As Tradfest and the Gloaming come to Dublin, we explore the roots, and the future of this extraordinary Irish sound, and discover where to find it every Thursday night.
Unforgettable, exciting, rich, and totally toe tapping, traditional Irish music has spread throughout the world. Influencing the music of other countries and peoples, it reaches back to the stories of the Celts and of ancient Ireland; and forward to touch the songs of bands and singers including U2, Thin Lizzy, My Bloody Valentine, Enya and The Pogues.
Stemming from ancient times, before most people could read or write, music was a way of carrying stories, and of drawing people together. Wandering bards sang ballads, and Sean Nós (literally “old style”) singers made their laments. A century-long lull came in the 1800s, as Ireland suffered the Famine, and the effects of mass emigration.
A revival followed at the end of that century, while those who emigrated brought their songs along with them. Today you’ll find Irish influences in music from Appalachian and Bluegrass in the US, the music of Galicia in Spain, Australian Folk, and more.
Irish Trad also gathered its influences, reflecting the reputation of the Irish as a wandering, friendly people. The famous blind harpist O’Carolan was influenced by Vivaldi, whose music he would have heard in Dublin’s concert halls in the 1700s. You can also trace connections to Arabic music and instruments, doubtless picked up though meetings with traders and travellers, mingling via the Mediterranean hub. There are echoes of Sean Nós in Flamenco and Fado singing, and vice versa. Long conversations, often dipping into disagreement, revolve around who originally influenced who.
More recently bands such as The Chieftains, The Dubliners, Clannad, The Fureys, Planxty and The Bothy Band have been spreading the Irish Trad word. Today, supergroup The Gloaming (including Martin Hayes, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Dennis Cahill) have been performing around the world, finding new audiences for this extraordinary form. The Gloaming will play their only Irish dates for 2019 with a week-long residency at the National Concert Hall, from March 4th to 11th. It should be unmissable.
Away from concert venues, and played on fiddles, harps, bodhrans, uillean pipes, flutes, tin whistles and banjos (and more), traditional Irish music thrives in the form of the eclectic session, where players come together, and build on the thread of jigs and reels, alternating between music that makes you want to weep for some loss, deeply felt, though not quite understood; or suddenly take to your feet, find a partner, and fling one another around the room in a wild dance.
Put like that, traditional Irish music tells the stories, loves, losses and passions of its people. In its purely instrumental form, without words to divide or distract, it is a truly international sound. When you’re listening to Irish Trad, you are, in fact, listening to the world.
Discover a range of Trad and Folk music at the Tradfest, this January 23rd to 27th, with music across Dublin, or settle in for a session every Thursday throughout the year in The Merrion’s atmospheric Cellar Bar, from 6pm to 8pm. Book your table here.