Ireland’s traditional music (or trad as we call it) has been around centuries. And we know this as a fact: a set of wooden pipes in County Wicklow that date back to the Stone Age prove it.
Here, we look at five trad instruments that musicians from Ireland have been blowing, strumming, picking, plucking and thumping for a very long time indeed.
Pronounced “bow-rawn,” this instrument is known as the heartbeat of trad music for good reason. The bodhrán is a large drum that is covered with stretched animal skin and struck with a stick (traditionally made from double-ended knucklebone). It's used in traditional music to provide a pulsating beat that turns listeners into dancers with ease.
Some speculate that the instrument served a double purpose as a husk sifter and grain tray. We prefer it as a drum.
Hear it at: O’Hanlon’s Bar, Mullaghbawn, County Armagh
These tuneful pipes have been mesmerising listeners with their haunting tones since the 5th century. A popular instrument, the uilleann pipes (meaning “pipes of the elbow” because of their pump-operated bellows) take years to master. It was two County Louth brothers, William and Charles Taylor, who developed our most modern version after emigrating with the instrument from post-Famine Ireland to the United States.
Today, Belfast-man John McSherry is our proudest piper and a true master. To imagine how the Ulster-Scot-influenced pipes sound, think Scottish bagpipes but better!
Hear them at: Cultúrlann, Belfast
You know an instrument has reached iconic status when it is the emblem of one of the island's biggest brands (Guinness), appears on Ireland's Euro coins and even inspired a city bridge (The Samuel Beckett in Dublin). The Celtic harp is that very instrument. Variations of the triangular, gut-stringed-instrument have been plucked in Ireland since as long ago as the 10th century, when nomadic harpists would travel around Ireland performing songs for food or a warm bed.
In 1792, the Belfast Harp Festival saw the best players competing for prizes. And today, the ornate and ancient Brian Boru harp can be viewed in The Long Room at Trinity College Dublin.
Hear it at: Cryan’s, Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim
Looks can be deceiving. Take the Irish fiddle, for example. This essential trad instrument looks identical to the violin, but its unique playing style and sound set the two apart. In trad music, the high-pitched and expressive fiddle is often heard above all other instruments, and can be euphoric and heart-breaking in equal measure.
Counties Sligo and Donegal have rich fiddling traditions, though artists such as Daithí have been redefining the sound of this sweet instrument.
Hear it at: The Glen Tavern, Glenties, County Donegal
Adapted from a Greek instrument and brought to Ireland in the 1960s, the Irish bouzouki is the latest addition to our traditional music arsenal. Looking not unlike a giant mandolin, the instrument was popularized by Irish folk legend Dónal Lunny from Tullamore, County Offaly, who uses one in groups Planxty and LAPD.
With such a rich and bright sound it's no surprise we stole the idea and made it our own. Bouzoukis are now regulars at many traditional music sessions.
Hear it at: The Cobblestone, Smithfield, County Dublin
Ireland’s trad music keeps attracting more and more listeners. Between our music schools, concerts and pub sessions, there’s no shortage of these spirited tunes or odd instruments in Ireland.