When Thomas Moore Was the Headline Act
John Boyle O’Reilly’s folio edition of The Poetry and Song of Ireland first appeared in New York City in 1887, thirty-five years after the death of Thomas Moore. Featuring the work of forty-two Irish and Irish-American poets, its immense popularity prompted a massive second edition in 1889 – with ninety-six additional authors. Thomas Moore had pride of place in both editions. Moore’s selection came first, and it amounted to well over 20% of the first edition and to just over 17% of the second edition. This study will examine closely the organisation, composition, and marketing of O’Reilly’s two anthologies of 1887 and 1889. In O’Reilly’s editorial hands, the “marketability” of Moore as “the headline act” for the cultural construction of “modern Irish poetry and song” as a key marker of Irish cultural identity, achievement, and esteem in the transatlantic marketplace of the late nineteenth-century book trade emerges. O’Reilly’s admiration for Moore as a pivotal model for an Irish writer and as an exemplary mentor for a vibrant and cosmopolitan sense of Irish cultural politics is demonstrated, and the chapter traces O’Reilly’s work as journalist, editor, and anthologist regarding how to reflect and shape these developments through editorials for The Pilot and the organisation of Poetry and Song of Ireland. The chapter concludes by setting O’Reilly’s editorial work within the context of some later editorial treatment of Moore and his reputation, especially by the Irish editor-poets W. B. Yeats and Thomas Kinsella.