When Ireland was living on Guernsey in 1939–40, he may have encountered the island’s Christmas customs. One of these was a festival known as La Longue Veille, which took place on 23 December. On this day a special feast was prepared, consisting of Guernsey biscuits (pictured), cheese, galettes and mulled wine. There are other interesting habits and traditions. Christmas Eve was known as Serveille, and the people of Guernsey shared a folk belief common to a number of English counties that all cattle kneel at midnight in remembrance of the manger at Bethlehem. Another superstition was that on Christmas Eve the water in the wells is turned to wine. Ireland would surely have liked the idea of these distinctive customs, given his propensity for researching English folklore.
On 4 May 1960 the recently-formed John Ireland Society put on its inaugural concert in the Purcell Room, in a programme of songs and chamber music. ‘Adroit and persuasive’, Eric Parkin played a number of Ireland’s piano works, among them Sarnia. The tenor John Steel sang The Land of Lost Content and other songs, accompanied by Alan Rowlands, who also played for Vyvyan Kendall in the First Violin Sonata and for Thea King in the Fantasy-Sonata. The composer, now aged 80, was present, and given a huge ovation. Lawrence Norcross, best known for his work in education, was responsible for the event, and indeed for the society more broadly.
Musical Opinion 83 (June 1960), p. 600.
Ireland’s accountant before the Second World War, and especially while he was living in Deal, was Alfred Tregear Chenhalls (1900–43), a businessman who acted for many important figures, notably the actor Leslie Howard. The date of Chenhalls’s death is striking, and has been well documented. The most prevalent and convincing theory is that Chenhalls, also a cigar smoker as seen below, was mistaken for Churchill, and that the plane on which he was travelling with Howard was shot down for this reason. Mystery surrounds the attack though, and there are other theories too.
One of Ireland’s pupils at the RCM was the renowned ethnomusicologist, composer and BBC Producer Peter Crossley-Holland (1916–2001). On the face of it very different personalities, they went on to become good friends.
A sequence of letters from Ireland to Crossley-Holland is held at the Royal College of Music. They span a period from 1935–52, and contain many fascinating little observations and revelations. The letters cover a decade when Ireland was living away from London, and end when he was back in his Chelsea home following the end of the war. In the letters Ireland always refers to his former pupil by his surname, and writes fondly of many of his students.
In 1939 Crossley-Holland invited Ireland to his wedding. The latter was then living on Guernsey, and declined the invitation, while suggesting the island as a honeymoon venue – somewhat ironic given that Guernsey was invaded only 8 days later. In the following year, now living in Radlett, Ireland gives his comments on Crossley-Holland’s Piano Sonata, hoping he will not get the ‘Celtic or “bardic” fever – it does not lead to conciseness or clearness of expression or form’ (24 July 1940). His pupil was at this time working as an ARP warden. Crossley-Holland asked Ireland to be the godfather of his new son Kevin in 1941, with the composer politely deflecting the request.
In 1945 they met at the Albert Hall. Crossley-Holland was now living in Wilmslow, Ireland back in Gunter Grove. They met again in 1948, soon after which point the surviving correspondence concludes.
Source: letters from John Ireland to Peter Crossley-Holland, RCM: http://www.rcm.ac.uk/media/rcmacuk/content/documents/Letters%20from%20and%20writings%20on%20John%20Ireland.pdf
Aside from the obvious attractions of its climate, landscape and historic dolmens, there are other reasons why John Ireland might have been drawn to Jersey. It is an island full of the sorts of customs and legends that fascinated him. One distinctive tradition is the Jersey perquage, a sanctuary path leading from the island’s churches to the sea. As long as a person seeking sanctuary remained either in the church or on one of these roads, then they enjoyed the protection of the ecclesiastical authorities. Few traces of these ancient and unique paths remain, however, as land was gradually sold and incorporated into private property. However, the tiny chapel at St Brelade’s Bay still has its perquage, the shortest on the island, given that the chapel is virtually on the beach.
A number of singers are well known for their close associations with Ireland’s music, among them Gervase Elwes and George Parker, and later Peter Pears. Another to have performed his music was the contralto Muriel Foster, one of the composer’s former fellow students at the RCM and already well-known for her associations with Elgar. In June 1917, for example, Ireland gave a concert of his works at the Wigmore Hall. As part of the programme, the Second Violin Sonata was reprised following its recent enthusiastic reception, and Miss Foster performed a number of Ireland’s songs to that date.