The Anglo-German Concertina, often shortened to Anglo Concertina, has had a fascinating journey through Ireland’s 19th and 20th century, with its popularity beginning after the end of the Great Famine and continuing unabated until the around the 1930s when, thanks to religious and political interference it experienced an almost catastrophic decline in usage, the tradition being kept alive by a few hardy outliers in Co. Clare who essentially saved the concertina from extinction in the world of traditional Irish music.

Bean Chairdín

The initial rise in popularity of the concertina amongst Ireland’s poorer people was due to the availability of two row, cheap German concertinas. They were usually played at house gatherings, crossroad and house dances and were seen as a woman’s instrument. In fact they were referred to as bean chairdín in Irish which literally means ‘woman’s accordion’.

They were seen as a more delicate and sweeter version of the accordion, popular feminine characteristics of the age. Thanks to their reedy sound which was voluminous enough to be heard over chatter, they were popular at house dances, where the neighbours gathered in small groups to dance half sets in the kitchen.

Their small size meant they were easily stored and eminently portable taking up very little room. This was an important factor in already cramped social spaces. Most houses at the time had a nook built into the chimney for the concertina ready to be played by the family or a visiting musician.

Irish Concertina

Irish Concertina Invasion

As the original Anglo concertina only had two rows of notes on each side they were easy to learn and pretty soon the concertina invasion of Ireland hit fever pitch prompting some members of society to decry the loss of so-called indigenous instruments like the pipes, etc.

A 1897 letter to a London music magazine illuminates this concern:

Cheap German concertinas are the chief instruments occasionally seen. I cannot but regret that the national harp and bagpipes seem to have disappeared in favour of these importations from the Fatherland [Germany].* – Worrall: 201

Luckily the harp and the uilleann pipes are still going strong, so this gentleman’s fears were unfounded. Thanks to the proliferation of these ‘cheap German concertinas’, today we have a thriving concertina playing community across the globe.

This hasn’t always been the case however. In the 1930’s the concertina’s future in Ireland looked very bleak. So what caused the concertina’s popularity to cease so abruptly? That’s for another blog post but we can assure you that it’s both fascinating and enraging in equal measure!

Read all about The Near Catastrophic Decline of Irish Concertina Playing in the 1930s


*Worrall, Dan. 2010. The Anglo-German Concertina: A Social History, Volumes I and II, Third Edition as cited by Noel Fahey

By McNeela Instruments, Specialists in Traditional Irish Musical Instruments

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

    1. It’s a fascinating story, Samantha, and one that reverberates across Irish society all the way to today. Keep an eye on our blog for the next installment!

  1. I have a 20 button Anglo-German concertina. I am teaching myself to play it and I'm having a lot of fun and progress. I'm working on the son The Minstrel Boy and It's coming along pretty good. I'm almost all Irish and little German mixed in .

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Join Our Mailing List

Get all the latest Irish music news right in your inbox!