Traditional Irish Music for St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is in the offing, which is a good excuse to come up with some fine Irish music for this week’s Five For Monday. There are, of course, thousands of great clips of Irish musicians out there so this will be a selection of personal favorites that prominently feature fretted instruments.  We’ve got a new comments section so if I overlooked your favorites please tell us about them there.


It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Planxty in the history of Irish traditional music. Christy Moore, Dónal Lunny, Andy Irvine and Liam O’Flynn formed the band in the early 1970s and their new arrangements and powerhouse performances of old songs and dance tunes sparked a revival of jig and reel playing among young Irish musicians. As an added bonus, Dónal Lunny popularized the use of the bouzouki in Irish music. The band broke up in 1975, but has reformed at least couple of time with different members.

The Dubliners with Shane McGowan and the Pogues

The Dubliners were formed in 1962 and were fronted by Ronnie Drew, whose croaking, whisky soaked vocals were a striking contrast to the smooth, hearty delivery of the famous Clancy Brothers, who were making waves in America and Ireland as a sort of Irish version of the Kingston Trio. In 1967, The Dubliners’ recording of “Seven Drunken Nights” was banned by the BBC, which, in the ways these things usually go, helped make it a hit. Shane McGowan grew up listening to the Dubliners and in a way his band, the Pogues, updated their raucous good humor and drunken style to appeal to the punk generation. This great performance of the “The Irish Rover” shows the two bands’ affinity for each other.  Oh and kids, don’t forget to floss your teeth.

The Bothy Band

The Bothy Band formed in 1975 and, in what has become something of tradition for Irish bands, split up only a few years later. While they were together they filled the void left when Planxty broke up, helped, no doubt, by the presence of former Planxty member Dónal Lunny. It was a sad day for Irish music when the Bothies called it day but the blow was lessened by the fact that various members went on to form or join other great bands like The Chieftains, Nightnoise, Moving Hearts, Patrick Street, Relativity and Touchstone. The Bothy Band and Planxty, along with De Dannan, the third great Irish band to form in the 1970s, inspired loads of excellent bands that are well worth tracking down like Altan, Lunasa, Dervish, Solas and Déanta among many others.

Martin Hayes Dennis Cahill

One issue a lot of people have with traditional Irish instrumental music is that it’s played too fast. I have to say that I agree that sometimes a talented player will let virtuoso technique overpower the music but in the case of Martin Hayes, that is never the case. He takes the tunes at slower, more contemplative tempos that highlight the beauty of the melodies. In this clip, he is accompanied by his longtime musical partner Dennis Cahill, who, as always, offers a master class in how to back up a fellow musician.

Kieran Hanrahan and Sonny Murray

Irish musicians have played the tenor banjo since at least the 1920s, making it the fretted instrument with the longest tenure in the style. This clip by Kieran Hanrahan is a good introduction to the lively triplet-heavy playing technique. I like the fact that this was filmed in the kitchen of Sonny Murray, the concertina player. Any Irish musician will tell you that the best music is always heard in someone’s kitchen.

Bonus Clip


Seamus Ennis

Even though it has no frets, I couldn’t leave out the most Irish instrument of them all, the uillieann pipes. Seamus Ennis is good as it gets and this clip is well worth your time.