Traditional music is one of the best expression of arts, culture and being Irish. People have always loved their music and this close relationship dates over the centuries to the present day. Through the ages this love and skill were recognised by visitors. Giraldus Cambrensis (1146-1223) in his report to king Henry II, "Topographia Hibernica", recorded this Irish ability.
"In Ireland people are skilful at playing upon musical instruments. Their modulation is not slow or harsh, but lively and rapid, while the harmony is sweet and gay. The musical proportions are preserved although the movement of the fingers is complex and rapid and the harmony is completed with such a sweet velocity, so unequal an equality, so discordant a concord, as if the chords sounded together fourths or fifths and the result is the sweetness of a pleasing sound. They enter into a movement and conclude it in so delicate manner and play the little notes so sportively under the base strings. They communicate a deep internal sensation of pleasure, so that the perfection of their art appears in all their glory".
Giraldus also noticed the beneficial effects of the music.
"Music cheers the drooping spirit, clears the face from clouds, smooths the wrinkled brow, cheeks moroseness and promotes hilarity; nothing more delights and enlivens the human heart than music performed in Ireland". Lady Jane Wilde, in her work "Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions", London, 1887, described Irish music as the expression of the Sidhe and called it "fairy music". "Irish airs are plaintive, beautiful and unutterably pathetic; it is wild and capricious as the fairy nature, but it can touch the deepest chord of feeling with delicate harmonies and mournful rhythm or fill the sunshine with laughters and joy. Irish music is the utterance of a Divine sorrow; never stormy or passionate it seems to belong to an exiled spirit rich in memories of lost goods and ever seeking the unattainable".
Traditional Irish music has its home in pub sessions where performances are informal and lively. Musicians often perform only for free beer and cheers of the audience and people can join in if they have their own instrument, a good voice or even a set of spoons. In Mayo the best Irish traditional music is performed in pubs of Westport, Castlebar, Claremorris and on Achill Island.
In modern time all these characteristics still exist in Irish music but it also has other interesting peculiarities. It is a free-form style: the length, pace and arrangements can change from night to night and from performer to performer and this is what is commonly said: "the living tradition". Over the centuries it has been passed down from oral tradition and nowadays it is taught by ear as in the past. Irish music has a distinguishing sound that makes it immediately recognised and this often comes from the use of Irish scales and four modes (Ionian, Dorian, Mixolydian and Aeolian) and also from the traditional instruments used. Irish traditional instruments are: harp, fiddle, whistle and flute, uillean pipes, accordion, concertina and bodhran. Nowadays guitar, bouzouki, banjo and mandolin join the group.