Get Your Irish Music Here! (Irish Tune Types)

Irish instrumental music is by and large dance music, at least until comparatively recently. Now, except for isolated communities of interest, it’s mostly listening music, notwithstanding the vestigial audience participation – hand clapping, foot stomping, thigh slapping, etc.

Arthur Young wrote in A Tour of Ireland (1776-1779): “Dancing is very general among the poor people. Almost universal in every cabbin. Dancing masters of their own rank travel through the country from cabbin to cabbin, with a piper or blind fiddler; and the pay is six pence a quarter. It is an absolute system of education. Weddings are always celebrated with much dancing.”

For a counterpoint: William Thackeray wrote in his Irish Sketch Book (1843): “Anything more lugubrious than the drone of the pipe, or the jig danced to it, or the countenances of the dancers and musicians, I never saw. Round each set of dancers the people formed a ring; the toes went in, and the toes went out; then there came certain mystic figures of hands across and so forth. I never saw less grace or seemingly less enjoyment – no, not even in a quadrille.”

Today we bring you a study of Irish Tune types – jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas, marches, mazurkas (OK – that one started out in Poland, but mazurkas arrived in Britain and then Ireland by 1830),  waltzes, planxtys, and slow airs.

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