Traditional FeaturesNon traditional features Solo Group performances
No harmony Harmony
Flattened 7th Non traditional instruments
Wide range Noted music
No dynamics Fusions
Not expressive Syncopated rhythm
Repeat final note Dynamics
Traditional instruments No ornamentation
Aural tradition – passed down by ear
Modal keys and gapped scales
Form dictates what way the dances go
Traditional InstrumentsNon traditional instruments Fiddle Guitar
Tin whistle Piano/keyboard
Uilleann pipes Synthesiser
Melodeon/button accordion Drums
Piano accordion Orchestral instruments
Harmonica Ethnic instruments
Musicians: Harp - Derek Bell, Laoise Kelly, Máire Ní Chathasaigh.
Fiddle - Frankie Gavin, Tommy Peoples, Paddy Glackin
Flute - Matt Molloy, Seamus Tansey
Whistle - Mary Bergin, Geraldine Cotter, Paddy Maloney
Uilleann Pipes - Seamus Ennis, Willie Clancy, Pady Maloney
Bodhrán - Kevin Conneff, Mel Mercier
Sean Nós Solo Free rhythm
Unaccompanied No dynamics
In irish Glottal stop
Ornamentation Modal tonality
Melismas Nasal tone
Glissando/sliding Regional Differences
Examples: Úna Bhán
An Droimeann Donn Dílis
Caoine na dTír Mhuire
For small children, bouncy rhythm, repeats words and melody
Dílín Ó Deamhas
Ashling – dream/visions song,
Rebel/nationalist and famine songs
Four Green Fields
Táimse im’ Chodladh
Alternates between English and irish, Some patriotic in the irish parts
Siúil a Rúin
One day for Recreation
A narrative lyric song, often on political or social life, love, alcohol, emigration,the sea
The Foggy Dew
The Croppy Boy
The Fields of Athenry
Composed by irish in English language, many are ballads as well
The Last Rose of Summer
The Mountains of Mourne
All Essay topics and the years they have appeared.
Sean Nós The Term sean nós is used to describe unaccompanied solo singing, usually I the irish language in which the words and the music are of equal importance.
Sean nós is a singing style developed over the centuries in Irish speaking Ireland and Gaelic speaking Scotland. It has been passed on from generation to generation. The style is deeply rooted in the rhythms of the Gaelic language and in the metres and rhythms of Gaelic poetry.
Songs are sung with free rhythm, the singer speeds up or slows down to suit the words which may sometimes sound distorted. Dynamics are not used. The singer ornaments the tune to convey emotion. No two performances of a song by the same singer will be identical.
Melodic ornamentation used may be melismatic, where a note is replaced by a group of adjacent notes, or intervallic, where additional notes are used to fill intervals between notes in the tune. Rhythmic variation also is common where the notes may be lengthened or shortened. Sean nós singing tends to have a nasal tone quality. Glottal stopping is use which interrupts the flow of air through the wind pipe. Extra meaningless syllable are sometimes added to words and some singers slow down at the end while others speak the final line of the song.
There are three regions associated with sean nós singings; Munster, Donegal and Connemara. These are all Gaeltacht areas and each has it’s own distinctive spoken dialect and sean nós style. In Donegal ornamentation is not use very often and it has a very regular rhythm. Salí Gallagher is a performer of the Donegal sean nós style. In Connemara a lot of ornamentation is use and it is very florid. The songs also tend to have a narrower range. Seosamh Ó hÉanaí is a sean nós singer in Connemara. The range tends to be much wider in Munster and many use vibrato so it is most similar to classical singing.
The Harping Tradition The harping tradition in Ireland flourished from medieval times until the seventeenth century. It was fostered and developed among the powerful and wealthy Irish and Anglo-Irish families. Harpers were employed along with poets and orators, known as reacoirs, to provide entertainment for the families. As the families acted as patrons to the harpers, they would often have solo pieces, known as planxties, written in their honour by their harper. One famous song is Planxty Kelly. The occupation of a harper was a very prestigious one. The harping tradition was passed on, father to son, for many years and was one of very few viable career options for blind boys at the time. However, after 1600, as the great families went into decline, there was a loss of patronage and harpers were left unemployed. The harping tradition then became a nomadic one, as harpers would travel from county to county, playing for money and food.
There were two styles of harp: the Bardic harp and the Neo-Irish harp. The Bardic harp had between 29 and 31 strings made of wire, which were played with the nails. Usually around 70cm in height with a curved pillar and a hollow soundbox, the Bardic harp was the more resonant of the two. The Neo-Irish harp typically had 34 strings made of nylon or cat gut, which were played with the pads of the fingers. They were taller (about 91cm in height) than the Bardic harp, but less resonant.
In 1792 the Belfast Harp Festival was setup with the aim of preventing the decline of the harping tradition. It consisted of eleven harpers from the age of 15 to 97, playing pieces in their own particular style. One player that was the light of the day was Denis Hempson, age 97, being the oldest player there. Edward Bunting was commissioned by the Belfast Harp Society to record the lifestyles of the harpers as well as recording and writing down the music from the festival to preserve it for future generations. This method, unlike the oral tradition which had existed up until then, did not allow for particular nuances in style and some of these were lost. There was a harping revival in the second half of the twentieth century. The role of the harp as a traditional instrument was led by Máire Ní Chathasaigh, who had solo albums such as “The New Strung Harp” and Laoise Kelly who release the album “Just Harp”
Seán Ó Riada: Use for Irish composer
Sean O Riada (1931-1971) was born in Cork and grew up in Bruff, Co. Limerick, where he learned to play the traditional fiddle. He studied music in University College Cork. He also learned to play piano and played it in both jazz and dance bands. He was assistant Director of music in Radio Éireann until he left for Paris in 1955. After a further study in Paris, where he became involved with Jazz and Greek musicians, he was appointed Musical Director of the Abby Theatre inDublin in 1957 and also returned to work with Radio Eireann. O Riada first came to prominence in 1959 when he was commissioned by Gael Linn to write the Music for the movie ‘Mise Eire’. In 1963 O Riada took up a post lecturing in Music at University College, Cork, and he continued to work there until his death in 1971.
Throughout his life O Riada was a much renowned Irish Music Composer. But he also composed Classical music. He was also a very talented Bodhran player – giving this instrument a new lease of life in Irish Music. Ó Riada was quite critical of ceilì bands and he formed a “folk orchestra” called Ceoltoirì Chulann in 1960. He wanted to create a popular audience for traditional music and give it the dignity it deserved. He hoped that his new band could revolutionize the arrangement and performance of Irish Music. There imaginative arrangements involve interweaving melodies a classical-style harmonies.
The bodhrán had been seen as a primitive rhythm instrument but once O’Riada use it in Ceoltóirí Chualann is became a mainstream traditional Irish instrument in many groups. He also wanted to revive the 18th century Irish Harp music so he played the harpsichord in order to replicate the sound. Despite not giving many concerts they had a large following. Their last performance was recorded on the album “O’Riada sa Gaiety”. When the group broke up in 1969 many of them joined The Chieftains, whose style was greatly influenced by O’Riada.
The use of traditional airs such as “Róisín Dubh” and patriotic tunes like “A nation once again” in his orchestral scores made him a national celebrity. His soundtracks include; “Mise Éire” and “Saoirse” and also the film “The Playboy of the Western World”. He also wrote many liturgical works including “Ag Críost an Síol”. O’Riada also composed choral works, a symphony, and pieces for solo instruments and chamber groups. These include, Hill Field, Four Holderlin songs and Five Epigrams from the Greek Anthology.
Mícheál Ó Shuilleabháin: Use for: Irish composer and solo fusion of styles.
Mícheál Ó Shuilleabháin was born in 1950 and he is an Irish performer, arranger, composer and musicologist. He is a piano player And combines traditional music with both classical and jazz in his arrangements of dance tunes, airs and harp tunes. Ó Shuilleabháin plays traditional tunes on piano and improvises them in a jazz style, know as “Hiberno Jazz” such as “The Fox Chase”.
His album “Idir Eatarthru” which means between worlds, features a classical orchestra, as well as harp, fiddle, piano, flute, harpsichord, bodhrán and saxophone. The first track “Christmas Eve” begins with an introduction, which is a classical feature, on piano and bodhrán. The piano plays chords and improvises, a jazz feature, and it leads into a reel, which is the traditional
Another track “Crispy” contains features of modern art music as it contains changing time signatures and two motifs being repeated, which are two short melodies that are taken from Irish tunes and are repeated constantly. It contains both classical and traditional instruments with the piano, strings and bodhrán.
His other compositions include works for both classical orchestras and traditional instruments such as “Oileán/Island” which features the Irish Camber Orchestra as well as the traditional flute. He also composed the 1995 Eurovision interval piece “Lumen” which was for voices, orchestra and traditional instruments.
The word “Céilí” means “a gathering of people for dance”. Céilí bands play solely for dancing. A céilí band must play loud enough so it can be heard by everyone in a large hall over the noise from dancing feet. All the instruments that play the melody play in unison. A standard céili band consists of ten players. Instruments used include, accordion, concertina, harmonica, uilleann pipes, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, flute, tin whistle, drums and piano. The position of the instruments on the stage is important for balance. Generally the fiddles and flutes are in the front with the banjo a little behind them and the accordion and concertina further back as they are the loudest. Drums and piano are always furthest from the dancers. Well known bands include the Kilfenora and Ballinakill Céilí Bands.
The first céilí was organised in 1897 in London by the Gaelic League. It included music for jigs, quadrille sets and waltzes. There was long rows of dancers facing each other which is a practice that still continues today. Fr Tom Larkin set up the Ballinakill Céilí band in 1926/27 as at that time the clergy wished to get rid of jazz music. They played tunes which were suited to a blend of flute, fiddle and piano. The band was very influential and remained active until the 1960s. They inspired many others who heard them play on radio or live at céilís and feiseanna such as their 1930 recordings of The pipe on the hob, Queen of the Rushes, The old bush reel and the copperplate reel.
Another successful band are the Kilfenora Céilí band which was formed in 1910 in Clare and are still active today. They recorded “The Fabulous Kilfenora Céilí Band” and “The Kilfenora Céilí Band”. Dance houses were banned in Ireland in 1935 so dance halls were built where local priests supervised Céilís such as the Tulla and the Kilfenora in Co. Clare. Céilí music was broadcast on radio in the 30’s ad 40’s and it was kept popular by Irish made recordings in the 1950s and also by the Fleadh Cheoil. However in 1960 Sean O’Riada criticised Céilí Bands because of there lack of individual expression however despite all the critics and competition from other genres of music Céilí bands still remain busy today.
Irish Song Tradition:
Ireland has a very strong, important song tradition. Irish music was a completely oral tradition and as a result different versions of the same song may appear in different parts of the country. There is a wide variety of different songs in the Irish tradition, which are both in Irish and in English, such as sean nós, ballads, Anglo Irish songs, macaronic songs, laments, drinking songs, working songs, lullabies, love songs, patriotic songs, humorous songs, dandling songs and religious songs.
Many of the Irish songs in English are in ballad style. A ballad is a song that tells a story and is written in verses of either four or eight lines. The same music is repeated for each verse of the song. The words in Irish ballads often come from political and social life in Ireland and themes usually include love, politics, rebellion, alcohol and the sea. Some well known Irish ballads include, “The Foggy Dew”, “The Croppy Boy”, “Finnegan’s Wake”, “The Fields of Athenry”, “The Sash My Father Wore”. Ballads groups include groups such as The Wolfe Tones and The Clancey Brothers and Tommy Makem and solo performers are singers such as Paddy Reilly and Christy Moore.
Patriotic songs are songs about nationalist pride. An Aisling is a song about a beautiful woman representing Ireland in a dream Such as “Táimse im’Chodladh”, “An Droimeann Donn Dílis”. Famine songs describe the abuse that the Irish people suffered from the system of landlords and Rebel songs encouraged people to fight for Ireland such as “Boolavogue”, “Four Green Fields”.
Sean nós is another style of singing and song that is rooted in the rhythm of the Irish language and poetry and has been passes down through generations. Sean nós does not use dynamics, is atonal and has free rhythm. It is usually sung in the Irish language and is a solo, unaccompanied, performance. Ornamentation in both the rhythm a melody is used as well as glissando or sliding. There are regional differences in the style with the Donegal, Connemara and Muster dialect being the three main types. Singers of sean nós include, Lillis Ó Laoire, Séamus Begley, Rósín Elsafty and Iarla Ó Lionáird. Some sean nós songs are “ Úna Bhán”, “Anach Cuain”, “”An Raibh tú ar an gCarraig?”
Drinking songs are lively, celebratory songs that are sung while drinking at a social event and celebrating. They have a lively rhythm. Examples include “Preab San Ól”, “Whiskey in the Jar”, and “Wild Rover”.
Irish Dances follow a simple two-part structure. The A part is know as the tune and the B part is the turn. Each section is usually 8 bars long and are often played twice. The B section usually has more notes and has a higher range than the A section. Often one dance runs into another which is known as a set. Types of Irish dances include Reels, Jigs, which can be single, double or slip jigs, Hornpipes, Slides and Polkas.
The reel is the most common type of Irish dance tune. It was brought to Ireland from Scotland at the end of the 18thcentury. A reel is a lively dance tune in 4/4 or sometimes 2/2 time and consists mainly of quavers with an accent on the first and third beats of the bar. Most reels are in binary form (AABB) and the dancers wear soft shoes. Examples of reels include “Bonnie Kate” and “Cooley’s Reel”.
Jigs are divided into single jigs, double jigs and slip jigs. The Jig has been in Ireland since the 17th century and many are native in origin but some may have come from Italy. Like reels, jigs have 32 bars in binary, AABB, form. Dancers wear soft shoes for jigs. Single jigs are either 6/8 or 12/8 time and have a crotchet-quaver rhythm. Examples of single jigs are “Off She Goes” and “ Smash The Windows”. Double jigs are lively in 6/8 time consisting mainly of quavers grouped in threes. Double jigs include “I buried my wife and danced on her grave” and “The Tenpenny Bit”. Slip jigs are in 9/8 time and the 8 bar sections are not repeated, unlike with other jigs. Slip jigs are danced with soft shoes and usually by women. There are three main beats per bar in groups of three quavers. Sometimes there is a crochet quaver rhythm. “Hardiman the Fiddler”, “Drops of Brandy” and “The Fox Hunter’s jig” are examples of slip jigs.
The hornpipe dates back to the end of the 18th century and may have come from England. It is a slow dance in 4/4 time. They begin with an upbeat and have a dotted rhythm and some triplets. The first and third beats are accented. The dancers wear hard shoes and perform intricate steps as it was first adopted as a show piece. Examples of hornpipes include “Rights of Man” and “The Harvest Home”.
Influence of traditional Irish Music on the Music of North America:
Irish traditional music is popular in the USA and Canada today and it has greatly influence the folk music of the USA andCanada. There are many reasons for this with the major contributing factor being emigration. Hundreds of thousands of Irish emirgarated to North America and went to places like in the Appalachian Mountain regions, Newfoundland, nova Scotia an Cape Breton and along the West Coast. they had Irish music in hands and hearts and they interacted with the North American music they found so Irish traditional music had great Influence on American folk music such as Square Dance Music and Blues.
We can see similarities between traditional Irish and American music. Irish structures and forms can be found in American tunes such as ‘Fred Finn’s Polka’. Similarities exist between Irish and Athabaskan music such as Ornamentation like slides and double stops and also set dancing. Similarities between Irish and Appalachian music include double stopping in fiddle playing, modal ornamentation and singing similar to sean nos with a nasal quality and vocal improvisation. Versions of Irish tunes can be found in Amercan traditional music also. Songs brought over by immigrants and a shared repertoire of music now exists between Itish, Amreica and Canadian folk performaers. ‘Rose Connolly’ an American folk song was originally noted down by Edward Bunting in Derry in 1811 know as “Rosey Collolly”. The American cowboy ballad “The Streets of Laredo” uses the same tune as “The Bard of Armagh”.
The Fiddiling tradtion of Newfoundland an Quebec in Canada has been greatly influenced b the Sligo fiddiler Micheal Coleman. He recorded music in America for gramaphone and his fiddiling style can now be heard in Nova Scotia. The piper, Patsy Touhey, also recorded irish music. Versions of tunes played in Ireland feature in the North American fiddiling traditions such as “St. Anne’s Reel”. Many jigs in Cape Breton date back to Irish settelers and their fiddle plaers still ornament jigs, reels, marches and slow airs with grace notes, trebling and double stopping.
As Irish traditional music was an oral tradition the music was never written down instead it was passed on through generations and learnt be ear. It was only in the late eighteenth century that collectors began to write Irish music down. Thousands of Irish traditional tunes that have survive to the present day may have been lost forever if it was not for music collectors who helped preserve the tunes for the future generations.
Edward Bunting was the first known collector an was employed to dictate the music at the Belfast Harp Festival where hecollected 40 tunes at the festival including “Sí bheag Sí Mhór” “Eibhlí a Rún” “The Fairy Queen” and “Lord Mayo”. After the festival he went around Ulster and Connaught collecting more tunes. Bunting published almost 300 tunes in 3 volumes. In 1976 he published “A General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music” which contains 66 tunes adapte for piano including “Carolan’s concerto”. In 1809 he published “A General Collection of the Ancient music of Ireland” which contains 77 tunes in romantic piano arrangemets some with specially written songs in English. This volume includes “Planxty Irwin”. “The Ancient music f Ireland” from 1940 is the mots important historical source of information on the old gaelic harpers as he lists the fingering and damping techniques used. It contains just over 150 tues arranged for piano such as “Tabhair dom do Lamh”. Bunting is impoartant as he was the first collecter to gather the tunes in a informative, systematic way and his work is invaluable although he was a classical musican and his publications are irish tunes arranged for piano and he sometimes added in notes and features that are more suited to classical piano playing.
Francis O’Neill was an extremely important collector as he emirgrated to Chicago and collecte tunes there from other Irish immigriants that might have otherwise been lost. He published “The Music Of Ireland” in 1903 which has 1850 tunes including jigs, reels, hornpipes, marches, airs and O’Carolan tunes. He also published “The Dance Music Of Ireland” in 1907 which conatins 1001 dance tunes and is refered to as “The Book”. These were the first collections that were aimed towards Irish musicians.
George Petrie helped to set up “The society for the Preservation and Publication od the Melodies of Ireland”. He published his book “Ancient Music of Ireland” which contains nearly 200 melodies as well as song texts in Irish and English and also contains information about the sources of the songs. His daughter composed piano accmpaniments for the melodies in the book. The book was the republished in 2002 without the piano versios so the tunes were in their original format. One song he collected was the “Londonderry Air” which is also known as “Danny Boy”.
Edward Bunting (1773–1843) was an Irish musician and folk music collector. He was an organist from the age of 11 and was employed to notate the airs at the Belfast harp festival. He collected 40 tunes at the festival including “Sí bheag Sí Mhór” “Eibhlí a Rún” “The Fairy Queen” and “Lord Mayo”. After the festival he went around Ulster and Connaught collecting more tunes.
Bunting published almost 300 tunes in 3 volumes. In 1976 he published “A General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music” which contains 66 tunes adapte for piano including “Carolan’s concerto”. In 1809 he published “A General Collection of the Ancient music of Ireland” which contains 77 tunes in romantic piano arrangemets some with specially written songs in English. This volume includes “Planxty Irwin”. “The Ancient music f Ireland” from 1940 is the mots important historical source of information on the old gaelic harpers as he lists the fingering and damping techniques used. It contains just over 150 tues arranged for piano such as “Tabhair dom do Lamh”.
Bunting is impoartant as he was the first collecter to gather the tunes in a informative, systematic way and his work is invaluable although some is inaccurate as he was a classical musican and his publications are irish tunes arranged for piano and he sometimes added in notes and features that are more suited to classical piano playing. His material is unique and has been the basis for other composers such as Thomas Moore.
For regional styles in singing see Sean Nós.
Regional Styles in Instruments:
Different instruments and styles of performing exist in different area in Ireland. The main regions include, Donegal, North Connaught, East Galway, Clare and Sliabh Luachra. The styles differ in terms of ornamentations, articulation, tone, speed, phrasing, and variation. Generally the different styles are associated with virtuoso performers such as Michael Coleman from Sligo whose virtuoso style was very ornamented and fast. Different instruments and dances are common in different styles. Donegal is associated with the fiddle, Scottish influences and reels whereas North Connaught/East Galway is associated with fiddle and flute, jigs and reels and a style of polka that includes quavers and semiquavers. Clare is known for the fiddle, concertina, reels and Kilfenora and Tulla Céilí Bands, and Sliabh Luachra is associated with the fiddle, accordion, polka and slides such as the Kerry polka which is based on a quaver rhythm.
Regional Styles in Irish Fiddling vary greatly. In North Donegal / West Tyrone / Northwest Tyrone the fiddle is played very aggressively. It is fast paced music where even lighter sounding melodies have a very hard punch There is a sense of urgency and power to the music. Some players associated with this style are Felix Kearney, The Dearg Brothers and Danny Meehan.
In comparison, in East Derry / Antrim/ Southwest Tyrone fiddlers tend to play a slower (though not much), not as aggressive and it is more highly ornate. Players in this style are Bobby Martin, Vincey McLaughlin and Paddy Kelly.
The music of Sligo is better documented than other regions as a result of emigration. The players of this county filled the dance halls of New York and paid tribute to their native country by sending back some of the most magnificent recordings of Irish music to date. Players such as Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Paddy Sweeney, Michael Gorman, are several of the excellent exponents of the light and bouncy style of this county. The music is characteristically fast and the overall mood favoured is a light one with the rhythm being as stated above, bouncy or with great "lift".
Sliabh Luachra takes in parts of Counties Kerry, Limerick and north Cork. The music of the district is faster paced which has an incredible range of musical emotion. There is life and joy in the fast moving light melodies yet at the same time older players such as Con Curtin are able to play magnificent lonely tunes. The most distinct trademark of this area is the dominance of the slide and polka. Players from this district include Paddy O'Connell, Donal O'Connell, Jerry McCarthy, and Pat Fitzgerald.
In East Galway the pace of the music is greatly reduced which allows the player to concentrate more on the mood of the music. The tunes in this area are often highly ornate but the overall eerie feeling due to common occurrence of playing tunes in E flat and B flat which allow this type of sound. Excellent exponents of this style are Paddy Fahey, Paddy Kelly, Connor Tully and Liam Lewis.
Regional Performing styles
Development of Irish music in the last 50 years (20th century)
Influence of Irish music on North America
The Harping Tradition
Sean Ó Riada
Composers/Performers (solo and group)
Description of a particular performance in Irish Music