An Irish composer and World War I

Ina Boyle (1889-1967)

Ina Boyle (1889-1967)

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.

By Dr Ita Beausang

Musical Education

Ina Boyle had showed musical talent from an early age together with a determination to compose. Living in Bushey Park, 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.

Charles Wood (1866-1926)

Charles Wood (1866-1926)

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 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

Captain Grenville Fortescue (1887 – 1915)

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, a War Anthem dedicated to the 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)

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

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 on 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)

Captain Herbert Asquith

Captain Herbert Asquith (1881-1947)

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 ChristChurch 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.


Works composed by Ina Boyle 1914-1918:

  • 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 (TCD MS 4056-4056b)
  • 1918 Phantasy for viola and piano (TCD MS 4120)
  • 1918-19 ‘A Sea Poem’, Theme, variations and finale for orchestra (TCD MS 4057-4157a)

[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.

6 thoughts on “An Irish composer and World War I

  1. Hello Edward,

    Ina’s symphony no. 1, the ‘Glencree’, will be performed by the RTÉ NSO in 2016.

    Information about performances of Ina Boyle’s music is on her new web site:

    Her music (mostly in manuscript) is in TCD Manuscripts Library and can be studied there.

    There are some copies in the Contemporary Music Centre.

    For further information contact itabeausang at oceanfree dot net

    • Thanks for the reply.
      Is there any possibility of viewing, perhaps by pdf or photo, any of her choral scores (satb and probably unaccompanied) to see what they look like? The chances of getting time to travel to study them is unlikely although if I thought there was something worthwhile working with singers to perform especially over the Great War anniversaries I would be most interested.

      • Hello again Edward,

        I understand that not having to travel to see Ina Boyle’s choral scores would certainly be more be time efficient. I can ask Ita Beausang who gave me the information above what is possible. I can email her tonight.

        If you want to make direct contact with her I would prefer not to put her email address verbatim online as it would invite spam emails to her account.Her email is itabeausang at

        I don’t know if the Contemporary Music Centre can provide photos or pdfs but their contact details are on this link

        Just checking their site there I see they have unpublished scores by Ina Boyle for sale including
        ‘A Mountain Woman’ and ‘Sleep Song’ on the following link:

        I’m not sure who one would contact in Trinity but Dr.Beausang would know.

        It is lovely to see a revival in interest in the work of Ina Boyle. It certainly ties in with The Great War anniversaries. I think she would be delighted to know that nearly fifty years after her death, after a life spent mostly out of the limelight that people are interested in her work.

        With every good wish
        Merry Beau

  2. Ita asked me to pass on the following message:

    ‘Dear Edward

    I sent you a message c/o the Grosvenor Choir but in case you do not get it I am sending you some further information.

    Some of Boyle’s music has been digitised by TCD. You can download five of her Gaelic Hymns, published by Chester, free on tcddigitalcollections.

    The scores of the Hymns are also in the Contemporary Music Centre Library and copies of the scores can be purchased. (tel. 353 1 673 1922)

    A list of Boyle’s choral works is available on the website

    If you want further information on anything else let me know.

    Best wishes

    Ita Beausang.’

    Hope this helps

Leave a Reply