Irish folk music has braved the onslaught of the digital era with aplomb
Solo performers and small ensembles carry the Celtic torch in the 21st century
Nostalgic Celtic instruments still form the backbone of modern Irish folk music
Man Is Only as Good as His Tools
A traditional Irish music repertoire would be lifeless without the following arsenal of heavyweight Celtic instruments. Some of these old reliables have little changed over the centuries, making them synonymous with Celtic-infused melodies of the homeland. Here is a rundown of IrishEmpire.org’s favorite musical gizmos and gadgets in no particular order of preference:
The Celtic Harp
The ‘cláirseach’ or Irish harp has been a mainstay of Irish folk music for centuries
The cláirseach or Irish harp is an elder statesman of traditional music with anecdotal evidence praising its unique sound and charm as early as the 12th century. Mastering its chords requires great patience and consummate skill. IrishEmpire.org’s Colin Carroll had the unique privilege of being serenaded by its soothing song during the filming of our Redhead Alert TV series.
The bodhrán is an Irish frame drum traditionally made from goatskin or animal hide
The traditional Irish bodhrán is made from goatskin or animal hide. Its ancestral forebear is the tambourine, but the Irish bodhrán has evolved considerably over time to become a uniquely Irish instrument requiring hours of practice to master its distinctive pitch and timbre. We’re so fascinated by the bodhrán at IrishEmpire.org that we decided to track down the best drummer in Ireland to school us on how to make and play this mythical drum.
Irish uilleann bagpipes are easily identifiable by their distinctive tones and wide range of notes
Irish uilleann pipes rely on a small set of bellows strapped around the waist and one arm. They produce a distinctive sound noted for its sweetness and softness compared to alternatives such as the Great Irish Warpipes and Great Highland Bagpipes. Another important difference is that Irish uilleann pipes are most commonly played indoors and the piper typically plays them in a sitting position as opposed to marching or standing. Watch the reaction of flabbergasted passengers on an Irish nightlink bus as an enthusiastic piper gave an impromptu performance with his uilleann pipes.
Irish Tin Whistle
The Irish tin whistle is a simple, six-holed woodwind instrument synonymous with Celtic music
The Irish tin whistle surged in popularity during the 19th century on the back of a Celtic music renaissance. Modern incarnations of this ancient folk flute are usually constructed from brass tubing with a plastic mouthpiece. A booming market has also recently emerged for high-end, hand-crafted tin whistles that sell for hundreds of dollars. Arguably the true darling of modern Irish folk music, the tin whistle is a real showstopper in the right hands.
For many, the Irish fiddle is the centerpiece of contemporary Irish traditional music
What's the difference between a fiddle and a violin? You don't spill beer on a violin! For all intents and purposes, the violin is a rich man’s fiddle (or is the fiddle a poor man’s violin?). What does distinguish these Siamese twins of the musical world is the type of songs the listener expects to hear from both. The Irish fiddle is synonymous with uninhibited joy and craic while the violin soothes the ambiance at a swanky restaurant. In the true bohemian spirit of Irish folk music, the fiddle breathes life into its songs with daring rolls, trebles, and cuts.
The Irish bouzouki is effectively an Irish-style remix of the original Greek bouzouki
Last but by no means least, is the only genuine mongrel of the pack. The Irish bouzouki was undoubtedly pinched from the Greeks along with crossbows, maps and modern democracy. While Greek players have a penchant for virtuoso melodic interpretations, the Irish tend to use the instrument primarily for chordal accompaniment of melodies. The Irish iteration can also be visually distinguished by its wider body and flat back. Since the 1960s, its popularity has grown considerably and it is often incorporated by folk musicians around the world from Galicia to Scandinavia.
Now that you’ve had a chance to review our favorites, why not vote and leave a comment for us? Does the list have any glaring omissions? Is it nonsense? Have your say by voting below!