We may still be in lockdown but next week millions of people across the globe will come together in spirit to celebrate the feast day of St Patrick in far from traditional ways. However, one ingredient remains ‘essential’ – Irish music, writes Nick Benson.
As we all know, the past year has been a difficult one – and that’s a major understatement. Friends and families have been unable to meet and celebrate significant milestones, such as weddings and birthdays, and Easter and Christmas 2020 were far from normal.
It has almost been a full year since lockdowns were imposed throughout the UK and Ireland and while milestones and celebrations were affected by these restrictions, they have still managed to provide us with moments of joy.
On 17th March we are provided with another of these moments, as millions of people throughout the world will come together in spirit to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, as well as the entire country and culture of Ireland.
For many it may be a very different celebration – as pubs remain closed and parades will not be permitted.
However, there are other ways to celebrate, as many may like to connect with their family and friends via Zoom over a pint of Guinness, a glass of Tanora or red lemonade or a cup of Barry’s tea.
For those who would prefer a quiet evening, Ireland has a vast treasure-trove of cultural customs and traditions they can enjoy.
Why not read a book by one of Ireland’s popular authors, re-watch some of the country’s greatest sporting moments or films starring some of its most iconic actors, while enjoying some traditional Irish fare?
For those who would like a little more of a challenge, why not try to learn the Gaelic language or have a read through the country’s incredible history?
Then, there is the music!
With traditional drinking songs, ballads and laments, as well as rebel songs, showband tracks and contemporary hits, Irish music has something for everyone.
Traditional Irish music can be traced back as far as 2,000 years ago when the Celts first arrived in Ireland. Established in Eastern Europe since 500BC, the Celts were heavily influenced by music of the East.
Today when many people think of traditional Irish music they may think of fiddles, flutes, pipes, the bodhrán (a traditional Irish drum) and the most popular musical instrument in ancient Ireland, the harp.
The harp featured in the earliest myths and legends and, as the International Harp Museum in Orlando, Florida, notes, it is one of the oldest instruments in the world, featuring in the wall paintings of ancient Egyptian tombs, dating from as early as 3,000 B.C.
Irish traditional music began as an oral tradition that was passed down from generation to generation. The songs were not typically written down but children were taught to play the music by ear and learnt the songs by heart.
The first written record of Irish music was published in Dublin in 1762, by legendary Irish musicians the Neale Brothers.
The history of Irish music has been heavily influenced by political fluctuation within the country, which involved Ireland becoming a part of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1922.
During Ireland’s time under British rule, Irish people were banned from playing their music and speaking in their native Irish tongue, which could have resulted in the loss of Irish traditional music.
However, between 1845-1849, Ireland witnessed the Great Famine, which saw the country suffer mass starvation and disease. It also served as a great exodus of Irish people as they immigrated to countries, such as America, taking their culture and music with them.
The culture and music became popular as it spread worldwide and had its own influence on different music genres in many other countries.
Meanwhile, in Ireland, the political frictions also resulted in the emergence of Irish rebel songs, which described the hardships of living under British rule, as well as the strong solidarity, loyalty, determination and praise of Irish heroes.
Amid a fall in popularity for folk music in the 1950s, Irish traditional music made a re-emergence in the mid 20th century with the establishment of the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann – the largest group involved in the preservation and promotion of Irish traditional music.
This coincided with the rise of The Clancy Brothers; an influential Irish folk group who wore their trademark Aran jumpers and are credited with popularising Irish traditional music in the US and revitalising it in Ireland.
Meanwhile, Irish rebel and folk bands, such as The Wolfe Tones, The Dubliners, The Chieftains and The Fureys and Davey Arthur, began to form and gain popularity throughout the 1960s and ‘70s.
Since then Irish musicians have gained popularity worldwide, with acts such as Christy Moore, Red Hurley and Daniel O’Donnell spanning decades in the public eye and fresh new faces shooting to critical acclaim, such as Rory and the Island and ‘Ireland’s newest rock band’, N.O.A.H, whose band members quit their day jobs to follow their musical journey on the eve of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Irish rock giants U2 formed in 1976 and have since become global icons. Hailing from Dublin, the band has released 13 studio albums and sold more than 170 million records worldwide. Their music ranges from the upbeat sounds of their highly successful Beautiful Day to overtly political tracks such as Sunday Bloody Sunday, which focuses on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, fellow Dubliners Thin Lizzy are well-known for their highly recognisable take on popular Irish ballad Whiskey In The Jar, which has also been covered by The Dubliners.
There has also been a lot of Irish influence in popular and indie music, with acts such as The Cranberries, The Script, Boyzone, Westlife, The Corrs and B*Witched remaining popular favourites over the decades.
Meanwhile, as well as influencing genres, Irish music and Irish performers have had a major impact on other artists.
Casual fans of Guns N’ Roses may be surprised to find out that guitarist Slash was inspired by a legendary Cork guitarist, Rory Gallagher. Born in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, Gallagher was a much-loved blues and rock multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and bandleader, recording solo albums throughout the 1970s and 80s, and forming the Irish rock and blues band Taste in the late 1960s.
Celtic punk band The Pogues is also heavily influenced by Irish music. Although the band was founded in Kings Cross, London in the early 1980s, the group is a predominantly Irish one, using traditional Irish instruments such as the tin whistle, banjo and accordion.
The Pogues and Irish music have also influenced another Celtic Punk band, formed in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1996 – the Dropkick Murphys.
Meanwhile, in the pop world, singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has also been influenced by Irish music and his Irish roots, with popular tracks of his including the upbeat Galway Girl and Nancy Mulligan, which tells the story of his grandparents.
While traditional parties may be off the table for St Patrick’s Day 2021, why not take the chance to enjoy some of Ireland’s traditions and even have some fun making your own Irish-inspired playlist, as there is no end to the plethora of enjoyable Irish and Irish influenced music to pick soundtracks from.
If there is one country on earth that knows good music, it is without a doubt the Emerald Isle.
Picture: Temple Bar pub in Dublin, Ireland, where traditional Irish music plays from the moment the doors open to the moment they close. This year the pub’s doors will remain closed on St Patrick’s Day. (Lukas Bischoff).