Leaving Cert Music Essays

This is some Irish music notes I made up, hope they are a help :) I have written out some of the essay questions although not all of them but there is a lot done.

Irish Music

Traditional Features                                         Non traditional features

Solo                                                                            Group performances

No harmony                                                               Harmony

Ornamentation                                                           Accompaniment

Flattened 7th                                                        Non traditional instruments

Wide range                                                                Noted music

Monophonic                                                               Homophonic

No dynamics                                                              Fusions

Not expressive                                                          Syncopated rhythm

Repeat final note                                                       Dynamics

Traditional instruments                                             No ornamentation

Aural tradition – passed down by ear

Modal keys and gapped scales

Form dictates what way the dances go

Traditional Instruments                                       Non traditional instruments

Fiddle                                                                         Guitar

Flute                                                                            Mandolin

Tin whistle                                                                  Piano/keyboard

Uilleann pipes                                                            Synthesiser

Concertina                                                                 Bouzouki

Melodeon/button accordion                                        Drums

Harp                                                                            Harpsichord

Piano accordion                                                        Orchestral instruments

Harmonica                                                                 Ethnic instruments




Tenor banjo

Harp                            - Derek Bell, Laoise Kelly, Máire Ní Chathasaigh.

Fiddle                         - Frankie Gavin, Tommy Peoples, Paddy Glackin

Flute                            - Matt Molloy, Seamus Tansey

Whistle                       - Mary Bergin, Geraldine Cotter, Paddy Maloney

Uilleann Pipes           - Seamus Ennis, Willie Clancy, Pady Maloney

Bodhrán                     - Kevin Conneff, Mel Mercier

Sean Nós

Solo                                                    Free rhythm   

Unaccompanied                                No dynamics

In irish                                                 Glottal stop

Ornamentation                                   Modal tonality

Melismas                                           Nasal tone

Glissando/sliding                              Regional Differences

Examples:   Úna Bhán

                        Anach Cuain

                        An Droimeann Donn Dílis

                        Caoine na dTír Mhuire

Regional Differences


Scottish influence

Narrow range

Wider range

Regular rhythm

Nasal tone

Vibrato, pronounced nasal quality

Least Ornamenation

Lots of ornamentation, very melismatic

Rhythmic variation

Singers: Lillis Ó Laoire,

Salí Gallagher

Singers: Róisín Elsafty, Seosamh Ó hÉanaí

Singers: Iarla O’Lionair, Séamus Begley

Irish Dance Music










   Slip jig







Fast and lively

Most native, some English,

Most from 18th & 19th century

The Ten penny Bit

Smash the Windows

Hardiman the fiddler


4   or   2

4         2

Fast and flowing

Most common,

Scottish origin

Bonnie Kate

Cooley’s reel




Slower than reel

English origin, strong accent on 1st and 3rd  beats

The harvest home

Rights of man





, set dancing in sliabh Luachra

Britches full of stitches

Kerry polka


12  or  6

 8        8


 A fast single jig

Denis Murphy’s slide

Song Tradition

  • Sean-nós
  • Ballads (old and new)
  • Macaronic songs (in 2 languages)
  • Anglo-Irish songs

Type of songs




Love songs

Expressive, often sad

Úna Bhan

She moved through the fair


About loss, death, eviction, emigration of friend, longing for better times

Anach Chuain

An Mhaighéan Mhara

Drinking songs

Lively rhythm, celebratory, social events

Whiskey in the jar

Preab san Ól

Níl sé ‘na Lá

Working songs

For tasks like working in the fields, kitchen, forge, steady rhythm to match the work

Ding dong Dédero

Amhrán na Cuiginne


Gentle rockinig rhythm, sleep songs,

Deirin Dé

Dún o Shúile

Religious songs

Sorrowful, grief, focus on religious topics, usually slow, not common due to penal laws

Wexford Carol

Caoineadh na dTrí Mhuire

Humorous songs

Light hearted, lively rhythm,

The holy ground

An Poc ar Buille

Dandling songs

For small children, bouncy rhythm, repeats words and melody

Dílín Ó Deamhas

Patriotic songs

Ashling – dream/visions song,

Rebel/nationalist and famine songs


Four Green Fields

Táimse im’ Chodladh


Alternates between English and irish, Some patriotic in the irish parts

Siúil a Rúin

One day for Recreation


A narrative lyric song, often on political or social life, love, alcohol, emigration,the sea

The Foggy Dew

Finnegan’s Wake

The Croppy Boy

The Fields of Athenry

Anglo-Irish songs

Composed by irish in English language, many are ballads as well

The Last Rose of Summer

The Mountains of Mourne

Essay Topics

All Essay topics and the years they have appeared.


Sean Nós

The Term sean nós is used to describe unaccompanied solo singing, usually I the irish language in which the words and the music are of equal importance.

Sean nós is a singing style developed over the centuries in Irish speaking and Gaelic speaking . It has been passed on from generation to generation. The style is deeply rooted in the rhythms of the Gaelic language and in the metres and rhythms of Gaelic poetry.

Songs are sung with free rhythm, the singer speeds up or slows down to suit the words which may sometimes sound distorted. Dynamics are not used. The singer ornaments the tune to convey emotion. No two performances of a song by the same singer will be identical.

Melodic ornamentation used may be melismatic, where a note is replaced by a group of adjacent notes, or intervallic, where additional notes are used to fill intervals between notes in the tune. Rhythmic variation also is common where the notes may be lengthened or shortened. Sean nós singing tends to have a nasal tone quality. Glottal stopping is use which interrupts the flow of air through the wind pipe. Extra meaningless syllable are sometimes added to words and some singers slow down at the end while others speak the final line of the song.

There are three regions associated with sean nós singings; , Donegal and . These are all Gaeltacht areas and each has it’s own distinctive spoken dialect and sean nós style.  In Donegal ornamentation is not use very often and it has a very regular rhythm. Salí Gallagher is a performer of the Donegal sean nós style. In a lot of ornamentation is use and it is very florid. The songs also tend to have a narrower range. Seosamh Ó hÉanaí is a sean nós singer in . The range tends to be much wider in and many use vibrato so it is most similar to classical singing.

The Harping Tradition

The harping tradition in flourished from medieval times until the seventeenth century. It was fostered and developed among the powerful and wealthy Irish and Anglo-Irish families. Harpers were employed along with poets and orators, known as reacoirs, to provide entertainment for the families. As the families acted as patrons to the harpers, they would often have solo pieces, known as planxties, written in their honour by their harper. One famous song is Planxty Kelly. The occupation of a harper was a very prestigious one. The harping tradition was passed on, father to son, for many years and was one of very few viable career options for blind boys at the time. However, after 1600, as the great families went into decline, there was a loss of patronage and harpers were left unemployed. The harping tradition then became a nomadic one, as harpers would travel from county to county, playing for money and food.

There were two styles of harp: the Bardic harp and the Neo-Irish harp. The Bardic harp had between 29 and 31 strings made of wire, which were played with the nails. Usually around 70cm in height with a curved pillar and a hollow soundbox, the Bardic harp was the more resonant of the two. The Neo-Irish harp typically had 34 strings made of nylon or cat gut, which were played with the pads of the fingers. They were taller (about 91cm in height) than the Bardic harp, but less resonant. 

In 1792 the Belfast Harp Festival was setup with the aim of preventing the decline of the harping tradition. It consisted of eleven harpers from the age of 15 to 97, playing pieces in their own particular style. One player that was the light of the day was Denis Hempson, age 97, being the oldest player there. Edward Bunting was commissioned by the Belfast Harp Society to record the lifestyles of the harpers as well as recording and writing down the music from the festival to preserve it for future generations. This method, unlike the oral tradition which had existed up until then, did not allow for particular nuances in style and some of these were lost. There was a harping revival in the second half of the twentieth century. The role of the harp as a traditional instrument was led by Máire Ní Chathasaigh, who had solo albums such as “The New Strung Harp” and Laoise Kelly who release the album “Just Harp”

Seán Ó Riada:

Use for Irish composer

Sean O Riada (1931-1971) was born in and grew up in Bruff, Co. , where he learned to play the traditional fiddle. He studied music in University College Cork. He also learned to play piano and played it in both jazz and dance bands. He was assistant Director of music in Radio Éireann until he left for in 1955. After a further study in , where he became involved with Jazz and Greek musicians, he was appointed Musical Director of the Abby Theatre in in 1957 and also returned to work with Radio Eireann. O Riada first came to prominence in 1959 when he was commissioned by Gael Linn to write the Music for the movie ‘Mise Eire’. In 1963 O Riada took up a post lecturing in Music at , , and he continued to work there until his death in 1971.

Throughout his life O Riada was a much renowned Irish Music Composer. But he also composed Classical music. He was also a very talented Bodhran player – giving this instrument a new lease of life in Irish Music. Ó Riada was quite critical of ceilì bands and he formed a “folk orchestra” called Ceoltoirì Chulann in 1960. He wanted to create a popular audience for traditional music and give it the dignity it deserved. He hoped that his new band could revolutionize the arrangement and performance of Irish Music. There imaginative arrangements involve interweaving melodies a classical-style harmonies.

The bodhrán had been seen as a primitive rhythm instrument but once O’Riada use it in Ceoltóirí Chualann is became a mainstream traditional Irish instrument in many groups. He also wanted to revive the 18th century Irish Harp music so he played the harpsichord in order to replicate the sound. Despite not giving many concerts they had a large following. Their last performance was recorded on the album “O’Riada sa Gaiety”. When the group broke up in 1969 many of them joined The Chieftains, whose style was greatly influenced by O’Riada.

 Leaving Cert Music

Irish Dance Music

Much of what we now call Traditional Irish music originated in the Gaelic speaking peasantry of the 18th Century. Dancing was very popular at weddings and other social events. Up until the early 20th Century, the practice of dancing masters travelling from town to town with a fiddler or piper, and giving dance classes was common. In rural Ireland, dancing at the crossroads was still very popular towards 1950. Today, dance music is often played in a concert situation, to be listened to, rather than to be danced to. This affects the way the music is played. For example, a hornpipe wont necessarily be played at dance speed now. Modern players particularly in bands or groups often like to play very fast. Modern bands also like to run a slower dance like the slip jig into a faster one like the reel. The tempo change for the Reel gives the music a lift. It's also typical to run sseveral tunes of the same dance type together.
The Jig
The jig is the oldest form of dance. There are 3 types; the Single Jig in 6/8 featuring all quavers            , the Double Jig in 6/8 featuring crotchet quaver movement         and the Slip (Hop) Jig in 9/8 featuring quaver movement. The Lark in the Morning, Morrison's Jig are examples of well known Jigs. Slipjigs include, The Butterfly and the opening of Riverdance
The Reel
The Reel is of Scottish descent and is often the favourite dance of traditional musicians. Although written in 4/4 it is played in 2/2 with 2 steady beats in each bar. Drowsy Maggie, The Mason's Apron, the Wind that shakes the Barley and Toss the Feathers are examples of well known Reels

The Hornpipe
The Hornpipe is the slowest dance leaving room for the most complicated of dance steps. Many set dances are Hornpipes. It is characterised by the dotted rhythm      (pizza!), triplets and 3 strong crotchets in the last bar of each section. Other dances related to hornpipes include Barndances, Scottishes and Highlands. The Harvest Home and King of the Fairies are good examples of Hornpipes.

The Polka is a dance associated with the set dances of the Sliabh Luachra area of West Munster. It is in 2/4 time and it's tempo is very fast. The Kerry Polka and Britches full of Stiches are Polkas.

The structure of Irish music is simple. In the past, most tunes consisted of 2 x 8-bar phrases, called Parts, which are usually repeated. These 8-bar parts can be further sub-divided into 2 x 4-bar sub phrases which are often quite similar. A typical form therefore is AABB whic is usually repeated. Today it is common for tunes to have 3 or even 4 parts. Repitition is still used though not always. The Contradiction is an example of a Reel played by fiddler Zoe Conway, with none of the 4 parts repeating, but the whole tune repeats. i.e. ABCD ABCD.  Occasionally, tunes are structured in an irregular pattern but this is not common. Note; The parts in a slip jig are not normally repeated.
Sets and half sets were the most popular form of dance in the 19th and 20th centuries. a full set consists of 8 people making 4 couples. Different parts of the country have different forms of set. The half set consists of half the number of people. The most skilful form of Irish dancing is the solo step.
Céilí Bands
The first Céilí bands were probably as a response to the Gaelic League's creation of the céilí dance in the early years of the 20th Century. a Céilí band consisted of a Piano, snare drum and an accordion. As venues became larger so the bands grew, so today  fiddles, flutes, banjos and even saxophones are found in Céilí Bands. The Céilí Band was often the only type of traditional music played on radio in the 1950s and '60s. Some bands stand out for the quality of the music they perform. the Kilfenora Céilí band are an example of a band that is thriving today and all the members are first rate traditional musicians. there is also a movement towards 'listening' Céilí Bands with the emphasis on the music alone. 

This tune is a Reel played on the Fiddle accompanied by Bodhrán and Guitar. Note there are 4 sections without the usual repeats. Form - ABCD ABCD.

This is another Reel this time by the Chieftains. Note the combination of instruments. Again the expected repeats are missing. Form - ABAB which alternates with the solo instruments, Fiddle, Harp, Pipes. Note that the Harp solo is a Jig, probably for variety in this long arrangement of a short tune. 

This tune is a Jig but also a really good opportunity to hear the increasingly popular instrument from Greece called the bouzouki.

This Hornpipe is called the Harvest Home played on Concertina. Note the dotted rhythm, triplets and the relaxed tempo. 

3 Sliabh Luachra Polkas. The combination of Fiddle and Accordion is very common as melody instruments.

Riverdance was a huge event but the full video really belongs on the Fusion page. It's included here as the opening dance is a Slipjig in 9/8.

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