Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Ulster Student Song Book (1957)

Here's another gem from my late father's vast store of curios. It seems it was published in 1957. The booklet contains songs mainly from the Irish tradition but also includes student staples of the day and appears to have seen a lot of use. The booklet contains advertisements for various Belfast companies which I've included below. I don't know if any of these firms still operate but if they do I'd be happy to hear about them.

To my mind the most historically fascinating section of the book is "Songs To Stir The Blood". Herein is published the lyrics to songs such as The Minstrel Boy, A Nation Once Again, The Wearing Of The Green, and Kelly, The Boy From Killane. These are songs which remains staples of republican balladry to this day. The songs are published alongside "The Ould Orange Flute", "The Sash My Father Wore", and other perennials from the loyalist tradition.

Queen's University of Belfast has been, from the outset, a non-sectarian centre of learning. In 1957, when the book was published, approximately 20% of its students came from a Roman Catholic background. This percentage would increase throughout the rest of the 20th century and beyond. I find it fascinating that it was permissible to include the republican ballads at the time given that in 1954 the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) essentially forbid the flying of the Irish Tricolour in the six counties. Similarly the IRA's Border Campaign was ongoing at the time of publication.

The Education Act of 1947 brought in free secondary level education in Northern Ireland (as well as the rest of the UK) and student grants were also provided for in the act. This meant that children from less well off families were for the first time able to avail of third level education. Roman Catholic participation in third level education skyrocketed thereafter.

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