The Emerald Isle

Irish Music “Never get one of those cheap tin whistles. It leads to much harder drugs like pipes and flutes.” —Irish saying T here is a strong tradition of music-making in Ireland, guaranteed to lighten the heart and set the feet tapping. It is not the kind of music meant to be performed before an audience, which is expected to applaud politely once the piece is finished. Irish music means participation and this is what happens in pubs and bars, sessions (seisiúns), and festivals (fleadhs) the length and breadth of the island. Traditional Irish music, grown out of the music-making and story-telling traditions of the bards of pre-Christian Celtic Ireland, has survived some fierce knocks over the centuries, not least the turbulent times of Cromwell and William III, when the bard’s role in Irish music was all but extinguished, while the Potato Famine of the 19th century drove large parts of the rural-dwelling, music-making community abroad to the United States and the English- speaking colonies of the British Empire. Today, traditional music thrives in Ireland, helped partly in the Republic by the government’s sponsoring of Irish-language radio, and partly by a continuing dedication to ballad-singing in all those Irish communities abroad. The establishment of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann (CCE) in the Republic in 1951, aimed at the promotion of traditional music, has also played a large part in helping the music to survive. There are now several hundred branches of the CCE, that organize regular informal sessions to which everyone is welcome. Larger than the sessions are the festivals, held all over Ireland, the greatest of which is the All-Ireland Fleadh, held at the end of August in a different town each year. Details of sessions and festivals, as well as pub sessions, can be found in local newspapers and in tourist board listings. Keep an eye open as you walk past bars, too, as most of them put notices in their windows announcing forthcoming 174