Traditional Irish Music Abroad: Sonic Environments – Tye Hobson

There are many things about the culture of any particular space and the community that inhabit it that are signified as unique. An aspect of Irish culture that makes it even more unique than most, would have to be its universal celebration in the present day. Irish food and drink, Saint Padraig’s Day, and many other smaller instances of Irish culture have been continually celebrated up into the modern day.

Irish Music’s Historical Prevalence

One of the most celebrated aspects of Irish culture continues to be music. The reels and jigs of Ireland live on in the form of massively popular modern songs. Many of these songs have very old origins and have been repurposed throughout the ages. The song “Oró ‘Sé Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile”[1] has been part of Irish folk tradition for hundreds of years. It details the story of a famous Irish pirate named Gráinne Ni Mháille (Grace O’ Mally ). Later this song would find popularity amongst rebel movements, because its key phrase and namesake means “welcome home”. It is obvious to see why this song would be popular amongst early nationalists.[2] The tune this song is set to would continue to be outrageously popular as it would eventually be attributed to the song “What Shall We Do with A Drunken Sailor”[3]. This is a gleaming example of how these infectiously entertaining Irish songs have withstood the test of time. Their shifting forms have been an ever-present part of Irish and global culture.

Irish Music as a Form of Resistance

There could not be a more quintessential expression of Irish spirit than Irish music. A very influential sub-genre of Irish Folk is often called “Rebel Music”. These songs are always either political, or traditional. And the traditional songs are often appreciated for nationalistic purposes. These tunes allowed Irish men and women to express their distaste for current events, and the historical actions of their oppressors.  These songs also allowed the Irish experience of oppression to be shared globally. Songs like “Come Out Ye Black and Tans”[4], “Foggy Dew”[5], and “You’ll Never Beat the Irish”[6] are hyper-politicized and express the emotions that drove Rebellion. All three of those songs have been covered by The Wolfe Tones, an Irish group formed in the 1960’s that has been unabashedly political since their origin. Even their name is political, inspired by the leader of 1798 Irish Rebellion. This group has spread the message of Irish rebellion far and wide, even on modern platforms like Spotify The Wolfe Tones have amassed millions of streams.

Irish Music in the Modern Age

Songs surrounding Irish struggle would continue to gain popularity in the late 1900s and the 21st century. The song “Zombie” by The Cranberries[7] has over two hundred and sixty-million streams on Spotify. And a recent cover of it has renewed its popularity reaching seventy-million streams. The subject matter of this song completely surrounds the horrific acts conducted during the Troubles of Ireland. Mentioning unwarranted death and violence. The song even makes the point that this needless violence has existed since 1916. Themes of Irish struggle presented in songs like “Zombie” display the shifting opinion about the acts. After centuries of discontent many wish to solidify peace on the isle.

There are many other examples of contemporary Irish music culture. Some members of the hyper-political Punk Rock movement were inspired by Irish rebel music, and so a sub-genre emerged called “Celtic Punk”. Notable figures in Celtic Punk would follow the lead of earlier Irish folk artists and cover the key songs of the Genre. One of the most inspiring displays of Irish cultures immortality is the Irish Punk band The Pouges preforming a duet of the song “Irish Rover” with the traditional Irish folk band The Dubliners[8]. It is inspiring to see the young and old working together to preserve Irish culture. This cultural message would continue to be spread by younger generations. The band Flogging Molly would go on to create another example of Irish struggle, and once again this song would resonate with millions around the world. The song “What’s Left of Flag” is filled with poignant symbolism. Some excerpts include:

 Then the rosary beads

Count them 1, 2, 3

Fell apart as they hit the floor

In a garb of black

We must pay respect

To the color we’re born to mourn

This verse outlines Catholic discrimination with the rosary beads falling to the floor. And furthermore, the artist touches on how Irishmen are born in an environment where their most important symbols, like the color green, are to be mourned not respected.

In its place there grew an angry festered wound

Full of hatred and remorse

Where I pick and scratch, ’til the blood it matched

The wound being the loss of Irish culture and Irish lives. This loss causes young Irishmen to be full of hatred and remorse. And eventually these people are likely to strike back, and cause as much harm as was inflicted on their ancestors.[9][10] This song has thirteen million streams on Spotify, and that speaks volumes about humanities involvement in Irelands affairs. Between these two songs alone over three hundred million individuals have heard the messages of Irish struggle. This just a small example of the major impact Irish music has had on modern culture.

The Universal Themes of Irish Music

These political messages are truly a small impact of Irish music’s overall influence. The spirit of Ireland continues to display pride, humor, love, and family. But wherever the Irish spread their influence they bring all aspects of their past. The popularity of Irish music in the modern age displays that many connect with the symbolism and stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed around the world. As people continue to hear these messages and be inspired by their displays of courage and pride, Irish music will continue to be as significant to global culture as it always has been.

There was Wealth and Opulence

but also Tribulation and Loss.

There was Laughter and Song

and there was also Tears.

But even more than Tears

Blood was shed.

And so many were left

to their unadorned Graves, unburied.

But to us Death was just another Journey.

Celtic Folk band Eluveitie[11]


-Tye Hobson