Music of Ireland

Music was almost cultivated to a degree of extravagance by the Irish. Their national history, their metaphysical, philosophical, and theological systems were conveyed in verse and harmonised to song, which was the chief diversion of their entertainments and festivities. The bards formed a most respected body in the nation. Each chief had his own bard, and in every house of importance the harp was kept for the use of the family, or for strange musicians who might visit them. The harp was their principal instrument, and it was so much in use and loved by the people that it has become a national emblem. They also played on the tiompan, crotalen, and chrotal, and had a variety of wind instruments.

Irish airs are usually short, consisting of two parts, but the composition of many of them is so beautiful and so artistic that they have not been to the present excelled. Some of them have penetrated into all nations, and are universally known and admired, and, as time advances, the public appreciate them more and more. Thomas Moore, by composing his songs to old Irish airs, has contributed more than anyone else to render them immortal. We know the authors of most of the Irish airs composed within the past 200 years, but Moore’s Melodies are, with few exceptions, so ancient, dating back to remote antiquity, that we have not the slightest knowledge of their authors or the time they were composed. Those beautiful airs afford us ample evidence that our forefathers, in the remote past, had reached a high degree of civilisation, and possessed a musical taste and culture exceeding that of the race of the present day.

Old Irish airs are of three kinds: the martial, the sorrowful, and the reposing. Our martial airs are some of the best in the world. Many of our sorrowful are truly soul-moving, and inspire sentiments of the highest and noblest character. But no people can surpass the Irish in gaiety and lightness of heart, and this feature of their character is well delineated in their music. The Irish must have been a highly refined people when those airs were composed, and it is probable they were composed, at least many of them, in that period when learning and art in Ireland had reached its highest perfection, viz., from the seventh to the thirteenth century.

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Early Irish History and Antiquities, and the History of West Cork

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