Ina Boyle and World War 1

The current commemoration of the First World War brings the composers of the time and music that was inspired by the war into focus. When the war started the Irish composer Ina Boyle (1889-1967) was 25 years of age. Some of the works that she composed between 1914 and 1918 reflect the influence of events in Europe.


Musical education

Charles Wood

Charles Wood

Ina Boyle had showed musical talent from an early age together with a determination to compose. Living in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, she was home-schooled and given violin and cello lessons with her sister by their governess. From the age of eleven she studied theory and harmony privately with Samuel Spencer Myerscough (1854-1940), an English organist who founded the Leinster School of Music in 1904.

She also took correspondence lessons with a relative by marriage, Dr Charles Wood (1866-1926). Wood was a lecturer in harmony and counterpoint at Cambridge University, where he later succeeded Charles Villiers Stanford as professor of music, and he also taught in the Royal College of Music. He was married to Boyle’s cousin, Charlotte Wills-Sandford, and took a keen interest in Boyle’s musical progress.

In 1910 Boyle began lessons with Dr Percy Buck (1871-1947) who had just been appointed professor of music at Trinity College Dublin. Her early compositions preserved in TCD Manuscripts and Archives Research Library, with copious corrections by her teachers, consist mainly of songs with added parts for violin and violoncello.

By 1913 Boyle had yet another teacher, Dr C.H. Kitson, an Oxford graduate, who came to Dublin as organist and choirmaster of Christ Church cathedral and was later appointed professor of music at University College Dublin. She began to concentrate seriously on composition and was awarded  first and second prizes in the composers’ competition at Sligo Feis Ceoil in 1913 with Elegie for cello and orchestra and a setting of ‘The last Invocation’ by Walt Whitman, whose poetry was a popular choice for many composers at that time.  


The War Years

Only a few months after the outbreak of the war its impact was felt in Enniskerry when on 21 October 1914 Captain Henry Stanley Monck of the Coldstream Guards, son of Viscount Monck of Charleville House, was killed in action in St. Julien. There are two plaques in St. Patrick’s Church, Enniskerry - where Boyle’s father, Rev. William Foster Boyle was curate - a Monck Memorial and a Great War Memorial to commemorate ten members of the parish who lost their lives in the war. In addition a brass communion rail and chancel, designed by Lord Powerscourt, was inaugurated in their memory on Easter Sunday 1919 [1].

Captain Grenville Fortescue    (1887-1915

Captain Grenville Fortescue 


Like many other local families the Boyle family were directly affected by the war.  On 4 September 1915 Captain Grenville Fortescue, 11th Battalian, husband of their cousin Adelaide Jephson and father of two children, was killed in action in France at the age of twenty-eight [2].

Another cousin, Lieutenant Patrick Bryan Sandford Wood, R.A.F., aged nineteen, eldest son of Charles and Charlotte Wood, was killed on 24 May 1918 in an aeroplane accident on active service in Italy, where he is buried in Taranto Town Cemetery [3].


Anthems (1915)

It is likely that the connection with Christ Church cathedral through her teacher C.H. Kitson encouraged Boyle to compose two anthems which she paid to have published in 1915. The Funeral Anthem, ‘He will swallow up death with victory’ (Isaah XXV 8,9) for solo soprano, choir and organ, was published by Stainer & Bell. In her Memoranda notebook she notes ‘Dr Kitson said he would do it at Christ Church cathedral but afterwards said he did not like it so well on second thoughts, so it was never sung. Sent a copy to Charles Wood who said he liked it.’ [4]

The other anthem, ‘Wilt not Thou, O God, go forth with our Hosts’ (Psalms 108, 33) for choir and organ, an Anthem for Intercession, dedicated to the 36th (Ulster) Division, was published by Novello. According to her Memoranda ‘This was to have been sung by the choir of Derry Cathedral but so many of the men went to the war that it could not be given.’ [5]

It is hoped to have the anthems performed in Dublin and Derry during the 2014 commemoration of WW1.


‘Have you news of my boy Jack?’ (1916)

Among Boyle’s ‘Early Compositions’ in TCD Manuscripts Library there is a setting for voice and piano, dated December 1916, of Rudyard Kipling’s poignant poem ‘My boy Jack?’

"Have you news of my boy Jack? "
Not this tide.
"When d'you think that he'll come back?"
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

"Has any one else had word of him?
Not this tide.

For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide

"Oh dear, what comfort can I find?"
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind--
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide

Then  hold your head up all the more,
This tide,

And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide. [6]


There are conflicting opinions as to whether the poem refers to Kipling’s son John, who went missing in the battle of Loos in October 1915, or to generic victims of the war. In any case it was widely disseminated at the time and was set to music in 1917 by Edward German and recorded in that year by Clara Butt. Boyle’s setting in December 1916 predates this but she does not include the song in her Memoranda. It is a less dramatic interpretation of the text and is well worth revival.    


‘Soldiers at peace’ (1916)

The most ambitious work composed by Boyle during the war is ‘Soldiers at peace’ (1916), a setting for choir and orchestra of a sonnet by Captain Herbert Asquith, second son of the British Prime Minister.

She paid £11.7.0 to have the vocal score published by Novello and in 1918 her first review was published in The Musical Times:

Soldiers at peace’ (Novello) is a poem by Herbert Asquith set for chorus and orchestra by I. Boyle. The words have a pathos that is sympathetically reflected in the music. A certain striking ‘motif’ comes about twenty times in the instrumental part, and in a way binds the beginning to the end. The vocal part-writing is smooth and singable. The piece is a very suitable one for a choral performance in which the programme should have the war note on its pathetic side. It takes about four or five minutes to perform. [7]

A brief notice in a survey of New Vocal Music in The Times was less complimentary:

There are those who do not know when they are putting their hand on the ark. Ina Boyle has set for chorus Herbert Asquith’s ‘Soldiers at Peace’ without understanding.[8]

In 1917 Boyle entered the work for the first competition of the Carnegie Trust. There were 136 entrants, including Stanford and Vaughan Williams. She was gratified when her entry was commended, and placed on the list of ‘Works of Special Merit’ for the information of conductors.[9]

In 1920 ‘Soldiers at peace’ was performed at Woodbrook, Bray by Bray Choral Society, conducted by Thomas Weaving, then organist at Christ Church cathedral. Turner Huggard, assistant organist at St. Patrick’s cathedral, played the wind parts on the organ and the strings were played by local amateurs, including Boyle’s sister and their governess. The performance was reviewed in The Irish Times the following day:    

When one reads the noble words of Captain Asquith’s sonnet one rather feared the temerity of the young Irish composer, Miss I. Boyle. There was no need. Miss I. Boyle has more than promise. Her handling of the orchestral effects as a background to the chorus was what we have grown to call ‘masterly’. The writing is always clever and original, especially the violin parts, used to heighten the suggestion of ideals of youth. To the cello is left the picture-touches – very effectively The choir entered displaying mobility and oneness of movement and a fine tone-equality throughout, the final line rather wavered, and hardly suggested the poet’s or, one would think, Miss Boyle’s idea. The work was enthusiastically received, Miss I Boyle having to come from the body of the hall to acknowledge the ovation. One can easily predict for this talented young Irish girl, the daughter of Rev. W.F. Boyle of Enniskerry, a brilliant future if she develops as one would expect.[10]

Boyle’s future would include her travels to London for lessons  with Ralph Vaughan Williams from 1923 until the outbreak of the second world war, performances in England of her most successful work, the orchestral rhapsody ‘The Magic Harp’, and a lifetime of devotion to composition, which was foreshadowed by the works which she composed during the First World War.


1914 ‘The joy of earth’ (AE George Russell), voice and piano   TCD MS 4119

1914 ‘Ireland’ (Walt Whitman), baritone, SATB chorus, orchestra   TCD MS 4054-4054c

1915 Funeral Anthem ‘He will swallow up death in victory’  publ. Stainer & Bell 1915  TCD MS 4162

1915 War Anthem ‘Wilt not Thou O God go forth with our hosts’   publ. Novello 1915  TCD MS 4162, BL

1916 ‘Have you news of my boy Jack?’ (Rudyard Kipling) voice and piano TCD MS 4050

1916 ‘Soldiers at peace’ (Herbert Asquith) SATB chorus, orchestra        publ. Novello 1917  TCD MS 4055-4055c BL

1917-18 ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ (Julia Ward Howe), soprano solo, SATB, orchestra

[1] Irish Times 24 April 1919.

[4] Ina Boyle, Memoranda, 3.

[5] Ibid.

[7] The Musical Times, lix, 900, 69.

[8] The Times, 23 Feb. 1918.

[9] Ina Boyle, Memoranda, 4.

[10] The Irish Times, 7 Feb. 1920.

An Irish Composer and the 1948 Olympics

Dr Ita Beausang writes about the background to Ina Boyle's commemoration medal and Diplome d’Honneur in the music category of the Olympic Art Competition in 1948 for her Greek-themed chamber work, ‘Lament for Bion.’ The awards were presented at a ceremony in the RHA by the President of the Irish Olympic Council Colonel, Eamon Broy, but the piece has never been performed. The score and the inscribed Olympics certificate are located in Trinity College Manuscripts Library.     


…gentle Miss Ina Boyle from Enniskerry obtained a diploma in the music section for her ‘Lament for Bion’. The only higher award in her section was a bronze medal to Italy

So wrote Máirín Allen, Honorary Secretary, Arts Section, Irish Olympic Council, in her account of the 1948 London Olympic Games. Since 1912 artists had competed in the Olympic Games for ‘art’ medals in five categories: architecture, music, literature, sculpture and painting. The awards were established by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic Games, who sought to promote both intellectual and physical prowess, as practised in ancient Greece. According to the rules of the competitions only works relating to sport could be submitted. The music section, unlike the other categories, did not attract many well-known entrants, apart from Josef Suk, who won a silver medal for a rousing march, ‘Towards a new life’, in 1932, and Werner Egk, who won a gold medal with ‘Olympic Festive Music’ in 1936. Prizes were often withheld, and in 1924 when Stravinsky and Bartok were members of the jury no medals were awarded.

In London in 1948 there were 400 entries from 27 countries in the art competitions overall There were 36 entries in the music section, with three categories - choral/orchestral, instrumental/chamber and vocal. Since 1932 a new classification of ‘Honourable Mention’ had been added for works which in the opinion of the jury deserved a commendation. The Chairman of the Music Committee was Arnold Bax, and a total of six medals were awarded to Poland (Gold) Canada (Silver) Finland (Silver) Denmark (Bronze) and Italy (two Bronze). None of the names of the prize-winning composers are familiar today, although one in particular, Erling Brene from Denmark, had an impressive output of orchestral and choral music.   

In the vocal section a bronze medal was awarded to an Italian composer, Gabriele Bianchi (1901-1974), who had already received ‘Honourable Mention’ in the 1936 Olympics for an instrumental work.  Ina Boyle’s entry, ‘Lament for Bion’, for tenor solo and string quartet or string orchestra, was the only work to receive an ‘Honourable Mention’ in the music section. She had composed it in 1945 and had made several unsuccessful attempts to have it performed in Dublin and in London before she sent it in for the Olympics competition. The text, attributed to Moschus (c.150 BC), was translated from the Greek.

Two other Irish entries were selected for awards in the art competitions. Laetitia Hamilton’s bronze medal for her oil painting, ‘Meath Point- to- Point Races’, was the only medal won by Ireland in the 1948 Olympics, and the writer Stanislaus Lynch received ‘Honourable Mention’ in the literature category for his piece, ‘Echoes of the Hunting Horn’. The presentation of awards took place in Dublin at a ceremony in the Royal Hibernian Academy. The Olympic art competitions were subsequently discontinued, on account of problems with the amateur status of artists, and were replaced by art exhibitions and festivals. This year the Cultural Olympiad serves the purpose of highlighting artistic and cultural practice, side by side with athletic and sporting events.

The name of Ina Boyle is as unfamiliar as her music today, although she composed a substantial amount of orchestral, chamber, vocal and choral music. From 1923 she had travelled to London from her home in Enniskerry for lessons with Vaughan Williams, until the Second World War intervened. 1948 was a significant year for her as Ireland began to recover from the ‘Emergency’, and musical life in Dublin was invigorated by an influx of European musicians. Her ceaseless efforts to have her compositions performed were rewarded by performances in Dublin of two of her orchestral works by the expanded Radio Éireann Symphony Orchestra. In January 1948 her sketch for small orchestra, ‘Wildgeese’, conducted by Edmond Appia, was played in the Capitol Theatre, and in February her Concerto for Orchestra, conducted by Jean Martinon, was played at a Studio Concert in the Phoenix Hall. Meanwhile she composed a setting of ‘Still falls the rain’ for contralto solo and string quartet, and she was also working on her third symphony, ‘From the Darkness’, for contralto and orchestra which she completed in 1952.

The manuscript score and parts of Ina Boyle’s ‘Lament for Bion’, together with the ‘Honourable Mention’ Certificate from the London Olympics, are located in the Manuscripts and Archives Research Library, Trinity College, Dublin (MS4145-4150). The work still awaits its first performance.  

Dr Ita Beausang