Cover for WILLIAMS: 'Twas Only an Irishman's Dream: The Image of Ireland and the Irish in American Popular Song Lyrics, 1800-1920

'Twas Only an Irishman's Dream

The Image of Ireland and the Irish in American Popular Song Lyrics, 1800-1920
Awards and Recognition:

Winner of the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award in the Pop Books category, 1997.

The image of the Irish in the United States changed drastically over time, from that of hard-drinking, rioting Paddies to genial, patriotic working-class citizens.

In 'Twas Only an Irishman's Dream, William H. A. Williams traces the change in this image through more than 700 pieces of sheet music--popular songs from the stage and for the parlor--to show how Americans' opinions of Ireland and the Irish went practically from one extreme to the other.

Because sheet music was a commercial item it had to be acceptable to the broadest possible song-buying public. "Negotiations" about their image involved Irish songwriters, performers, and pressured groups, on the one hand, and non-Irish writers, publishers, and audiences on the other. Williams ties the contents of song lyrics to the history of the Irish diaspora, suggesting how ethnic stereotypes are created and how they evolve within commercial popular culture.

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