Composing a name
From the 1930s until the 1960s, large numbers of housing estates were built throughout the Dublin 12 area. With so many streets to name, planners took inspiration from all sorts of places.
Many roads in Drimnagh are named after Irish mountain ranges. In Greenhills, some take their name from saints and, in Kimmage, some from medieval monasteries.
But, in Walkinstown, the arteries that connect Cromwellsfort Road and Drimnagh Road are named after a variety of Irish composers and musicians. Known collectively as ‘The Musical Roads’, they were built on a former dairy farm around the 1940s.
The men – and one woman – who the roads are named for made significant contributions to the world of music. While their names remain on maps and road signs, here is a reminder of what they achieved during their lifetimes.
John McCormack Road: John McCormack (1884-1945)
After winning Dublin’s Feis Ceoil in 1903, Irish tenor John McCormack went on to become one of the world’s most beloved singers. During his career, he recorded 600 songs and was known to sing to thousands of people without needing a microphone.
He was well paid for it too. He owned 13 Rolls-Royces, an art collection, several race horses and property in Hollywood, New York, London, Connecticut and Kildare. You can read more about his extravagant life here.
Balfe Road: Michael William Balfe (1808-1870)
Aged just nine, Balfe began his career as a violinist before turning to composition and singing.
As a teen, he went to London to play in the orchestra at the Drury Lane Theatre. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, he then studied in Italy with the support of a wealthy patron. Here, he produced his first ballet: La Pérouse.
He then travelled Europe singing lead roles in operas by composers like Rossini and Meyerbeer. He later composed his own operas in English. His best known work was The Bohemian Girl, which was produced around the globe in French, German, Italian, and Russian.
Percy French Road: William Percy French (1854-1920)
William Percy French was a man of many talents. In his day, he was a leading songwriter and entertainer. Today, he is better known for his popular watercolours.
He also studied engineering at Trinity College Dublin and was an editor, a poet, a banjo player and a sketch writer. Of his musical works, his humorous ballad ‘Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff’ is probably remembered best. He performed it throughout Britain, Ireland, Canada, the US, the West Indies and some ski resorts in Switzerland.
Thomas Moore Road: Thomas Moore (1779-1852)
A poet, singer and songwriter, Moore was another multi-talented man. He was best known for putting English language verses to old Irish melodies. This marked a turning point in traditional Irish music.
One of his best known poems is ‘The Last Rose of Summer’, which he set to a traditional tune recorded at the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792.
Field Avenue: John Field (1782-1837)
John Field was a pianist and composer best known for inventing the nocturne – a composition intended to reflect nighttime. His work later influenced similar compositions of Chopin.
Field studied in London before he made his name travelling across France, Germany and Russia. Though he performed throughout Europe, he settled in Russia where he played for the aristocracy. He is even briefly mentioned in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace when Countess Rostova calls the household musician to play her favourite nocturne.
Wallace Road: William Vincent Wallace (1812-1865)
According to the Contemporary Music Centre, Wallace was famous across three continents as a double virtuoso on violin and piano.
Born in Waterford, Wallace’s father was a British army bandmaster who taught him the foundations of his knowledge. When the family moved to Dublin, Wallace found success playing in the Theatre Royal’s orchestra.
Later, he emigrated to Australia, where he was the first well-known virtuoso to appear. He set up Sydney’s first music academy before leaving for New York. He then moved to London where his first opera, Maritana, was produced at Drury Lane.
Bunting Road: Edward Bunting (1773-1843)
Edward Bunting was a musician himself, but he became better known for collecting the music of others.
At the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792, he transcribed the music of the harpers note for note. This helped preserve songs that were usually only passed on orally. He was fascinated by the traditional music that was so different from the classical style he knew. So, he made collecting Irish music his life’s work.
He collected hundreds of traditional melodies and song lyrics, which may have been lost otherwise.
Dowland Road: John Dowland (c. 1563-1626)
Little is known of John Dowland’s early life. That is probably why some sources say he is Irish, while others claim he’s English. The planners of the musical roads obviously took the side of historians who say he was born in Dublin.
Dowland was a Renaissance composer, lutenist and singer who played melancholy tunes for employers like the English ambassador in Paris and the Danish King Christian IV. Although the king paid well, he was known to mistreat his musicians so Dowland ended up back in London.
Dowland was a “very intimate friend” to William Shakespeare and it is speculated that the details of his experience as a court lutenist would have influenced Hamlet.
Harty Avenue: Sir Herbert Hamilton Harty (1879-1941)
Harty was a composer, conductor, pianist and organist. In 1901, he went to England to pursue his career and became one of the best conductors of his time, according to the Contemporary Music Centre.
He led the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, but also conducted in Dublin, London, the US and Australia. This left him with little time for composing, but the works he produced were distinctly Irish. Some of his best known works include With the Wild Geese and The Children of Lir – both of which were based on Irish stories.
Hughes Road: Herbert Hughes (1882-1937)
Belfast born Herbert Hughes was a composer, critic and collector. He was known for his performances of Hector Berlioz’s work, but he also collected and arranged accompaniments for traditional Irish songs.
His Irish Country Songs collection recorded over a thousand tunes.
Stanford Green: Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)
Charles Villiers Stanford was born into a musical family in Dublin. His parents sent him for lessons in piano and violin. Later, he also learned the organ at Christchurch Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Stanford went on to study organ and classics at Cambridge. He then spent some time in Germany studying composition with Carl Reinecke and Friedrick Kiel.
According to The Stanford Society, he was a prolific composer. He completed: seven symphonies, eight string quartets, nine operas, 30 choral works, a large body of chamber music and more than 300 songs – among other things.
He was also a Professor of Composition at London’s Royal College of Music for over 40 years. Here, he taught the next generation of British composers, including the likes of Ralph Vaughan Williams
Hardebeck Avenue: Carl Gilbert Hardebeck (1869-1945)
Born to a German father and a Welsh mother, Hardebeck moved to Ireland around the age of 14. He became an organist and a teacher in Belfast, but attracted attention when he won several composition prizes at the Feis Ceoil in Dublin.
Scholar Axel Klein says the events of Bloody Sunday 1913, World War I and the Irish War of Independence turned Hardebeck into a staunch nationalist. He is quoted as saying: “I believe in God, Beethoven and Patrick Pearse.”
Bigger Road: Francis Joseph Bigger (1863-1926)
Francis Joseph Bigger wasn’t a musician, but he did just about everything else. He was a solicitor, a writer, a historian, an architect and an antiquarian.
He was also a promoter of all things Irish, including music. He helped to revive processions, pageants, ceilidhs and feiseanna, according to the Dictionary of Irish Biography. He was a founder of the Irish Folk Song Society and a patron to many Irish musicians too.
Bigger was a driving force behind the centenary celebrations of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. He also organised the Irish harp festival of 1903 and founded the Feis na nGleann in 1904 – the latter of which still takes place in Antrim every year.
O’Brien Road: Vincent O’Brien (1871-1948)
Vincent O’Brien was an important organist and composer. But he is probably best known for teaching music to the likes of tenor John McCormack and writer James Joyce.
When he saw McCormack’s potential, he gave him singing lessons for free. He also helped him prepare for the Feis Ceoil competition, which launched his career.
O’Brien was also the choir director at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin and the first music director of Radio Éireann.
Crotty Avenue: Elizabeth Crotty (1885-1960)
Crotty, who was generally known as ‘Mrs Crotty’, was an Irish concertina player – and the only woman to have one of the musical roads named after her.
In the 1950s, she became one of the country’s most respected trad musicians after RTÉ radio’s Ciarán Mac Mathúna recorded some sessions from her home in Clare. The public broadcaster has even reissued her work in recent times.
Although Crotty couldn’t read or write music in any conventional sense, she noted down songs using her own system of notation, according to the Clare County Library. Her most popular tunes were ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ and ‘The Reel with the Beryl’ – both of which influenced contemporary musicians like The Chieftains.
Esposito Road: Michele Esposito (1855-1929)
Michele Esposito was an Italian composer, conductor and pianist who studied in Naples and Paris, before moving to Dublin – where he remained for most of his career.
He became the Professor of Composition at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He also founded the RDS’ chamber series in 1886 and the Dublin Orchestral Society in 1898.
His music was rooted in the late 19th century romantic era, according to the Contemporary Music Centre. But many of his compositions also featured Irish material from traditional songs.
The works he wrote had distinctly Irish titles too. His operas included The Tinker and the Fairy and Irish Symphony. He also received an award from the Feis Ceoil for his cantata ‘Deirdre’.
Moeran Road: E. J. Moeran (1894-1950)
Ernest John Smeed Moeran was born in London. But his father was Irish and, as an adult, he became interested in his paternal roots. Visiting Kenmare, Co. Kerry, the sea and the mountains provided inspiration for his music.
He would spend long periods of time in a cottage here and even managed to complete his long-abandoned Symphony in G Minor.
Throughout history, Irish musicians have travelled the world bringing their unique sounds with them. To find out more about their impact, visit EPIC’s Music & Dance Gallery.