Traditional Irish music

may have heard the rumour that traditional Irish music embodies the spirit of the people of Ireland? Take a seat, listen up and you’ll find out why

Traditional Irish music is a full body experience: the upbeat tempos compel you to dance a jig, clap your hands and nod your head, without you ever having a choice in the matter. And even though sounds and songs may differ across the island, you’ll still end up acting on impulse… 

Knowing your seisúns from your céilís

First things first, get the lingo straight. The two places you’re most likely to experience trad music in Ireland are a seisún and a céilí – and there are big differences between the two. 

A trad music seisún (pronounced: seh-shoon) can best be described as an informal gathering of musicians. Often, it’ll kick off with just a guitar, but before long you’ve got the whole shebang of fiddlers, flutists, banjos and bodhrán (drum) or Lambeg drum players belting out the tunes – depending where you are listening. 

On that note, seisúns are more for listening than for dancing, although it’s not unusual for a spot of set of highland dancing to break out, either. For instance, in Armagh or Tyrone, you’ll probably find that an Ulster-Scots musical session is slightly more formal than the relaxed affairs, say, in County Clare. But the enjoyment factor is exactly on par for both. 

A traditional Irish music session
A traditional Irish music session

You’ll find a pub seisún in nearly every village, town and city on the island, especially on weekends, and usually in a pub.

A céilí (pronounced like: kay-lee), meanwhile, is all about dancing to this music; so trad musicians provide the tunes in dance halls, pubs and clubs around the island.  

Slowing it down in Clare

Remember we mentioned tempos changing? Take County Clare where the style of trad reflects the landscape. From the Burren to the Cliffs of Moher, the landscape of County Clare is imbued with a poetic quality that commands you to slow down, and breathe it all in. 

As Martin Hayes, the renowned fiddler and Clare native, puts it, “we take things a little slower here, our music, too”. In the pubs of Clare they lean more towards a lyrical, lilting style of trad. But that’s not to say Clare doesn’t know how to enjoy itself – far from it. The pubs here are packed with people almost every night listening to trad music, while the village of Doolin is known as the “traditional music capital of Ireland”. 

And music spills out onto the streets in Clare, too. Every August the Feakle Festival erupts onto the streets of sleepy Feakle village. “Feakle has this real folk feel to it,” says Martin Gaffney, one of the organisers of the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, “everything takes place on the one street; you can’t help but feel right at home.”

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Across the Glens of Antrim

The trad music of County Antrim, on the other hand is a lively affair, with accordions and tin whistles taking centre stage. The lively spirit of Antrim trad isn’t surprising when you survey the surrounding scenery of the epic Giant’s Causeway and all the mystery and romance of Dunluce Castle

County Antrim knows how to throw a trad festival, too. Along the banks of the River Bann lies the village of Portglenone. Come September, this sleepy village comes life for the Gig’n The Bann Music Festival. You’ll find a taste of traditional Irish, Ulster-Scots and folk music, with seisúns in pubs, churches and even a disused shirt factory. 

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