Irish Folk Music – History and Future

This is the first episode in the Roving Sounds Radio Show podcast! I recently took an incredible trip to Ireland, visiting cities on both the east and west coasts and collected heaps of music as i went.

This podcast episode showcases a few great recordings from my trip, and talks about how the music has changed over the last few centuries.

You can listen to it on this page, and also on iTunes

Below is a picture gallery of some of the highlights from the trip, an exclusive video of Padraig O Se and Gary O’Brien recorded in Dingle, and some more historical information.

If you like this feel free to subscribe to our mailing list – you’ll receive my top tracks from the entire trip for free, as well as getting sent updates and other exclusive content regularly.


Don’t forget to send this to someone you know who’d like to learn about Irish Music!





Basic Outline of Irish History

  • 300 BC – Ireland Invaded by Celts

Ireland begins to adapt the language of the Celts into Irish

  • 600AD – St Patrick and Catholicism begin in Ireland

Irish Monasteries are established as centers of religions, learning and hold many valuables

  • 700AD – Viking invasion

Vikings plunder Monasteries, and establish the first walled cities of Dublin and Cork

  • 1169AD – Anglo-Norman Invasion (English)

Begins many centuries of oppressive rule, particularly under the rule of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Oliver Cromwell. Irish language is banned, as is Irish music, and Catholics are persecuted.

  • 1652 – Plantation of Ulster

English government began moving English and Scottish protestants into Ulster in the north of Ireland, in an attempt to drive locals out. Extreme violence was used. The plantation was successful and protestants are now the majority in Ulster.

In this period 1/3 of all Catholics in Ireland were killed.

  • 1782 – Joined in Union with England

Established closer links with the coloniser

  • 1829 – Catholics allowed to vote

Ireland had seats within the English Parliament

  • 1845 – Great Potato Famine

Due to mismanagement of resources by English, and forced export of good-quality food to England. The population of Ireland before the Famine was over 8 million – it has never been that high since

This was the peak of Irish migration, the majority of migrants moving to America, some also going to England and Australia.

  • 1916 – Easter Uprising

Irish revolutionary’s attempted to cease control of Dublin and establish an independent government. All the leaders of the movement were executed.

  • 1919 – Irish War of Independence

The violent response to the Easter Uprising led to the Independence war between revolutionaries and England.

  • 1921 – The end of the Independence War and the beginning of Civil War

The war ended with a treaty, in which Ireland was divided into loyal Northern Ireland and the independent Republic of Ireland. This division is a direct result of the Plantation of Ulster, and the protestant majority in the north.

Disagreements over the division between revolutionaries and loyalists result in violence particularly in Northern Ireland.

  • 1923:1998 – The Troubles

Religious and ethnic tensions in Northern Ireland frequently caused protests, and violent backlash.

The British police became involved and attempted to maintain peace, but were seen to support the Protestants, especially after opening fire on civilians on Bloody Sunday in 1972.

  • 1973 – The Republic of Ireland joins the EU
  • 1995:2000 – Celtic Tiger

Ireland went through a period of rapid economic growth, including for the first time in Irish history, significant Immigration (arriving), and less Emigration (leaving).

Show Notes

Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann

Comhaltas are the main non-government organisation responsible for promoting Irish music, dance, language and culture in Ireland and around the world. They were really important in the revival of Irish Music in the 1960s and 70s, and run annual competitions around the country called Fleadh Cheoil to find the best Irish musicians in the world.

The people at Comhaltas really helped me with the research process, and put me in contact with some great musicians. They probably have a branch in your city too so check them out!

John Devine

Uillean Piper and musician John Devine was also really generous with his time. You’ll hear him in both podcast 1 and 2, providing great information and musical demonstrations.

John writes music under his own name, and with his band Devine Family Band. He is based in North London, and is busy with shows and teaching around the country. You can find his music on his website, or on iTunes.

The Session

The Session catalogues sessions in many countries around the world, and also provides a forum for discussing Irish Music. If you want to hear Irish Music in your city go here!

Recommended Listening

Here are some general suggestions to get you listening to Irish Music

Seamus Ennis

One of the most famous Uillean Pipers ever, Seamus is known for his expression on this flippin’ difficult instrument! Check out a video here



Planxty were one of the most important and popular bands of the Irish folk music revival, and incorporated many traditional and borrowed instruments. Check em out!

Comhaltas Archive

Comhaltas has collected audio and video of traditional music and dance from the last 100 years, and has posted a lot of it online for free access. This is especially interesting if you want to focus in on one song, or one player as they have many renditions of the same piece uploaded.


Do you know someone who’d like to learn about Irish music? Share it with them now!