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Ireland - Land Of Music
By Joseph Donegal

For many years, Ireland's chief export was people. They sailed away from Ireland to seek a better life, particularly in the new countries of Australia and America, never to return.

But the unique sound of Irish music traveled with them, circled the world and then returned to its Irish roots, renewed.

Music has never been far from the pulse of Ireland. One of Ireland's most famous musicians was a blind harpist, Turlough O'Carolan. He was born in West Meath in 1670 and became blind when a teenager after contracting smallpox.

Fortunately, he was taken under the wing of a wealthy local woman, who spotted his obvious talent for music. He was encouraged to take up composition and one of his melodies forms the basis for John Philip Sousa's stirring American national anthem, "Stars and Stripes Forever". O'Carolan's music is as popular today as it was in the seventeenth century, and is appreciated by a world wide audience. Every August, a ten day festival is held for his many fans in County Roscommon.

One of the largest migrations from Ireland happened in the middle of the nineteenth century, spurred on by massive famine, caused by the universal failure of the potato crop, due to blight. As a consequence, thousands of Irish people left the port of Waterford for a better life in the New World.

One ballad, in particular, is associated in people's minds with the longing of the immigrant Irish for their homeland across the sea. This song, "I'll take you home again, Kathleen", composed by Thomas Westendorf, a music teacher, and published in 1876, became universally popular when sung by the famous Irish tenor, John Count McCormack.

This probably explains how it became so closely connected in people's minds with Ireland. Not for nothing is Ireland called "The Emerald Isle" and the frequent rains, sweeping in from the Atlantic Ocean keep the lush pastures the brightest of bright green. So when McCormack sung the line, ". . . the fields are fresh and green", an instant and unbreakable connection was forged.

It's not hard to imagine many a cold night on the prairie, echoing to the sound of an Irish fiddle playing a haunting Irish ballad or a jaunty jig, as the travelers on the Oregon Trail ate their supper after another long, hard day getting just a bit closer to the promised lands of the far west.

Gradually Irish music was absorbed, mutated and mixed with the other music influences of jazz, blues and Cajun music to form a large part of what we now call country and western music.

Now, in the 21st Century many forms of American music exert influence on modern day Irish music and with singers such as Van Morrison. His music is a unique blend of American soul, rhythm and blues and traditional Celtic melodies.

Other bands, such as U2, also draw influences from American country music and have sold over 50 million albums in the USA.

Copyright 2006 Joseph Donegal and

Joseph Donegal has had a life-long interest in his Irish roots and the history of Ireland and its people.

You'll find more articles on Ireland at his web site