Irish music isn’t all U2, Chieftains and Pogues: 14 great traditional Irish tunes for St. Paddy’s Day
I have nothing against the Pogues or U2 or the Dropkick Murphys. Black 47 was probably my first exposure to “Celtic” music. But there’s always something around St. Paddy’s Day, where I start cringing: there’s a lot of great Irish music that people don’t get
Before we get into this too much, I’ll admit I have my tendencies: I love reels and hornpipes; I love fiddle and uilleann pipes. I’ve tried to balance those tendencies out with some vocal songs and slower songs.
I’ll post this a day early so you have a day to get into it. The zip file of all these tunes is at the bottom.
14 great traditional Irish tunes for St. Paddy’s Day 2009
- “The Salamanca/ Trim the Velvet”
The Salamanca is my favorite Irish reel. It’s just a great tune. And this live version has so much energy to it.
Seamus Connolly & Brenden Mulvihill – The Salamanca/ Trim the Velvet (mp3)
- “Jolly Beggar/ Reel”
The Jolly Beggar is best known as a reel and this version eventually goes into that, but it starts with the song. Planxty is one of the groups that popularized the Irish bouzouki and the bouzouki work on this song is great.
Planxty – The Jolly Beggar/ Reel (mp3)
- “Walsh’s Polkas”
Polkas aren’t just for Polish music. Patrick Street is made of up some hard hitters in the traditional Irish world–they’re still playing, too, I believe. You’d recognize one of their songs (“Music for Found Harmonium” is used at the end of Napoleon Dynamite), so here’s another one.
Patrick Street – Walsh’s Polkas (mp3)
- “Floating Crwobar/ McGlinchey’s/ the Almost Reel”
Lunasa is one exciting band, both live and on record. It’s probably my favorite of the current crop. Their guitar and bass rhythm section adds a backbone to their solid melody instruments. Here’s the song that got me hooked on them.
Lunasa – Floating Crowbar/ McGlinchey’s/ The Almost Reel (mp3)
- “The Dawn/ Music in the Glen”
Leo Rowsome is credited with keeping the uilleann pipes alive in a time when there wasn’t a lot of interest in them. He was also a heck of a player, as you can tell in this tune. It takes a lot of control to go into the upper register of the pipes and he just seems to fly through third octave while playing the regulators at the same time.
Leo Rowsome – The Dawn/ Music in the Glen (mp3)
- “Peggy’s Nettles/ Butlers of Glen Avenue/ Mountain Top”
Danu’s another current band that’s doing well with the traditional material. Interesting arrangements and good players are key to their sound. This one does particularly well switching between the three reels.
Danu – Peggy’s Nettles/ Glen Avenue/ Mountain Top (mp3)
- “The Banks”
78s were pretty important in the continuation of traditional Irish fiddle music. People often cite the 78s of fiddlers like Michael Coleman as inspirations and sources for songs. This track comes off of a collection of Irish fiddle tunes from old 78s.
Louis E. Quinn & James O’Beirne – The Banks (mp3)
- “Flags of Dublin/ Wind that Shakes the Barley”
Seamus Ennis was an ethnomusicologist, song collector, and uileann piper. He a particularly loose and fluid–open, as its called–style on the pipes. While he’s not technically perfect, he’s a joy to listen to.
Seamus Ennis – Flags of Dublin/ Wind that Shakes the Barley (mp3)
- “Stick to the Craytur” (aka the “Humours of Whiskey”)
I absolutely love this drinking song. It’s clever and it’s got a good narrative arc. It’s got a great tune and a nice lilt to it.
The Green Fields of America – Stick to the Craythur (mp3)
- “Roll out the Barrel/ Lafferty’s/ House of Hammil”
I love the bow work and the sliding, driving Sligo fiddle style style on this one.
Kevin Burke & Dale Russ – Roll out the Barrel/ Lafferty’s/ House of Hammil (mp3)
- “Banks of Red Roses”
I’ll be the first to admit that this song isn’t slick or pretty, but that’s sort of what I like about it. This is an old ballad.
De Dannan – Banks of Red Roses (mp3)
- “The Blackbird”
The Bothy Band may be my favorite traditional Irish band and it’s in no small part due to Paddy Keenan being their piper. He’s the best uilleann piper alive, in my opinion. This shows off his virtuosic control of the instrument. The full band comes in later.
The Bothy Band – the Blackbird (mp3)
Niall and Cillian Vallely are two talented brothers. Cillian is the piper–he’s also in Lunasa. Niall plays the Irish concertina. Here’s a nice duet of the two
Niall & Cillian Vallely – Sunnyside (mp3)
- “Colonel Fraser”
Jerry O’Sullivan comes to uilleann piping from Scottish piping, where there’s often more emphasis on precision and it shows here. Colonel Fraser is a wonderful hornpipe and here it’s delivered perfectly, not a note out of place.
Jerry O’Sullivan – Colonel Fraser (mp3)
Ipickmynose 2009 Irish Mix (zip file, mediafire)
 I do, however, have something against the Chieftains. They play watered down versions of traditional songs for the PBS crowd.
 Paddy is a much more common version of the name in Ireland than Patty, so I’m going with Paddy.
 I don’t endorse the thematic matter of this song.