The history of Irish music

By Anna Newton

Today, March 17, many individuals dressed in green will come together to celebrate the Irish festival, Saint Patrick’s Day. This day marks the death date of the Roman Catholic saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick. Saint Patrick’s Day was created to memorialize the saint and honor the culture and heritage of Ireland. In order to properly honor Irish culture, one must recognize a particularly intriguing and extensive aspect of Irish culture: traditional Irish music.

Traditional Irish music is characterized as a brisk and lively pairing of intricate rhythms with luscious composition through the use of a wide assortment of instruments.

When traditional Irish music was first created, the harp was the most prominent instrument used, but, hundreds of years later, the fiddle, Irish flute, tin whistle, harp, uilleann pipes and bodhrán have become the predominant instruments played.

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  In the late 1800s, the concertina and accordion were introduced into Irish folk music, and by the 1920s, the four-string banjo was accepted. In 1930, the guitar was admitted into traditional Irish music, and the list of instruments only continues to grow.

The Celts first brought elements of this traditional Irish music, or Irish folk music, from Eastern Europe. This traditional Irish music was then spread and solidified by word of mouth as many passed down simple tunes by ear rather than writing the music down on paper. It was not until the mid-1700s that the Irish began documenting their music and sharing it with a wider audience.

Because of the Great Famine in the 1800s, a period of mass starvation and emigration in Ireland, Irish culture along with Irish music spread to various countries. As a result of the emigration, Irish music was introduced to the United States and soon embraced by the early 20th century. It was in the 1920s that recordings of traditional Irish music were made and its popularity only increased.

Throughout the 20th century, various artists tried to popularize Irish music in the states. One individual who was known for preserving traditional Irish music was Francis O’Neil. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, O’Neil worked to collect and promote Irish music throughout Chicago.

Other influencers include Seán Ó Riada, a traditional Irish music composer, who helped revive Irish traditional music during the 1960s, and The Clancy Brothers, a leading Irish folk group in the late 60s.

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This Friday, take some time to enjoy some traditional Irish music while celebrating the culture of Ireland!

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