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  • Born

    24 August 1954 (age 64)

John Nicholson Ireland (13 August 1879 – 12 June 1962) was an English composer.

Ireland was born in Bowdon, near Altrincham, Manchester, into a family of Scottish descent and some cultural distinction. His parents died soon after he had entered the Royal College of Music at the age of 14. He studied piano and organ there, and later composition under Charles Villiers Stanford. He subsequently became a teacher at the College himself, his pupils including Ernest John Moeran (who admired him) and Benjamin Britten (who found Ireland’s teaching of less interest). He was sub organist at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street, London SW1, and later became organist and choirmaster at St. Luke’s Church, Chelsea, London. Ireland frequently visited the Channel Islands and was inspired by their landscape; he was evacuated from them just before the German invasion during World War II. Ireland retired in 1953, settling at the small hamlet of Rock in Sussex for the rest of his life. He is buried in nearby Shipley churchyard.

Ireland regretted immediately his marriage, which he never consummated. His assistant and companion, Norah Kirkby, destroyed portions of Ireland's papers and correspondence upon his death, donating the remainder to the British Library. But see Fiona Richards, "An Anthology of Friendship: The Letters of John Ireland to Father Kenneth Thompson", in Queer Episodes in Music and Modern Identity (2002): "Despite his brief and ultimately unsuccessful relationships with women, there is no doubt that Ireland was considerably more interested in men, specifically much younger men. There is, however, no direct evidence that Ireland ever had a close sexual relationship with a man or a boy, and he did not particularly mix in homosexual circles. He was a very private figure, and because of this and the problems involved in extracting relevant information, there has never been any truly open discussion of Ireland's personal life. In particular, there has been little written about his religious convictions or his sexuality." The article covers the subject in some depth.

From Stanford, Ireland inherited a thorough knowledge of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms and other German classics, but as a young man he was also strongly influenced by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel as well as the earlier works by Igor Stravinsky and Béla Bartók. From these influences, he developed his own brand of "English Impressionism", related closer to French and Russian models than to the folk-song style then prevailing in English music.

Like most other Impressionist composers, Ireland favoured small forms and wrote neither symphonies nor operas, although his Piano Concerto is among his best works. His output includes some chamber music and a substantial body of piano works, including his best-known piece The Holy Boy, known in numerous arrangements. His songs to poems by A. E. Housman, Thomas Hardy, Christina Rossetti, John Masefield and Rupert Brooke are a valuable addition to English vocal repertoire. Due to his job at St. Luke’s Church, he also wrote hymns, carols and other sacred choral music; among choirs he is probably best known for the anthem Greater Love, often sung in services that commemorate the victims of war. His Communion Service in C is also performed. Some of his pieces, such as the popular A Downland Suite, were completed or re-transcribed after his death by his student Geoffrey Bush.


John Ireland was born John Griffith on the 24th August 1954 in Ireland (some sources say Boksburg), South Africa. He attended Boksburg High School in the mid-70s. In 1977 he and Jonathan Handley formed the band Slither and were based in Springs. He studied medicine with Jonathan at Wits University and they both became doctors. Slither later became The Radio Rats. John has musical training in classical piano to an advanced level and also plays guitar and drums.

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