‘Party Tunes’ in the Littlehales Archive
by Hugh Murphy, Head of Collections & Content, MU Library
The archives of Sir Edward Baker Littlehales, held in Maynooth University Library contain a wealth of interesting information on the Irish administration after the Act of Union. While much of it is fascinating, it lacks the ribald and risqué stories which can be found in some of the other archives under our stewardship (looking at you Marquis of Sligo!). Almost every mention of ‘party’ by Littlehales refers to that of a political type, and despite being a significant player at various prominent social events in Dublin for nearly twenty years, he scarcely deigns to mention them in correspondence. Indeed, with the exception of ‘political’ parties, the main concern he had regarding moments of jollity came when militia and yeomanry decided to strike up an air.
What really concerned Littlehales was when these sizeable amateur military forces decided to use festivals and parties for the airing of political ideology. And to be fair to the beleaguered undersecretary, this was a genuine challenge, with the militia being primarily Catholic and the yeomanry being primarily Protestant
A letter from the Chief Secretary in April 1814 noted that there had been accusations of bias on behalf of Dublin Castle, given that
‘regular militia regiments have been forbidden to play party tunes on certain days but they are still played by the yeomanry here’(MU/PP12 Peel to Littlehales, 29 April 1814)
In reality, the government had striven for years to present as neutral a front as possible on such matters and when called to account for the confusion by the Chief Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, Littlehales was quick to defend noting that both militia and regular forces had been expressly forbidden, but also regarding the Yeomanry. He observes
‘it has been the policy of Government invariably not to countenance their playing any party tunes on certain days, in any manner which might give Offence to their Fellow subjects many of whom are probably of different persuasions, from themselves, particularly in the North of Ireland’(MU/PP12 Littlehales to Peel, 3 May 1814)
Oddly enough Littlehales had brought this to Peel’s attention the previous year noting in particular that due to the link with the burgeoning Orange Order, no military band was to play any tune on certain days of commemoration
‘and especially on the 12th of July’(MU/PP12 Littlehales to Peel, 26 June 1813)
lest it offend.
As always, Littlehales proved himself to be far from the Georgian libertine, but in this instance at least his party instincts (or lack thereof) could be said to be for the greater good.