Alfred Sebire

One of the dedicatees of Ireland’s piano suite, Sarnia, was the Guernsey flautist, Alfred Sebire, known to the composer as ‘Seeba’. Sebire (1892–1980),  a former pupil of Charles Souper and John Amadio, was introduced to Ireland by another Guernsey man, Andrew White, who became friendly with Ireland and John Longmire when they were living on the island in 1939–40. Sebire’s connection with Sarnia is intriguing, as the long panpipe roulades that make up ‘Le Catioroc’ are perhaps influenced by this flautist. Sebire remained friendly with the composer after his departure from the island, seeing him on his return to Guernsey in 1948, and then visiting him at Rock Mill in Sussex in the late 1950s.

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A downland site in August

To one side, a profusion of brambles and wild thyme. Oak saplings and teasels, soon to be gathered and turned into figures for display in the local churches. Still, pale grasses and fine seedheads, little stalks of agrimony. Elderberries on the turn, the darkest, velvety purple at the edges of a field of scabious, yarrow and yellow loosestrife. Dotted here and there knapweed and nipplewort. Fluttering over the gossamer thicket the hues of the downland blue butterflies – common, chalk and adonis. The sweet scent of old man’s beard in the sun and silence save for an occasional grasshopper.P1040277

Ireland in Dorking

On 1 December 1939, Ireland’s Phantasie Trio was performed in Dorking Halls. The performers were Margot MacGibbon, Peers Coetmore and Frederic Jackson, these three all students together at the RAM (MacGibbon and Jackson went on to marry). Jackson often accompanied Coetmore in duo recitals, and MacGibbon and Coetmore also played together in a string quartet. Vaughan Williams gave a lecture as part of this event, one of a series of early war-time concert lectures in Dorking. The other works performed were piano trios by Mozart and Beethoven. Ireland himself was not present, living at that time on Guernsey.

image depicting Coronation

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Ireland’s books: The Book-Lovers Enchiridion

On Ireland’s bookshelves was a copy of his father Alexander’s best-known ble.jpegpublication, The Book-Lover’s Enchiridion: Thoughts on the Solace and Companionship of Books (1882). This volume is a delightful collection of passages in praise of books, selected by Alexander Ireland from a wide range of authors. Very popular in late Victorian Britain, the book went through five editions (the third sold 3,700 copies).

The intention of the Enchiridion was to ‘meet some of the special needs and moods of those earnest minds which seek in books something more enduring than passing amusement – something that will yield a satisfying and tranquil joy, and beautify the hours of common daily life’ (p. vii). To this end, the compiler chose a huge range of writings, from Socrates to Robert Louis Stevenson. The passages are sometimes only a sentence, but with long sections devoted to Carlyle, Emerson and Ruskin. The selections, unusually eclectic for the time, betray Alexander Ireland’s liberal approach, with the inclusion of women and of Persian and Hindu writings. A distant relative, Andrew Lang, features, as do many of the editor’s friends, such as Leigh Hunt. Many of the contributions come from well-known figures – Goethe, Wordsworth, Walt Whitman, but there are also many snippets from the unknown, for e.g. Elizabeth Inchbold (1753–1821).


Uncle William

William Robert Nicholson was Ireland’s uncle and the elder brother of the composer’s mother, born c.1839. It transpires that he was another musician in the family, but something of a black sheep. It’s very unclear exactly what his background was, but a little obituary of 1888 records the tragic demise of William Nicholson, professor of music, burned to death in his home on the drawing-room floor of a residence on Euston Road. William R Nicholson

Source: Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 15 April 15 1888; Issue 2369. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900.

On this day: 16 July 1906

On this day in 1906 John Ireland was in Littlehampton, taking part in the annual St Luke’s choir summer outing. Littlehampton was at that time a thriving harbour and popular destination, as seen in surviving historic photographs. The day began early with a 6am train from Victoria. After changes at Arundel and Ford, the party arrived at the seaside at 9am. The morning was spent in the sea. 12.30pm saw the group assembled for lunch and a commemorative photograph (tantalisingly lost). The rector, Henry Bevan, joined them from London at this point. In the afternoon some went rowing, some for a drive, bathed again and met for tea. The return journey commenced at 8pm with 4 boys missing. Charles Hindes, the vestry clerk, had to stay behind to locate and bring home the miscreants.

Littlehampton beach

Ivy Cottage, Ashington

Ireland’s attachment to Sussex, the county where his fancies took on musical form, Front Elevationstarted early. He was a regular visitor to the coast (Littlehampton, Brighton, Seaford) with the choirboys of St Luke’s. In the 1920s he took a pied-à-terre in Ashington, close to where he would eventually live in Rock Mill. The place was Ivy Cottage, on the edge of the village, as seen on the map below. Still there, the cottage now stands on the busy London Road (the A24). The road just below, with the Rectory shown, is where Ireland lived in a room on Meiros Farm in the early 1950s, before buying his windmill.

Ivy Cottage