Traditional Irish Music
Ireland’s traditional music, also known as trad music, has existed for centuries and dates back as far as the stone age.
Below we have listed the most popular & top 5 traditional instruments from Ireland. Many of these are Celtic instruments and go back to the time of the Celts in the north of Europe including Ireland, Scotland, Brittany and Northern Spain.
The Bodhrán is known as the core & heartbeat of trad music. It’s a large drum which is covered in stretched animal skin, it provides a pulsating beat and produces a lovely sound.
Some people think that years ago the drum had a multipurpose and was used as a husk sifter and grain tray.
Today it is one of the most popular of all traditional Irish musical instruments and can boast fans from all over the world. Popular players of the bodhrán include Rónán Ó Snodaigh, Johnny ‘Ringo’ McDonagh, Christy Moore, Caroline Corr, Gino Lupari and many many more.
Below is a video of John Joe Kelly playing the Bodhrán at an Irish Trad session.
And this is Rónán Ó Snodaigh playing bodhrán in the McNeela Irish Music Store in Dublin
2. Uilleann Pipes
The Uilleann pipes are ancient pipes and have been around since the 5th Century and a version of the pipes we see today was a popular Celtic instrument. The Pipes are still a very popular instrument, however they can take years to master.
The meaning of Uilleann Pipes is “pipes of the elbow”. William and Charles Taylor, two brothers from Louth developed the most modern versions of the pipes after they emigrated with the instrument from post-famine Ireland to the USA.
Masters of the uilleann pipes include the late great Seamus Ennis, Willie Clancy and more recently deceased Liam Og O’Flynn, also Mike O’Brien, Davey Spillane and Louise Mulcahy to name but a few.
It’s not an easy Irish musical instrument to learn. The piper, Willie Clancy famously said that it takes seven years to learn how to play the uilleann pipes, another seven years of playing, and a further seven years to become a master piper.
Watch Seamus Ennis demonstrating his genius ability to play the most difficult uilleann pipes.
Liam O’Flynn on the pipes
3. Celtic Harp
The Celtic Harp has an iconic status and is present on the national flag & Euro currency. The Celtic Harp has had many variations over the past few centuries and has existed since the 10th Century.
Up to the 15th century any nobleman or woman worth their salt kept a harpist at hand ready to play music, accompany poetry readings and even ride out with their patrons. It was said that Brian Ború, High King of Ireland from 1002 until 1014 was said to be a competent harpist.
In fact one of the oldest surviving harps in the world is called The Brian Ború and is on display in The Long Room at Trinity College, Dublin. Seemingly, It dates back to sometime between the 14th or 15th century but was originally and possibly erroneously thought to be Brian Ború’s harp, hence the name.
Prominent harpists of Ireland both past and present include Turlough O’Carolan, Cormac de Barra, Moya Brennan and Patrick Byrne
Watch Carolan’s Dream – played on a Celtic harp.
Listen to Moya Brennan play the harp
The fiddle is identical to the violin, however they are differentiated by their playing style and sound. The fiddle is high-pitched and when playing in trad sessions is often heard above other instruments.
Prominent fiddle players of traditional Irish music living and deceased include Michael Coleman, Martin Hayes, Mairéad Ní Mhaoinaigh , Liam O’Connor, Tommy Peoples, Eileen Ivers, Paddy Glackin and the lately departed Ben Lennon.
Watch the Fiddle & Flute being played during a traditional Irish music session.
See Martin Hayes play the Irish fiddle with his long time collaborator, Dennis Cahill.
The Bouzouki was brought to Ireland from Greece in the 1960’s. The Irish Bouzouki was adapted from a Greek Instrument and is the most recent addition to the Irish music collection.
The Bouzouki is similar looking to the giant mandolin and produces such a rich and bright sound that it’s not surprising that the Irish stole the idea and made it their own. This instrument is now very popular and is present in most Irish trad music sessions.
Great bouzouki players of traditional Irish music include Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny, Beth Patterson and Daoirí Farrell.
Watch the Irish Bouzouki being played.
Listen to Daoirí Farrell on the Irish bouzouki.
More traditional Irish instruments
These traditional Irish instruments have become very popular since the early 20th century and are present at most traditional Irish musical sessions and are important Irish musical instruments in the folk music tradition of Ireland.