Irish Folk: The Bluffer’s Guide

18 07 2007

Ryan Foley on Stylus Magazine

The poet Carl Sandburg believed that studying and listening to folk songs added depth to one’s psyche, a connection to the collective human experience of the past. In a tech-saturated society bloated with plastic constructs, one can discover much-needed solace in music that possesses, to quote Donal O’Sullivan in his book, Irish Folk Music, Song, and Dance: “a beauty and tenderness beyond the ordinary; a deep and passionate sincerity; a naturalness which disdains all artifice; a feeling for poetic expression unusual in folk songs; all combined with a mellifluous assonance which renders them eminently singable.”

This guide will focus on the time period from the founding of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann in 1951, an international organization partly created to preserve a decaying Irish music scene, to the turn of the century. A fifty-year chunk that saw Irish folk music, thanks to the numbers that participated and celebrated the genre, achieve heights of popularity never attained prior. Consider this: In 1792, the Belfast Harp Festival attracted just 10 participants—and this for an instrument more closely associated with Ireland than any other.

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