Irish Symbol - Irish Traditional Music

Irish Traditional Music

Throughout history, music has been associated with Ireland. Its musical history dates back over 2,000 years. Indeed St Columcille (521-597 AD) one of the twelve apostles of Ireland described the clerics of Ireland as having the ability to "sing like birds". Irish saints are well known by hymnologists for writing some of the earliest known hymns.

Unlike most other European countries who have lost their native folk music, the traditional music of Ireland has become increasing popular.

English: Music

Gaelic: Ceol

Irish Traditional Music - History
The revival of traditional Irish music was helped by the establishment in 1951 of the Irish Traditional Music Association (Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann). The aim of the Comhaltas association is to preserve and promote Irish traditional music. They have a huge network of branches offering traditional music classes to people all over the world including, Ireland, England, America, Australia, South America and Japan! They hold regular traditional Irish music competitions  known as “Fleadh Cheoil” (feast of music) and an annual  "Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann" in which musicians qualify to compete with the aim of becoming the All Ireland Champion.

Traditional Irish music is extremely popular all over the world. The Irish are known worldwide for their love of music.  The Tin Whistle, Flue, Fiddle, Accordion and the Bodhrán are familiar instruments played in Ceilis's and Irish Pubs all over the world. Irish children are still taught to play traditional instruments, their parents keen to carry on ancient Celtic traditions and favour traditional instruments to the more modern ones.

Irish Traditional Music - Harp
The harp is the national symbol of Ireland, the Celtic harp appears on Irish Currency and features in many Irish Mythology stories. The most famous harp was called Uaithne and belonged to the Dagda who was an important God in Irish Mythology. The Dagda was a protector of the people and legend tells us that his magical harp played itself! One of the most famous Irish harp players was Turlough O'Carolan who was blind. Born in Ireland in the 18th century, he was famous for playing the Harp but was also a composer and a singer. He is commonly known as Irelands national composer.

The harp is a multi-stringed instrument, the strings are made from a variety of materials including wire, silk, nylon or gut. The plane of the harp's strings are positioned perpendicularly to its soundboard. Musically the harp is in the category of Chordophones (as are all stringed instruments) but it has its own sub category, Harps.  All harps are made up of a neck, resonator and strings. Frame harps also have a pillar, Harps without a pillar are known as open harps. The harp can be played while held in the lap if it is small enough but more often the Harp stands on the floor and the harpist sits next to it on a small chair or stool to play the instrument.

Irish Music - Irish Traditional Music

Irish Music Index

Full Ireland Website

Irish Traditional Music - Green Harp
The green harp flag dates back to Confederate Ireland in 1642 and was initially a plain gold harp on a green background. The version shown below was used in Ireland during the 1800's, the original harp was changed to include a mythical woman's head and torso complete with wings which formed the head of the harp! She was known as the 'Maid of Erin'.

Irish Traditional Music - Accordion
The Accordion was invented by Friedrich Buschmann in 1822 in Berlin, Germany and was called the Handäoline. Cyrill Demian (1772–1847) of Vienna created another version of the accordion with buttons in 1829. His patent of the name 'Accordion' was officially granted in May 1829 and many credit Cyril Demian with the invention of the accordion while others give credit to Friedrich Buschmann's invention. Today there are many variations of the accordion, some with buttons and others with keyboards, essentially they are all constructed in a similar manner, two boxes separated by a bellows.

It is a very popular instrument in modern Irish folk and traditional music and is available in different forms. The two row button accordion as shown in the picture below is popular with traditional Irish accordion players. There are several types of accordions available, for example the Melodeon and Concertina versions are also popular in Irish traditional music as well as the piano accordion which is often played by marching bands popular all across Ireland. Traditionally the accordion was popular with the lower classes as opposed to the harp which was played more by the upper classes. The accordion comprises three components, these are:

  • The Bellows. These are squeezed which in turn pushes air through to the reeds

  • The Keys or Buttons. These are pressed producing the notes

  • The Reeds. The reeds vibrate inside the body of the accordion and make the sound

Irish Traditional Music - Bodhrán
The Bodhrán is a traditional Irish musical instrument and consists of a frame drum covered in either synthetic material or goatskin. The inside of the drum is open and the player holds the drum by grasping the cross bars on the inside of the drum as shown as shown in the picture above. The drum is hit with a small wooden bone which is also known as a tipper, beater or cipín. Occasionally the Bodhrán is played by hand

Traditional Irish and Celtic Music
Singing, performing and dancing is a huge part of Irish culture, it is the land of music and dance! Ireland has produced some amazing singers and musicians; U2, and Enya are both perfect examples! Riverdance and Lord of The Dance are examples of the way that traditional Irish music and dance has been brought into the 21st century. Both are world famous shows enjoyed by the Irish diaspora and those who wish they were!

Traditional Irish Music - Facts

  • Henry VIII of England was believed to be a great lover of Irish harp music and when he took control of Ireland he had a harp embossed on the currency

  • Shakespeare refers to eleven Irish tunes including the famous 'Callino Casturame'

  • Queen Elizabeth was particularly fond of Harp music and kept the Irish harpist Donogh in her court

  • The Clairseach is a large Irish harp and was known as "the festive or heroic harp of the chiefs and ladies, as also of the bards"

  • Ireland is the only country to have a musical instrument as their national emblem

  • Harp music was often played to accompany 'bards' reciting poetry

  • The Celtic Triangular Harp was known as the instrument of the Bards!

  • The Harp was associated with the more affluent Irish whereas the accordion was played more by the lower classes

  • During the 9th century it is reported that twelve different musical instruments were used by the people of Ireland

  • The music school in the Swiss city of  San Gallen was established by the Irish monk Gallus (ca 550–620 or 640) later known as St Gall

  • The tin whistle is often referred to as a beginners flute

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