what is Irish music?

Irish Music

What is Irish Traditional Music?

Irish Traditional Music is a genre of music in Ireland. It is referred to by many names such as “Irish Trad Music” or  “Irish Folk” music and is widely used as a blanket term to cover all the variety of styles of Irish music from instrumentals to folk songs originating from Ireland. 


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Irish Traditional Music versus Irish Folk Music

When speaking to an Irish musician, if you use the term “Irish Traditional Music”, they will typically assume you are referring to the Irish music instrumentals such as jigs, reels and hornpipes etc performed on the Irish musical instruments such as fiddles, tin whistle, bodhran for example.

Irish Folk music is typically used to describe Irish songs with vocals or an oral aspect. Such music typically tells a story.

It is a very free, warm and welcoming musical genre where the terms can get interchanged but to differentiate, Irish traditional music is instrumental based whereas Irish folk music is vocal or has an oral aspect. 

As an Irish music musician, who grew up in the West of Ireland,  this is a genre of music I am very passionate about. I was very fortunate to grow up in a household of Irish music where my father is a great fiddle player and all of my six siblings play Irish music.  

Growing up in Ireland, like most teenagers I was most attracted to the world of POP / Rock music and started my career as a songwriter and Music Producer in these musical genres,  however, they say Irish music runs in the blood so it has been very easy for me to get back in touch with my Irish music roots and pick up the fiddle again. 

Today, Irish music is as important as ever and with the soaring demand for Irish music in film and in video games. The storytelling aspect of Irish music can convey emotion like no other genre, making it an essential part of world culture.

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What is the difference between Celtic Music and Irish Music?

The terms Irish Music and Celtic Music often get used interchangeably as both terms cover a range of music.

Celtic music refers to music from any of the Celtic regions, for example,  Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany (in France), Galicia (in Spain) and others across the world. 

Celtic music can be seen as a wider blanket term to encapsulate all these traditional instrumentals and folk songs of these regions which have a similar sound but yet, are very different and unique to the trained ear. 

As an Irish musician, I can tell the difference between a hornpipe that originated in Ireland or Scotland as there is a difference in the style and emphasis on the notes. 

Even within Irish music itself, you can hear differences in musical styles within the country.  For example, music that originated in Northern Ireland, both instrumental and song, will have a different style to the music of the South-West of Ireland.

This debate, whether a tune is Irish Music or Celtic Music, can be a controversial one for musicians as the music is similar but different in so many subtle ways that it can be hard to define.

We can all agree however that Celtic Music is well established and a very diverse musical genre.

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What are the different types of Irish Traditional Music?

Within the genre of Irish traditional music, there are different types or styles of tune. The most common types of Irish music are the jig, the reel, the hornpipe and the slow air. You will notice that the type of music is also the type of dance. 


A jig is a lively and buoyant tune that is great for dancing.  It is associated with celebration. You may have heard the phrase “I am so happy, I could dance a jig!” It is energetic and full of life. It is fast, but not as fast as a reel.

Here is an example of a traditional Irish jig. You will notice the jumpy and exuberant feel of the jig. 


An Irish reel is fast. You can typically tell an Irish reel as it will be fast and have a simple meter i.e. a recurring pattern every few bars and beats. 

Here is an example of a traditional Irish reel. You will see that it is fast, but does not jump around in feel like the jig. 


The hornpipe is a slower and more jaunty tune with a very distinguished rhythm that places emphasis on the first and third beats.

Here is an example of a traditional hornpipe. It is slower and jaunty. Notice the emphasis on the different notes.

The Slow Air

The Irish slow air is an exceptional form of expression that does not follow structure. It is purely melodic, expressive and slow. It is an incredible style of music.

Here is my favourite example of slow air. It is moving and free.

What are the different types of Irish musical instruments?

Many of the instruments used in traditional Irish music date back to the time of the Celts in Northern Europe and before. 

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Many musical instruments can be involved in the performance of Irish music but the instruments at the core of the genre and found in your typical Irish music session are:

The Fiddle

The Irish fiddle is identical to the violin and only differs by playing style and sound.

The fiddle is one of the most prominent Irish musical instruments and can be found at the heard of Irish music sessions.

Some of the worlds most successful and well-known Irish musicians are fiddle players, for example, Michael Coleman, Martin Hayes and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh.

Tin Whistle

The tin whistle is one of the most popular Irish musical instruments. It is affordable to purchase and a great beginner instrument for any aspiring Irish musician. In addition, it is light and can be easily carried around in your pocket, ready for any impromptu Irish music session.

Uilleann Pipes

The Uilleann Pipes (pronounced “ill-on”), is an ancient instrument that has been in existence since the 5th century. UNESCO recognised the Uilleann Pipes as an important and unique cultural heritage symbol. 

This is a complex instrument that can take time to master. Many of the famous Uilleann pipe players acknowledge the skill, time and practice required to become a master performer of the uilleann pipes. 


The bodhran is a wonderful simple percussion instrument at the heart of Irish music. It is made from animal skin, traditionally goat, however, modern bodhrans can be made from a synthetic material and not animal-based. 

It is played upright using a shaped stick to strike the surface of the drum to create a beat. 


The harp is widely known as one of the most iconic Celtic or Irish music instruments. In Ireland, the harp is a national symbol that you will find everywhere from money to official government buildings.

The harp comes in many shapes and sizes and has been in existence since the 10th Century.

One of my favourite Irish historical figures is Brian Boru, High King of Ireland in the 10th century. It was said that Brian Boru was an accomplished harpist and in fact, his harp is one of the oldest surviving harps in the world. If you are ever in Dublin, visit Trinity College Dublin where you can see it on display. 

the harp of Brian Boru

The Harp of Brian Boru, from History of Ireland

Although the evidence suggests that the harp dates to a later period, after the time of Brian Boru, us Irish love a legend and we still refer to it as the harp of Brian Boru.

As a child, I was so inspired by the stories of Brian Boru and his harp, I composed this Celtic Music piece, which is inspired by the legends of his early days as a boy, dreaming about becoming High King of Ireland. You will notice the undertone of the harp throughout. 


Slow & gentle royalty free music with reflective Irish harp melodies and evolving Celtic atmosphere.

©2012 Louise Byrne Music

Celtic Music | Irish Music | Music for Videos on YouTube

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Here is another tune inspired by King Brian Boru and his harp which I composed called “King Bran’s Return”.

It was originally called “King Brian’s Return” in honour of King Brian Boru however, a misspelling by a US publisher caused the name “King Bran” to stick.

Can you identify the flutes, fiddle, harp, uilleann pipes and bodhran?  I use orchestration and electronic drone synths in the background which would most likely classify this tune as “Celtic New Age” due to the electronic element. 


Celtic ambient royalty free music, with reminiscent Irish flutes building to delicate Irish harp, Celtic light melodies & Irish folk percussion.

©2012 Louise Byrne Music

Irish Music | Celtic Music | Background Music | Music for Video Games

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The Importance of Irish Music for Filmmaking and Video Game Development

The melodies of Irish music (or Celtic music) capture the imagination like no other genes and the wealth of emotion that can be conveyed in Irish music makes it an essential genre for the multimedia world of filmmaking and video game development.

A soft mournful Irish ballad can convey loss that would bring a tear to the most hardened film critic and the delightful jigs and reels of the traditional Irish music style make it a core genre for the fantasy video game development industry.

We have seen a rise in Irish music and Celtic music production in recent years due to the video game industry and the market demand for fantasy games or games with an “old world” or medieval feel.

Games such as “Skyrim” and the “Witcher” have put me back in touch with my Irish music roots and reignited demand for this ancient musical style.

Irish jigs and reels are being played in the taverns of these games when our lead character stops to rest or play cards just like a pub of times gone by.

The use of Irish music in these video games is phenomenal and adds an incredible layer of storytelling and atmosphere to the games. 

Where can I download Irish Music for YouTube, Video or Video Game Development?

Finding authentic Irish music to use on YouTube, for your film or content can be tricky as it is still not widely produced by the mass music production libraries. It is still a very niche genre in the world of production music. 

There are lots of “look-alike” songs but finding something more original can be tricky.

Currently, I have a small but growing collection of Celtic and Irish music in my free music library. 

You can use this music for free in your films, YouTube videos, content and video game development. You just need to ensure you credit me with the music, for example,

Music by www.louisebyrnemusic.com

Here are the most popular Irish and Celtic music soundtracks I have composed which you can download for free here or listen to on Spotify 

Royalty Free Music | Celtic Fantasy Music Vol 1 | Free Music Download


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Disclaimer: This blog is intended as a guide only for educational and informational purposes. It is not legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters.