The traditional Irish vocal music of Nova Scotia reflects the legacy of the Irish-born immigrants. Chiefly an orally-transmitted repertoire, different versions of these songs would slowly emerge to forge a uniquely-Nova Scotian canon.
William Roy MacKenzie (1883-1957) was the first to write about these songs in his books The Quest of the Ballad (1919) and Ballads and Sea Songs from Nova Scotia (1928) – songs which describe the lives of the people and the hardships they suffered. MacKenzie captured the poignancy which runs through much of this music in the voice of one of his informants, Dick Hinds, who would ask “What is the noblest creature that God ever created on airth?” And would himself provide a ringing response: “Woman! the companion of man an he’s [his] rock of salvation in times of affliction an’ sorrah.”
These works would prompt Helen Creighton (1899-1989) to collect the repertoire of local singers throughout Nova Scotia. Families would also preserve their musical legacy in print and song. Many uniquely Nova Scotian versions of Irish songs such as “The Bonny Bunch of Roses,”, “The Croppy Boy”, “Green Bushes”, “The Jolly Ploughboy”, “The Wild Colonial Boy”, “Tarry Trousers”, “Van Diemen’s Land”, and the “Wounded Hussar” have been published.
This popular music, of course, has a different form than the liturgical music and hymnody of the period. Research is just beginning on the mutual influences and inter-relations between them. This will further add to our appreciation of this magnificent heritage.