Chapter 9
‘Not the Same, but Just as Nice’:
Traditions and Transformations in Irish
A Preliminary Listening
Online Musical Illustration #24 features three different
performances of a characteristic Irish dance tune melodic
Listen to all three performances and note similarities and
Irish Music in Context
Since 1920, Ireland has been divided into:
The Republic of Ireland (Ireland): An independent
nation with Dublin as its capital. Population of 3.6
million people, 93% of which is Catholic. English
and Irish (Irish Gaelic) are spoken.
Northern Ireland: a province of the United Kingdom
with its capital in Belfast. It has a history of
struggle between the Irish Protestant majority and
the Irish Catholic minority.
1949 = full independence for the Republic of Ireland,
which was previously a self-governing dominion within
the British Commonwealth.
The Irish potato famine began in the 1840s and led to
the deaths of 1.5 million Irish people. It was also the
main impetus for the Irish diaspora, in which millions
of people left Ireland to settle in other places.
Irish nationalism increased in the 1920s, leading to
developments like Radio Éireann, the national radio
station. It became a symbol of national identity.
Post-1949, urbanization, reliance on manufacturing, and
industrialization occurred. The Irish music revival of
the 1960s was a reaction to the fear of culture loss
accompanying this urbanization.
Interactions between Irish music performers worldwide
increased, and even had a great impact on the music
“back home” in Ireland.
The session, an informal musical gathering of Irish tunes
and socialization, had great influence.
An Introduction to
Irish Traditional Music
The core identity of Irish traditional music is found in a
well established musical repertoire, consisting of five
categories of music.
Sean nós, or “old way,” songs.
Slow instrumental melodies called airs.
Songs sung in English.
The musical tradition of the Irish harp, the national
symbol of Ireland.
Instrumental dance tunes and medleys.
Sean nós songs are sung in Irish Gaelic. Connoisseurs
consider it the heart of Irish traditional music and it has
influenced most other genres of Irish music.
CD ex. #3-4 features “Ag an Phobal Dé Domhnaigh,” a
dark sean nós love song in the Irish Gaelic language.
CD ex. #3-5 features Noel McLoughlin’s performance
on “Song for Ireland,” which is not a sean nós song but
displays aspects of sean nós influence. Note the
ornamentation of the melody, the rhythmic phrasing, the
understated delivery, and the melodic variations.
Musical Guided
Irish Traditional Dance Tunes
Follow along with the transcript on page 165 of the text as you
listen to the Tour for this chapter.
Audio Musical Guided Tour
Traditional Irish Dance Tunes and
Medleys: Two Examples
Irish traditional dance tunes and medleys are often performed
by ensembles in contexts such as the ceílí, an informal social
dance gathering held at a pub or dance hall, or the much more
common session, in which musicians perform traditional and
newer tunes in settings not usually featuring dancing.
Gatherings like these function not only as music-making
events, but enforce friendships and community.
Instruments employed include the fiddle, the tinwhistle (an
end-blown flute with six fingerholes), and the uilleann pipes
(a type of Irish bagpipe—see below).
Insights and
Irish Music and
Celtic Music and
Irish musical and cultural identity has traditionally been
framed in terms of a Celtic cultural lineage. During ancient
times through the early era of Christianity, the Celtic people
ranged across much of Europe. Today, their cultural legacy
survives mainly in Ireland, the U.K., westernmost France, and
some regions of Canada.
Characteristics shared among Celtic musics include:
Prevalence of melodies in certain modes.
Identifiable melodic ornamentation.
Use of certain instruments, forms, and dance rhythms.
Close integration between music and dance.
Seamus Ennis
Seamus Ennis was one of the greatest uilleann pipers and
a very important figure in the preservation, cultivation,
and dissemination of Irish traditional music.
He learned the uilleann pipes as a child and was
performing on Radio Éireann broadcasts by the age of
He worked for several organizations: the Irish Folklore
Commission, Radio Éireann, and the British
Broadcasting Corporation.
Neo-Traditional Irish Music and the
Irish Music Revival
Socioeconomic changes throughout the 1950s included
industrialization, urbanization, and increased manufacturing.
This resulted in fears of cultural loss and a growing interest on
the part of younger Irish people in traditional Irish culture.
The Irish music revival began in the 1960s and led to new
recordings of traditional music, an increase in Irish traditional
music competitions, and ongoing transformations of the music
on multiple levels.
Sean Ó’Riada and the Transformation
of Irish Traditional Music
Sean Ó’Riada (1931-1971) is a seminal figure in Irish music
transformation. In 1960, he formed the ensemble Ceoltóirí
Cualann. These musicians invented a neo-traditional Irish
music that was absorbed into the mainstream traditional music
He restored the status of the uilleann pipes, which had fallen
out of favor, and introduced the hand-held frame drum known
as the bodhrán as a newly important rhythmic instrument.
The Chieftains
The Chieftains, led by the uilleann piper Paddy Moloney, is
arguably the most influential of modern Irish traditional music
Their influences are heard in the music of virtually all
subsequent leading Irish groups, and they have collaborated
with musicians such as Mick Jagger and Ziggy Marley.
CD ex. #3-8 features “The Dingle Set,” a medley of three
reels: “Far From Home,” “Gladstone,” and “The Scartaglen.”
The 1970s: Second Generation of the
Irish Music Revival
The second wave of the Irish music revival featured musicians
with a more cosmopolitan and commercial vantage point. It
included Planxty, Clannad, the Bothy Band, and De Danaan.
One one level, they created a fusion of Irish music with rock,
jazz, and other styles. On another level, they continued the
song, dance tune, and performance traditions that came before
CD ex. #3-9 features “Bean Pháidín” by Planxty. It is a darkly
funny song that showcases the innovatively traditional
technique of the second generation of the Irish music revival.
The Modern Ensemble Sound of Irish
Traditional Dance Music
The following list summarizes some of the main features of
the modern ensemble style of Irish dance music.
Performances typically feature groups of performers
rather than soloists.
Chordal accompaniment from instruments like the guitar
and bouzouki, once not used, now figure prominently.
Drums (e.g., drum set, congas) and other percussion
instruments are often used for rhythmic accompaniment.
Traditional Irish dance rhythms are often enhanced or
transformed through the influences of jazz, rock, funk,
and other music styles.
Musical textures vary considerably, even within the
course of a single performance. Melodies may be
simultaneously played on different instruments, phrases
divided among soloists, or there may be changes in
instrumentation from one section to another.
Rather than functioning largely as dance music, it is now
mainly considered music to be listened to but not danced
Insights and
The Irish Bouzouki
The Irish bouzouki is a flat-backed hybrid of the original
Greek bouzouki and the mandolin. It came into Irish music
through Johnny Moynihan in the late 1960s.
It is now one of the standard instruments of Irish music, used
as a chordal instrument along with the mandolin and guitar.
Its introduction aligned with other influences, like the use of
Greek and other Balkan rhythms in Irish dance music styles.
The Post-Traditional World of Irish
Music: Crossing Bridges with Eileen
The Irish diaspora resulted in the establishment of many Irish
communities internationally, and their members tenaciously
preserved and creatively developed Irish music. New musical
styles cultivated by Irish diaspora musicians began to influence
musicians in the Irish “homeland,” and a new wave of crosspollination and transnational musical culture began.
Eileen Ivers is representative of that transnational culture. She
is an Irish-American fiddler and her work spans an eclectic
range of musical styles: neo-traditional Irish, Irish-rock, IrishLatin, and Irish-African fusion.
Ivers was born to Irish immigrants in the Bronx, New York
City, and was raised surrounded by Irish music and dance. Her
multicultural upbringing influenced her musical tastes, and she
ultimately applied aspects of rock, jazz, Broadway, and
classical music to her own music.
She began playing fiddle at eight years old and won the AllIreland Fiddle Championships nine times.
CD ex. #3-11 features Ivers’s band performing “Gravelwalk,”
an innovative arrangement of a medley of three old-style Irish
reels served up with hard-driving rock-Irish grooves.
Comparing Ivers’ “Gravelwalk” to the music that preceded it
brings to mind the old Irish saying: “It’s not the same, but it’s
just as nice.”

Chapter 2 How Music Lives: A Musicultural Approach