Letter from John Ireland to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
August 22nd 1954

Rock Mill
Ashington 227

My dear V.W.

I was delighted to get your greetings telegram on my 75th.  My mind always returns nostalgically to our early RCM1 days, with Dunhill, Holst, and the others - our meetings at “Wilkins’ ” - and when we first heard Brahms No 4, and sang2

And your joke about Judas Maccabeus -
“Hoary Tory, O, You  ‘dnot mak’ a bee-us!!” O, happy days.3
Now, you and I are the sole survivors of that happy carefree group.  You have reached well-deserved world fame - all honour to you.
You say “please write a lot more music - but I was a minor composer, and I say to myself (to paraphrase a wartime caution) - “Is your music really necessary” ???4
Anyhow, far too much music (?) is being written, performed and published in these times.
But I’m getting a garrulous old man, and will close.  Thanking you, dear V.W., very affectionately for your kind thoughts,
Your friend as ever,

John Ireland

1. Royal College of Music
2. First two bars of the Scherzo from Brahms Symphony no.4. Thomas Dunhill also recalls this story, see Kennedy, Works of Vaughan Williams p.20.
3. Ireland wrote a fuller version of the story in his obituary appreciation of VW in the Musical Times for October 1958 (pp.535-6): ‘Vaughan Williams, who even then we called V.W., had a somewhat naive sense of humour, his favourite tale or joke was “Why does an oratorio remind you of an elderly Conservative?” Answer being Judas Macabeus.  The interpretation being “Hoary Tory, O, you just mak’ a bee- ‘us” (bee-house).’
4. An adaptation of the wartime injunction 'Is your journey really necessary?'

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/21, ff. 100-101
Cobbe 633
Original database number: