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Take a Look at the Origin of the Irish Music and its Instruments

Kashmira Lad Nov 17, 2018
Music has always held a very important position for the people of Ireland. Take a look at the brief history of Irish music and the various kinds of instruments that were used for the beautiful compositions.
Music is one medium that can bind hearts all over the globe. It can appeal to the soul no matter what kind of language is used to support it. Irish music has various styles and a kind of a lyrical soothing feel to it, and it is still very much firmly rooted in Ireland.
The one thing that crops up about Ireland's love for its music and dance is an act known as Riverdance, which popularized many aspects about Ireland. It had such an appeal that it gave a new dimension to the Irish music and dance scene.
Although experts argue about the authenticity of the music used (because it has a lot of influences as well), Riverdance is still loved; its beautiful sets, brilliant dancers, exquisite costumes, and the very talented musicians leaves you asking for more.


Irish music still has a strong foothold today despite the emergence of new genres. This music saw its peak from the 9th to the middle of the 11th century. Singing was always used in accompaniment with this music, as one's voice was obviously the oldest instruments one could use. The traditional aspects of Irish music are still very much preserved today.
The main characteristic about Irish music is the slow moving change. In the ancient days, the Celts were known to have passed the music and lyrics orally. The Irish were forbidden to speak their own language when the British invaded them.
This was the time when music was used to remember some of the important events and was also considered to be a way to keep their heritage intact. There were various styles of Irish music as well. Let us take a look at these.

Traditional Irish Music

The Irish folk music is a term that is used for music that has been composed in various genres all over Ireland. The traditional songs were always written in the Irish language, i.e., Gaeilge, though the use of English is commonly found these days. Melody was always considered to be the most important factor, and the harmony was kept simple for that reason.
This was also the time when the Sean-nós (Irish for "old style"), which are basically unaccompanied vocals that were also sung solo, were considered the highest point of traditional singing. One's style is also considered to be very important in traditional Irish music. The Irish folk songs that are totally traditional are at least more than 200 years old.
Céilí dance gained popularity in the 19th century. This is also referred to as a kind of a social gathering that includes music and dance. A group of musicians always provided music for the Céilí dance with the help of instruments like the accordion, flute, drums, piano, banjo, etc.
Irish music was also very widely used in accompaniment with dance. The beauty of stepdancing was aptly depicted in Riverdance.  Sadly, one saw a drop in the number of genuinely interested people in traditional Irish music around the 1930s. Experts have a difference in opinion about the use of the various types of instruments in traditional Irish music.
It is said that the bouzoukis and the guitars were used in the late 1960s, while some instruments made their appearance only in the later years. Let us take a look at some of the musical instruments used to create the melodious tunes that are found in Ireland.

Instruments Used

Uilleann Pipes

The ancient Irish pipes were given the name of Irish Warpipes or Great Irish Warpipes. The Uilleann pipes were also known as the union pipes, and were developed at the beginning of the 18th century. These are also said to be the most complex form of bagpipes. The modern version of these pipes was said to have arrived on the music scenario around the 1890s.


The violin or the fiddle (as it was known locally) is one of the most important instruments used in the various compositions of Irish music. This instruments, available in a variety of shapes and sizes, is very similar to the violin.


The accordion plays an important part in modern Irish music. The popularity of the accordion gained ground sometime in the 19th century, and this was also used commonly for dance in the typical Irish traditions.


The harp is a musical instrument that can be traced at least 5,000 years back in history. Generally, it rests between the knees and the right shoulder, although traditionally, the harp was placed over the left shoulder by some early Irish and Scottish harps.


The first bouzouki was built by John Bailey for John Pearse, and was used in Irish music in the late 1960s. Irish bouzoukis have a flat or slightly arched back as compared to the Greek bouzoukis. The Irish bouzouki also has 4 pairs of strings, as compared to the other types of bouzouki that are available.


This instrument also enjoyed a prominent position in Irish music. It is noticed that most musicians from Ireland who used the mandolin preferred the flat back instruments. It had an oval sound hole as compared to the Italian style.


The banjo was introduced in Ireland by emigrants that came from the United States. Its function is considered to be similar to the bauzouki or the mandolin which was traditionally used in the music of Ireland.
Apart from this, the harmonica, guitar, flute, bodhrán, concertina, etc., are also used in this music. Today, various other genres have also incorporated the traditional forms of Irish music in its compositions.
Several groups on the music scene have combined Irish traditional music very successfully to introduce a completely new genre. Music, therefore, has a strong foothold in the Irish culture.