Irish Celtic influences on rock and pop music

Irish rock and pop music

Facharbeit (Schule), 2012

24 Seiten, Note: 1,0



A Introduction

B Irish Celtic influences on rock and pop music
1. What is Celtic music?
1.1 Celtic nations and their common musical heritage
2. Music of Ireland
2.1 Traditional Irish Celtic music and its characteristics
2.2 Instruments
2.2.1 Fiddle
2.2.2 Whistles and flutes
2.2.3 Banjo
2.2.4 Bagpipes
2.2.5 Harp
2.2.6 Accordion
2.2.7 More instruments and their use
2.3 Irish rock and pop music
2.3.1 Showbands
2.3.2 Celtic fusion – Irish traditional elements in popular rock and pop songs
3. Famous Irish fusion bands and artists
3.1 Horslips
3.2 The Pogues
3.3 International success – Morrison, Gallagher, Moore
and Lynott
3.4 U2 - Irish identity and international success
4. New generation Celtic fusion
4.1 Dropkick Murphys, Eluveitie, Flogging Molly

C Conclusion

D Bibliography

A Introduction

Irish Celtic traditional music has been a typical identification mark for Irish people and the other Celtic nations for a long time. Even today the terms “Celtic“ and “Irish“ are very common in the music business and especially in the rock and pop sector. This is because since the 1960s a lot of bands have combined traditional elements of folk music with rock and pop which is known worldwide and this way the bands created new genres. The famous Celtic rock band Horslips made the first step by mixing elements in this manner and the U2 carry on this phenomenon with their music being one of the most famous in the world.

The main theme of this research paper is presenting the Irish Celtic traditional folk music and its characteristics and pointing out how it has influenced the rock and pop music. Examples will be given with famous bands that have incorporated these influences and connected them with idioms of various styles of rock and popular music. The focus is set on Ireland because it is most famous for its Celtic music and therefore plays an essential role.

B Irish Celtic influences on rock and pop music

1. What is Celtic music?

1.1 Celtic nations and their common musical heritage

Celtic music is a term generally used to describe a group of musical genres that have evolved out of the folk musical traditions of the Celtic Nations.[1]
Those nations are Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and Brittany. Every Celtic region has its own traditions and customs but they also share a common musical heritage and therefore a lot of similarities in their music. A concrete example is the piping tradition. Both Scotland and Ireland have different kinds of pipes that characterize their traditional music. Scotland is famous for its Highland bagpipes, while in Ireland you can rather find the uilleann pipes. More similarities can be found in other instruments used in the music as well as in the language, melodies, lyrics and the structure of the songs.[2]

Ireland is considered to be the most important Celtic nation as it has played and keeps on playing a major part in the Celtic traditional music. In addition to that it still has a living tradition of folk music that has been kept alive mainly by the people in the countryside.[3]

2. Music of Ireland

2.1 Traditional Irish Celtic music and its characteristics

The traditional Irish Celtic music is also called folk music of Ireland and has played a major part in Irish life since the 12th century, after the Normans arrived in Ireland.[4] It is divided into two parts. There is special music for singing and music made for dances. Jigs, reels and hornpipes are some of the Irish folk dances that are also very common in Scotland.[5] The music is made by lots of typical instruments and most of them have played an essential role since the 18th century.

Furthermore there are several musical elements that characterise the Irish traditional music, for example the four main keys D,G,C and A with, D and G being the most important and occurring ones, and the dorian and mixolidian modes that are used quite often.[6] The compound rhythms such as the 6/8, 9/8 and 12/8 set the base for the jig folk dance and it is also necessary to mention, that lots of Irish folk songs are drinking songs, lullabies, work songs and love songs.[7]

2.2 Instruments

2.2.1 Fiddle

The fiddle has been used since the 17th century and is probably one of the most typical instruments of the Irish folk music.[8] It uses the standard GDAE tuning and is very similar to the classic violin. The only difference is the style of playing which varies in several regions. There are a lot of fiddling traditions but among the most popular ones are Donegal and Sligo. In addition to that, the fiddle is also present in the traditional music of Scotland and differs from region to region, as there is a number of different styles of Scottish fiddling.[9]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Illustration 1: fiddle

2.2.2 Whistles and flutes

The Irish flutes have been a fundamental part of the Irish music since the 18th century and the tin whistles since the 13th century. Both of them are made of wood or metal and are very easy to play.[10] Depending on the song and the atmosphere the player can produce either a sorrowful or a bright and cheerful sound with them. The traditional tin whistles are pitched in D, which is the basic key of Irish folk music.[11]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Illustration 2: Irish flute made of wood Illustration 3: Walton’s Irish

with six silver keys pitched in D. Made of metal

2.2.3 Banjo

The Banjo has been first used by African slaves in the USA and was introduced to Ireland in the middle of the 19th century by emigrants who returned to Ireland from the USA. There are several types of banjos namely four-string, five-string and even six-string banjos, but the Irish traditional one is the four-string tenor banjo. It has the standard GDAE tuning, as the fiddle, just one octave lower.[12] [13] This kind of pitching has been introduced and popularised by Barney McKenna, the former banjoist of the famous Irish folk band “The Dubliners”.[14]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Illustration 4: Tanglewood Union Series TB24 Select 4 banjo with 4 strings

2.2.4 Bagpipes

The piping tradition of Ireland began in the 16th century with the war pipes, which were played mostly in armies to accompany the warriors with marching music.[15] They were replaced quite fast by the traditional Irish uilleann pipes that emerged in the 18th century and had a range that was two octaves wider than the previously used war pipes.[16]

Most of the uilleann pipes are pitched in the basic keys of D and G, the basic keys of Irish Folk music and also the favoured ones of traditional musicians. Another difference is, that unlike the blown war pipes, the uilleann pipes are played with a different technique. The air that is needed to play the pipe is provided by the means of a bellows, which is held under the arm and is worked with the elbow.[17] That is is also the reason why they are called "uilleann" pipes as uilleann is a Gaelic word for elbow. Compared to the Scottish Highland bagpipes, the traditional Irish ones are not blown and produce a softer sound.[18]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Illustration 5: A full set of Uilleann-Pipes pitched in D. Made of ivory and wood


[1] cf. Melhuish, Martin, Celtic Tides: Traditional Music in a New Age, in: Quarry Press Inc., Canada, 1998, pp. 8, 28. quoted from:

[2] Sawyers, June Skinner, The Complete Guide to Celtic Music, From the Highland Bagpipe and Riverdance to U2 and Enya, in: Aurum Press, London, 2000, pp.1-7

[3] Sawyers, June Skinner, pp. 6-7

[4] cf. Sawyers, June Skinner, The Complete Guide to Celtic Music, p. 6

[5] loc.cit. pp. 3-4, p. 59

[6] (29.10.12)

[7] Sawyers, June Skinner, p. 9

[8] (01.11.12)

[9] June, Skinner Sawayers, pp. 59-62

[10] loc.cit., p. 72

[11] (01.11.12)

[12] Sullivan 1979, p. 16., quoted from: (01.11.12)

[13] (01.11.12)

[14] (01.11.12)

[15] (01.11.12)

[16] Sawyers, June Skinner, p. 87

[17] cf. (01.11.12)

[18] Sawyers, June Skinner, p. 87-88

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Irish Celtic influences on rock and pop music
Irish rock and pop music
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Simeon Ekizoglou (Autor:in), 2012, Irish Celtic influences on rock and pop music, München, GRIN Verlag,


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