Music of the Republic of Ireland

Life in Ireland

Irish Music is music that has been created in various genres on the island of Ireland.

The indigenous music of the island is termed Irish traditional music. It has remained vibrant through the 20th, and into the 21st century, despite globalizing cultural forces. In spite of emigration and a well-developed connection to music influences from Britain and the United States, Irish music has kept many of its traditional aspects and has itself influenced many forms of music, such as country and roots music in the USA, which in turn have had some influence on modern rock music. It has occasionally been fused with rock and roll, punk and rock and other genres. Some of these fusion artists have attained mainstream success, at home and abroad.

In recent decades Irish music in many different genres has been very successful internationally. However, the most successful genres have been rock, popular and traditional fusion, with performers such as (in alphabetical order): Altan, Ash, Aslan, The Bothy Band, B*Witched, Mary Black, Brendan Bowyer, Boyzone, Paul Brady, Celtic Thunder, Celtic Woman, The Chieftains, The Clancy Brothers, Clannad, Rita Connolly, The Corrs, Phil Coulter, Nadine Coyle (of Girls Aloud), The Cranberries, Peter Cunnah (of D:Ream), Dana, De Dannan, Damien Dempsey, The Divine Comedy, Val Doonican, Ronnie Drew, The Dubliners, Duke Special, Enya, Bridie Gallagher, Rory Gallagher, Sir James Galway, Bob Geldof and The Boomtown Rats, Academy Award winner Glen Hansard of The Frames, Niall James Horan (of One Direction), Horslips, The Hothouse Flowers, In Tua Nua, The Irish Tenors, Andy Irvine, Siva Kaneswaran (of The Wanted), Luke Kelly, James Kilbane, Josef Locke, Johnny Logan, Dónal Lunny, Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy, Tommy Makem, Christy Moore, Gary Moore, Van Morrison, Moving Hearts, Mundy, Ruby Murray, Sinéad O'Connor, Daniel O'Donnel, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Frank Patterson, Planxty, Damien Rice, Dickie Rock, The Saw Doctors, The Script, Snow Patrol, Something Happens, Davy Spillane, Stiff Little Fingers, Stockton's Wing, Therapy?, The Undertones, The Wolfe Tones, Two Door Cinema Club, U2, Westlife and Bill Whelan (of Riverdance fame) achieving success nationally and internationally.

Other well known artists include Kíla, ensembles such as Anúna. Ireland has also produced many internationally known artists in other genres, such as rock, pop, jazz, and blues, including Chris de Burgh, Hothouse Flowers, Picturehouse, Laura Izibor. Contemporary artists include Bell X1, Fight Like Apes, Jape, Lisa Hannigan, Mick Flannery, My Bloody Valentine, Republic of Loose, Joe Dolan. Declan Nerney, The Blizzards, The Coronas, Cathy Davey, Villagers, Celtic Thunder and Imelda May.

Early Irish music

By the High and Late Medieval Era, the Irish annals were listing native musicians, such as the following:

Modern interpretation

Early Irish poetry and song has been translated into modern Irish and English by notable Irish poets, song collectors and musicians. The 6th century hymn Rop tú mo baile by Dallán Forgaill for example, was published in 1905 in English by Mary Elizabeth Byrne, and is widely known as Be Thou My Vision. The Blackbird of Belfast Lough (Old Irish: Int én bec; Irish: An t-éan beag) has been notably translated by poets such as Seamus Heaney, Ciaran Carson and Frank O'Connor. Notable recordings of Early Irish music include Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin's Songs of the Scribe and various music albums by choral group Anúna.

Early Irish musicians abroad

Some musicians were acclaimed in places beyond Ireland. Cú Chuimne (died 747) lived much of his adult life in Gaelic Scotland, and composed at least one hymn. Foillan, who was alive in the seventh century, travelled through much of Britain and France; around 653 at the request of St. Gertrude of Brabant, taught psalmody to her nuns at Nievelle. Tuotilo (c.850–c. 915), who lived in Italy and Germany, was noted both as a musician and a composer.

Helias of Cologne (died 1040), is held to be the first to introduce Roman chant to Cologne. His contemporary, Aaron Scotus (died 18 November 1052) was an acclaimed composer of Gregorian chant in Germany.

Donell Dubh Ó Cathail (c. 1560s-c.1660), was not only musician of Viscount Buttevant, but, with his uncle Donell Óge Ó Cathail, harper to Elizabeth I.

Early Modern times

Give Me Your Hand
File:Dancing Willow - Demo-CD 2007 06 - Give me your hand.ogg
Instrumental featuring viola da gamba and recorder, performed by Dancing Willow

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Up to the seventeenth century, harp musicians were patronised by the aristocracy in Ireland. This tradition died out in the eighteenth century with the collapse of Gaelic Ireland. Turlough Carolan (1670–1738) is the best known of those harpists,[1][2] and over 200 of his compositions are known. He wrote in a baroque style that is usually classified as classical music, but his music has entered the tradition and is played by many folk musicians today. Edward Bunting collected some of the last-known Irish harp tunes at the Belfast Harp Festival in 1792. Other important collectors of Irish music include Francis O'Neill[3] and George Petrie.

Other notable Irish musicians of this era included Cearbhall Óg Ó Dálaigh (fl. c. 1630); Piaras Feiritéar (1600?–1653); William Connellan (fl. mid-17th century) and his brother, Thomas Connellan (c. 1640/1645–1698), composers; Dominic Ó Mongain (alive 18th century); Donnchadh Ó Hámsaigh (1695–1807); poet and songwriter Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin (1748–1782); Arthur O'Neill (fl. 1792); Patrick Byrne (c.1794-1863); world-renowned piper Tarlach Mac Suibhne (c. 1831-1916); poet and songwriter Colm de Bhailís (1796–1906).

Traditional music

Main article: Folk music of Ireland

Irish traditional music includes many kinds of songs, including drinking songs, ballads and laments, sung unaccompanied or with accompaniment by a variety of instruments. Traditional dance music includes reels (4/4), hornpipes and jigs (the common double jig is in 6/8 time).[4] The polka arrived at the start of the nineteenth century, spread by itinerant dancing masters and mercenary soldiers, returning from Europe.[5] Set dancing may have arrived in the eighteenth century.[6] Later imported dance-signatures include the mazurka and the highlands (a sort of Irished version of the Scottish strathspey).[7] In the nineteenth century folk instruments would have included the flute the fiddle and the uilleann pipes.

A revival of Irish traditional music took place around the turn of the 20th century. The button accordion and the concertina were becoming common.[8] Irish stepdance was performed at céilís, organised competitions and at some country houses where local and itinerant musicians were welcome.[9] Irish dancing was supported by the educational system and patriotic organisations. An older style of singing called sean-nós ("in the old style"), which is a form of traditional Irish singing was still found, mainly for very poetic songs in the Irish language.[10]

From 1820 to 1920 over 4,400,000 Irish emigrated to the USA, creating an Irish diaspora in Chicago (see Francis O'Neill), Boston, New York and other cities.[11] Irish musicians who were successful in the USA made recordings which found their way around the world and re-invigorated musical styles back in the homeland.[12] For example American-based fiddlers like Michael Coleman, James Morrison and Paddy Killoran did much to popularise Irish music in the 1920s and 1930s.

After a lull in the 1940s and 1950s, when (except for Céilidh bands) traditional music was at a low ebb, Seán Ó Riada's Ceoltóirí Chualann, The Chieftains, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, The Irish Rovers, The Dubliners, Ryan's Fancy and Sweeney's Men were in large part responsible for a second wave of revitalization of Irish folk music in the 1960s. Several of these were featured in the 2010 TV movie "My Music: When Irish Eyes are Smiling".[13] Sean O'Riada in particular was singled out as a force who did much to save Irish music from disappearing through programming on Radio Eireann in the late 1940s through the 1960s. During this time he worked to promote and encourage the performing of traditional Irish music, and his work as a promoter of music and performer led directly to the formation of the Chieftans. His work inspired the likes of Planxty, The Bothy Band and Clannad in the 70s. Later came such bands as Stockton's Wing, De Dannan, Altan, Arcady, Dervish and Patrick Street, along with a wealth of individual performers.[14]

More and more people play Irish music and many new bands emerge every year Téada, Gráda, The Bonny Men, Caladh Nua, Dervish, Lúnasa being some (to name a few).

Classical music in Ireland

In the eighteenth century a number of musical clubs were formed, mainly in Dublin, for charitable purposes, which led to an upsurge in performances. Handel arrived in Dublin in 1742 to superintend the first performance of his famous oratorio. The Passerini and Damici families were favourite performers in Dublin at the operas, concerts and oratorios which were then popular.[15]

Among the next generation of musicians was John Stevenson (1761–1833), who is best known for his publications of Irish Melodies with poet Thomas Moore. His works include religious music, catches, glees, odes, operas, songs and symphonies and accompaniments to airs.[16] His contemporaries in the musical field were Michael Kelly and Doctor Carter. John Field, who lived in the early Romantic Era has been credited with the creation of the Nocturne form, later developed by Frédéric Chopin. Michael W. Balfe composer of 38 operas for the houses of London, Paris, Milan and Vienna; William Vincent Wallace composer of six operas and Charles Villiers Stanford achieved popularity in Europe and the UK during the 19th and early-20th centuries, but success for Irish composers has come primarily from outside the Irish state.

Michele Esposito, a figure of seminal importance in the history of Irish music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, arrived in Ireland in 1882. He became chief pianoforte professor at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and remained in Ireland for forty-six years, teaching two generations of musicians and composing notable works.[17] A notable contributor to Irish music since the 1930s was Cork professor of music Aloys Fleischmann. Today, the best-known living Irish composer is Gerald Barry whose operatic works have been particularly successful in the UK and Europe.[18]

Performers of note

Performers of classical music of note include Catherine Hayes, (1818–1861) Ireland's first great international prima donna and the first Irish woman to perform at La Scala in Milan; tenor John McCormack (1884–1945), the most celebrated tenor of his day; opera singer Margaret Burke-Sheridan (1889–1958); tenor Josef Locke (1917–1999) achieved global success and was the subject of the 1991 film Hear My Song; the concert flautist Sir James Galway and pianist Barry Douglas.[19] Douglas achieved fame in 1986 by claiming the International Tchaikovsky Competition gold medal. Mezzo-sopranos Bernadette Greevy and Ann Murray have also had success internationally.[20]

Choral music

Choral music in Ireland has produced Anúna, Ireland's National Choir,[21] known for their contribution to Riverdance in the early 1990s. They have also been nominated for a Classical Brit Award in the UK and were invited to give the first ever Irish Prom at the BBC Proms series in the Royal Albert Hall in 1999. In 2012 they featured as the voices of Hell in the video game Diablo III.[22]

The National Chamber Choir of Ireland are principally funded by the Arts Council of Ireland. Their artistic director is Paul Hillier.[23] Resurgam is also an important professional choral group that have begun to make an impact upon the awareness of vocal music beyond that of opera or contemporary popular music, while there are several high-quality church choirs, particularly in Dublin: The Palestrina Choir (St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral), Christ Church Cathedral Choir (Christ Church Cathedral) and St. Patrick's Cathedral Choir.

In the 1980s Shaun Davey composed The Brendan Voyage, a mix of classical orchestral and Irish traditional styles with the uilleann piper Liam O'Flynn as the soloist. He continued and expanded this genre with his compositions The Pilgrim, Granuaile, and The Relief of Derry Symphony.

In Wexford the SATB Rowe St Church Choir, annually performs a full musical setting of the Mass at the 'Church of the Immaculate Conception' during the Opera Festival each October. Settings by Mozart, Haydn, Dvořák, & Schubert have been sung to date. This event has become one of the most popular fringe events during the Festival conducted by the organist Éanna McKenna.

Piano Concerto No.1, Guitar Concerto No.1 and the Variations on Bach's Inventions are some of the works of Richard Kearns who is another of Ireland's classical composers.

Popular music

Early popular performers

Performers of popular music began appearing as early as the late 1940s; Delia Murphy popularised Irish folk songs that she recorded for HMV in 1949; Margaret Barry is also credited with bringing traditional songs to the fore; Donegal's Bridie Gallagher shot to fame in 1956 and is considered 'Ireland's first international pop star';[24] Belfast-born singer Ruby Murray achieved unprecedented chart success in the UK in the mid-1950s; The Bachelors were an all-male harmony group from Dublin who had hits in the UK, Europe, US, Australia and Russia; Mary O'Hara was a soprano and harpist who was successful on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1950s and early 1960s; Waterford crooner Val Doonican had a string of UK hits and presented his own TV show on the BBC from 1965 to 1986.

Showbands in Ireland

Main article: Irish showband

Irish Showbands were a major force in Irish popular music, particularly in rural areas, for twenty years from the mid-1950s. The showband played in dance halls and was loosely based on the six or seven piece Dixieland dance band. The basic showband repertoire included standard dance numbers, cover versions of pop music hits, ranging from rock and roll, country and western to jazz standards. Key to the showband's success was the ability to learn and perform songs currently in the record charts. They sometimes played Irish traditional or Céilidh music and a few included self-composed songs.[25]

Country and Irish

Main article: Country and Irish

With the rise in popularity of American country music, a new subgenre developed in Ireland known as 'Country and Irish'. It was formed by mixing American Country music with Irish influences, incorporating Irish folk music. This often resulted in traditional Irish songs being sung in a country music style. It is especially popular in the rural Midlands and North-West of the country. It also remains popular among Irish emigrants in Great Britain. Big Tom and The Mainliners were the first major contenders in this genre, having crossed over from the showband era of the 1960s. Other major artists were Philomena Begley and Margo, the latter even being bestowed the unofficial title of Queen of Country & Irish.[26][27] The most successful performer in the genre today is Daniel O'Donnell, who has garnered success in the UK, US and Australia.[28]


Traditional music played a part in Irish popular music later in the century, with Clannad, Van Morrison, Hothouse Flowers and Sinéad O'Connor using traditional elements in popular songs. Enya achieved international success with New Age/Celtic fusions. The Afro-Celt Sound System achieved fame adding West African influences and drum n bass in the 1990s while bands such as Kíla fuse traditional Irish with rock and world music representing the Irish tradition at world music festivals across Europe and America. The most notable fusion band in Ireland was Horslips, who combined Irish themes and music with heavy rock.

Riverdance is a musical and dancing interval act which originally starred Michael Flatley and Jean Butler and featuring the choir Anúna. It was performed during the Eurovision Song Contest 1994. Popular reaction to the act was so immense that an entire musical revue was built around the act.


Main article: Irish rock

The 1960s saw the emergence of major Irish rock bands and artists, such as Them, Van Morrison, Emmet Spiceland, Eire Apparent, Skid Row, Taste, Rory Gallagher, Dr. Strangely Strange, Thin Lizzy, Gary Moore, Mellow Candle.

In 1970 Dana put Ireland on the pop music map by winning Eurovision with her song All Kinds Of Everything. She went to number one in the UK and all over Europe and paved the way for many Irish artists. Gilbert O'Sullivan went to the top of the charts in 1972 with a string of hits, and the all-sister line-up of The Nolans gained international chart success in the late 1970s.[29] Chris de Burgh achieved international acclaim with his 1986 hit "Lady in Red".

Groups who formed during the emergence of Punk rock in the mid-late 1970s included U2, Virgin Prunes, The Boomtown Rats, The Undertones, Aslan, Gavin Friday, and Stiff Little Fingers. Later in the 80s and into the 90s, Irish punk fractured into new styles of alternative rock, which included That Petrol Emotion, My Bloody Valentine and Ash.[30] The Pogues fused punk with traditional Irish songs and their frontman Shane MacGowan is today considered one of the best Irish songwriters to combine the old and the new. In the 1990s, pop bands like the Corrs, B*Witched, Boyzone, Westlife and The Cranberries emerged. In the same decade, Ireland also contributed a subgenre of folk metal known as Celtic metal with exponents of the genre including Cruachan, Primordial, Geasa, and Waylander.[31]

Other artists well known as popular music performers include Paddy Casey, Jack L, Declan O'Rourke, Jerry Fish & The Mudbug Club, Phil Coulter, Dolores Keane, Damien Rice, Damien Dempsey, Eleanor McEvoy, Finbar Wright, Maura O'Connell, Frances Black, Sharon Shannon, Mary Black, The Frames, Stockton's Wing and Niall Horan from the British-Irish boy band One Direction.

Since the 2000s the music industry is continuing to grow with well established acts such as Snow Patrol, Villagers, The Coronas, Bell X1, Kíla, Julie Feeney, The Thrills, Gemma Hayes, The Script, Codes, The Blizzards, The Answer, The Cast of Cheers, Axis Of and Time Is A Thief.

Top 5 biggest selling Irish acts of all time

Irish acts Sold Genre Years active Notes
1. U2 170 Million + Rock 1976 – present (36 Years) [32]
2. Enya 80 Million + Celtic/New Age 1986 – present (26 Years) [33]
3. Van Morrison 55 Million + Soul 1967 – present (45 Years)
4. The Cranberries 50 Million + Rock 1990–2003, 2009 – present (16 Years) [34]
5. Westlife 44 Million + Pop 1998 – 2012 (14 Years) [35]

Top 5 'most standout' Irish acts of all time

In 2010, PRS for Music conducted research to show which five Irish musicians or bands the public considered to be the 'most standout'. U2 topped the list with sixty-eight percent[36][37] while Westlife, Van Morrison, Boyzone and The Cranberries came in 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th, respectively. The research also suggested that the 'top-five' had sold over 341 million albums up to March 2010.[38]

Irish act Percent Genre
1. U2 68 Rock
2. Westlife 10.5 Pop
3. Van Morrison 10 Soul
4. Boyzone 7.5 Pop
5. The Cranberries 4 Rock

See also



  • Vallely, Fintan. "The Companion to Irish Traditional Music" Cork University Press, ISBN 1-85918-148-1
  • Carson, Ciaran. Irish Traditional Music. Appletree Press ISBN 0-86281-168-6
  • O'Connor, Nuala. "Dancing at the Virtual Crossroads". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 170–188. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  • Mathieson, Kenny. "Ireland". 2001. In Mathieson, Kenny (Ed.), Celtic music, pp. 10–53. Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-87930-623-8
  • Carson, Ciaran. "Last Night's Fun", Jonathan Cape ISBN 0-224-04141-X
  • Geoff Wallis and Sue Wilson "The Rough Guide to Irish Music" ISBN 1-85828-642-5
  • Barra Boydell: Music and Paintings in the National Gallery of Ireland, 1985, ISBN 0-903162-22-9
  • Walsh, Basil; Michael W. Balfe; A Unique Victorian Composer ISBN 978-0-7165-2947-7
  • Walsh, Basil; Catherine Hayes; The Hibernian (Irish) Prima Donna, ISBN 0-7165-2662-X


External links

  • (French) Audio clips: Traditional music of Ireland. Musée d'Ethnographie de Genève. Accessed 25 November 2010.
  • A History of Irish Music, by W. H. Flood
  • Contemporary Music Centre, Dublin Ireland's national resource and archive centre for contemporary Irish classical music.
  • Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann A global movement promoting Irish traditional music and culture
  • The Journal of Music in Ireland Ireland's bi-monthly music magazine: reviews, interviews, in-depth articles, sessions
  • an online tune database and discussion site for adherents of Irish Traditional Music
  • - The Irish Recorded Music Association
  • Arts Council of Ireland Website that specializes in the promotion of contemporary Irish Music.
  • Music of Ireland - Welcome Home 2010 documentary film charting the development of Irish music and its influence worldwide.
  • Online database of traditional Celtic tunes with many from Ireland.
  • Vashon Celtic Tunes Irish (mostly) dance tunes with sheet music and chords.

Template:Music of Europe

Template:Irish music

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.