Ireland is not only famous for its amazing music bands like U2 and The Script but we also know how to stay connected with traditions. Welcoming more than 400,000 visitors every year, the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann (the Music Festival of Ireland) is the most celebrated as well as the biggest traditional Irish music celebration across the globe where people from all over the world enjoy and celebrate the 2,000 year old Irish tradition.
All of us are well aware that once the traditional Irish music instrument comes out, it only goes back in the bag after performing a pleasurable and memorable night. But have you ever thought where and how it all begin?
Beginning as an oral tradition, the traditional Irish music was passed on from one generation to the other through the methods of listening, ear learning and without jotting down the tunes on paper in a formal way. The same old practice of learning and remembering songs/tunes only by listening (and not by writing them down formally) is followed even today.
The Celts brought traditional music to the country 2,000 years ago. The Celts were attracted towards the music of the East and it is widely accepted that even the traditional harp of Ireland may have originated in Egypt.
During the ancient era, the harp used to be the most famous instrument and harpists were hired to play tunes for the rulers and the aristocrats. This tradition continued until 1607 when the first Flight of the Earls took place wherein the native Irish rulers absconded the native land due to the risk of attacks. As soon as the native Irish patrons departed to Europe, the harp players were left behind and they started travelling the country and tried to play wherever they could get the chance to do so!
For a long time, the tunes were not jotted down officially but then, later in 1762, it was time for a change and the tunes were now being noted down formally for the very first time. The tune collectors started traveling Ireland in order to compile music which can be seen even today. This same tradition of music and tune collection is still followed at Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin. This archive is the world’s largest assortment of folk and traditional music. It can be very well noticed at Fleadh Cheoil events that the traditional Irish music has travelled much beyond than the 32 Irish counties. Our traditional music has toured all across the globe and finds gratefulness in our elaborated emigration history. During the famine, a huge number of Irish relocated to the States and brought their music along with them.
During the 1920s, the traditional music scene was noticed specifically in the States. During this stage traditional Irish music was recorded for the very first time and were made accessible to the Irish people residing in foreign lands. Michael Coleman, the famous fiddle player is one such music player whose recordings in New York inspired the fiddle players of the States as well as those in Ireland for a long period of time.
The style of music was served openly to a greater number of audiences because of the effect of Sean Ó Riada – the famous composer and collector of traditional Irish music. He founded the traditional music group called Ceoltóirí Chulainn that was mainly inspired by the classical forms of music. This music group started making traditional music. This new move of music arrangement was never done before. Ó Riada’s influence can be easily noticed even today in the innovative music group (grúpa ceoil ) competition during the Fleadh Cheoil festival.
In recent times, traditional Irish music has been used in association with European and American music. This phase of collaborated music was called the traditional music’s Golden Age. The two music groups, namely, De Dannan & Planxty steered this phase. A significant amount of celtic fusion has also been observed along with more famous styles of music. The famous artists like Sinéad O’Connor, Flook, Dropkick Murphys and Daithí use and give much value to traditional music elements.
It is important to notice that the Irish flute, celtic harp, fiddle, tin whistle, bodhrán and uilleann pipes are the chief traditional music instruments of Ireland. The fiddle is similar to the violin but the style of playing is the main factor that helps distinguish between the two. Fiddle players see less conformism in the way in which the fiddle is held and a trad musician feels freedom in experimenting with more musical adornment. The same holds true for every trad music player. The Irish traditional music is hugely adorned by an individual player and it would really be difficult to find any music players who play similar tunes using a similar method!