Trad Groups


Until the early 20th century, the idea of playing in groups would have been an odd concept as most performance would have been solo. In America, recorded music and the gramophone paved the way for groups of musicians coming together. At one end there was The Flanagan Brothers, a vaudeville act, and at the other, James Morrison recording with a vamping pianist.

Towards the end of the 19th century the development of wide-bore concert pitch pipes was perfected by the Taylor brothers, who, by setting them in the standard key of D allowed fiddlers, flute players and box players to more easily combine with pipers and also have a term of pitch reference for themselves. The era of the group had started.

In Ireland, ceili bands began to appear in the late 1920s and remained popular through to the 50s and 60s. In the north, the McPeake singing and instrumental group had their own blend of vocals, pipes and harp. From a ballad perspective, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and The Dubliners were becoming increasingly popular at home and abroad, but it wasnít until the early 1960s and Sean O Riadaís work with CeoltÛirÌ Chualann that the traditional group notion really took off. Their live album O Riada sa Gaiety remains a crucial work that marked a new thinking about traditional music group performance. The Chieftains were to emerge from CeoltÛirÌ Chualann and that group continues to tour the world, very successfully, 40 years on. Other significant groups of that period (late 60s/early 70s) included Na FilÌ, Skara Brae and The Sands Family.

A hugely popular and influential group to emerge in the early 1970s was Planxty, comprising Christy Moore, Donal Lunny, Liam OíFlynn and Andy Irvine. They combined guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, uilleann pipes and whistles in a way never heard before. After a number of changes in line-up, they eventually went their own ways, all remaining centre stage through distinguished solo careers and work with other groups. The original four reformed in February 2004 for an open-ended number of concerts. Galway-based De Danann, fronted by the inimitable fiddle-player Frankie Gavin, was also formed in the early 1970s. They had a succession of outstanding female vocalists that included Mary Black, Maura OíConnell and Dolores Keane. Clannad, the Donegal family-based group set their mark with the use of synthesisers and close vocals, most notably with their television theme tune Harryís Game. Horslips, a traditional-influenced Irish rock band of the 1970s, often borrowed from traditional tunes, notably their Dearg Doom which is in essence OíNeillís March.

An immensely powerful traditional group called The Bothy Band appeared in the mid 1970s - traditional music with fiery pipes, flute, keyboard, fiddle, bouzouki and song. Essentially an acoustic line-up, they displayed a power and drive that few electric rock bands could muster, and yet they were firmly rooted in the traditional music idiom. Donal Lunny was a driving force in the band, and in the early 1980s he and Christy Moore were central to the ground-breaking group Moving Hearts - a group that combined drums, bass, electric guitar and synthesisers with saxophone and uilleann pipes to huge popular acclaim. A further development some years later of electrics and traditional, this time crossing countries and cultures too, was the Afro Celt Sound System.

Another widely acknowledged and popular traditional group is Altan. Their focus is the wealth of song and dance music peculiar to Donegal. Founded by Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh and the late Frankie Kennedy, they too display vigorous energies. Many of the songs in their repertoire are in Irish. Other current notable groups are An˙na, Four Men and a Dog, Dervish and Lunasa.

There also have been a number of orchestral ventures of various sizes - among them Se·n ” Riadaís film scores for Mise …ire and Saoirse were landmarks in the late 1950s/early 60s; among Shaun Daveyís substantial output The Brendan Voyage (1980) and The Pilgrim (1983) have proved very popular; MÌche·l ” S˙illeabh·in has made considerable contributions with Oile·n and Flowansionnamare; Charlie Lennon has composed Island Wedding for solo fiddle and orchestra, and in 2004 Neil Martin composed 'No Tongue Can Tell', for uilleann pipes, whistle and orchestra. From a chamber perspective, The West Ocean String Quartet straddles a world somewhere between classical and traditional.


  • McPeake Family

    Will you Go Lassie Go?

  • The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem

    Perform the Holy Ground

  • The Dubliners

    The famous song The Auld Triangle

  • Ceoltoiri Chualann

    Mna na hEireann

  • Na Fili

    College Groves / Earls Chair (reels)

  • Four men and a dog

    Perform The Ashplant Set

  • Dervish

    Perform The Fair-Haired Boy

  • Shaun Davey

    The Gale, from Davey’s The Brendan Voyage. Performed by Liam O’Flynn