Tag Archives: Irish music

Irish harping Added to the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

National Harp Day with Clodagh, Oisín and Alva at the Lexicon Cultural Centre, Dún Laoghaire. Co Dublin, Ireland – Photo by Tom Honan Photography, 2017

Irish harping has been added to UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The harp is Ireland’s national symbol and has been played for over 1,000 years. Its captivating bell-like sound celebrates Irish mythology, folklore and literature.

Contemporary gut-strung harpers have maintained the ancient repertoire and safeguarded its continuity while responding to evolving styles.

There has been a major resurgence of interest in harp playing over the past 60 years thanks to a growing appreciation of the harp’s role in Irish culture, language and identity.

International Festival for Irish Harp, brothers Éamon and Cormac de Bara (harp) – Photo by Kieran Cummins, 2017

Some of the best known harpers in Ireland include Cormac de Barra, Moya Brennan (Máire Brennan), Janet Harbison, Mary O’Hara and Gráinne Hambly.


Artist Profiles: Enya

Enya in 2015 – Photo by Simon Fowler

Eithne Patricia Ní Bhraonáin, better known as Enya, was born on May 17, 1961 in County Donegal, Ireland. She was brought up speaking Gaeilge (Irish). Her name, Enya is a transliteration of the Gaeilge pronunciation of Eithne. “Because of that, my alphabet pronunciation is different to that of someone who speaks English as a first language,” she explains. “I enjoy the sounds of language, it’s great to be able to sing in a very old language like Gaeilge but still be able to get the message across through the melody and performance.”

Enya studied classical music at Milford College. Her intention was to be involved in music but she didn’t know what direction she would take. After she left college, she was invited by sound engineer and producer Nicky Ryan and his partner, visual artist and lyricist Roma Ryan, who were then managing the group Clannad, to join the group on a temporary basis.

“I had come from studying classical music at boarding school and was fiercely independent,” remembers Enya. “I wasn’t really involved as a member of the group. Nicky wanted me as keyboard player and as another vocal texture in the band which I agreed to. I talked a lot about music with Nicky and this is when he had the idea of the choir of one (multi-tracked vocals by the same singer that sounds like a celestial choir). He was so into experimenting with all types of music.”

This all led to the creative partnership of Nicky, Enya and Roma in 1982. The first project the trio worked on was a soundtrack for David Puttnam’s 1984 film The Frog Prince. Two years later, Enya provided the entire soundtrack to the BBC television documentary series The Celts. “Initially they wanted one composer for each episode but then we put forward March Of The Celts – they came back saying we want to you to write all of them,” says Enya. “It was a big risk factor on their side, because I was just someone who had studied music – there was no guarantee what kind of music I was going to write.”

Enya in the 1980s

With songs performed both in English and Gaeilge, Enya produced a set of enchanting, ethereal pieces that would later be collected on her eponymous debut album, released in 1987.

While her debut album failed to hit the popularity charts, it attracted Warner Brothers’ chairman, Rob Dickins, who quickly signed Enya, much to the surprise of his colleagues who had little faith that Enya’s ethereal music would sell in a marketplace dominated by pop acts such as Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley. But Dickins said “Sometimes the company is there to make money, and sometimes it’s there to make music.”

Enya made her WEA (Warner/Elektra/Atlantic) debut in 1988 with the acclaimed album Watermark. “We and the record company were completely taken aback by the reaction to Watermark,” admits Enya. “How could you tell? There wasn’t any music like that out there in the late-Eighties.” Watermark would go on to sell in excess of 11 million copies, earn Enya two Brit Award nominations and delivered a UK number one single with Orinoco Flow. “Orinoco Flow” was a hit in every country in which it was released.

Treating Enya as very much a personal project, Dickins respected Enya’s desire for creative independence. “It was a condition of the signing that we would be creatively independent and for that reason we have never felt that we couldn’t do something and be different for the right reasons; because the music dictated it,” says Enya. “The only real pressure we get is when [Warner] ask if there will be an album out this year or not.”.

In 1991, Enya released the 12 million selling album Shepherd Moons which made its debut at the peak of the UK album chart and stayed on the US charts for 199 consecutive weeks. Shepherd Moons won Enya her first Grammy for Best New Age Album.

Four years later, in 1995, The Memory Of Trees earned another Grammy and had 9 million sales and her first No.1 record in Australia, Spain and Sweden.

A highly successful ‘Best Of’ collection titled “Paint The Sky With Stars” followed in 1997, featuring Top 20 hits such as ‘Orinoco Flow,’ ‘Caribbean Blue,’ ‘Book Of Days’ and ‘Anywhere Is’.

A Day Without Rain came out in 2000. Enya said, “The title refers to the mood on a particularly peaceful day on which there was no rain. We do get a lot of rain in Ireland in all seasons! We had had a run of days where it had done nothing but rain. Then one day the sun came out. It was then that I wrote the title track, so what else could I call it?

It took Enya and her colleagues 5 years to make A Day Without Rain. “As I do all the vocals and harmonies, and we do not sample, this obviously takes up a considerable amount of time,” she explained. “Also, as everything you hear on the album is played by me, that too becomes a very long process. Therefore, we are inclined to take much longer in the studio than other people.”

In 2001, film director Peter Jackson requested that Enya contribute two songs to the soundtrack of Lord Of The Rings – The Fellowship Of The Ring. The result was ‘May It Be” and “Aniron … (I Desire).” Enya, Nicky and Roma were all nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for ‘May It Be’.

Enya’s sixth album was “Amarantine” (2005), recorded in Ireland. In addition to one song in Japanese, Enya sings three songs written in a customised language invented by Roma. Amarantine, released in 2005, was more classically shaded and less obviously pop influenced in its textures than its predecessors. It contained a number of songs with lyrics in Loxian, a language created by Roma Ryan, which she has written about in the book Water Shows The Hidden Heart.

And Winter Came was released in 2008. The album’s twelve songs are an atmospheric and enchanting evocation of the changing landscape of winter and the cheer that Christmas brings. Once again the album was recorded in their own studio and is the result of the longstanding creative triade that was formed back in 1982 with producer/arranger Nicky Ryan and lyricist Roma Ryan. Although “And Winter Came” was planned as a Christmas project, the album began to take shape a wider seasonal theme soon became evident. “I always wanted to do a Christmas album, but as we began recording I didn’t feel it was right to impose a Christmas theme on certain songs,” explains Enya.

Enya’s seventh studio album also contains two traditional Christmas songs, ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ and a new version of ‘Silent Night’ (Oíche Chiuín), a song Enya sang in Gaeilge that proved hugely popular over the years. “It was exciting to re-live Silent Night because I sung that twenty years ago,” enthused Enya. “It is re-released every year in America and it was so nice to go back and do something different with it.” The new version of Oíche Chiuín (Chorale) incorporates the “choir of one.”

“Dark Sky Island’ was released in 2015. “This album has a theme of journeys,” stated Enya. “Journeys to the island; through the length of a lifetime; through history, through emotions; and journeys across great oceans. So although it’s not a ‘themed’ album, as such, we nevertheless have an underlying connection between songs.”

Dark Sky Island refers to the island of Sark, one of the Channel Islands,” explained Roma. “It was the first island to be designated as a dark sky area. The community decided collectively to adjust their way of living in order to accommodate clear, unspoiled night-views of the heavens. There are no cars on the island and all of the lighting is designed so that it doesn’t interfere with the observation of the stars. So many stars can be seen that it can be difficult to pick out familiar constellations.”


Enya (BBC, 1987), re-released as The Celts (WEA/Reprise, 1992)
Watermark (WEA/Geffen, 1988)
Shepherd Moons (WEA/Reprise, 19921
The Memory of Trees (WEA/Reprise, 1995)
A Day Without Rain (WEA/Reprise, 2000)
Amarantine (Warner Bros./Reprise, 2005)
And Winter Came… (Warner Bros./Reprise, 2008)
Dark Sky Island (Warner Bros./Reprise, 2015)


Artist Profiles: Brian Dunning

Brian Dunning

Brian Dunning had been a professional flutist in Ireland, playing regular classical and jazz gigs, before coming to the U.S. in 1977 to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. “I remember hearing a flute solo on a tune by Them (with Van Morrison) when I was about 16.” Dunning recalls, “and it really used to send me. But jazz became my love.” So it’s not surprising that Dunning’s influences would include both classical master James Galway and jazz great Herbert Laws. But it was after hearing Micheal Ó Domhnaill and Kevin Burke playing duets at a music festival in Birmingham, Alabama that Dunning realized what direction his own music might take. “I jammed with Micheal there,” he says, “and that really made me want to write music that had on Irish flavor but with the freedom of jazz.”

From collaborating with bodhran player Tommy Hayes in a Celtic-tinged improvisational project called Puck Fair, Dunning and O Domhnaill settled into their long-term musical relationship in Nightnoise.

Dunning has also collaborated with keyboardist Jeff Johnson since the late 1980s, recording several albums together, including The Music of Celtic Legends – the Bard and the Warrior (1997), Byzantium (2000), and Patrick (2004).

His music appeared on the soundtrack to Gangs of New York, Windhorse, and The Outcasts.


New Fiddle Colors in Irish Traditional Music

Martin Hayes and Brooklyn Rider – The Butterfly (In A Circle Records, 2019)

The Butterfly brings together five extraordinary masters of bowed instruments, Irish fiddler Martin Hayes (The Gloaming) and American contemporary chamber music ensemble Brooklyn Rider.

In this collaboration, the five musicians recreate Irish traditional music tunes (plus two original pieces) by giving them a modern twist, incorporating contemporary classical and folk music elements, creating a rich tapestry of interlaced fiddle wonders, exquisite arrangements and intuitive interplay.

The lineup on The Butterfly includes Martin Hayes, Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen on violin; Nicholas Cords on viola; and Michael Nicolas on cello.

Martin Hayes and Brooklyn Rider – The Butterfly

The Butterfly is a deeply gratifying album featuring impeccable examples of contemporary acoustic craftsmanship.

Buy The Butterfly

More about Martin Hayes


Artist Profiles: Sephira


Sephira is comprised of two classically trained Irish musicians who have forged their own musical niche combining classical music and Irish traditional music: Joyce O’Leary (vocals/violin) and Ruth O’Leary.

Their unique sound can be compared to the emotional swells of a movie – sensational, dramatic, and filled with the full sweep of human passions.

Their debut album Believe was released in 2006 to critical acclaim.


Believe (Cicero Records, 2006)
Sephira (Cicero Records, 2008)
Starlight (Cicero Records, 2011)
Eternity (Cicero Records, 2013)


Artist Profiles: Kevin Crawford

Kevin Crawford

Kevin Crawford is one of the exceptional flute players in Irish traditional music. Born in Birmingham, England and now living in his parent’s native County Clare, Kevin is known as the virtuosic flutist and frontman for the dynamic young Irish band Lunasa. His exhilarating playing was also key to the classic instrumental group Moving Cloud.

Following his acclaimed solo debut ‘D’Flute Album, Kevin wanted to make an album featuring fiddle-and-flute duets with some of his heroes, eight of Ireland’s legendary fiddlers. 7/7 Good Company features the cream of traditional fiddling: Tommy Peoples, Martin Hayes, Frankie Gavin, Tony Linnane, Conor Tully, James Cullinan, Manus McGuire of Moving Cloud and Scan Smyth of Lunasa.

I wanted to reintroduce myself to the musicians I played with when I first came over to Clare and to the tunes we used to play,” said Crawford. “When I’m away on the tour bus or the plane, these are the musicians I miss the most, wishing I was back in Clare playing tunes.”

Backed by guitarist Arty McGlynn, bodhran player Jim Higgins, and Moving Cloud keyboardist Carl Hession, Crawford showcases the vitality and virtuosity of these fiddlers. He strips back the layers of today’s musical technology to reach a core sound, the “pure drop” of fiddle and flute embraced in the unalloyed joy of playing.


The Maid of Eirin, with Grianán (1993)
Raise The Rafters (1995)
‘D’ Flute Album (Green Linnet, 1995)
Moving Cloud, with Moving Cloud (1995)
Foxglove, with Moving Cloud (1998)
In Good Company (Green Linnet, 2001)
A Breath of Fresh Air (Green Linnet, 2007)
On Common Ground, with Cillian Vallely (2009)
Carrying the Tune (2012)
The Drunken Gaugers (2017)

with Lúnasa

* Lúnasa (1998)
* Otherworld (Green Linnet Records 1200, 1999)
* The Merry Sisters of Fate (Green Linnet 1213, 2001)
* Redwood (Green Linnet, 2003)
* The Kinnitty Sessions (Compass Records, 2004)
* (Compass Records, 2006)
* Lá Nua (2010)
* Lúnasa With The RTÉ Concert Orchestra (Lunasa Records, 2013)
* Cas (Lunasa Records, 2018)

with The Drunken Gaugers


Artist Profiles: Anúna


Twelve centuries of Ireland’s vocal tradition are explored by the chorale ensemble, Anúna. Best-known for their performance in Riverdance, the group combines songs in Middle English, Scots Gaelic, Irish, Breton, Medieval Irish, Latin, and Greek in their examination of ancient and contemporary Irish music.

Anúna was founded by Dublin born composer Michael McGlynn in 1987. Their name is derived from the ancient Irish name `An Uaithne’ (collectively describing the three ancient types of Celtic music, Suantraí or lullaby, Geantraí or happy song, and Goltraí or lament).

Anúna explore the unique, beautiful and sometimes forgotten music and texts from ancient Ireland through Michael?s original works and his powerful arrangements of medieval and traditional music. Anúna is directed by Michael and his twin brother John McGlynn.

Anúna have performed all over the world, including the World Sacred Music Festival in Morocco, opening the prestigious Glasgow Celtic Connections Festival in 2000 and in 2004 they traveled with President Mary McAleese on her state visits to Argentina and Chile.

In 2005 the group toured Germany, the USA, the UK [20 dates], Portugal and in December they traveled to Japan to coincide with the Japanese release of their album Winter Songs.

Performance highlights have included the Meltdown Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall London with Elvis Costello and being the first Irish group to be invited to give the first ever Irish Prom at the Royal Albert Hall.

In 2004 they embarked on a major new recording deal with the US Record Company Koch Records, beginning with the release of the album Christmas Songs, and in 2005 they released Essential Anúna to coincide with their tour their. This album was re-titled for its Irish release to The Best of Anúna. In the UK this album, released on Universal Records went top 20 in the UK Classical Charts and top 5 in the Irish Charts. The album Deep Dead Blue was nominated for a Classical Brit Award in 2000.

In addition to performing and recording on their own, the group has worked with Sinead O’Connor, The Chieftains, Sting, Maire Brennan, and Elvis Costello.

Some of the ensemble’s earlier recordings were re-recorded, including 1994’s Invocation, re-recorded in 2002; 1993’s Anúna, re-recorded in 2005.

In 2017, Anúna released of three limited edition CDs: “A Christmas Selection” and “Anúna Selected 1987-2017″ Volumes I and II.” These compilations contain over 60 remastered tracks and several new pieces, including the epic “Look Away…”, a 14-minute composition that includes improvisation.


An Uaithne (1991)
Anúna (Celtic Heartbeat, 1993)
Invocation (Celtic Heartbeat, 1994)
Omnis (Celtic Heartbeat, 1995)
Deep Dead Blue (1996)
Behind the Closed Eye (1997)
Cynara (2000)
Winter Songs (2000)
Essential Anúna (2003)
The Best of Anúna (2005)
Essential Anúna (2005)
Sensation (Danú, 2006)
Celtic Dreams: Méav Ní Mhaolchatha with Anúna (Valley Entertainment, 2006)
Celtic Origins (2007)
Christmas Memories (2008)
Sanctus (Danú, 2009)
The Best of Anúna (2010)
Christmas with Anúna (Danú, 2010)
Illumination (Danú, 2012)
Illuminations (2014)
Revelation (2015)
A Christmas Selection (2017)
Selected 1987-2017 (2017)
Selected II 1987-2017 (2017)


Invocations of Ireland (Danu, 2009)


Artist Profiles: Liam O’Flynn

Liam O’Flynn

Master uilleann piper Liam O’Flyn, also known as Liam Óg Ó Floinn, was born  September 15, 1945 in Kill, County Kildare, Ireland.  to musical parents.

Liam O’Flynn was born into what he described as “a very definite thing.” His father was a schoolmaster and fiddle player and his  mother, who played and taught piano, came from a family of famous musicians from Clare.

After a time on the tin whistle and a short period ‘scraping’ at a small violin, Liam finally got started on the uilleann pipes. He had an obvious gift for this most  complicated instrument, and was encouraged by all around him, notably by the Kildare piper Tom Armstrong. At the age of eleven, he received master-classes with Leo Rowsome.

In his teens, Liam and his pipes began to attend music sessions in the Kildare village of Prosperous. There, for the first time, he met many of the people with whom he would later make his name and tour the concert-halls of the world. These were musicians like Christy Moore, Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine with whom, in the early seventies, Liam formed the legendary folk band Planxty. One of Ireland’s most important and influential groups, Planxty brought a style, innovation and ‘cool’ to Irish music which was to lead directly to the many Irish musical success stories during the decades that followed.

Behind the innovation and experimentation, Liam O’Flynn always managed to remain true to the great piping tradition. He took his instrument into previously unexplored territory – be it as a member of Planxty, as a soloist with an orchestra or working with artists as diverse as John Cage, The Everly Brothers, Van Morrison and Kate Bush.

Liam O’Flynn was one of Ireland’s greatest musicians . He died March 14, 2018.


Planxty (Polydor, 1973)
The Well Below the Valley, with Planxty (Polydor, 1973)
Cold Blow and the Rainy Night, with Planxty (Polydor, 1974)
The Planxty Collection (Polydor, 1974)
After The Break, with Planxty (Tara, 1979)
The Woman I Loved So Well, with Planxty (Tara, 1980)
Words and Music, with Planxty (WEA, 1983)
Liam O’Flynn (Tara Records, 1988)
The Fine Art of Piping (Tara Records, 1991)
Out to an Other Side (Tara Records, 1993)
The Given Note (Tara Records, 1995)
The Piper’s Call (Tara Records, 1999)


The Gloaming to Release Live Album

To celebrate their upcoming sold-out residency at Dublin’s National Concert Hall. Irish music superband The Gloaming plans to release Live at the NCH, a live album recorded at the venue that has become their home from home. The album will be available on March 2, 2018 on CD, LP and digital formats.

To put Live at the NCH together Thomas Bartlett, the band’s producer and pianist Thomas Bartlett, reviewed two years of performances and chose six tracks: ‘The Booley House’, ‘Cucanandy’, ‘The Sailor’s Bonnet’, ‘The Pilgrim’s Song’, ‘The Rolling Wave’ and ‘Fáinleog’.

These performances are extended and wander in unexpected new directions, incorporating new tunes and rearranging old ones. The Gloaming is Iarla Ó Lionáird (vocals), Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (hardanger d’amore), Dennis Cahill (guitar), Martin Hayes (fiddle) and Thomas Bartlett (piano).

Preorder Live at the NCH in the rest of the world

Preorder Live at the NCH in Europe


Artist Profiles: Tommy Martin

Tommy Martin

Tommy Martin was born in Dublin, Ireland and currently lives in the United States. He took his first uilleann pipes lesson from Dublin piper Mick O’Brien, a cousin, in 1984 at the age of 12. By 1988 with the great help of Mick’s tuition and guidance he won first place at the Annual Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann in the 15-18 age group uilleann pipes competition and again in 1991 in the senior competition.

From his late teens Tommy has been very much involved in encouraging traditional Irish music especially uilleann pipes by teaching younger musicians around Ireland at Tionol and Scoil Eigse.
His professional career started in 1996 when he took a job organizing and playing at Irish music nights in Irish pubs in Hong Kong. This led to more work in Asian cities such as Kuala Lumpur Jakarta Singapore and Tokyo over the following years.

A highlight for Tommy was playing support to Shooglenifty at the Hong Kong Folk Festival in 1996.

Back in Europe Tommy’s talent and experience took him to perform in almost every mainland country. Performances have varied from solo uilleann pipes performances to playing with 5 piece folk bands and have been as diverse as being an uilleann pipes tutor in New Zealand to performing with “Riverdance” in New York to performing with the Chicago Virtuosi Symphony Orchestra.

Tommy is also an experienced uilleann pipes teacher. He has tutored students all over Ireland England New Zealand and now the US. Tommy was teacher of the advanced uilleann pipes class in Na Piobairi Uilleann Dublin up until he moved to St Louis, Missouri in 2003. His first solo CD Uilleann Piper was released in 2000 and Tommy can be also heard on 12 other albums as a guest musician.

Tommy’s second album, Shady Woods came out in December 2005. That month he also toured as a guest with traditional band Teada as they celebrated their Irish Christmas in America tour. Other guests were Grainne Hambly on harp and singer Cathie Ryan.

Tommy now lives in St. Louis, where he now teaches fiddle flute and uilleann pipes. He also makes tin whistles and uilleann pipes.


Uilleann Piper (2000)

Shady Woods (2005)