One of the most significant collections of Scottish ballads and poems to be published by a resident in Ireland in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries was that of an English man, Thomas Percy, the Anglican Bishop of Dromore, who lived in Ireland from 1782 until his death in 1811.

This was the fourth edition of his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry that was published in 1795.  While the title may have alluded to English vernacular texts, the collection contained many Scottish ballads, some of which were republished in the Belfast Newsletter. It has been claimed that the business of running a diocese and the political tensions in County Down in the 1780s and 1790s prevented Percy from engaging in literary pursuits.

While this is true in part, it did not prevent the local press and poets from reaching out to Percy or Percy, particularly in his later years, from continuing his interests as antiquarian editor, translator and man of letters. The 1780s witnessed several reproductions of poems from the Reliques and the founding of a literary coterie in Dromore, with Percy very much as its prime mover.

Materials Available

Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. The project reproduces the four different versions of this anthology which were produced through Percy’s lifetime. This is one of the most important collections of British ballads ever produced and proved the main text in its field well into the 19th It inspired the work of F.J. Childs in the USA and assisted in the exploration of ballad and song in Britain, Ireland and the USA.