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Music and the Irish Imagination

Thierry Dubost
Alexandra Slaby

Defining and redefining Irish music

Irish Music Redefined, An Outsider’s Viewpoint

Erick Falc’her-Poyroux


Over the past thirty years, Irish music has spread all over the world and, on a par with Irish literature in the 20th century, has “put Ireland on the map”. In 1981, Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin analysed the perception of Irish music through the concepts of creative reworking and music systems. Since then, Irish music has experienced a new degree of commodification, from local pub music to global stage music, and confirmed its natural disposition to adapt to its time as a vector of Irish culture. In what sense, then, can we speak of a redefinition of Irish music?
Another question that should be asked is why we should study Irish music. One should then recognise that, Irish music being culturally, socially and politically charged, one cannot fully understand Ireland without understanding its music. In that sense, music is a mirror, once again revealing the cultural and social fragmentation of Irish society.

Depuis une trentaine d’années, la musique irlandaise s’est répandue à travers le monde et, à égalité avec la littérature irlandaise, fait partie des éléments définissant l’identité irlandaise aux yeux du monde. En 1981, Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin analysait la perception de la musique irlandaise à travers deux concepts : la reproduction créative et les systèmes musicaux. Depuis cette période, la musique irlandaise a franchi une nouvelle étape dans la commodification, passant du pub local aux représentations dans le monde entier et confirmant sa disposition naturelle à s’adapter à son époque comme vecteur de la culture irlandaise. Dans quel sens pouvons-nous alors parler de redéfinition de la musique irlandaise ?
Une autre question qui mérite d’être posée est pourquoi il faut étudier la musique irlandaise. Il faudra ainsi reconnaître que la musique irlandaise n’étant pas un concept culturellement, socialement et politiquement neutre, on ne peut comprendre totalement l’Irlande sans comprendre sa musique. Dans ce sens, la musique est un miroir, révélant une nouvelle fois la fragmentation culturelle et sociale de la société irlandaise.

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Extrait du texte

Over the past thirty years, Irish music has spread all over the world and, on a par with Irish literature in the 20th century, has “put Ireland on the map”. Celtic music festivals flourish in Tokyo or in Buenos Aires, Riverdance shows and their offshoots appear on several stages simultaneously, and hundreds of tourists invade Doolin’s two main pubs every week for a little bit of “the pure drop”.

Perhaps guided by Conor Cruise O’Brien’s powerful remark, this essay proposes a starting point for the study of Irish music from an outsider’s point of view: “There seems to be a curious delight in the feeling that the stranger knows far more than oneself and yet – being a stranger – understands nothing”.1 By “outsider” we mean any person economically, socially and culturally detached from the everyday activities or concerns of a given community and, in this particular case, adopting this posture will give us the occasion to bring questions that might have been slightly overlooked by everyday...


Erick Falc’her-Poyroux was born in Nantes, France. He was raised on a strict diet of butter, Beatles and football, which helped him considerably when he decided to make teaching English his main job. His PhD in 1996 was on L’Identité musicale irlandaise [Ireland’s musical identity], and he has been working on this theme since then. His PhD and his articles can be found on his website: He is also the author of several books on Ireland and The Beatles. He currently heads the Language Department at the École polytechnique of the université de Nantes.

© Presses universitaires de Caen, 2013

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