Irish traditional music is the folk music of the Irish people as well as of the descendants of Irish emigrants in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Irish traditional music as it is known today is the result of a centuries-old tradition of melodically rich dance music and song. It was formerly played without harmonic accompaniment such as guitar, and was usually learned “by ear” rather than from written music. Irish dance music is distinctively lively, and Irish songs are often highly ornamented.
This music is contrasted with the Irish pub ballad tradition – which has made, for example, the song “Whiskey in the Jar” famous – and the modern “folk” tradition, as well as what goes under the name “Celtic music”. The term “Celtic music” usually combines Irish traditional music with various other traditional musics, including those of Scotland and the Shetland Islands; Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada; Wales; the Isle of Man; Northumberland in northern England; Brittany in northwestern France; and sometimes Galicia in northwestern Spain.
The term, though widely used, is eschewed by many traditionalists. While once mostly homemade by non-professionals for their own entertainment and that of their neighbours and friends, now Irish music can be heard at informal gatherings of musicians, often in pubs, and occasionally in concert halls, not only in Ireland and countries with large Irish immigrant populations, but indeed in many countries around the globe.
The Irish song tradition is diverse and rich. It enjoys a prominent place among the interrelated song traditions of Scotland, England and North America. Irish songs, with plaintive or sprightly melodies to suit their themes, cover many subjects: love and betrayal, everyday country life and occupations, and historical or newsworthy event