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Ireland

Geography & Topography

Capital: Dublin

Population:  6,399,115

Area: 84,421 km2

Language: English (Irish)

Religion: Catholic

Currency: Euro

History

Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth. To its east is the larger island of Great Britain, from which it is separated by the Irish Sea.

Politically, the island is divided between the Republic of Ireland, which covers just under five-sixths of the island, and Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, which covers the remainder and is located in the northeast of the island. The population of Ireland is approximately 6.4 million. Just under 4.6 million live in the Republic of Ireland and just under 1.8 million live in Northern Ireland.  Irish culture has had a significant influence on other cultures, particularly in the fields of literature and, to a lesser degree, science and education. A strong indigenous culture exists, as expressed for example through Gaelic games, Irish music and the Irish language, alongside mainstream Western culture, such as contemporary music and drama, and a culture shared in common with Great Britain, as expressed through sports such as soccer, rugby, horse racing, and golf, and the English language.

Performing Arts

Music

Irish Music is the generic term for music that has been created in various genres on the island of Ireland.

The indigenous music of the island is termed Irish traditional music. It has remained vibrant through the 20th, and into the 21st century, despite globalizing cultural forces. In spite of emigration and a well-developed connection to music influences from Britain and the United States, Irish music has kept many of its traditional aspects and has itself influenced many forms of music, such as country and roots music in the USA, which in turn have had some influence on modern rock music. It has occasionally been fused with rock and roll, punk rock and other genres. Some of these fusion artists have attained mainstream success, at home and abroad.

The most recognisable instruments in traditional Irish music are:

Celtic Harp

Celtic Harp: Foremost among the traditional instruments of Ireland is the harp, the symbol of the Irish Republic, and also of that country’s most popular beverage, Guinness Stout!

The harp is a truly ancient instrument, with a history spanning almost 5,000 years. It has been used in Ireland for well over 1,000 years, surviving periodic doldrums of persecution and social upheaval. Queen Elizabeth I, who saw harpers as foci of local resistance to her rule, bid Lord Barrymore “hang the harpers wherever found and destroy their instruments”. The queen was a tough critic.

The Irish wire-strung harp used by the earliest harpers began dying out around the turn of 19th century, supplanted in part by the gut-strung harp, and in part by the European pedal harp that was invented about this time. This break in the tradition means that players of modern reconstructions of the Irish wire-strung harp use a technique that would probably have sounded quite foreign to their 18th century counterparts.

The modern Irish harp stands about 4 feet high, and has 34 strings, as opposed to 47 strings on the modern orchestral harp. The so-called Neo-Irish harp, strung with gut or nylon, is the most popular. Its tone is soft, like water dripping into a crystal bowl. Contrast this with the penetrating, fuzzily resonant, bell-like tones of the wire-strung harp.

Uilleann Pipes

Uilleann Pipes:  Bagpipes, while not quite as ancient as the harp, have been played in Ireland three or four hundred years longer. The bagpipe features a bladder made of leather that is inflated through a pipe by the breath of the musician. The inflated bag is held under the arm and pressed with the elbow to force air through several reeded pipes that are attached to the bag. The musician plays by alternately covering the various holes on one of the pipes, called the chanter, producing the melody. The remaining pipes are drones, each tuned to a single note, that provide a continuous background tone. Bagpipes were used mostly in armies to provide marching music.

In Ireland the war pipes were gradually supplanted by the Uilleann (pronounced “illyun”) pipes, which were invented sometime in the 16th century. This instrument is smaller and quieter than the war pipes, with a greater range: two octaves, as opposed to one for the war pipes. Uilleann pipes are not blown; instead, air is provided to the bag by means of a bellows that is held under the opposite arm and is worked with the elbow (hence the name Uilleann, or “elbow”, pipes). A neat little animated image that shows a piper playing can be seen on the Ceol Rince web site, which also provides some pipe tunes in midi format.

A full modern set of Uilleann pipes has seven reeded pipes: the chanter, with its two octave range; bass, baritone, and tenor drones that can be turned on or off at need; and three regulators, which are chanters fitted with keys like those on a flute, and can be used to produce various chords. The Uilleann pipes are the most complex and versatile of all the bagpipes.


Dance

Examples of traditional Irish dances are:

Céilí Dance

Céilí Dance: Irish social, or céilí dances vary widely throughout Ireland and the rest of the world. A céilí dance may be performed with as few as two people and as many as sixteen. Céilí dances may also be danced with an unlimited number of couples in a long line or proceeding around in a circle. Céilí dances are often fast and complex. In a social setting, a céilí dance may be “called”, that is, the upcoming steps are announced during the dance for the benefit of newcomers. The céilí dances are typically danced to Irish instruments such as the Irish hand drum or harp.

The term céilí dance was invented in the late 19th century by the Gaelic League. Céilí as a noun differs from the adjective céilí. A céilí is a social gathering featuring Irish music and dance. Céilí dancing is a specific type of Irish dance. Some céilithe (plural of céilí) will only have céilí dancing, some will only have set dancing, and some will have a mixture.

Irish Step Dance

 

Irish Step Dance: Stepdancing as a modern form is descended directly from old-style step dancing. There are several different forms of stepdancing in Ireland (including sean-nós dancing and old-style stepdancing), but the style most familiar to the public at large is the Munster, or southern, form, which has been formalised by An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha—the Irish Dancing Commission. Irish stepdancing is primarily done in competitions, public performances or other formal settings.

Irish Set Dancing

 

 

 

Irish Set Dancing: Irish set dancing (also referred to as “country set dancing”) are dances based on French quadrilles that were adapted by the Irish by integrating their sean-nós steps and Irish music. The distinguishing characteristics of Irish set dancing is that it is danced in square sets of four couples (eight people), and consist of several “figures,” each of which has a number of parts. The other distinguishing feature is that feet are flat on the floor dancing with a sliding /gliding style. Each part of the set dance is danced to a music tempo, mostly reels, jigs, polkas, hornpipes and slides. The sets come from various parts of Ireland and are often named for their place of origin; examples are the Corofin Plain Set, the South Galway Set and the Clare Lancers Set. The organisation Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann promotes and hosts many set dance events.

 

 

Some interesting facts:

  • The number of cell phones in Ireland is more than the number of people.
  • Most of the Irish family names start with ‘Mac’ or ‘O’…”, which literally means ‘son of …’ and ‘grandson of …’ respectively in Gaelic.
  • Rugby and soccer are the most loved sports in Ireland.
  • The Celtic knot is one of the most famous Irish symbols that stands for continuity of life. Apart from this, the harp, the Shamrock, and the Irish wolfhound are some other famous symbols that belong typically to Ireland.
  • The Blarney Stone, which according to the legend, when kissed, gives the person ability of eloquence. Every year, millions of visitors visit and kiss this legendary stone.
  • Titanic, the Unsinkable ship, which sunk in its maiden voyage, was made in Ireland.

Irish Community in Australia:

More information on the Irish community: