History of Irish Music

The Irish culture is well know for their music and dance.   The tradition of Irish music and dance has been around for centuries.  The first origins of Irish music began with the Celts roughly 2,000 years ago.  Much of their music was influenced by eastern cultures.  The most popular instrument at the time was the harp, which may have originated in Egypt.  Musicians who could play the harp were often asked to play for the Celtic Chieftains and nobles.

Prior to 1920, early Irish music began as a family tradition and was played in the home or at gatherings.  People would often gather at the crossroads to playing music and dance .  Songs would be passed on from generation to generation by listening to the music and learning by ear and evolving over time.  This practice is still common today and encouraged.  It wasn’t until 1762, that Irish music was officially written down to be compiled and shared with other musicians.  Today, Dublin has the largest collection of Irish traditional and folk music in the world.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Irish music made its way across the ocean when many Irish musicians emigrated to the United States of America.  Fiddle players such as Michael Coleman, Paddy Killoran and James Morrison, concertina player William J. Mullally and Uillean Pipers, Patsy Touhy, and Tom Ennis brought their music to the United states, and their music and recording would have a great impact on the future of Irish music.

In Ireland in 1951 Comhaltas Coeltoiri Eireann (CCE) was founded to promote Irish Traditional music. CCE established the Fleadh Ceoil Festival, which is held every year in Ireland.  This gathering hosts a myriad of promising musicians from all around the world.

For a more in-depth look at Irish music please check out a history of Irish music at:


Other sites on the History of Irish Music:



Traditional Irish Instruments –


The Irish Harp is the oldest Irish instrument.  Until about the 16th century, musicians who played the harp were well regarded and often hired to play for nobility.  Once Ireland came under English rule, Queen Elizabeth I banned the harp and musicians from playing the harp.  Today, the harp is seen as a symbol of the Irish culture.





The first known reference to the fiddle in Ireland dates back to the 7th C. The oldest know fiddle was discovered in Ireland during the 18thC and is said to have been from the 11thC.  By 1674 the harp had declined in importance, and the fiddle slowly began to take its place.  It was cheaper, smaller, and easier to learn.  It became a popular instrument among rural people and was played solo, for dancing, or at special events such as weddings.




The first known type of bagpipe in Ireland dating back to the 5th century.  They were an instrument played by peasants.  By the 17th century, the pipes progressively became more popular among the upper class.  During the 18th Century, the Uillean pipes were improved and slowly became more popular than the harp.  A complete uilleann pipe has a bag, bellows, chanter, 3 drones and 3 regulators. The bag is inflated by the bellows and the chanter on which the melody is played has a range of two octaves.




While a popular instrument in Ireland, the flute did not originate in Ireland.   The history of the flute begins with Charles Nicholson (1795-1837), a flutist from the London.  Nicholson became popular for his music and sounds he created with his modified and expensive wooden flutes.  One gentleman in particular, Theobald Böhm (1794-1881) was fond of Nicholson’s playing and his flutes.   Nicholson inspired Böhm (1831-1847) to create a flute of his own, but using metal rather than wood.  The new metal flutes became very popular and the wooden flutes created by Nicholson ended up in pawnshops.  Now affordable, the Irish began purchasing the old wooden flutes which allowed Irish musicians to create the perfect tone and sound for their Irish music.



The tin whistle is also called the Irish Whistle and Penny Whistle.  The tin whistle originated from fipple flutes, which have been seen in many forms throughout the world.  The earliest known documentation of the tin whistle dates back to the early Middle Ages and people of northern Europe.  One of the earliest known tin whistles found in Ireland dates back to a 12-century fragment of a Norman bone whistle.  It gained popularity as a folk instrument in the 19th century and has become a popular instrument within the Irish culture.




More information on: Bagpipes, Bombarde, Melodeon, Button Accordion, Piano Accordion, Concertina, Banjo, Mandolin, Citterns, Bouzoukis, Guitars, Harp, Bodhran, and Dulcimer to come.




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