University of Notre Dame


Hesburgh Libraries

Rare Books & Special Collections

The O'Neill Collection of Traditional Irish Music

Title page of O'Neill's Music of Ireland.

In 1931 Captain Francis O'Neill, one of the great collectors of Irish music, gave his library to the University of Notre Dame. O'Neill's library of Irish history or ‘Hiberniana' as he called it, was known to scholars of Irish music and history and includes all the important books on Irish music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Francis O'Neill (1848-1936) was born in Tralibane, County Cork and left Ireland in his teens, having been a school monitor from the age of fourteen. He spent some time at sea, a short time working as a shepherd in the Sierra Nevada foothills, qualified as a teacher in Missouri and eventually married Anna Rogers and settled in Chicago. He was a police officer in Chicago from 1873 to 1905, becoming Chief of Police in 1901. His career in the police force is described in Chief O'Neill's Sketchy Recollections of an Eventful Life in Chicago (2008), a memoir by O'Neill edited by Ellen Skerrett and Mary Lesch (F 548.9 .I6 O54 — Special Collections Reference and Hesburgh Library, General Collection). This book includes a copy of the inventory of O'Neill's library and so is a useful aid to consulting the collection.

O'Neill's published music collections had an enormous influence on Irish music of the twentieth century. O'Neill lightly annotated the books in his library, usually with notes on variant names of tunes or on the source of a tune. He also had many of his books cloth-bound, occasionally including extra pages such as in An Gaodhal which includes a hand-written index at the end of some volumes.

In addition to the published books there are two bound manuscript and a small file of correspondence. The manuscripts are by Henry Hudson, a collector of traditional music, and Patrick Reidy, a dancing master.

The O'Neill Collection may be found through a catalog search, but a classified bibliography is also available.

The O'Neill Collection is complemented by the Hesburgh Library collections on Irish Music and also by the Larry Lynch Collection. Additionally, a set of Uilleann pipes belonging to O'Neill's friend Michael Dunn was given to the Library at the bequest of Mary Elizabeth Dunn in memory of the fellowship of Irish pipers in Chicago.

Finding Aids to the O'Neill Collection


Nicholas Carolan. A Harvest Saved: Francis O'Neill and Irish Music in Chicago. Cork: Ossian, 1997.
ML 3554 .C37 1997 (Special Collections, Rare Books Large, and Hesburgh Library, Music Collection)

Francis O'Neill. Irish Folk Music: a fascinating hobby, with some account of allied subjects including O'Farrell's Treatise on the Irish or union pipes and Touhey's Hints to Amateur Pipers. Darby, PA. Norwood Editions, 1973.
ML 3654 .O74 1973 (Hesburgh Library, Music Collection)

Music Mad: Captain Francis O'Neill and Traditional Irish Music, an exhibition form the Captain Francis O'Neill Collection of Irish Music, March, 1990-August, 1990. Compiled by Laura Sue Fuderer. Department of Special Collections, University of Notre Dame, 1990.


Francis O'Neill Cylinders: The Dunn Family Collection at the Ward Irish Music Archives in Milwaukee.

Irish Traditional Music Archive / Taisce Cheol Dúchais Éireann