Ireland has produced many world renowned musicians, U2, Enya, Sinead O’Connor, The cranberries, Hozier etc. Irish music has a long history, can be found in many genres of music, and a large number of Irish people play instruments as a hobby, so, as you’d expect there is a lot of live music to hear and see once you get here.
Finding Traditional Music in Ireland
Traditional Irish music is always popular with tourists but you will be more likely to see a musician singing popular and chart music rather than traditional music in the majority of pubs, however with a bit of searching, you can find it.
Tradconnect is a great website listing trad pub sessions by county, however, this is by no means an exhaustive list. Take a stroll around the town or village you’re staying in and there will usually be a sign in the windows about what type of music is on.
Equally your B&B or guesthouse might be able to advice of the best place to go in the locality. In the cities a quick internet search should give you a good idea of where to find live music, for example the Crane Bar in Galway is very popular.
It is harder in small towns and villages but it can be found; keep an eye on pub windows or boards outside pubs for the weekly/weekend music list. Your accommodation might also be able to give advice on the best place to go for music in the locality.
An Fleadh Ceol are annual festivals of Irish traditional music, dance, song and language run by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCÉ), they are carried out all over the British Isles and America. It incorporates all aspects of traditional Irish music, competition categories include a wide variety of instruments as well as categories of duets, céilí bands etc. Check out the Fleadh schedule here to see if there’ll be anything on near you while you’re on tour. For Kerry specific Fleadh Ceol events check out Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Chiarraí
In modern Irish history the showband style music was very big in the dance hall scene during the 50s, 60s & 70s in and there is still a big following for musicians like Daniel O’Donnell, Margo and Big Tom, who play both dance hall classics and modern songs in that style. They regularly tour around the country and would be listed on all the big event listing websites such as Entertainment.ie
Finding Contemporary Music in Ireland
Irish people love their music and this is definitely shown by the wide variety of styles played and enjoyed around the country. It’s very common to spend a night out listening to live music with friends in Ireland either at a pub or at a larger venue. These websites might help you plan your night out: Dublin Sessions has listings of pub music Dublin and Planet gig guide can help you find venues around the country.
A lot of big name, world renowned international acts play in Ireland check out who’s on at entertainment.ie and buy tickets at ticketmaster. The Dublin city stadiums like Croke Park and the Aviva attract large crowds to see big acts play, such as Beyonce or Bruce Springsteen.
Musical Theatre & Opera buffs will find plenty to satisfy them too. Two of our favourites are the Bord Gas Energy Theatre is a state of the art theatre which hosts large productions like The Lion King and Nixon in China. Equally, the Cork Opera house hosts some great contemporary musical productions as well as classics like Carmen.
Music festivals like Slane or the multiday Electric Picnic will have a range of contemporary international musicians and bands set over a few days. A lot of people buy tickets for the full event and camp, however you can buy tickets for individual days as well.
Buskers and Street Music
Busking is legal in Ireland and you can find it all over the county in towns and cities. It can range from a young lad with a tin whistle to a group with instruments and an amp. Some famous acts have done their share of busking in Ireland before they were famous such as Ed Sheeran.
Big shopping streets around the country, like Grafton St. in Dublin, attract a lot of buskers in a wide variety of genres sometimes even famous people stop by and do impromptu acts for charity. It is polite to tip a busker if you stop to listen to their music, but it is expected that if you photograph or film them then you should definitely give the busker a tip.
Many of the festivals in towns and cities around the country will incorporate music into them, it ranges from free to ticketed. For example, The Rose of Tralee or Bealtaine, will incorporate music into their event listing but it will not be exclusively so. We have many music festivals in Ireland and cater to a lot of preferences. Here are a few of the best genre specific music festivals in Ireland;
Guinness Jazz festival
Wexford Opera Festival
Folk Fest Killarney
West Cork Music Festival (Traditional)
Willie Clancy Festival (Traditional)
Indiependence (Independent music)
Kilkenny Roots Festival (Americana/Roots Music)
Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival
The Irish National Anthem is The Soilders Song or Amhrán na bhFiann which is generally sung before sporting events, however, because the song is in Irish you’ll find it hard to find an Irish person who can sing it beyond the chorus line! A few anthems that are crowd favourites are Irelands Call and The Fields of Athenry. The majority of people in Ireland will know the lyrics to these songs of by heart and will randomly break out in these songs to cheer on musicians or sports teams.
Traditional Irish Music Instruments
The Bodhrán is a percussion instrument that is considered to be the heartbeat of Irish music. An ancient drum it was traditionally used in warfare and celebration as a rhythm instrument but gained popularity in the 60s & 70s as a musical instrument in traditional music. The drum is made up of a wooden frame covered in goatskin which is then beaten with a small wooden tipper. Bodhráns are widely available in Ireland and come in a range of sizes and styles from decorated ornamental to musician quality.
An official symbol of Ireland, adorned on our country crest, the harp is synonymous with Irish culture and heritage. Considering this, it is surprising that the harp did not originate in Ireland, but in Asia! It was said that Brian Boru and many of the gentry of the Gaelic lordship played the harp, and it was common for a clan to have a harp player in residence.
Consequently, the harp has been used as a political symbol for centuries, thus the harp is included on the Irish coat of arms, the presidential seal, the Irish passport etc. We also have a harp festival in Roscommon every summer.
The Uilleann pipes that are the national bagpipe of Ireland, they are also referred to as Union pipes. This instrument is similar to the Scottish bagpipes, in fact they both originated from the same Gaelic war pipe.
You will not find the Uilleann pipes at any pub traditional session but if you ever have the pleasure of attending a parade for St. Patricks day in Ireland there will no doubt be a marching band with Uilleann pipes and a heavy drum beat. This is probably also your best chance of seeing the little seen much admired Irish kilt!
Almost all primitive cultures have a form of flute in them, in Ireland this has developed into the tin whistle. What makes it unique is not the instrument itself but the style in which it is played. These instruments can be inexpensive (around €10) and prefect as an Irish keepsake as they are small and light weight to carry travelling home. Many Irish children learn the Tin whistle in school as an introduction to music, however, for the disconcerting musician whistles are available in different keys and materials.
Physically identical to the violin, and much like the tin whistle, it is all about the style in which the instrument is played that gives it that unique Irish sound. You will definitely find the fiddle in a pub trad session heavily embellishing the melody and slurring into the beat in a way that is very different to classical violin playing.
Unlike the harp, the fiddle developed at a grassroots level being played in kitchens, weddings, street corners etc. all around the country and is considered one of the more important instruments in Irish traditional music.
Sean-nós translates to old style, and is an unaccompanied style of singing that is highly ornamental, one syllable of a word can be sung in several notes. Though the songs themselves can be relatively simple they become extremely stylised when sung by an experienced Sean-nós singer.
The roots of this singing style are very much the rhythmic and poetic stylings of the Irish language, although songs can be sung in English too. Sean-nós singer tend to sit or stand gently swaying to the song with their eyes closed. It can be very moving to watch a Sean-nós performance.
We are happy to organise additional activities for our guests be they concert or festivals tickets, or learning about Irish instruments, let us know what you’re into and we’ll find out what’s on near you! Some examples of activities we can incorporate into your tour; Music Lessons for tourists in Bodhran and Tin whistle in Dublin or Weekend music lessons in Donegal.