Why is Irish music so good

Irish Folk - Origins and History

Every traveler in Ireland encounters Irish folk at every turn. It's almost as if the entire island is sounding and swaying to the rhythm. The music exudes endless joie de vivre and at the same time melancholy - and has always been part of Ireland, right? How did Irish folk start? How long have Irish musicians been delighting their audiences with the rousing jigs and reels?

Irish folk has a long history

Music existed in Ireland almost 2000 years ago when the Celts brought it to the island. The Celts did not leave any writings behind, but the myths are teeming with talented harpists, some of whom were also said to have magical abilities.

They traveled the land as bards, telling stories and singing in the courts of the mighty. Back then, the music was not written down, but passed on orally - nobody played the sheet music at the time. The first notes were not published until 1762 by the Neale Brothers of Dublin: They had 49 traditional Irish pieces written across the country, which were now written down for the first time. Further records of old Irish melodies were finally added during the Belfast Harp Festival in 1792: Richard Bunting created a treasure with his recordings of the old melodies that is still one of the most important documents on the history of Irish folk.

The main musical instruments of Irish folk

While bards and harpists were still highly respected members of society in the 17th century, the increasing influence of the English crown from the 17th century onwards brought ever more massive suppression of Irish traditions. It is therefore all the more astonishing that Irish music has survived to this day - and has obviously become an important part of the Irish soul due to external pressure. The harp was and is one of the most distinctive instruments in Irish music. But traditional Irish folk is primarily shaped by the following instruments:


Flutes are an essential part of a successful session in the Irish pub. The metal flutes, the so-called tin whistles, were popular as early as the 12th century. Today they give every Irish folk song the right swing. They are also called Penney Whistles as they were also very popular with beggars in Dublin in the 15th century.


Another important instrument is the fiddle, which is actually not that different from a violin. But the fiddle allows a more carefree game than the formal violin. So it's not so much about the instrument, but about the spirit with which you play it.


Uilleann Pipes are the Irish version of a bagpipe. They are also traditional Irish instruments. However, they are so difficult to play that most music sessions will have to do without them. It is said that it takes seven years to master the instrument.


The bodhran, the Irish frame drum made of goatskin, provides the right beat. It is played with a so-called tipper in order to keep up with the fast pace. Read more about the bodhran here.

The famous bodhran; CreatingAgency: Tourism Ireland

Singing in Irish folk


Singing also plays a central role in Irish folk - although there are also numerous instrumental pieces. The most original traditional chant in Ireland is called Sean-nós: It is performed solo and there is no musical accompaniment. This high and ornate chant stands completely on its own. The melody is just as important as the text.


In addition to Sean-nós, there are the so-called Caoineadh. These laments and mourning songs were originally sung at funeral services. But Caoineadh also stands for sad songs that lament the loss of home. The trigger for this was, among other things, the great famine of 1840: It brought great suffering to the people of Ireland and countless people left the country in order not to starve. The old Irish songs and the sad Caoineadh were probably soul balm at that time - and were taken by the emigrants to their new home in Australia or the USA as consolation donors.

Because leaving home was not easy for many Irish people back then - the sadness of the loss put them in their music. Many Irish songs still impress today with their mixture of irrepressible joie de vivre and melancholy. The origin is certainly also in the many songs from this time, which tell of life in a foreign country.

And the Irish folk who had emigrated to the USA finally received their first fresh cell treatment: cities such as New York, Boston and Chicago were particularly rich in Irish. A lively musical culture developed there and new influences mixed up the old melodies: the traditional instruments flute and fiddle were joined by the piano and influences from other cultures. And the pieces were played faster and more danceable.

Irish folk is gaining new momentum from overseas

Around the year 1920 Irish musicians in the USA recorded their modernized songs on phonograms: These so-called 78-RPM records finally ended up in their old homeland in Ireland. They sparked so much enthusiasm there that the Irish musicians adopted the faster tempo and piano accompaniment. The audience loved it because the new influences brought momentum to the songs. So Irish Folk as we know it today was born: lively, sweeping and danceable, it has made smiling faces among Irish pub visitors and travelers to Ireland ever since.

Until the 1960s, Irish folk took place almost exclusively in pubs in rural areas. It was the dance music of the poorer population. It stayed that way until Sean Ó Riada intervened. The music professor at University College Cork began studying traditional Irish music intensively. Finally he made the decision to create new music based on the old roots. He founded the formation Ceoltóirí Chulainn, which consisted of fiddle, flute, uilleann pipes, accordion and bodhran. Heavily influenced by classical music, he wrote Irish music that was not only made for dancing but also for listening. The Ceoltóirí Chulainn's first appearance took place at the Gaiety Theater in Dublin. Irish music was finally well known among urban audiences and recognized as a serious art form.

The golden age of Irish folk

The 70s eventually turned into the golden age of Irish folk. Influences from folk traditions from other countries and rock elements found their way more and more. The band Planxty finally brought Irish folk to the fore in 1972, which was to cause a sensation from then on. The Bothy Band and bands like De Dannan, The Chieftains and The Dubliners created further enthusiasm and helped Irish folk to become world famous.

Irish folk is still going strong and the listeners are very happy. Young bands like The Kilkennys keep the tradition alive. Constant new influences keep Irish folk alive. Because in the end it is exactly what has always made him special: the combination of traditional roots and new elements from other countries and the most varied of musical traditions.

If you want to convince yourself of this, visit one of the numerous pubs during your stay in Ireland and let yourself be inspired by the joy of playing and the musicality of the Irish.

Irish folk on your ears!

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