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Northern Ireland historian's discovery of 400 lost compositions something to sing about

By Lauara Abernethy

Published 03/05/2016

From left: Presenter Marie McStay with scroll of honour recipients at the festival Jeanette Clarke of Armagh (on behalf of her grandmother Rachael Cornett); Edel Murphy, formerly of the Arts Council; Patricia Hagan of Keady (on behalf of her grandfather James Green); Gertie O Reilly (daughter of Keady poet Peter Connolly), and Peter Makem of the festival
From left: Presenter Marie McStay with scroll of honour recipients at the festival Jeanette Clarke of Armagh (on behalf of her grandmother Rachael Cornett); Edel Murphy, formerly of the Arts Council; Patricia Hagan of Keady (on behalf of her grandfather James Green); Gertie O Reilly (daughter of Keady poet Peter Connolly), and Peter Makem of the festival

More than 400 songs have been rediscovered by Co Armagh historian Trevor Geary.

The songs, which are largely from the Presbyterian tradition, were all composed between 50 and 100 years ago and had been forgotten until now.

They include in excess 100 songs written in two shop ledgers by Isaac McIllwaine of Cavanakill, and more than 80 songs and poems by Samuel James Stevenson from Altnamackin.

He found up to 100 songs and poems created by Rachael Cornett from Darkley hidden in old handbags.

He also unearthed a hymn written by Martha Kennedy of Aughnagurgan in the 1920s, and poems and songs from Jimmy Reaney of Keady.

Mr Geary hopes to publish the songs, with permission from the writers' families, in the coming year.

The discovery was unveiled as part of the Tommy Makem Festival of Song in Keady.

The annual three-day festival, held for the first time in the Arts and Community Centre named after the singer, celebrates the music of the Keady folk musician, who died in 2007. He inspired artists such as Peter Seeger, Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and the Kingston Trip.

More than 100 Americans from eight states attended the festival last week to say thanks to the town and district for its inspiring song tradition, which became one of the mainstays of the worldwide folk revival.

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