Getting through hard times, like this current pandemic, is never easy. Lockdown and other aspects of Covid-19 affect us all. However, if you are curious about music and cultural heritage of other nations that are slightly different from the place where you come, then getting familiar with Irish folk music can be the answer to spend your time actively at home.
In this article, I recommend five traditional Irish folk songs that you could listen to amid lockdown. These tracks may be well-known amongst Irish folks but they can be interesting for those who do not know much about the musical heritage of Ireland that comes from Gaelic, Celtic roots.
Rocky Road To Dublin
It was written in the 19th century by Galway poet, D K Gavan, and it is a folk song about a young Irishman who sets off from his home Tuam, Galway to seek his fortune. After saying a farewell to his family and leaving the lassies “nearly broken hearted”, this young Irishman begins his journey through a rocky road to the Irish capital.
In Dublin, he gets robbed the first night after arrival and decides to leave for England so he gets on a boat to sail to Liverpool. In Liverpool, his luck does not seem to be found either sadly, as he gets mocked by locals because of his accent and ancestry. Despite being outnumbered, our hero gets into a bare-knuckle fight with the Englishmen but before the certain defeat, a group of Galway boys join him and together they triumph.
The Irish folk formation The High Kings included this song on their debut album that was released in 2008. Rocky Road to Dublin contains several adventurous and humorous bits and in my opinion, in terms of toughness and gumption, it perfectly mirrors the spirits of Irish folks.
It was originally written around the second half of the 19th century and its subject is the famous Irish horse-racing festival that has been held at Ballybrit Racecourse, in Galway since the 17th of August, 1869. By the way, Galway Races is still an active event nowadays. However, the song gained more popularity in the late 1960s when The Dubliners included it on their album ‘A Drop of The Hard Stuff’ (1967).
Its lyrics describe mainly the gathering of people across Ireland for this popular and remarkable event and you may find the elements of humour in it as well. This song tells me about the strong sense of community that Irish folks have. Regardless of differences and which region they are from, people of the Emerald Isle always can stand up as one. Another fun fact that could be added here is that Galway Races has not only inspired musicians in the past but poets as well, one of their famous representatives was William Butler Yeats.
The Auld Triangle
This is another classic, a couple of months ago, I watched the YouTube video of Glen Hansard’s concert that was held at the Royal Albert Hall in London back in 2014.
He finished the set with this song along with his friends and colleagues and honestly, goosebumps were at present all along. The Auld Triangle is originally attributed to Brendan Behan, Irish poet and playwright who made it popular in the 1950s. In terms of narrative, Behan was imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail in Dublin, and most likely this particular personal experience inspired him to write a song of it.
It is one of the oldest Irish ballads, and its origins are still unclear, however, ‘it is most likely a merging of other songs.’ Its subject may not be so merry but I thought I should include this song here, not because it is a personal favourite but since it shows another face of Irish folk songs.
Most people might think that Irish folk songs are just about drinking ales and dancing in pubs on rainy days but it could not be further from the truth. Carrickfergus is in fact, a musical memoir of a lost love, painful but also mesmerisingly beautiful and all these emotions shine through the melody. This song is still well-known in Ireland even nowadays, probably because its subject is ageless.
I left my number-one favourite to last, Kellswater is another traditional song and a gem of the Irish folklore. Loreena Mckennitt, Canadian harpist and singer included this song in her debut album Elemental (1985).
Its subject is about romance of youth, but Mckennitt’s arrangement and her lead vocal add a heavenly colour to the song sonically. Personally, it always reminds me of all the fantasy stories that I read in the books of J.R.R. Tolkien. This kind of music is magical and captivating at the same time and I think it excellently reflects the spiritual side and the cultural heritage of the Emerald Isle.
Ireland is full of beauty, in a cultural sense as well. Whether you would like to dance cheerfully or just wish to listen to some beautiful melodies when you are in a melancholic mood, Irish folk songs have the magical power to put a spell on you. Who knows? Maybe that is exactly you might need during a lockdown due to Covid-19. There is nothing better than getting into the realm of music during rough times.