Following the printing of Edward Bunting’s A General Collection of Ancient Irish Music, publishers James and William Power commissioned Irish Melodies. The vision behind the Melodies was to create a new Irish song repertoire based on old Irish airs, similar in format to successful Scottish publications such as A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs (1803-1816) edited by George Thomson. To create the Irish musical arrangements, Sir John Stevenson’s services were engaged. For the song lyrics, Thomas Moore’s early compositions, heavily influenced by the works of Edward Bunting, so impressed the publishers that Moore became the sole literary collaborator for Irish Melodies.
The Melodies were a runaway success from the beginning, appearing in ten successive volumes with a final supplement. The image of the harp appears prominently in the lyrics and illustrations, evoking nostalgia and nationalist feeling for Ireland’s history and music. Through Moore’s poetic interpretations, ancient Irish melodies and songs became suitable for drawing-room circulation, enjoyed at all levels of society and in many countries.