY BROTHERS: (Singing) Well, Cork gave us McSweeney, a martyr for to die. And Wicklow gave us Dwyer in the days so long gone by. And Dublin gave us Padraig Pearse, McBride and Cathal Brugha. And America gave us de Valera to lead old Ireland through. Hey.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.