Irish Musical Instruments
A History Of A Musical People

Irish musical instruments are what give Irish music that traditional Celtic sound. Some of these instruments, like the fiddle , weren't invented by the Irish, but they sure have made them their own.

I bet three tunes come to mind quickly for you and most Americans when they think of Irish music. "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" is an Irish-American tune written in 1912 by Chauncey Olcett and George Graff, Jr. music by Ernest Ball. This tune is usually sung as a group in a bar or pub on St. Patrick's Day.

"Danny Boy" is another tune that most Americans are very familiar with. Frederick Weatherly wrote the lyrics to fit the Irish tune of "Londonderry Air" in 1910. This song is usually heard sung by a perfect male tenor voice.

The last tune that is probably the most familiar to you, but you may not know it by name, is "The Irish Washerwoman". This is a good tune, if not a little worn and tired because it's played so much. It's heard every March around St. Patrick's Day on television and radio commercials usually advertising new furniture or car sales or some such sale. It's usually played on a fiddle or sometimes a tin whistle or even a flute. The video below is an example of "The Irish Washerwoman" played by John Sheahan of The Dubliners and classical violinist Andre Rieu. As soon as you play it I'm sure you'll recognize the tune.

The tunes above were very familiar to me when I was young. It wasn't until about the late 1980's or early 1990's that I heard real traditional Celtic music. The Irish musical instruments in these tunes were something I never really paid attention to before. The mournful, melancholy sound of Uilleann bagpipes and the sometimes-happy sometimes-sad sound of the fiddle or tin whistle , I can say, is the first music I really felt. The female Celtic voice singing in Gaelic I can honestly say was the first music to really touch deep into my soul. It felt like finally coming home after a long absence, even though I couldn't understand the lyrics. That's the best way I can explain it. If you've had the same feeling about any type of music at all, you know what I mean.

I like the haunting, ethereal sound of the Celtic harp , which is also the national symbol of Ireland. This very Irish musical instrument fell out of favor for years, but it is making a comeback.

The bodhran , a type of drum, gives Irish music that energetic Celtic tribal beat.

I hope you love Celtic music as much as I do. If you do, follow along in this section of the website. I will have some more videos demonstrating the use of Irish musical instruments. I dare you to listen and try not tapping your feet. I double dare you.

If you're interested in free downloads of Irish music you really need to take a look at Marc Gunn's website of Celtic MP3s. There you'll find "Celtic MP3s Music Magazine" a free monthly Celtic music magazine featuring free music downloads of Celtic, Scottish and Irish music by independent Celtic artists from around the world. Be sure to listen to his welcome message at the top right of the page.

I'll leave you with another video of a fine example of Celtic music. This is a live performance by Altan one of my favoite Celtic bands. They are from County Donegal. The song is "Dulaman" it's a childrens tune about seaweed. It was once gathered and sold as fertilizer in the market. The chorus was sung by the sellers at the market. See the table below for the translation of the chorus. The lyrics are sung in Gaelic.

Gaelic Lyrics

English Translation

Dulaman na Binne Bui
Dulaman Gaelach
Dulaman na farraige
's e b'fhearr a bhi in Eirinn
Seaweed from the yellow cliff
Irish seaweed
Seaweed from the ocean
The best in all of Ireland!


Don't tap your feet now.

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