Irish Studies – Folklore and Music courses

By Frank Bolger - Last update

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Sure, isn’t it grand to be Irish There’s a hearty welcome wherever you go; and thanks to Carrolls of Dublin, there’s also ready access to the age-old Celtic costume of Guinness hats and FCEK t-shirts. However, sometimes nationality alone just isn’t enough – you have to put a bit of an effort in. Pat Kenny and a one-and-one from the chipper may be traditional too, but that doesn’t mean they enrich your life. Instead, why not learn about ancient myths, try your hand at sean-n s singing, or even take up playing the bodhr n We all vaguely remember Irish folklore, myths, and legends from fourth-class history, but over the years they may have gotten irrevocably mixed up with stories of Padraig Pearse and his band of merry men. So if you have a vague recollection of Eamonn De Valera turning children into swans and Cuchulainn occupying the GPO, then maybe its time to consider a refresher Irish Studies course. . .

A course in Irish mythology will delve deeply into heroic society and the spiritual and legal codes of the time; but you will also get the gossip – find out about who cheated on who, where they got their money, who was turned into some class of a hound. As well as this, your course should de-mystify the little people – they are not always as cheeky and hilarious as depicted by Hollywood.

Fairies, for example, are the Westlife of the wee folk, with their silky yellow hair and their ability to lure mortals into an eternal dance with their piping and singing. Their Irish name is daoine s dhe, but how they got the moniker is still disputed. Some say they got the name from the large s dh or mound that they live in; but others claim that the hillocks got their name from the fairies’ habitation of them. It’s that age-old question – which came first, the fairy or the hillock

The Charlie Haughey of the little people is the leprechaun. Leprechauns are about two-feet tall and by nature solitary creatures. They pass their time making shoes and possess a hidden pot of gold. The leprechaun must give up his treasure if caught, but his captor must keep a close watch on him. If the captor’s eyes leave the leprechaun, he vanishes and all hope of finding the treasure is gone. (A tribunal may take place to try and discover its whereabouts, but it will inevitably come to nothing. )

If you want to give myths a miss, then you might consider a course in traditional Irish music. This is a broad area – you could take a course in anything from sean-n s singing to learning the bodhr n. Sean-n s means ‘old style’ s Gaeilge and many of the traditional songs are sung in Irish. It is unaccompanied singing, and styles differ throughout the country.

Breath control, pitch, and intonation are all important, but sean-n s is all about getting to the soul of the ballad. Singers must know when to alter the ballad and when to leave it be. There’s no point in embellishing a note for twenty minutes if eventually only dogs can hear you and everyone has gone to Madigan’s down the road where they have a jukebox and a pool table.

Bodhr n playing is a traditional skill that is used by many modern Irish groups today and of course it is also used to accompany all manner of ceil music. Its strong rhythm compliments the traditionally high-pitched instruments such as the tin whistle and the flute and it also provides that all-important beat.

If you take a course in bodhr n-playing, you will first of all learn how to hold the instrument, along with the stick or the tipper. The back of the bodhr n has a single or a cross-shaped brace, which you rest your hand on, while pressing against the skin of the drum. This is done for support but also to mute the tone of the drum and change its sound. Beginners will use just one end of the tipper to strike the drum, but as your skills progress you will learn how to alternate rapidly between using the single end and both ends together.

You should learn the differences between swing and straight rhythm, how to control volume and speed and master the bodhr n ‘roll’. Most importantly, you will learn that bodhr n playing requires you to be as relaxed as possible. This can be achieved with a couple of pints of Guinness, or perhaps in keeping with the traditional theme, a few goblets of mead.

Frank Bolger

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