Centenarian honoured at alma-mater for her contribution to music

A 101-year-old woman returned to NUI Galway 80 years after her graduation for an event to honour her contribution to traditional Irish music.

Anne Byrne returned with her daughter Una to the university on November 3 to be interviewed by a representative for NUIG’s Centre of Irish Studies, Dr Méabh Ní Fhuarthán. Byrne is the oldest living alumni of the university having graduated in 1936.

The university is celebrating Byrne for pioneering the archiving of traditional Irish music. She made her first recording in 1954 and continued to grow her collection for the next 62 years. She donated the recordings to the Irish Traditional Music Archive in August this year.

She began her recordings with her father, Bernard, who moved to Ireland from his native Argentina at the age of 25. He played traditional Argentine music on an accordion for Byrne when she was a young girl. He also had a keen interest in traditional Irish music.

After the NUIG Alumni Relations asked her to return, Byrne said she was honoured, excited and nervous. “A lot of the things Mum remembers, they (the Alumni Relations) only had seen written in books,” said Una. Byrne remembers seeing the Black and Tans raids in her village and Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.

Dr Ní Fhuarthán was intrigued by Byrne’s family history as well as her music archive. “Her experience as the daughter of an emigrant to Ireland and as an emigrant herself, raises fascinating questions about received notions of the Irish emigrant experience,” she said.

Byrne is an active member of her village, Ardagh in County Longford. Last year she published a book about the heritage of the village. She has also remained connected to her Argentinian roots. She is the most senior member of the Irish-Argentine community in the midlands.

Carrie McMullan

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