Editor’s note: Brien is a well-traveled Houstonian and Army Combat Veteran with an extremely wide range of talents and interests including the NFL (Packers), Irish History, and writing. Follow him on twitter @ODonalsVanguard
By BRIEN O’DONAL
Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day and your party is almost ready; save for one thing, the music. Lucky for you I can help. All you have to do is write down some of what I list below and download yourself a nice playlist. Although I love all the different styles of Irish music, my favorite is the folk songs. There’s something about the story telling, good cheer, and ability to unite the crowd that makes me enjoy every one of them. If you want a more instrumental flare there are plenty of options as well. Finding the right jigs and reels can entice anyone to get up from their seat and dance. The rolling notes of the fiddles and tin whistles and the pounding beats of the Bodhran will fill your soul with Irish cheer. The great thing about Irish music is that the songs are mostly written and you can find many variations to suit your taste. Below are some of my favorite folk groups and songs and as you explore them you can find more and more to fill your list.
The traditional jigs and reels don’t have any words so it’s up to you and your ears if these will be on your playlist. A jig and a reel are very similar and to a non-musician, it is hard to tell the difference. Even I still struggle and I’ve been listening to them all my life. What I do know is that I like reels more. The difference is simply the number of notes per beat. A jig has three notes while a reel has four. The beauty of it all is how smooth the notes are between those beats. The upbeat tunes are sure to make the background music at your party an amazing Irish experience.
Now onto the good stuff that will make you sing your heart out. If you’re going to start a playlist it helps to know the major groups that made the music popular. On my long list, the most frequent name is The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem. This group rose to fame in the 1960’s and are credited with bringing about a rise in popularity of Irish folk music in America and renewing it in Ireland. They played guitar, bag pipes, harmonica, and tin whistle on their songs with a banjo player sometimes backing them up. Because of the success of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem the doors were wide open for a multitude of other groups like the next one on my list, The Irish Rovers. The Irish Rovers are known for a lot of fun loving songs and the added sounds of an accordion, drums and fiddle. This band had plenty of hits and even their own television show in the 1970’s. You may have heard some of their songs without even knowing it. The Unicorn and Puff the Magic Dragon are still sung to children today. The other most well-known of these folk groups is The Dubliners. There are so many great versions of old folk songs created by them.
If folk music from the 60’s and 70’s isn’t your thing, maybe you want to hear something more modern. How about the Dropkick Murphys or Flogging Molly? These are popular punk rock style bands making albums today with an Irish flare. Every Dropkick Murphys album contains at least one traditional folk song played in their fast paced style. Flogging Molly, on the other hand, incorporates a lot of Irish folk style to their rock and roll. Their unique ability to create new music with traditional styling creates catchy tunes just like traditional Irish folk does. Both of these bands may be a little harder than you want at a friendly party, but it might be good for you to enjoy beyond St. Patrick’s Day.
If you look at the bands I wrote about above you will find too many songs to sort through on your own without a guide. The best songs for your party are the ones that really make you and your guests want to sing along. I have a lot of favorites so I will try to give you only the best ones. Let’s start with The Wild Rover. This isn’t a particularly fast song, but it’s the story of a man who went off to sow his wild oats and returns home. The chorus is great for everyone to sing along with: “And it’s no, nay never! [Clap, clap, clap, clap] No nay never, no more; will I play the wild rover. No never! No more!” One of the best videos I’ve seen is The Irish Rovers performing Drunken Sailor, which you’ve no doubt heard, and can make for some really fun sing song. You simply get half your group to sing “Way! Hey!” and the other half to follow with “And up she rises!” Then all together: “Early in the morning!” The other song I must recommend for the occasion is The Calton Weaver (Nancy Whiskey). I love a good song about whiskey and although this one is a reminder of temperance; it’s so catchy it has to be sung at your party. The chorus says: “Whiskey, whiskey, Nancy whiskey. Whiskey, whiskey; Nancy O.” Ah, what a lovely tune.
There are so many more that can make an audience sing along it is ridiculous. But there are also some that are really fast and just fun to try and keep up with. My favorites are Johnny McEldoo and The Rattlin’ Bog. It’s easy for me to keep up because I’ve heard the songs so many times, but I still smile every time I do it. Other classic pub songs include Whiskey in the Jar, Jug of Punch, and All for Me Grog. Each one will keep you in the Irish spirit all night long.
So now you’ve learned how St. Patrick’s Day should be celebrated, what sort of meals you can prepare, what type of drink to buy, and what songs you want to play. Be on the look-out tomorrow for the story of St. Patrick himself. You will really begin to feel Irish for the day and maybe explore the culture of the Irish well beyond that. The history of Ireland is full of the magical and magnificent; the happy and the sad; the brave and the bold. Ask my friends; I could talk about this for hours. My hope this week is that as we celebrate the Feast of St. Patrick more and more knowledge of Irish culture is spread throughout the world so that everyone will appreciate all the Irish race has given them.