Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17 is a time for celebration of all things Irish. Music is a fine way to share in that celebration. Here are four recordings to help you do that:


The harp is the national symbol of Ireland. Every euro coin minted in the Republic carries the image of a harp, and when Irish people travel the world, they show passports with the image of a harp upon them. The folk at the RTE Lyric fm Label decided to honor this with the collection Masters of the Irish Harp. Masters they are indeed, sixteen players who bring traditional music from all across Ireland as well as recently composed tunes, music from eighteenth century Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan, and a piece by Bach to this collection. It proves a relaxing and enjoyable journey through pieces including the traditional tunes Lon Dubh (The Blackbird) and Maidrin Ruadh (Little Red Fox) from Laoise Kelly, Reel for a Water Diviner, an original tune Maire Ni Chathasaigh wrote for her father, and Da Mihi Manum (Give Me Your Hand), a tune by eighteenth century Irish harper Ruaidhri O Cathain, which Siobhan Armstrong plays on a harp which is replica of the one in Trinity College, that same harp which was used a a model for those images on the coins and passports.

Shannon Heaton is known for her work as a singer and a songwriter. She’s a world class player of the flute too, and for a long time held a dream of making an album focusing in that aspect of her music. The Blue Dress is that album, named for a vintage dress which inspired a waltz which became the title track. The dozen cuts mix original tunes, ones from the Irish tradition, and several contemporary pieces by other artists in a graceful dance which begins with the upbeat set of reels called 44 Mill Street and includes the Red Molly set of slip jigs and the slow air Nights on Caledonia Terrace. It’s music which will stay with you long after the CD has stopped playing.

Cathie Ryan’s music will stay with you too. In the songs she creates herself and the ones she chooses from traditional and contemporary sources, Ryan illuminates connections among myth, legend and present day, faith and mystery, the natural world and the human one. She sings with grace and insight, in a voice which has caused her to be twice honored as Irish Voice of the Decade.

A good place to hear all this is her album The Farthest Wave. The dozen tracks, from slip jigs sung in Irish to covers of songs by contemporary songwriters John Spillane and Karine Polwart to her own songs on grief, healing and the resilience it takes to love, are all well worth the listening. Standout tracks include What’s Closest to the Heart, the title track The Farthest Wave, The Wild Flowers, and Follow the Heron.

Songs and tunes both have their place in the album The Poison Glen (Gleann Nimhe) from the band Altan. Altan is six top notch musicians from Donegal, who have been bringing the distinctive music of that far northwestern part of Ireland to audiences across the world for three decades now. On their last album they set their traditional songs and tunes with an orchestra. For this, their latest recording, they decided to bring things straight back home to Donegal, with the focus on the crisp, clear, and thoughtful connections they make with their instruments and on the haunting voice of founding member of the band Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh. In a sequence much like that you’d hear when you see the band play live, they open with a set of slip jigs that pairs a traditional tune with a new one, move on to a song in Irish, then a set of new and old jigs, reels and highlands, and then another song. The music is a balance of high energy fiddle led tunes with reflective songs, and a fine way to meet or renew your acquaintance with the music of Donegal. Standout tracks include The New Rigged Ship set, An Ghealog, and The Lily of the West.

photographs of Laoise Kelly (hands on harp) and Cathie Ryan are by Kerry Dexter

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