No Parade? How About a St. Patrick's Day Playlist?
You'll laugh, you'll cry, and maybe get your fix of fiddle and bagpipes.
William Butler Yeats might never have written the words, “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, that sustained him through temporary periods of joy,” but it’s a sentiment that rings true for millions of Americans of Irish descent. In fact, that quote was and still is prominently displayed in my grandparents’ house.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the Irish who have been living with an “abiding sense of tragedy” lately. Life with the coronavirus has left all Americans feeling this way. Luckily, the Irish have an antidote to that dreary feeling: music.
And while the pandemic means that a second straight St. Patrick’s Day will be spent socially distanced and parade-less, you can still enjoy a very brief history of Irish music and an accompanying playlist to get you through March 17.
Music is central to Irish culture and has been since the early days of Ireland’s history.
Irish author William H. Gratton Flood wrote A History of Irish Music in 1905. In it, you’ll find a list of the instruments ancient Celts have used since the third century. If you walk into a pub in Ireland today, you will see locals playing basically those same instruments today. That classic Irish sound of the tin whistle, string instruments, fiddle, and if you’re lucky, bagpipes, has been the soundtrack to Irish culture for centuries.
St. Patrick himself had an influential role in the history of Irish music, according to Flood. He references a book written about the saint’s life in 1905 by Archbishop of Tuam John Healy, The Life and Writings of St. Patrick. In it, Archbishop Healy says St. Patrick taught the sons of the bards (who are basically the town’s poets) how to tune their harps to “loftier strains than those of the banquet halls and battle-march.”
The patron saint of Ireland literally made Irish music better.
So, what better way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a playlist of essential Irish music. It features the classic Irish bands that popularized Irish music for the mass public. The Clancy Brothers, the Chieftains and the Dubliners are the classics. You’ve probably heard any number of songs from these bands without even knowing it. Gaelic Storm (the band featured in Titanic) and the High Kings have a more modern take on the old standards and new songs of their own.
Pre-dating those groups is Ruby Murray. My family would listen to Murray all day on St. Patrick’s Day throughout my childhood. My advice: Enjoy her songs with a steaming hot bowl of potato soup and Irish soda bread. (You must try my mom’s recipe, which you can find here.)
Some of these songs will make you laugh, some will make you cry, but i hope all of them will bring a bit of joy this St. Patrick’s Day.
Sit back, pour yourself a pint (or two), and enjoy. Sláinte and Erin go bragh!