Irish Music for St. Patrick’s Day and Travel

MUSIC TRAVEL By Kerry Dexter

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland
A foggy day on Dingle Peninsula

The crashing waves at the Cliffs of Mohr, the rising surf at Inishowen, the rocky steps of Giant’s Causeway, the silent beauty of the mountains of Mourne — Ireland’s landscapes are filled with mystery and beauty. That is true of the music of Ireland as well.

Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin heard the voices of Ireland’s poets speak to her in an unexpected way as she looked through medieval manuscripts. It wasn’t the main text or the calligraphy that caught her attention, but rather the side notes, the words these poet scholars had written in the margins of their work, musing on their day to day thinking. In her album Songs of the Scribe Ní Uallacháin makes these words into song, most in her own translations and with one piece each from Irish writers Seamus Heaney and Ciaran Carson also. With her singing backed sparingly by drone, bells, and harp she creates an atmosphere that suits the history of these lyrics, in which the poets muse on subjects including the flight of blackbird, the winter wind keeping Vikings away, missing a loved one, and the antics of a playful cat.

Connor Pass Ireland
From mountain to sea at Connor Pass, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

On her album Stories From the Steeples, Mary Black offers music from contemporary sources, songs which share ideas on the many ways love moves through life, of memory, loss, regret, celebration, trust — and there’s a murder ballad too. Black’s mother was from Dublin and loved show tunes, her dad came from Rathlin Island off the far north coast of Northern Ireland and brought with him fiddle tunes from Ireland and Scotland. They loved music so much and passed it on so well that all of their five children have become professional musicians. Mary Black found her own way to fuse the traditions of her upbringing and her own ideas of Ireland, and the the course of doing so has become as internationally renown for her thoughtful song selection as for the quality of her singing. On this recording she offers a heartfelt look at the traveling life on Mountains to the Sea, a meditation on the costs of war in All the Fine Young Men, celebrations of love on Lighthouse Light and Walking with My Love — and yes, there’s that murder ballad, Marguerite and the Gambler. Black is carrying on family tradition, too: her three children join her at various points on these songs.

Kathleen Conneely began learning music at a young age, too. For some time she’s been in demand as a teacher and player of the Irish whistle, so in demand in fact that’s it has taken her a while to get around to making her first album. The Coming of Spring is what she’s named it, after one of the jigs she’s recorded. Conneely leads a lively dance through more than a dozen sets of reels and jigs, with a hornpipe or two added in. You’ve no need to be a dancer to get into the spirit of this music — there’s story enough told through notes and melody to keep you listening — but you may find yourself tapping out a step ot two as you go along. Tracks include The Limestone Rock, West Clare Railway, and The Lark in the Morning.

Ireland dioramas of hard times.
Famine cottage with dioramas representing the hard life that caused many to emigrate.

You’ve met singer and songwriter Cathie Ryan here before at a Traveler’s Library, most recently when she told of how a visit of a library helped her write a song. Ryan is the first generation daughter of parents who emigrated form Ireland to America, and has herself lived in both countries. On her most recent recording, Through Wind & Rain, the song Liberty’s Sweet Shore offers a thoughtful look at emigrants of an earlier time caught between hope for what they may find in a new land and sorrow for all they are leaving in Ireland. In the Wishing Well, with words which Ryan wrote to a lively melody by Irish musician Noel Lenaghan, looks at love and resilience with a nods to both humor and truth. Mo Nion O is a story of hope and blessing for a child, which Ryan translated from the Irish song by Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh. Ryan chose to leave the chorus in Irish, connecting and interweaving the ideas and the love and hope people in both countries offer their children.

Irish language signs in Dunquain
Irish language signs in Dunquin, a Gaelic area.

This time of year, Ireland the the Irish are front and center in the thoughts of people across the world. Whether you have spent time in Ireland or are dreaming of it, whether you come from an Irish heritage or are drawn to the stories and the music from another place, may the music of these artists be your good companion for your celebrations, on Saint Patrick’s Day and beyond.

Note: It is the policy of A Traveler’s Library to reveal affiliate relationships. Album titles here are links to Amazon, where you can listen to partial music tracks and shop for albums. Simply hovering over the title will show you the beautiful cover of the album. If you click on the cover picture and make a purchase at Amazon, it will benefit Music Road, for which we thank you.

All photos in this article are the property of Vera Marie Badertscher. Please respect my copyright.

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About Kerry Dexter

Kerry Dexter is a regular contributor to A Traveler’s Library, bringing her knowledge of music and musicians who share a sense of place and travel. Her work also appears in Journey to Scotland and the Encyclopedia of Ireland and the Americas, among other places. Check out her bio on the contributor’s page to learn more and see her site at Music Road.

14 thoughts on “Irish Music for St. Patrick’s Day and Travel

  1. What a lovely collection of music for St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Music can define a place and I think that’s especially true with Irish music.

  2. What a great collection to play on St. Patrick’s Day. My mother’s family is originally from Ireland so I’m always looking for ways to appreciate the Irish culture and heritage.

  3. Though I”m not familiar with the artists themselves, and have never visited Ireland, each time I hear Irish music my ears perk up. It’s so earthy and pretty.

  4. As usual, some great choices for listening while thinking of Ireland. I really love getting the backstory on where the ideas come from–a Medieval manuscript? Who knew?

  5. Great post! I love Irish music – my favourite at the moment is Altan (Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh’s regular group). I look forward to listening to these!

    1. Kerry,
      I hope you enjoy exploring the music of these artists.
      Altan is always a great choice. do you know the music of fiddle player Hanneke Cassel? if you like Mairéad’s work I think you would like Hanneke — Scottish style and original music.

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