Ancient Tongues, Modern Times

How Gaelic languages carry tradition
Episode Trailer

Do you really need to know any Gaelic when visiting Ireland and Scotland?

With behind-the-scenes guidance from Stateside Irish speaker Brian Ó hAirt, and set against the backdrop of the forthcoming U.S. Presidential election, this episode of IMS scratches the surface of Irish and Scottish Gaelic. And explores how these ancient languages inform traditional music, and how they resonate today.

You’ll hear beautiful conversations and music from Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Séamus Ó Flatharta, Ciarán Bolger, Michael Coult, Julie Fowlis, and Mary Jane Lamond. We talk regional songs, apple crumble, and President Obama’s gracious Gaelic address to the Irish people back in 2011.

Learn how inspired musicians think in ancient words in 2020. Explore connections between language and music, how songs in Irish and Scottish Gaelic transmit emotion and carry history, and how languages lift people up (and ward off the evil eye).


Thank you to everybody for listening. And a special thank you to this month’s underwriters: Jane Knight, Tinka, Roland Hebborn, Marina Poggemann, Emil Hauptmann, David Vaughan, Brian Benscoter, Susan Walsh, Rick Rubin, Randy Krajniak, Jon Duvick, Suezen Brown, John Ploch, Joel DeLashmit, and Gerry Corr.

Episode 46 – Ancient Tongues, Modern Times:  How Gaelic languages carry tradition
This Irish Music Stories episode aired October 13, 2020
– transcript edited by John Ploch – 

Speakers, in order of appearance:

>> Shannon Heaton: flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music Stories
>> Barack Obama: former U.S. President
>> Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh:  Singer and fiddle player from Donegal who co-founded the band Altan
>> Julie Fowlis: Multi-award winning Gaelic singer from the Outer Hebridean island of North Uist 
>> Mary Jane Lamond:  Canadian singer who performs traditional Gaelic songs from Cape Breton
>> Séamus Ó Flatharta:  Singer and guitarist from Ardmore in Connemara, who formed the band HighTime
>> Ciarán Bolger:  Conamara-based harp player, dancer, and singer of Irish language songs with 23 All Ireland Titles
>> Michael Coult:  Dingle-based Irish flute player who started playing traditional music from his home near Manchester, England
>> Nigel Heaton:  young announcer for Irish Music Stories


>> Shannon:  This is Shannon Heaton.  And this is Irish Music Stories.  The show about traditional music and the bigger stories behind it.  Like how it feels for Donegal musician Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh to sing in her first language.

>> Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh:  (Speaking in Irish, then translates) I really love singing in Gaelic, because that’s where I evolved from.  That’s where my tradition is, and the melodies are extremely beautiful.

[ Music: “Déirín Dé – The Last of the Light,” from Blackthorn: Irish Love Songs – An Draighneán Donn: Amhráin Grá
Artist:  Susan McKeown ]

>> Shannon:  Songs in this ancient language, often painting lyrical, pastoral scenes.  But the sounds are beautiful and Irish language experts usually have a connection with traditional music.  And traditional musicians who learn even a few words in Irish probably have a deeper experience of the tunes, and the culture.  But really, even if you’re just visiting Ireland, learning a few local phrases is, like, the mannerly thing to do.

That’s what President Barack Obama did in Dublin in 2011.  He addressed the crowd in Irish. 

>> Barack Obama:  

Hello Dublin!  (The crowd cheers!)

Hello Ireland!  (The crowd cheers!)

My name is Barack Obama.  (The crowd cheers louder!)

Some wise Irish man or woman once said that broken Irish is better than clever English.  (The crowd cheers!)

So here goes.  Tá áthas orm a bheith in Éirinn.  I’m happy to be in Ireland!  (The crowd cheers!)

I’m happy to be Ireland, I’m happy to be with so many (AN IRISH WORD/PHRASE).  (The crowd cheers!)

>> Shannon:  Scots Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis lives in Inverness with her Irish husband.  She remembers that Obama visit:

>> Julie Fowlis:  It went down a storm!  It went down such a storm.  Yeah, I’m actually getting goosebumps thinking about it.  It was amazing.  

>> Shannon:  Yeah

>> Julie:  Yeah, even if, even a couple of—the cúpla focal, as they say— just a couple of words, you know.  Just a little bit of an effort, you know.  And respect. 

>> Shannon:  Yeah. 

>> Shannon:  Politicians are ambassadors.  They travel.  And they represent their countries. 

So do musicians.  We travel.  At least we used to.  And we will again someday—after the current pandemic recedes.

And when we’re in Ireland, where the National language is Irish.  And when we’re in Scotland where Scots Gaelic is recognized as an indigenous tongue.  And when we’re in parts of Nova Scotia where Gaelic is an important community language; when we’re moving around these countries, we’d be well off to follow the example of President Obama.  Because learning a local language is polite.  And it’s a way IN to cultural values, and history, and humor, and superstitions. 

For example, I was talking with Cape Breton singer and Gaelic speaker Mary Jane Lamond.  We were getting into the car and I said, “Oh, we have plenty of time to get to the gig.”  And immediately, she said: 

>> Mary Jane Lamond:  “Flucht de chuil.”  It’s to ward off the evil eye—because you just opened us up to that.

>> Shannon:  Yeah? You’d never say oh we’ll totally be there?

>> Mary Jane:  I’m totally superstitious.  (Both laughing).

>> Shannon:  So, what would you say?  “God willing, we’ll get through it?”

>> Mary Jane:  “God willing” is what people say ALL the time.  Gee anna charshacht.  So, when I say, “Oh, that should be good” and, and everybody, all of my Gaelic friends will say, “Gee anna charshacht.”  God willing.

>> Shannon:  God willing.

>> Mary Jane:  Yeah

>> Shannon:  Gee anna charshacht.  God willing.  Learning just a few words in Scots Gaelic or in “GAY lick” as they call it in Canada, is a window into old Scottish culture that was transplanted 200 years ago to Canada.

[ Music: “A Mhairi Bhoidheach,” from Lan Duil
Artist:  Mary Jane Lamond ]

Learning a language is fascinating, enriching.  And maybe it gives you some new ways to manifest dreams.

God willing, all of you listening are in good health.

God willing we’ll be able to contain this virus.

God willing, Americans will take the time to vote in our forthcoming November third election.

God willing, we’ll wake up on November 4th with some shred of hope and dignity.

God willing, we will get through this.

Making a small effort to learn a few words, to acknowledge other cultures, this is what steers us, especially Americans—away from the old guard tacky tourist.  Toward a more current participant in the global field.

Because unless you’ve paid NO attention to Netlix shows, or neighborhood playgrounds, you know that xenophobia is no longer an option.  The old uncle with the off-color jokes?  He’s not charming.  He’s a dangerous, sinking ship. 

And his Vietnamese-American nephew who knows how to say, “My boyfriend doesn’t eat meat” in seven languages might also be a great concertina player.  And being a 21st century traditional musician, he knows how to say Go rabh maith agat or thank you, in Irish, because it’s good to be polite.  It’s important to respect different cultures.  

It’s vital to support people and programs that serve and celebrate all of us.

Being gracious matters.

In this episode, I’ll do my best to be gracious, as I try to scratch the surface of two ancient Celtic languages—Irish Gaelic, and Scots Gaelic.  I’ll save Manx, Buerla Reagaird, Welsh, Breton and Cornish, for another day and for now, I’ll speak with Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Séamus Ó Flatharta, Ciarán Bolger, and Michael Coult about Irish.  And Julie Fowlis and Mary Jane Lamond chat about the sister language to Irish, the Scots Gaelic that is spoken in Scotland and Cape Breton.

Because as we continue in the States to survive a nightmarish political battle to reject—or continue—an agenda of White Supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and a denial of science, it’s a powerful comfort to look way beyond four dumb little years.  For comfort, perspective, and distraction, I’ll look at why some families choose to live and sing Aus Gaelige at the end of 2020.

[ Music: “Puirt-À-Beul Set: Fodor Dha Na Gamhna Beaga” from Gach Sgeul/Every Story
Artist:  Julie Fowlis ]

A country’s language shines light on its values.  It’s history.  It’s Vibe.  Like, in Irish, (that’s what many people in Ireland call the language) the word for “Thank You,” “Go rabh maith agat,” translates literally to, “That you might have goodness.”

[ Music: “Chimes,” from Production Music for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer:  Matt Heaton ] 

So, you do good, and good comes to you.  “Hello” in Irish, “Dia Dhuit” is translated as “God to you, or God be with you.”  And then the replay “Jee-ah iss Mwir-eh ghwitch” means literally “God and Mary to you.”  

With just “Thank You” and “Hello,” you’ve got karma, and you honor the divine in everybody.  Maybe it’s romantic and unrealistically flattering to suggest that all Irish people aim for kindness and wish enlightenment for all.  But this might not be totally off the mark for the land of a thousand welcomes.

Learn some Irish language, and you’ll learn about Irish culture.  You’ll share a common experience with every child in the Republic of Ireland.  And, you’ll get just a small taste of the Irish experience for over 170,000 native speakers, and nearly two million who claim Irish as a second language.  And, who knows?  If you get in real deep, maybe 20 years later you’ll find yourself a passionate ally of an endangered heritage language.

[ Music: “Amhrán Pheadair Bhreathnaigh,” from Local Ground
Artist:  Altan ]

If you play traditional music, knowing some Gaelic helps you pronounce tune names. Even if you don’t sing words, learning a bit of Irish can help you get you a little bit of that NYA in your fiddling playing, that feel, that right accent in the music.  

And, for those who do sing, there’s a whole body of songs in the Irish language.  Even English language songs take images and phrases from Gaelic culture and language. 

But if you don’t really speak the language, can you sing in it?  Should you?  I asked Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh what she thought.  

>> Mairéad:  Of course, you can.  I, I had a friend from Philadelphia—no Irish background at all.  She heard a Gaelic song one, one day on the radio.  And said, oh, that sounds beautiful and wanted to find out more.  So, she rang the radio station.  They said that’s the Gaelic language.  She learnt the Gaelic language.  She did her, she did a degree in Ireland on it.  She sang amazingly, and she gave us another eye—how she appreciated our songs.  And made us appreciate them more!

>> Shannon:  Hmm

>> Mairéad:  So, sometimes you need somebody from outside to show us what is really special about the song, the language, and what we have.  We sometimes forget.  And it’s really other people that sing in the Gaelic language and put so much effort—and it’s not an easy language to learn or to sing.  And I’m always, always, uh, in awe of these people.

[ Music: “Liontar Duinn an,” from Down the Green Fields
Artist:  Bua (feat. Brian Ó hAirt) ]

>> Shannon:  That’s Brian Ó hAirt singing.  He was born in St. Louis and speaks and sings in Irish beautifully.

>> Mairéad:  I think at every stage, at every level it helps.  Like I’ve met a few girls in Osaka, in Japan and in Tokyo.  And they said, can I sing you a song?  And they’d sing it phonetically.  They didn’t read—well they would read the background to it.  But they wouldn’t know exactly what they learned.  I don’t, I don’t mind that.  I think that’s really good.  They’re doing, they’re taking a step towards it.  They’re keeping it alive.  And they sang them beautifully.  So, you don’t have to delve into the, uh, academic side of it.

>> Shannon:  As you were growing up, you were speaking Irish?

>> Mairéad:  Yes, that was my first language.  Both my parents, eh, were from the same area, the Gaeltacht area in Guidor and I didn’t realize there was another language.  Because when people would visit the house, we would automatically speak in English together so they wouldn’t feel left out.  Because it was very un-mannerly to speak another language if people were visiting us.  So, when I got older, I, I realized that this was a minority thing.  And that was something to be, um, cherished and, uh, to nurture.

[ Music: “Báidín Fheilimí,” Irish Songs We Learned at School, Ar Ais Arís!
Artist:  John Spillane ]

Apparently, the first thing I did was sing in the cot, before I could even talk.  I was singing away and my father would teach us the nursery rhymes—and my mother as well would teach us the local songs, which was Báidín Fheilimí.

(music swells)

>> Mairéad:  So, Gola was just outside my window—Gola island was just there.  So, it all was very grounded, you know, it was from the area.  So, the songs were actually there living in the ground, you know.  So, it wasn’t kind of something out of a book.

>> Shannon:  Huh.

>> Mairéad:  And that is something I realized as very important.  And then the older songs that I was given which were more serious songs like An Mhaidin Mhara, which is the mermaid, my father showed me the rock where the mermaid was seen.  You know, so, all these things made it very grounded and made it not an art form as such, but it was from our area.  All of that I think, you know, is being lost a lot because a lot of people are learning from CDs—which is fantastic—but, eh, I always try and instill to the children when I’m teaching them at home that their songs are from the earth where they’re standing.

>> Shannon:  Hmm.

>> Mairéad:  And that’s very crucial—in any tradition—that that they are part of that tradition.  They’re just another, the next generation in that line, you know.

>> Shannon:  They came from somewhere?

>> Mairéad:  They came from somewhere.  That came from their ancestors, you know.

>> Shannon:  Hmm.

>> Mairéad:  So, um, the Gaelic language, yes, is very much part of that.

[ Music: “Meaning of Life,” from Production Music for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer:  Matt Heaton ]

>> Shannon:  For Mairead the language, the music, and the locality are all bundled together.  And with her band, Altan, she shines a light on regional songs and fiddle tunes.  But not everybody in Ireland shares this immersive background, and this REVERENCE for the Irish language. 

Now, the short story of Irish in modern times is that in 1926, Irish speaking regions were officially identified.  Any place that had at least 25% of the population already using Irish as their first language was deemed a Gaeltacht area. 

[ Music: “Dark Low Jig,” from Production Music for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer:  Matt Heaton ]  

In the 50s, the Irish government further defined the Gaeltachta, recognizing areas where Irish was still particularly strong.  Like, South Connemara, the west Donegal Gaeltachata, parts of west Cork and Kerry, Rinn in County Waterford, and the Erris Peninsula in County Mayo. 

By 1970, some of these enclaves were waning.  Even today, there are Gaeltacht people wanting for jobs, broadband internet, and decent roads.  And housing prices are up as wealthy families buy holiday homes.

But then—and now—the creation of Radio na Gaeltachta (RnaG) proved to be a game changer.  RnaG first aired on Easter Sunday, 1972.

>> Mairéad:  At that stage, the language was being ostracized. Like all the little pockets of people that spoke it couldn’t understand, say the Donegal ones couldn’t understand the Connemara ones.  And the Connemara people couldn’t understand the Kerry people.  And the Kerry people …  So, what happened with Radio Na Gaeltachta, it actually helped us all to tune in to the dialects.  And we started to understand each other.  So. that was very important.

>> Shannon: Oh, so not standardize the language.  But just get you accustomed to the different dialects?

>> Mairéad:  The dialects were really important. Because we were all singing our own little songs, you know.  But that really helped.  And along with that was the economy started to grow.  So, Ireland became one of the biggest economic groups in Europe at one stage.  And with that we became more proud of ourselves.  Because up until then the Irish language was associated with, eh, the poor, and poverty, and the bad, the bad times.  So, a lot of, eh, families that had bad memories of their own children having to emigrate to make a living, eh, would associate the language with all of that.  And turn their back to it.  But now, the language became, oh, this is part of us. This is part of what we are.

>> Shannon:  The Celtic Tiger roared.  And with all the economic prosperity, more All-Gaelic schools opened.  The compulsory Irish language curriculum that had been in place since the establishment of the Free State in 1922 was increasingly a point of pride—and status—for families all around the country, especially for urban English-speaking communities. 

Within Gaeltacht communities, Irish has struggled to accommodate both tradition and modernity.  But country-wide, Irish was becoming hipper, and more appealing to younger people.  The image was changing.  Which may sound surface, trivial.  But just like with politics, the way a person or a policy is portrayed can sway popular opinion.

When Ireland’s economy started to drop again, in the early 2000s, a lot of people moved.  They went to more populous counties for work, or they left the country.

>> Mairéad:  And the, the biggest place where they emigrate from is these isolated areas where the language is strongest.

>> Shannon:  Hmm.

>> Mairéad:  And a lot of these areas are the end of the roads—everything is pushed to the limit.  Eh so, these places haven’t got the facilities; they haven’t got the infrastructure; don’t have, eh, the work.  So, I see at home age 18 to the age of 30, we’re void of that energy in our area.  We have children up until they’re finished secondary school.  And then we have, people maybe coming back trying to, you know, bring up their children in a beautiful environment.  But they all had to leave in order to come back.

I’m always trying to install in my own daughter to realize the beauty of it.

>> Shannon:  Hmm

>> Mairéad:  And you know, when something is so common around you, you don’t realize how precious that is for life, you know?  And to me, my lifeline artistically is my language.

[ Music: “An Mhaighdean Mhara,” from Island Angel
Artist:  Altan ]

>> Shannon:  Mairéad’s Ulster dialect, that she grew up speaking in Guidor in County Donegal is different from the Irish they speak in Connemara, in County Galway. Séamus Ó Flatharta and Ciarán Bolger grew up there, in the little coastal town of Ardmore, between Carna and Kilkieran.

These guys are solidly Millennial.  They were also raised speaking Irish at home and at school.  Ciaráns’ mom was also his primary school teacher and one of the ways she taught the kids was with traditional songs.

>> Ciarán:  I definitely remember being in school.  I can remember her using the songs as a resource, as a teaching resource.  Um, because a lot of the phrases and stuff, the way they’re constructed in the songs, are very, you know, are very interesting or whatever.  So, I think that’s where you start weaving the music into the language.  And it all becomes one.

>> Shannon:  Irish music and language are enmeshed for Séamus and Ciarán.  With their band Hightime, they do a mix of instrumentals, and vocal numbers, with three-part harmony singing. 

When they came to Boston, a lot of Connemara people turned up.  

[ Music: “Live Clip,” from The Burren Pub
Artist: Hightime ]

Promoter Brian O’Donovan introduced them in Irish, there were cheers.  And, the guys kicked into a trendy harp and guitar intro, with modern jazzy flute licks.  A stomp box kicked in at the top of the second verse.  Most of the songs were in English and everybody was singing along, each number was bigger than the last.  At one point, Séamus goes into this step dance break and the audience is going mad, some are calling out in Irish.

And it all builds to this nearly acapella ballad.  It’s an Irish language version of Lord Randal, in which this guy’s new wife gives him a poisoned eel for his dinner.

After a show filled with thick instrumental arrangements, and English language songs, this very raw old song is the centerpiece.

[ Music: “An Tiarna Randal,” from Sunda
Artist:  Hightime ]

It’s beautiful.  But also, I suspect it goes over as well as it does because it’s more than just a clever set list gag.  For Séamus and Ciarán, old style, unaccompanied songs in the Irish language are about more than a show.  This is who they are.

>> Ciarán:  Myself and Séamus, we come from South Connemara.  So, we would have grown up with Irish as a first language.  Um, yeah, it kind of permeates your whole life, needless to say.

>> Shannon:  In what way?

>> Ciarán:  Um, I don’t know, you kind up just grow up with it.  And then, when you, kind of, maybe when you move out of the locality, you realize that it’s quite unusual to actually be brought up with, with Irish as your first language or whatever.  And, and also, it’s such a wealth of music and songs and everything in South Connemara.

>> Séamus:  Like Ciarán was saying, we did have that, um, from childhood, the Irish, learning it as a language.  But it is also taught in depth, so stuff that we would have known naturally like the genitive case or the possessive case, and stuff like this, that we’d have in our speaking, uh, fluently.  We started actually learning the technicalities with all that stuff.  So, it was cool that as well to learn the academic side, but also have the, the natural, kind of just like your first language, um, stuff going on as well.

>> Shannon:  Yeah

>> Séamus:  Yeah

>> Shannon:  Rounding out their trio is flute player Michael Coult.  Michael learned to play music at home in England.  He’s had a big education traveling with Séamus and Ciarán.  They urged him to introduce himself in Irish.

>> Michael: Michael introduces himself in Irish. I play the flute, the guitar. I’m the ass onstage…  (Séamus and Ciarán laugh)

[ Music: “Grupai Ceol Theme,” from Production Music for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>> Michael:  I studied Irish a small bit in college. I did about three semesters of beginner’s Irish. And, uh, I pick up a few phrases from the lads here and there and, and a definitely, uh, love to learn more of.  

[ Music: “Slip Jig Dreams,” from Production Music for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer:  Matt Heaton ] 

>> Ciarán:  Hmm.  And we throw him in at the deep end as well when we’re on tour.  We just speak to him in Irish and…

>> Michael:  There’s always a bit of crossover, obviously, because the lads live in two worlds.  They live their life at home, uh in Irish in their area, uh, and then, you know, when they’re out in other areas they might be speaking Irish to people who speak Irish from different places or they might be speaking in English, you know, so that it’s kind of mixed, for them, I suppose.

>> Shannon:  Yeah, yeah.  So, living that, that macaronic life, um, is handy.

>> Ciarán:  It’s a great skill to have, a great life skill to have and it’s interesting too, actually.  A lot of the richness of the language that we have in Connemara, that we would have grown up with, it actually comes from songs.  From learning a lot of the older traditional songs, especially the ones that are specific to Connemara. 

>> Séamus:  Yeah, well, that was actually the first music style I learned when I was younger.  I was fortunate enough to have a grandniece of a very well-known sean nos singer called Joe Heaney, who actually spent a lot of time over in the States, in Seattle and New York.  She was, ah, my primary school teacher, so I started learning sean nos when I was about three or four years old.  A lot of them tend to be very sad songs, very bleak stories so the, so the music transcends that language barrier.

>> Ciarán: Mmmm.

>> Séamus:  It’s… you can feel the emotion through the music, so.

>> Shannon:  I can definitely feel emotion when I hear Joe Heaney sing this lament.  He’s the Great Uncle of Séamus’ teacher.

[ Music: “Enach Cuain,” from The Road From Connemara 
Artist:  Joe Heaney ]

>> Shannon:  This song sounds so sad and I think it gets more mournful when you learn that it’s about 19 young people who drowned.

>> Ciarán:  If you’re playing somewhere outside of Ireland, if you’re touring—and especially if you sing in the Irish language—you kind of have to delve into the story of the songs.  Because obviously, the vast majority of people can’t quite understand the language.  But they can definitely get a grasp on the mood of the song because it’s, it’s coming from an ancient language, an ancient style.  So, people can definitely latch onto it.

>> Séamus:  I think people come to these shows not just for good music.  But when they come to see an Irish group or a Spanish group, they want a cultural experience.  They don’t just want some nice music to listen to.  So, eh, it’s kind of a duty of ours to provide them with something they may not have heard too often—or something that might make them, like I said, feel something they haven’t felt before.  That’d be my, my hope and dream when I’m going out singing those sean nos songs, anyway.  Yeah,

>> Shannon:  Now, most of the songs that these guys have recorded, at least for now with this project, are in English.  But they love these songs from Connemara and about Connemara.  Like Seán Ó hÉanaigh’s song about leaving Ireland and finding work.

[ Music: “O Conamara,” from Live at Dean Center-Performing Arts 
Artist:  Hightime ]

>> Shannon:  Séamus, you love these old Irish songs?

>> Séamus:  I really do, yeah.  It’s pretty strange for someone my age.  Because a lot of people my age are really into the more modern stuff, pop, rock and all that stuff.  But we’re just lucky that where we come from, the locality, eh, a lot of people have, still have that respect for the culture.  Because, um, I know, I’ve heard of a lot of people in areas and pockets around, eh, South Connemara who have lost all interest in it.  And would kind of slate it.  And, and talk ill about the tradition thinking it’s something that’s primal and it’s not going to last anymore.  But I think it’s important for the likes of us to keep that driving force behind the, the culture.  And, eh, I suppose our, where our music came from.  To keep that interest. 

>> Shannon:  Lovely.  So why add accompaniment and arrangement to these traditional songs?  Aren’t they strong enough to stand on their own?  

>> Séamus:  They are for sure.  Yeah they are, for sure.  Like you said, I think it’s the typical tradition singing to no accompaniment, a cappella, just the voice.  We tend to keep the sean nos ones strict back as much as we can, maybe add a pad and stuff to keep true to the tradition but eh, I think it’s nice to explore, to a certain extent as well, and I’ll always remember what my brother said about music.  He said before that if music didn’t evolve, we’d still be banging sticks and rocks together outside and, and chanting.  So, I think it’s important to kind of explore different, different approaches and stuff like that in the music.  But still stay true to the tradition at the same time.

[ Music: “Triumph Theme,” from Production Music for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer:  Matt Heaton ] 

>> Shannon:  For every Irish Music Stories episode, I’ve tried different approaches and always hopefully stayed true to my aim of the show:  to illuminate the roots and branches of Celtic musical traditions.  And I couldn’t do this without the support of listeners.  Here’s my kid Nigel to thank this month’s sponsors:

>> Nigel:  Thank you to Jane Knight, Tinka, Roland Hebborn, Marina Poggemann, Emil Hauptmann, David Vaughan, Brian Benscoter, Susan Walsh, Rick Rubin, Randy Krajniak, Jon Duvick, Suezen Brown, John Ploch Joel DeLashmit, and Gerry Corr.

>> Shannon:  Thank you. Go rabh maith agat. Or in Scots Gaelic, tapadh leibh.

Or in Scots, Thank you.  Now that’s a phrase that’s the same in Scots as in English.

But Scots, a sister language of Modern English, is not the same as Scots Gaelic.  And it’s not just English spoken in a Scottish accent.  It’s a language that was used in society, legal documents, and the royal court in Scotland into the 17th century.

[ Music: “Pound the Floor,” from Production Music for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer:  Matt Heaton ]

Some feel it’s more a dialect than its own language.  But it’s recognized as a distinct Germanic tongue by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and it’s still an indigenous tongue for many in Scotland.

Dae ye ken wha ah mean?

OK, so The Scottish Gaelic that Julie Fowlis learned at home in North Uist, not Scots, developed out of Middle Irish, as all modern Gaelic languages have.  But it’s only recently been deemed an official language of Scotland.

>> Julie:  In 2005, it was, for the first time, recognized as a language of Scotland.  Um, it has existed and has been spoken in this country for not, well not just for hundreds of years, but, you know, we’re talking about like 1500 years, you know.  And, um, it was only recognized officially in 2005.  And even at that stage, it doesn’t have, um, it didn’t get equal status with English, but it has some recognition. 

[ Music: “Little Bird Lullaby,” from Production Music for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer:  Matt Heaton ]

>> Shannon:  Even though the Scottish government has been slow to formally designate Scottish Gaelic, these old songs and stories in the Gaelic language—they’re part of the country’s cultural DNA.  Like whiskey.  Bagpipes.  And, apple crumble?

>> Julie:  I have an apple crumble in the oven.

>> Shannon:  If you need to take a little break.

>> Julie:  I just need to pop this on a, on a board—hold on a second.

>> Shannon:  It looks so nice!  (both laughing)

>> Julie:  But anyway, sorry about that.

>> Shannon:  Not at all.

>> Shannon:  Wait, isn’t the simile, “As American as apple pie?”

Wait, isn’t the simile “As American as apple pie?”  Apple pie and corn on the cob, on the Fourth of July in the US of A?  

[ Music: “Washington Post March,” from Have A Little Faith
Composer: John Philip Sousa
Artist: Bill Frisell ]

A celebration featuring apple pie (which originated in England), and potato salad, (that came from Germany), and corn (that was domesticated in Mexico by native people), with fireworks (that originated in China) and then to sing the Star-Spangled Banner (which was written by a former slave owner.)  What a poignant celebration for a nation of disenfranchised native people and people who came or were forcibly brought here from other countries.  There’s tragedy and beauty and power in traditions.  And in the old songs that surround them and keep them alive.

Julie Fowlis has been hearing these since she was a kid.

>> Shannon:  You’ve been speaking the language always, or…

>> Julie:  Always, but to varying degrees.  My mom’s a native speaker, and um, my dad is from Highland Perthshire.  When him and my mom got married, they got the chance to run a hotel in, in Uist where my mom was from.  And so, they moved back there and myself and my sister grew up in this very small, eh, it was an old shooting lodge that belonged to the estate.  And uh, they, they ran that as their own for many, many years.  And my dad, uh, he did make an attempt to learn the language actually.  But that was back in the eighties.  And he really vividly remembers the attitude at the time.  He was kind of laughed at for even attempting to learn.  And I think there was still kind of a feeling that the language wasn’t as worthwhile, perhaps.  And some, you know, some people felt that quite strongly.  And the idea of somebody moving to the Island and learning, it was kind of almost laughable.  Um, and so he, he didn’t really try that much harder after that.  

[ Music: “Dh’èirich Mi Moch Madainn Cheòthar,” from alteruj
Artist: Julie Fowlis ]

And so, we were raised in a, in a kind of a kind of Gaelic-speaking and English-speaking household.  But English was kind of the main language of our house.  But living in a community where Gaelic was the main language really.  But when we left the islands when I was a teenager.  I, uh, I worked quite hard to, to keep up the language.  Um, and then continued my studies actually.  After I studied music, I went for a, for a year to the Gaelic college in Skye, and just to try and refine my reading and writing in Gaelic and all that.  And I’m really glad I did that.  You know, now it’s our family’s first language. 

>> Shannon:  So, do you recall learning these songs when you were young?

>> Julie:  I do.  I definitely started singing, um, in primary school.  Because we were a really small school and our teacher was, um, she was amazing—she was a tradition bearer.  Her name was Isah MacKillop.  And um, this was before Gallic medium education or anything like that.  So, we were schooled in English.  But as part of that, eh, education, um, she brought things to the curriculum that were definitely not written in the National Guidebook.  And those things were, um, I guess like history of the place of the island.  And local stories.  And Gaelic songs.  And so, I vividly remember, eh, that being a big part of our schooling. 

>> Shannon:  Like Séamus and Ciarán in Connemara, and Mairéad in Donegal; Julie had the language at home and in school and via the Gaelic media outlets.

[ Music: “After Hours Theme,” from Production Music for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer:  Matt Heaton ] 

>> Julie:  We would have had Radio na Gael for a number of years and that’s been an incredible way to keep communities connected.  It has been really a lifeline for Gaelic speakers, actually, over the years.  Uh, an amazing resource, um, our television channel started around 2007, I think.  And that’s been, um, a big boost, especially for kids.  You know, it gives them opportunities to watch fun, vivid, modern things. 

So, um, I feel like there’s um—it needs to have all these things.  It needs to have the depth and the history, and the weight of that language behind you.  But as kids, they, it’s amazing that they have the chance to, you know, I don’t know, hear, “How to Train your Dragon” or they can listen to programs or podcasts.  And that, um, is, is really critical, that that’s there for them.

>> Shannon:  And so, your Gaelic language, radio and TV.  Do they feature different regional accents?

>> Julie:  Yeah, we do.  And it’s kind of, um, it’s such a big thing in Ireland and it’s such a big thing in Ireland and it’s not quite the same here.  So, there are different regional dialects, but I guess what was different in Scotland, was geographically a lot of the speakers, over the years, have been pushed right to the north and west, and the islands.  And therefore, I think, um, there was more interaction. Perhaps the differences were less whereas I feel like in Ireland that the, the sheer distance between all the Gaeltacht areas were massive, you know?  Um, and they were very cut off from one another. 

And I do really, I remember when I went to Donegal first, and suddenly kind of feeling like, Oh! I get it!  I get them. I get that lot!  I don’t understand the rest of them, but I understand these guys.  And they, they were like the missing link.  You know?  Donegal is the missing link.

[ Music: “Beidh Aonach Amárach (There’s a Fair Tomorrow),” from The Best of Altan – The Songs
Artist:  Altan  ]

>> Shannon:  So, you sing a lot in, in Gaelic?

>> Julie:  I do.

>> Shannon:  And you sing a little in English. 

>> Julie:  I do, and, and for as long, I didn’t sing in English at all.  But, um, it wasn’t really a conscious decision.  Ever.  Just when I started singing the songs in Gaelic were the ones, who, that felt, that I felt the closest to.  And those were the songs I wanted to sing.  To me, there was never really a decision.  I didn’t choose one language over the other.  That was just how the expression of music and culture—that’s just how it came out.  And also, I think with the Gaelic songs, there’s, um, I’m very aware of the weight of responsibility of getting things right.  And, you know, presenting things in a correct fashion accurately.  If you’re, if you’re taking a song from the 1600s about a specific event, I need to know it.  I need to know its background.  You know its, what, what it’s about at its core.  That’s not always the case.  Sometimes the lighthearted songs are always either, they’re slightly different.

But, em, I don’t feel that same weight of responsibility singing in English.  I just want to know I’ve got the lyrics right.  And I’m crediting the right people.  But there isn’t the same weight comes along with it.  I think it’s different in Ireland.  I think there is this tradition of singing Irish material in English.  Eh, even within Irish Gaeltacht communities, they have a tradition of singing in English too.  So um, and it’s, that’s changing here rapidly.  But, when I started singing, there were definitely, there would be not so much of that.

>> Shannon:  Julie did make an exception for Pixar’s 2012 film Brave, for which she sang a few English-language numbers, including the opening song.

[ Music: “Touch the Sky,” (composed by Alex Mandal/Mark Andrews) from Brave (Original Score)
Composer: Alex Mandal/Mark Andrews
Artist: Julie Fowlis ]

>> Julie:  I’m, I’m very proud if like, if I was to be, you know, associated with one Disney princess, that it was a warrior princess.  As the mother of two daughters, I’m kind of, um, yeah that’s I think kind of a truer reflection… (Laughing)… of my daughters rather than of anything else.  Um, no it was really a fun thing to do.  It was really fun and so, my only regret is that it has never been dubbed into Gaelic.  I would love to hear that.  In, in Gaelic.  But maybe one day. 

>> Shannon:  Well yeah. Hey.  We do have some time… (laughing)… we do.

>> Julie:  I’ll start the translation now.

>> Shannon:  Yeah, get some, get some headway on that.

[ Music: “Chimes,” from Production Music for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer:  Matt Heaton ]

>> Julie:  All of these songs were traditionally sung unaccompanied.  And the songs I love the most, I’d be just as happy singing them unaccompanied, you know, in a small hall or in someone’s sitting room or in a kitchen.  I’m equally as happy doing that as I am dressing them up a little bit musically and taking them to a bigger stage.

I think Scots Gaelic songs, they carry our story more than anything.  Our collective story.  Our trials and suffering.  Our battles and victories, and hardships and losses.  All of that, and much more.  Our love stories, um—and our humor.  I think the character of the Gael is, that’s what comes through in the songs.  Um, not trying to be too heavy about it but I think when you’re singing these songs, that um you know, in a language that goes back more than a thousand years, um, there’s something very special in there that’s very raw, I think.  And comes from a place that’s very, very deep that you can’t pinpoint.  Um, and I guess it’s a depth that’s not within just yourself.  But it goes back through all the people who sang these songs before you. 

[ Music: “A ghoul leig dhachaigh dam nmhàthair mi,” from Gach Sgeul / Every Story
Artist:  Julie Fowlis ]

>> Julie:  I think, yeah, the songs themselves show you a way of a life that is gone.  Like just on a practical front, like types of work that were done that have, that have gone now.  Um, the ways communities used to interact with one another.  Em, the way people used to travel and converse, and the way that they loved.  Even the way that people died, and what happened, and how it happened, and how they mourned, and how, yeah, their beliefs.  All of that is bundled up in the songs.  Em, and as well as that, there is this amazing rich vocabulary.

Musical guitar interlude without reference in playlist.

>> Shannon:  In some of the older Gaelic songs, Julie has encountered words that she doesn’t know in Gaelic, but that are familiar to her husband Eamonn, who is an Irish speaker. 

>> Julie:  There’ll be words that, um, they exist in both languages, but maybe, maybe the use of which will have fallen away in one of the languages.  But it might appear in a song—and in an older song.  And then that kind of connects everything.  It’s like joining the dots again.  Because these language like Scots Gaelic and Irish, they’ve separated over the years, you know.  So, they are two distinct languages—but they come from the one source.  They are the one language really at the heart of it all.  But you just have to scrape away some of the soil, to see, to see the roots, you know?

>> Shannon:  Lovely. 

Guitar music

>> Julie:  It’s our family’s their first languages.  Um, my kids, like, they speak Irish to their dad of course, too but Gaelic is our first language.  And that’s the—it’s a lovely thing to have been able to have passed that on.  And it opens their minds to other languages.  That’s the most magical thing.  I can see them, um, looking around and listening to other languages.  And they have a thirst to learn other languages.  And um, you know, if we’re at gigs and we’re traveling, I always try and, um, include a little bit of language for wherever we are, you know?

I think it’s respectful just to acknowledge that you, you’re aware, that you care and that you’ve tried. 

[ Music:“Pound the Floor,” from Production Music for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>> Shannon:  Like Julie Fowlis, Mary Jane Lamond speaks /Gay-lick/—that’s how they say it in Canada.  She grew up visiting her Gaelic speaking grandparents on Cape Breton Island, where many Scottish people carried their families, their language, and their songs, beginning in the 1700s.  You can learn all about that journey in Irish Music Stories Episode 41-Transplanting Tradition in the Land of the Trees.

>> Mary Jane Lamond:  You know in Gaelic poetry they call the place where I live—The  Land Of The Trees—as opposed to The Land Of The Mountains. 

>> Shannon:  Mary Jane started hearing old mouth music, and waulking songs (or milling songs, as they call the old work songs in Cape Breton).  And then she went to her first milling frolic.  This is a gathering where women would have traditionally sat around a table pounding cloth against a table to soften it.  And they’d sing to the rhythm of the thumping.

>> Mary Jane:  I had an epiphany there and I just thought, “Oh, that’s what Gaelic singing should sound like.  It was just really raw, you know, and when I heard this, like, just community singing it, I, I was astounded.  Astounded by many things, like, it was so not extremely pretty, but very moving and the melodies are incredible.  And I think what really motivated me to learn the language and get into this was that I wanted to be at that table with those people.  That’s what drew me in.  Was the community of it.

[ Music: “A Mhorag ‘s Na Horo Gheallaidh, from Lan Duil
Artist: Mary Jane Lamond ]

>> Shannon:  So, Irish is officially the national language. Gaelic is recognized, sanctioned as an indigenous language.  And then, for you in Canada, it’s what, a community language?

>> Mary Jane:  It’s just a community, it’s not just a community.  It’s a community language.  Although, you know, there was a movement that it was going to be a third official language of Canada, because there were so many Scottish Gaelic speakers in Canada in the 1860s.  That it was the third most spoken language after French and English. 

>> Shannon:  But not anymore. 

>> Mary Jane:  No, no. People assimilated. 

>> Mary Jane:  One thing I think is actually a really special about both those languages, like of course, that they’re cousins, they’re close cousins, Irish and Scottish Gaelic.  But there’s no way of just saying, “Yes” or “No.”  So, you have to respond in the verb.  So, if I’m sitting in, on the phone just like, and I say to you, “Did you go to the store?”  You have to say, 

>> Shannon:  “Went”

>> Mary Jane:  “Went, didn’t go.”  So, you’re not going to sit there and go, yep.  I mean there is a little turn people use “Siug, Siug,” you know, but I think that that’s makes that language extremely—like you’re really relating with that person.  And you really have to be listening to what they’re saying in order to respond…

>> Shannon:  Yeah.

>> Mary Jane:… because you have to respond in the right verb tense.  Is that good?

>> Shannon:  Is.  Hahahahaha!

>> Mary Jane:  Is Not! (both laughing)

>> Shannon:  Without the language, there’d be no song tradition.  Music collector Alan Lomax called the Scottish Gaelic song tradition the jewel of Western Europe.  

[ Music: “Chimes,” from Production Music for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ] 

And many of these songs have survived for generations outside of Scotland on Cape Breton island which is in the maritime province of Nova Scotia.  That’s Latin for New Scotland.

[ Music: “Air a’ Ghille Tha Mo Rùn (It is the Lad that I Love),” from Seinn
Artists:  Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac ]

>> Shannon:  In this land of the trees, there are tradition bearers like Mary Jane who love these raw old songs.  Now folks, just in case some of you have feelings about the production of these songs, the way Mary Jane, or Julie Fowlis, or Mairéad with Altan, or the Hightime guys add accompaniment and modern touches.  If you just listen to the vocal tracks, the melody and the performances are pure and strong and well-informed.

>> Mary Jane:  And traditions have to live and they have to shift and change.  It’s just how quickly.  And the other thing is, what’s the motivation for the shifting?  Are we doing that to make this pleasing to somebody else?  Or are we doing it for ourselves?  Because it’s joyful for us?  So that’s where I’m at these days—is that I think what we have to constantly do is ask ourself, eh, who benefits? 

>> Shannon:  Bringing old songs in an ancient language to people like me—well that probably benefits something.  It benefits me, anyway.  It probably also boosts awareness and interest in the language.  There’s a new crop of speakers coming up in Cape Breton.

>> Mary Jane:  In the last 10, maybe 12 years, they’ve started to adopt some new learning methods, new teaching methods.  You’re basically adopting the way children learn.  So, I would, hold, hand you my glasses, for example, and I would just say, “Speak-lurin Speak-lurin.”

>> Shannon:  Speak-lurin

>> Mary Jane:  Yeah, you, you just speak.  It’s an immersion method and it’s quite effective.  So that’s sort of, that takes people up at beginner’s level.  And the other thing that happened—a master apprentice program that put together a native speaker and a learner and they just do stuff together and, um, and it’s been incredibly effective.  Like amazing.  Like, I had a gathering at my house, a Ceili, and we say Ceili really means just a visit—which is what the word means.  So, you know, I’m looking around in my house and there was maybe 15 people in the house and almost all of them were under 40 and all them had songs.  Like good Gaelic songs and they don’t care about making CDs—they’re not interested in that.  They just like to sing the songs together.  And we have some youth mentorship programs, the Gaeshke phonetically gaw-ka (the young warriors).  The best thing about this mentorship is getting people into learning songs, and um, it’s not just people speaking a language, because, who cares if you speak the language?  It’s like the story of Joe Neil McNeil, who was a great storyteller from Cape Breton.  This fellow was saying to him one time, he was like, oh, my grandmother had the Gaelic, and she had the language of the garden of Eden, and all this stuff.  And, and Joe Neil was finding it slightly irritating.  So, he said “Oh yeah, what did she say?”  So, it’s not if you have the language, it’s like what the language is the vehicle by which you express your culture.

We’re not going to use these languages in, in the Cape Breton context.  It’s not going to be a lingua franca.  But it can be the means by which we maintain our songs and our stories, which is our history.

>> Shannon:  Songs like this one performed here by Talitha MacKenzie.

[ Music: “Chi Mi Na Morbheanna,” from Mouth Music
Artist: Talitha MacKenzie ]

>> Shannon:  Songs and stories carry history.  Real history.  There are old Gaelic ballads that commemorate people and events.  Some tell sad, or big, or funny stories.  Some are nonsensical and improvisatory.  Mostly, the songs are lyrical.  They describe natural settings.  They capture feelings.  They are detailed meditations of moments which we could probably use more of right now. 

Connecting with the past in ancient languages—and hearing from people today who live in these languages.  In addition to the intellectual, emotional, and social power of bilingualism and multilingualism, there is transporting, healing purpose in hearing these sounds, even for listeners like me who don’t really know what’s happening in the songs.

>> Julie:  People who listen to Gaelic music, they can hear something in the songs, in these ancient melodies that I think open emotional channels—things that we maybe don’t understand yet.  But there’s something about this, this music that runs very, very deep.  And people get that.  They can hear it in the melodies.

>> Shannon:  Families who teach these small, cultural languages to their kids; and musicians who sing in Irish and Scotish Gaelic; and governments who invest in language education.  All these efforts help preserve bodies of songs and stories, and this safeguards and celebrates unique perspectives on historical and universal events.  Because as Dublin singer Frank Harte used to say, “Those in power write the history. Those who suffer write the songs.”

[ Music: Tune For Mairead & Anna Ni Mhaonaigh,” from Liz Carroll
Artists/Composer:  Liz Carroll and Dáithí Sproule ]

Without language and tradition bearers, kids lose access to these songs.  To some of this history, they lose a link to the past.  Their worldview shrinks, and that is so not Gen Z.  As soon as this new crop can vote, they will NOT tolerate small-minded regimes and policies.  They will reject politicians who marginalize and who suppress culture.  The language we use to tell our stories—our voices will win.  Because if they don’t, most of us will diminish, while just a few of us get rich and die trying to erase the powerful voices of our songs and stories.

I dunno, seems like living with a link to the past, and feeling pride in your own culture is real power.  It feeds self-esteem.  It fuels compassion.

For Séamus Ó Flatharta and Ciarán Bolger in Connemara, personal power comes from singing in their mother tongue.

>> Séamus:  For me it’s natural.  It’s my most comfortable style of singing.  I’d be more, uh, timid when I’m singing in English.  I’d be very conscious of my accent and very conscious of, of the words that I’m using.  But when it’s in Irish it just sort of flows from me.

>> Ciarán:  I think it’s important to feel that responsibility as well.  That you could always use more Irish language speakers in the world, you know.  We take that responsibility seriously and just try to spread as much interest as possible.

>> Shannon:  For Mary Jane Lamond, she stands tallest singing in Gaelic.

>> Mary Jane:  I sang my whole life.  But I don’t think I was a tremendously good singer.  I think once I started singing Gaelic songs, my voice came alive.  I do sing in English.  I can sing(ing) of course.  But I don’t like the sound of my voice in English.  I find it’s quite different.

>> Shannon:  Hmm, yeah.

I am not afraid of Mary Jane or Séamus and Ciarán, or Julie moving from their place of power.  And in my town, I’m not afraid of my neighbors raising their kids and telling their stories in their native tongues.  It feels like a culturally rich step forward, while staying connected to the past. 

For Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, it’s creative and essential.

>> Mairéad:  It’s important to me that I sing in my first language.  There’s a great beauty in it.  And it’s the psyche of the Irish.  Like even people who don’t even speak the language, they speak it in their English.  Even our great English writers the Yeats and the Joyces and all, they were claiming that it was listening to the Gaelic speakers, the rhythm of their language and their, their melody made them better English writers.

>> Shannon:  Hmm

>> Mairéad:  So, all of this is very close.  Why do I sing in Irish?  Because I want to…  (laughing) I need to.  That’s my, that’s my art.

>> Shannon:  The rhythm of language shapes and sustains communities.  When we sing, and parent, and teach in our own languages and taking a quick, hot second to learn a phrase in another language, we all win.  The learning strengthens thinking skills and memory abilities.  The native speaker is honored by the effort and, well, maybe a few small drops of respect can raise the sea of empathy.

Want to make America, or Britain, or the world great again?  Language could lead us back.  Our languages connect us with the past.  And they can lead us all forward, as we hold on to our own stories and perspectives. 

[ Music: “Seinn O,” from Suas e!
Artist:  Mary Jane Lamond ]

We’re at a crossroads here in the U.S.—a country with deep ties to Ireland, Scotland, and Canada.  When Americans vote this time around, we’ll choose a path of respect for other cultures and languages.  Or we’ll continue the xenophobic ignorance that has plagued the last four years.

We’ll choose a science-based response to climate change and Covid, or this weird, denialist selfishness couched in the rhetoric of freedom.  Or whatever “No one tells me what to do” is.

Well, God willing, the next time a U.S. President visits Ireland, it will be dignified and gracious.  Because respect is easy and cost effective.  And it’s even more nourishing than apple crumble.

[ Music:  “Ifearnáin,” (Boys of Ballisoaire) from Suna
Artist:  Hightime ]

Irish Music Stories was produced by me, Shannon Heaton.  Thanks to all who kicked in this month to help underwrite the project.  Thank you to my incredible guests.  Thank you to Matt for the production music, to Nigel for acknowledging our generous sponsors.  Thank you to my trusty Stateside Gaelic language consultant, Brian Ó hAirt.  In every song he sings, like this one, I can hear his devotion to, his passion for, and his knowledge of the Irish language.  Thank you, Brian, for always helping me learn more.

Thank YOU for listening.  To learn more about Irish Music Stories, to donate, and to check out all the episodes, please head to

And thanks to Brian Ó hAirt, and to Steve Byrne, Flor Bromley, Nissanai Sonauta, Aga Górecka-Przywara, Leo Hsu, Kerstin Otten and Nigel for these closing words. (Montage of people saying “please vote” in different languages):
>> Steve: Scots
>> Flor: Spanish
>> Brian: Irish
>> Nisani: Thai
>> Agneiska: Polish
>> Leo: Chinese
>> Kerstin: German
>> Nigel:  English
>> Steve:  Scots

Companion Chapters

Related essays

Grid-Style Goodbye

Reflections on remote interviews–and the close of grid style gatherings

Bonus Content

Related videos

Cast of Characters

Episode guests in order of appearance

Singer and fiddle player from Donegal who co-founded the band Altan

Julie Fowlis


Multi-award winning Gaelic singer from the Outer Hebridean island of North Uist

Mary Jane Lamond


Canadian singer who performs traditional Gaelic songs from Cape Breton

Ciarán Bolger


Singer and guitarist from Ardmore in Connemara, who formed the band HighTime

Conamara-based harp player, dancer, and singer of Irish language songs with 23 All Ireland Titles

Michael Coult


Dingle-based Irish flute player who started playing traditional music from his home near Manchester, England

The Heaton List