Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way: the Music Begins

Kerry Dexter's picture

The west coast of Ireland: from the mouth of the Kenmare River in west Cork in the south up to Banba’s Crown at the top of Donegal in the northwest, the length of Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard is framed in the Wild Atlantic Way, a driving route where, as the folk at Failte Ireland point out in their video, you may touch the soul of Ireland.


Where is the soul of Ireland but in its music? Over the course of several stories, I’ll be offering ideas for music to accompany your journeys along the Wild Atlantic Way, be they travels on the ground or through imagination -- or both.

Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way: the Music Begins
John Spillane comes from Cork, in the south of Ireland not far from Kenmare. He’s known as much for his dry and wry Corkonian wit as he is for his song writing -- Christy Moore and Cathie Ryan are among those who have recorded John’s songs -- and he’s a champion of the Irish language. He presents programs for school children on Irish song and has recorded several albums of these songs as well.

As much as he’s known for these things, and for his voice with its edge of grit, John Spillane has a fine hand and style at reflective love songs as well.

You can hear all sides of his talent on the retrospective album So Good So Far, Like. Other recordings to check out include Hey Dreamer and Life in an Irish Town.


Seamus Begely comes from a musical family in Kerry. Oisin MacDiarmada, from County Sligo, is the founder of the top traditional band Teada. The two of them got together for a duo album called, naturally enough, Le Cheile/Together. It is a gathering of jigs and reels, songs, and tunes which showcase Begley’s singing and accordion chops and MacDiarmada’s intense fiddle playing as they tell stories of  west of Ireland landscapes in rhythms framed for dance and song.


Speaking of stories, some years back, the folk at the British Broadcasting Corporation began mining their archives for stories told in song. The result was a many volume-- twenty last time I looked -- series of recordings called Voice of the People. An early volume in the series, My Ship Shall Sail the Ocean, works especially well for travels along the Wild Atlantic Way. There are songs and tunes presented as they may have been shared in pubs and living rooms along the way by voices trained and untrained, stories of ships lost and found, sailors and the families who waited for them, leaving and returning and looking back and coming home. If you’re looking for a bit of the source that many of today’s musicians turn to for inspiration, My Ship Shall Sail the Ocean is one place to get a taste of that.

Sharon Shannon is one who well knows how to bring together many threads of past and present to share her own unique perspective through music. Accordion, whistle, and fiddle are her main instruments. Shannon grew up in County Clare, and studied at university in Cork (“although I was spending most of my time playing sessions rather than going to lectures,” she says), and one of her better known pieces is called Galway Girl, so her music is well suited for a trip on the Wild Atlantic Way. Shannon also considers playing in collaboration with her band members and other artists to be one of the chief joys of what she does. A fine place to hear her at work on this is her album called Libertango.


Along the physical road of the Wild Atlantic Way, there are now what known as discovery points, places where you may learn about history, about culture, or enjoy an especially great view or a place to stop. Ahead here, I will introduce you to more discovery points through music along the Wild Atlantic Way -- the fiery sounds of Donegal fiddle, the sean nos singers of Connemara, the stories of Sligo, and more yet to come.


Learn more at

Take a musical tour along the Wild Atlantic Way with singer Cathie Ryan - more details at



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

You may find more of Kerry’s work at Music Road, Journey to Scotland, Perceptive Travel, Strings, National Geographic Traveler, and other places in print and on line.



Photo courtesy and copyright Jessie Voigts