The Irish fiddle is one of the most important instruments in the traditional repertoire of Irish Music. It dates back several hundred years; however there is not much information on its earliest origins.
The fiddle is identical to the violin however it is played differently in widely-varying regional styles; the Donegal style, Sligo Style, Galway Style, Clare Style, Kerry/Cork Style etc.
In Irish fiddling there are few known composers. Irish fiddlers through the years have passed down their talent through their families, their children, grand-children, great grand children and so forth, with no particular sheet music, the tunes were formed by a person’s own creativity, which gives Irish people a strong sense pride in the arts.
After the Gaelic aristocracy was removed from power in the late 17th century and early 18th century, the formal Irish court music, largely harp music, also faded away. People might play music for saints’ festivals, weddings, funerals or other special occasions, but generally on a casual basis.
The Irish fiddle is a popular instrument played in Irish pubs. Modern performers include Tommy Peoples, Randal Bays, Gerry O’Connor, Martin Hayes, Kevin Burke, Sean Smyth, Marie Reilly, Bridget Regan and many more. Sligo fiddlers like Michael Coleman made efforts to popularise Irish music in the states in the 1920’s.
There is evidence of stringed instruments played with a bow in medieval Europe. However there are no records of these in old Ireland. The fiddle shows up in Ireland about the seventeenth century.
It has been told that in this century the people of Cork brought their children up to learn how to dance, fence and play the Irish fiddle. It was a very important thing for families to so at this time as they were poverty stricken yet it was creating a sense of their own unique culture.
The Irish fiddle has its own distinct sound; most of tunes played on the fiddle have a very fast, upbeat pace. They have a very bold and uplifting sound and when accompanied by other instruments such as the bodhran, guitars and pipes it can create a euphoric sound; this is why the Irish take such pride on their traditional music.
Video of the Irish Fiddle with some Reels
With an unusual style of fiddle playing, Shane Meehan from Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim plays two reels: “Bonnie Kate” and “Jenny’s Chickens”. Shane learned his music from his grandfather, John Meehan.