Ireland is renowned worldwide for its strong musical culture, particularly for traditional Irish music. The national emblem of Ireland is a musical instrument, the Harp. Bands such as The Chieftains, The Clancy brothers and The Dubliners have put traditional Irish music on the map, and artists such as Enya and Clannad have put a modern spin on the classic traditional style. Together, these hybrid musical styles cultivate a living tradition of music in Ireland, creating a sound that is uniquely Irish. Ireland has also produced highly successful and high-profile contemporary music (think U2, Westlife, The Script). And it hosts a vibrant live music scene.
Traditional Irish music has been used as a form of storytelling for hundreds of years with strings, pipes and drums mingling to create a vibrant, propulsive sound, sometimes lively, sometimes mournful and melancholic. The genre includes unaccompanied songs (known as sean nós) and songs sung with a variety of instruments including fiddle, accordion, tin whistle, pipes and bodhrán (a type of Irish drum). Instrumental music is also often used as an accompaniment to traditional Irish dancing.
Contemporary Irish music has also taken the world by storm, with many rock and pop bands making their name on the world stage. U2 is the most instantly recognisable Irish act but a wide range of internationally-renowned contemporary bands and pop acts hail from Ireland. If you’ve listened to The Cranberries, Snow Patrol, Bob Geldof, The Script, The Frames, Westlife or Jedward, then you’ve listened to contemporary Irish acts.
Contemporary Irish music is varied and unique, often transcending genres and mixing traditional tunes and songs with techniques borrowed from contemporary classical composition, popular music production or other folk traditions.
A vibrant independent music scene flourishes in Ireland’s cities and towns, with venues playing host to an overwhelmingly diverse group of musical styles, traditions and genres every night of the week. Music venues showcase young local talent alongside international acts. Young bands and artists have also taken to self-publishing their music online and using other inventive ways to get their music heard by audiences.
The thirst for live music in Ireland is evident in the well-established festival scene with a varied year-round programme. Irish music festivals expand the definitions of traditional music genres, or juxtapose them with artist line ups including musicians from different backgrounds and musical traditions. For example, the popular Electric Picnic festival held each summer offers comedy, music and theatre in one location. Music festivals taking place during the EU Presidency include the Temple Bar Traditional Irish Music festival, the Cork Midsummer Festival and the Pan Celtic Festival in Carlow.