The Sea of Moyle


United rather than divided by the sea between them, cultural links between Ireland and Scotland are well established. Archaeologists tell us that early Scottish inhabitants travelled to Co. Antrim more than 9,000 years ago, and we know that Gaelic-speaking colonists from Co. Antrim settled in Argyllshire in the fourth century. The very name Scotland derives from the Irish settlers whom Latin writers referred to as Scot(t)i.

The idea that Scottish and Irish share common ground has been long recognised. In 1778 one Thomas Campbell claimed 'The honour of inventing Scots music must be given to Ireland.' The reality is that the traditional music and song of Scotland has had just as significant an impact on the repertoire and style of traditional music and song in Ireland. The most popular form in the traditional dance music repertory here in Ireland, the reel, was borrowed from Scotland. One such example, very common in Irish music is 'The Flogging Reel'. Another dance form, the highland, common in Donegal and other northern counties, derives from the strathspey, so named after the region in Scotland where it originated. For geographical and historical reasons, the Scottish influence is most pronounced in Ulsterís music and song.

During this period, harpers were Irelandís most common troubadours, and Irish harpers were as welcome in the big houses of Scotland as they were at home. Harpers such as Thomas Connellan from Co. Sligo and RuaidhrÌ Dall ” Cath·in from Co. Derry were frequent and respected visitors to Scottish patrons in both the Highlands and the Lowlands in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The mouth-blown bagpipes are most strongly associated with the traditional music of Scotland, yet, ironically, the earliest depiction of a piper appears on a monument in Ireland. Historical documents indicate that members of the OíDonnell family from Donegal were frequently fostered with families in Scotland in order to learn the pÌb mhÛr, or great Highland bagpipes. The Doherty family of Co. Donegal, famed for wonderful fiddle playing, boasts a number of bagpipers in its ranks. We know that there were once many fine pipers in the county and this, coupled with the practice of seasonal working by Donegal people in Scotland, has resulted in bagpipe music having a significant influence on the fiddle playing of Co. Donegal. Fiddle players there can imitate the sound of the bagpipes by the use of a particular type of tuning (scordatura) coupled with long bow-strokes, which facilitate a drone effect. Players such as the late Francie ëDeargí Byrne from Kilcar could incorporate many piping ornaments into his fiddle rendition of pipe marches.

Scottish fiddle playing has greatly influenced the fiddle playing in Donegal. Migratory workers from Donegal came in contact with Scottish fiddle players and adapted many aspects of the Scottish style and repertoire to their own music making. On their return home, they passed on what they had learnt to other players in their region. The recordings of the virtuoso Scottish fiddle player Scott Skinner made a great impression on Donegal fiddle player John Doherty. A travelling musician and tinsmith, Johnís musicianship was such that he was able to learn much of Skinnerís repertoire and technique by listening to his 78 r.p.m. recordings in other peopleís homes. Donegal fiddle playersí fondness for playing outside of the first position, a practice uncommon outside of the county, was no doubt inspired by Scottish fiddle music.

Traditional singing in Scotland and Ulster in the Gaelic and English/Scots traditions display many shared elements. There are numerous examples of songs in Irish which were adapted by Gaelic singers in Scotland, and there have also been songs originating in Gaelic Scotland which have appeared in the repertoire of singers here. Traditional singing in English as practiced in Ulster features many songs which came over from Scotland, transported by the migrant seasonal workers, many of them from Ulster, who ensured that many Scottish folksongs became as popular here as across the channel. They were also the conduit through which a number of Irish songs and tunes became established in the repertoire of their fellow workers in Scotland and England, for example, NeilÌ NÌ Dhomhnaill, the much-respected singer from Rann na Feirste in the Donegal gaeltacht,


  • Sean Keane

    The Baker / Miss Mary Walker / The Hawk / The Marquis of Huntley

  • Meabh O’Hare

    The flogging reel on the fiddle

  • Seamus Ennis

    Performs the hornpipe Johnny Cope on the uilleann pipes