Music and dance has been at the very heart of Irish culture and heritage for as long as we can remember. These traditional songs and dances which have been passed down through the years give us a strong sense of cultural identity and are still a huge part of our social lives.
Let’s take a closer look at how Irish music and Irish dance have become the cornerstone of our heritage and culture.
The beginning of traditional Irish music in Ireland is somewhat vague, as songs, music and lyrics were only passed down orally from one generation to the next, mainly in rural areas. It is said that there were thousands of ballads and Irish songs ever before people began writing them down! Most Irish songs and ballads reflected what was going on in the country at the time, so a lot of the songs that we sing today are steeped in history.
Long ago you’d usually only hear Irish music being played in peoples homes, but after 1920 (when Ireland gained its independence from Great Britain) Irish music flourished and crossroads dancing became very popular. It drew people from near and far and soon became the main social event in the area.
During the 1930′s, the ‘Dance Hall’ was where you could enjoy Irish music and dance. The ‘Ceilí Band’ also emerged during this time.
In 1951, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann was set up to encourage traditional Irish music. This group created the Fleadh Ceoil Festival which is still held in various locations in modern day Ireland. By now traditional Irish music was a part of everyday living and became even more popular due to music programs on the airwaves.
The main instruments used in Irish music are the tin whistle, the accordion, the concertina, the uilleann pipes, the flute, the bodhrán, the banjo, the mouth organ, the piano, the fiddle and of course the harp. The harp was a very popular musical instrument in ancient Ireland and it’s even said that Irish monks in the 6th century took their harps abroad when they travelled to Europe.
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Irish music and not mention Irish dancing, as the two go hand-in-hand! It’s said that Irish traditional music was mainly invented to accompany dancing but it’s also said that Irish dancing became a way of enjoying Irish music.
Traditional Irish dances include reels, hornpipes and jigs. These step dances originated from “Sean-Nós” dancing which was an old style/version of dancing in Ireland and there are many variations of them depending on what dance school you learn from.
Other popular Irish dances include céilí dancing and polka sets. Céilí dances can involve many people dancing to Irish music at the same time. Dances like this include the “Walls of Limerick”, “Shoe the Donkey” or the “Siege of Ennis”.
Irish set dancing is hugely popular all over the world and features a set of eight dancers (four couples). Sets can be different from one area to the next for example, in Ireland we have the Corofin Plain Set, the Clare Lancers Set and the Connemara Set to name a few.
Thanks to productions such as Riverdance, Irish music and dance have become loved all over the world, and it has even created many spin-offs like “Lord of the Dance” and “Celtic Storm”.
Irish dancing is alive and well in Ireland today. You’ll find céílís the length and breath of the country in halls or even in the local pub! Most towns in Ireland have their own schools of dance, which hold weekly classes in Irish dancing and some welcome beginners and visitors!
When you visit Ireland, make sure you go to a céilí where you’ll enjoy a great night of traditional Irish music and dance. Don’t pass up the opportunity to join in, as Irish dancing is great fun!
No matter where you are in Ireland, you’re sure to come across a session. If you join in with the locals you’ll experience something that is truly “Irish”. Or you can just sit back with your favourite tipple and take it all in. A lot of pubs have live traditional Irish music at the weekend, so browse our list and find somewhere you can enjoy a session. Don’t forget to be part of it, mingle with the locals, make friends, and above all enjoy the atmosphere and the “craic”.
If you know of any good Irish music and Irish dance venues or events in Ireland, why not let our readers know – just drop a comment into the box below!