Skip to main content

James W. Smith Irish music recordings

Collection IM-M016-1991: James W. Smith Irish music recordings


  • Creation: 1950s-1960s

Scope and Contents

This collection contains James W. Smith’s recordings of Boston-area Irish music in the 1950s and 1960s. Using an open-reel tape recorder, Smith recorded musicians at social gatherings in his home in Allston, in homes of musician friends, and in public settings. While most are unpublished recordings, some reels also include published material, such as dubs of LP and 78-rpm records and recordings from radio. The collection also contains unpublished recordings that were made in Ireland and shared with Smith.

The main focus of Smith’s collecting was traditional Irish melodies played on fiddle, flute, whistle, and accordion. Tunes in the form of reels, jigs, waltzes, hornpipes, and set dances are performed in solos, duets, and groups, sometimes with piano accompaniment. Some Scottish tunes are included. A few of the recordings feature vocalists performing popular songs, classical songs for tenor, or traditional Irish songs in English.


Language of Materials

English and Irish.

Restrictions on Access

Open for research. Recordings have been digitally copied; all original media was retained, but may not be played due to format. Digital use copies can only be accessed in the Burns Library Reading Room.

Restrictions on Use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical Note

James W. Smith was born in Boston on May 14, 1929. His mother, Mary Monica (McDonagh) Smith, immigrated to the Allston area of Boston from County Galway, Ireland at age 20. His father, Maitland S. Smith, was born in Allston and became a driver for Boston-area news organizations. Maitland and Mary Monica married in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1928 and had four children: James, Joseph, Robert, and Mary. The Smith family’s parish church was St. Anthony’s Church in Allston.

For many years, James W. Smith held the position of clerk at the First National Stores (Finast) supermarket chain. In the 1950s and 1960s, he and his parents hosted informal gatherings of musicians in their home on Bayard Street, Allston. Smith used his reel-to-reel tape recorder to record the Irish traditional music played at these sessions. He was an amateur accordion player, and his personal friends during this time included flute player Gene Frain of Watertown. Smith died on December 12, 1990 in Andover, Massachusetts.


1910 U.S. Census. Accessed May 2018.

1930 U.S. Census. Accessed May 2018.

1940 U.S. Census. Accessed May 2018.

Boston City Directories. 1926-1974. Accessed May 29, 2018.

"Joseph M. Smith, 49; Allston Civic Leader." Obituary. Boston Globe. October 14, 1979, p. 63.

"Smith [Maitland S.]." Death notice. Boston Globe. April 17, 1982, p. 13.

Massachusetts, Birth Index, 1860-1970. Accessed May 2018.

Massachusetts, Birth Records, 1840-1915. Accessed May 2018.

Massachusetts, Death Index, 1860-1970. Accessed May 2018.

Massachusetts, Marriage Records. Accessed May 2018.

Massachusetts, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1963. Accessed May 2018.

Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950. Accessed May 2018.


3.25 Linear Feet (3 containers )

11.61 Gigabytes (140 files with approximately 86 hours of audio)


This collection documents Boston-area Irish music in the 1950s and 1960s through unpublished recordings of social gatherings made by James W. Smith. These recordings capture reels, jigs, waltzes, hornpipes, and set dances with instrumentation from solos to groups including fiddle, flute, whistle, and accordion.


Arranged by reel number, except recordings which exclusively include published material, which have been placed at the end.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mary Smith Duffy in 1992.

Related Materials

Joe Lamont Irish music recordings, IM.M145.2005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Séamus Connolly papers, IM.M064.1999, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Tommy Sullivan papers, IM.M176.2009, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

William F. and Michael C. Hanafin family papers, IM.M143.2005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Separated Materials

Published works associated with this collection have been transferred within the Burns Library and can be found in the Boston College Library catalog.

Processing Information

Audio reels containing unpublished recordings were digitized for access with funding from a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Recordings at Risk grant. Reels featuring both unpublished recordings and dubs of published recordings were also digitized, but the collection inventory reflects only the musicians for unpublished recordings. Blank reels and full reels of dubs were not digitized, resulting in some gaps in reel numbers in the collection inventory.

For technical reasons, there may be a series of consecutive digital files for an individual open-reel tape. A single digital content number may contain several files.

Musician attributions for these recordings come from the recorder's notations on box labels. These were augmented by listening notes from Boston-area Irish musician Seamus Connolly and the Burns Library Irish Music Archives librarian. Where attributions are not mentioned on the box, an educated guess is signaled by the word "probably."

Musician names have been listed in the form by which they performed or otherwise best known. Burns Library has investigated and standardized names when possible; however, it is known that the notations do not always match the recorded content.

Dates reflect recording dates for the reels; published recordings dubbed onto these reels are likely to predate the live content.

James W. Smith Irish Music Recordings
Elizabeth Sweeney and Lynn Moulton
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States