Every year on March 17th, people from Dublin to Chicago and everywhere in-between join together to honour St. Patrick’s Day – making this event one of most recognised annual festivals in the world. Aside from the obligatory green attire, novelty hats and free-flowing pints of Guinness, there’s one thing in particular that unites every St. Patrick’s Day celebration: music.
Fiddles hopping… feet stomping… a crowd of strangers arm-in-arm like old friends… it’s a scene you’ll encounter in many an authentic pub – not just on St. Patrick’s Day, but all year round. This unmistakeable feeling of togetherness is rooted in the origins of Irish music, when songs were passed on from generation to generation by listening, learning and sharing ideas. Instruments like the Celtic harp, uilleann pipes, tin whistle and fiddle slowly began to enter the scene around the same time musicians first performed as professionals, but it was following the Great Famine in the 1840s that the Irish music we all recognise today initially appeared. Over two-million people emigrated across the world, and networks were quickly established in cities like New York, Chicago and Boston – where music would allow people to come together and remember their homeland. These areas still remain some of the most highly populated outside of Ireland, and as a result, the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations take the cities by storm year after year.
So what exactly is it about this music that sees people from all over the world flock to the Emerald Isle? The ‘trad sesh’ – a session of traditional Irish music in a local pub – usually involves a handful of musicians playing old folk songs on native instruments, ranging from slow, melancholy singing to more energetic and fast-paced compositions. The latter has become known as dancing music, and includes jigs, reels and hornpipes – which you’ll hear in abundance during any visit to Dublin’s bouncing Temple Bar, O’Donoghue’s and The Cobblestone Bar – also known as “a drinking pub with a music problem”.
The irresistible nature of trad music to audiences has led artists – both native and otherwise – to incorporate key elements of the genre into their own tracks. One famous example is Ed Sheeran’s huge hit ‘Galway Girl’, which channels traditional Irish folk storytelling by describing an encounter with a Galway girl in a bar. Fiddle, pan flute and Irish melodies hadn’t typically featured on pop albums prior to this, but he proved his critics wrong when it became one of the biggest songs of 2017. And with Irish performers like The Dubliners and Sinead O Connor, along with U2, Van Morrison, The Corrs and The Cranberries all remaining incredibly popular, it’s safe to say the live music scene in Ireland is booming.
Wherever you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th, you’re bound to hear the traditions of this unmistakable genre shining through. No other country in the world has a sound so unique, and even though Irish music has undergone changes throughout history, one thing has absolutely stayed the same; it’s still bringing people together and getting them up on their feet.