The Irish music

'Gallagher uilleann pipes' - Ireland
'Gallagher uilleann pipes' - Attribution: rocks & pipes

Traditional Irish music falls into two broad categories: the song tradition, which is most commonly unaccompanied solo signing, and dance music, consisting of lively reels, hornpipes, jigs and polkas. Within these two categories are many regional variations, similar to dialects of a language.

The fiddle is a primary instrument in Irish music, providing the melody for many dance tunes. The instrument is the same as a violin, but is called a “fiddle” due to differences in technique and attitude. For example, a Mozart sonata is for the violin, while the popular jig “The Lark in the Morning” is for fiddle due to its rhythm, rolls and lilting notes.

The Uilleann pipes are another common Irish sound, making music by blowing air through a bag filled by a bellows. The result is a wide range of notes with a sweet tone.

Other common instruments used in Irish music include the flute, tin whistle, harp, concertina, button accordion and the bodhran, a one-sided goatskin drum.

The reel is the most popular form of Irish traditional music for both players and dancers. All reels follow the same structure, with the accent placed on the bar's first and third beats. Popular reels include “Drowsy Maggie,” “The Silver Spear,” “The Merry Blacksmith,” “The Musical Priest” and “The Cup of Tea.”

Second in popularity to the reel but still very common is the jig, usually composed in a duple compound meter. Some popular jigs include “The Kid on the Mountain,” “The Kesh Jig,” “Morrison's Jig,” “My Darling Asleep,” “The Swallow Tail Jig,” “The Banshee” and “Scatter the Mud.”

The Irish song tradition is comprised mostly of ballads and laments. These songs are usually divided into political and non-political categories, although some fit both categories depending on one's interpretation. Songs may be sung about work, like “Paddy on the Railway” or “The Cobbler,” or about love and romance, like “A Kiss in the Morning Early,” “Easy and Slow” or “The Girl from Donegal.” Many songs have also been written about emigration and travel, such as “Back Home in Derry,” “The Boys from the County Armagh” and “Goodbye Johnny Dear.”

One of the most popular Irish songs, “Danny Boy,” is actually a combination of English lyrics and an old Irish air from the county of Londonderry, now in Northern Ireland. The original lyrics are open to interpretation, but many believe the song is a parental message to a son heading off to war or leaving the country as a member of the Irish diaspora.