Music from the Heart: Ireland

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Mar 17, 2020 / 0 comments

It is a time of year when thoughts turn to Ireland. It is the time of Saint Patrick's Day. The whole of this time of year, from February through May, is known as Patrick season, for that reason. At the time of Saint Patrick in earlier years in this series, I reflected that the story of Ireland, its diaspora, and its people, is one of making it through hardship and change, and finding ways to do that while keeping music in the heart, and sharing that music.

Music from the Heart: Ireland

Music for Shifting Times is what we decided to call this series of stories when events in many parts of the world were changing in unexpected and challenging ways. It is an understatement to say that continues on, some four years into this series.

With those thoughts in mind, and the wish as always that this music will be be good companion to you, here are songs to consider.

Aoife Scott and Andrew Meaney wrote the song Another Reason to celebrate the birth of their niece Kitty. In it, they offer wishes for a bright and balanced future, something we all of whatever age can use at the moment. You will find the song recorded on Aoife's album, Homebird (Andy plays on it too), where there are many other fine songs to explore.

Loss is a part of change and shifting times too, whether that be loss of hours at a favorite place to visit or loss of a deeper kind. Archie Fisher, who comes from Scotland, spent some years working on the sea. In the song Final Trawl, he uses a reflection from that to consider loss and change. The sea has been a big part of Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh's life, too, from her time growing up on the Aran Islands and Cape Clear to her longtime home base on the Dingle Peninsula. She brings that insight to the song, which you may find recorded on her album Foxglove & Fuschia.

There is joy and creativity and connection in the season, too. To explore this, take a listen to a set of tunes from Altan. There are three jigs: The Gap of Dreams, written by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh; Nia's Jig, by Nia Byrne; and The Beekeeper, by Sam Kelly. Mairéad is a founder of the band Altan, Nia is Mairéad's daughter, Sam is the son of Altan's longtime guitarist Mark Kelly, and they each play on his or her tune, Mairéad and Nia on fiddle and Sam on concertina. The traditional music of Ireland is in good hands with them. You may find the set on Altan's album The Gap of Dreams, which was recorded in the band's home county of Donegal in Ireland's far northwest.

Exiles Return is the title track of an album by John Doyle and Karan Casey. They both have had experience living away from Ireland themselves, which helps inform their interpretation of the song. It's spare in arrangement, as are all songs on the album, with Doyle on guitar, Michael McGoldrick on flute, and Dirk Powell on banjo and bass. That allows focus to fall on Doyle's and Casey's voices, and the words they sing. The pair were bandmates in the top Irish American band Solas for several years, and have gone on to forge separate award winning careers and to collaborate with many other artists. This duo project was on their minds for some time, though. "John in his guitar playing really does catch me, almost like he knows what I'm thinking,"  Karan says. "Karan's soul is in the music," John reflects.

You met Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh's music above. At this writing, she's recently released a mini album which, she says, "brings together my two loves, music and the sea." It is a fine collection of six tracks, all having something to do with the sea. It is called Thar Toinn/Seaborne. Here is Faoiseamh Faoistine. Muireann says: "Our dearly-departed friend, the poet and boatman Danny Sheehy, wrote this poem, which urges the listener to connect to land and sea, and find solace there." Gerry O'Beirne wrote the music. He plays on the album, as does Donal O'Connor.

That is a song of hope, to be sure. To draw this reflection to a close, here is another. It is called Bright Morning Stars, and has found its way into Appalchian and Celtic traditions. Cara Dillon, who comes from Dungiven in County Derry in Northern Ireland, sings it here. You may find it recorded on her album A Thousand Hearts.


Thank you for staying with us through this journey. Below, you'll find a link that will take you to an article which has a bit more backstory on the series. It also has links to a number of the stories, including ones called Listening for Community, Music for Winter's Changes, and The Geography of Hope.

Music for Shifting Times

Music for Shifting Times




Kerry Dexter is Music Editor at Wandering Educators. You may reach Kerry at music at wanderingeducators dot com.

You may find more of Kerry's work in National Geographic Traveler, Strings, Perceptive Travel, Journey to Scotland, Irish Fireside, and other places, as well as at her own site, Music Road.